"Danny was a prick," said Mary, after the mashed turnips had gone around the table once.
Her father, John Kelly snapped a reply at her before the words were completely out of her mouth: "What are you talking about?"
"He beat me."
"You're crazy!" shouted John.
"This is why I don't come home," said Mary.
Her mother, Deborah, rested a hand on Mary's forearm and said, "Honey...."
"Do you have to start this now?"
"I'm just sick of hearing Dad talk about what a great guy Danny Sullivan was. Danny This and Danny That. Danny should have been captain of the football team. Danny looked so sharp in his uniform. Well Danny used to hit me, a lot. How did you think I cracked that tooth and lost the crown?"
"You said you ran into a door," said Deborah.
"Well, I didn't."
Mary got up and left the table. John was silent. Noreen was whimpering and then got up without excusing herself and left the dining room as well.
Deborah looked at John across the table. "When will you ever learn?"
"Oh, come on now. You don't believe Danny hit her. Do you?"
"Why would she lie?"
"Danny? Danny Sullivan? Impossible. And with the way she rages, I can hardly blame him for running off."
"It's your own daughter your talking about there."
"Well, she doesn't act like it. What's that shrink been doing for her all these years. For all I know he's been stirring up all kinds of imaginary memories."
Deborah just glared at her husband as he forked turkey into his mouth.
* * *
John dims the lights in the living room after pouring himself a tumber of Johnny Walker Red, neat. September of My Years plays low on the stereo as he sits down in his leatherette chair.
Danny really hit her? If she's telling the truth, then that sonofabitch had me fooled for years.
Crap. There's no way to protect your own children. you build the walls as high as you can, and then invite the devil in your front door.
I never so much as raised a hand to Mary in all the years she was growing up. Not even when the backtalk started. Sure I told her to wipe that look off her face when I caught her rolling her eyes behind my back. "Or I'll wipe it off for you," but I didn't mean nothing by that.
He thought back to the strappings he used to get from his father, the night watchmen at the Stennhauser brewery, sometimes for the tiniest misbehavior, sometimes for imagined infractions, and sometimes "'cause I know you done something."
The ice clinked as they melted into a new shape in the shallow remaining puddle of scotch. John heaved himself up out of his chair and over to the side board, took out the bottle, and poured himself a few more fingers.
The music playing now was Harry Chapin.
This maudlin crap, thought John, as a tear welled up in one eye.
* * *
"Can I watch cartoons, Mommy?" says Noreen.
"Gramp and Gran don't have a television, baby. Remember?"
"I forgot. That's OK, Mommy."
"You didn't get any pie. Stay here and keep drawing and I'll be right back."
Mary opened the door to her old bedroom gingerly, peeking left and right. She could hear the music coming from the living room, and thought she could see John sitting in his chair, either nodding to the music or dozing off.
The old drunk, she thought, making her way to the kitchen, where Deborah was nearly done washing up.
"Was there any pie left over?"
"Nearly the whole thing. Your father didn't eat any and I just had a little piece."
"I didn't mean to ruin dinner," said Mary, as she took the pie plate out of the refrigerator and cut Noreen a little piece. "Is there any ice cream?"
"There's a quart of vanilla bean in the freezer," said Deborah. She was scraping some toasted-on grit from the inside of the drippings tray.
"I just wish he'd let it drop about Danny."
"Your father doesn't change."
"Well, I suppose you'd know. Goodnight, ma."
"Make sure Noreen brushes her teeth."
* * *
"Who's Danny Sullivan, Mommy?"
"He's just this man I used to know. We went to school together. He was one year ahead of me."
"Why does he make you cry?"
"Gramp? He doesn't mean to. He's just thoughtless."
"No, Danny Sullivan."
"Why do you say that, honey? You're getting crumbs on the comforter."
"You were crying after dinner."
"It's grownup stuff, baby. Maybe when you're older you'll understand. Now brush your teeth. Mommy will be right back."
* * *
Mary saw the light in the kitchen as she walked around the side of the house. When she got to the street, she lit a cigarette and started walking toward the playground. It was just getting dark.
She thought back ten years to when her family had moved into town, her dad retired early from the navy with his bad back. They were finally able to stay in one place for more than a year or two at most. M
ary had given up on even trying to make friends, and spent her breaks smoking by herself by the chainlink fence at the far end of the school's playground. Even the other smokers, the bad girls, avoided her. She was drowning and nobody wanted to be dragged under with her.
Nobody except Danny, who broke from the pack of jocks rough housing and hanging the younger high-school kids by their ankles from the sides of the jungle jim. He had walked right up to her that time and grabbed the cigarette out of her hand.
"This'll kill you, you know," he had said, squinting into the sun. She'd shrugged. Then he took a deep drag from her cigarette, blew a huge plume of smoke into the air with a satisfied sigh, and then dropped it onto the tarmac and ground it out with the heel of his Nikes.
"You're new, right?"
"I've been her for eight months."
"Yeah, I've seen you around."
Within a week or so they were dating, and Danny was too popular and too dangerous for anyone to say boo to that.
At first Danny protected her and even gave her some status in the school, but by the time he started hitting her she felt trapped.
Mary was on her second cigarette, leaning against the slide, watching the moon rise.
I was better off alone, she thought.
* * *
Deborah dried her hands on a dish towel with a rooster on it and then turned off the light in the kitchen. She looked in on Noreen, whose face glistened with drying ice cream as she slept under the coverlet in her mother's old bed.
There was no music coming from the living room, save for John's low rumbling snores. She pulled a blanket up under his chin before retiring for the night.