“Okay. How rich?” April asked while Bill’s Escalade was stuck in inner-city traffic.
“What!” Bill laughed as he abandoned an attempt to merge. “I forgot that the Bears were playing tonight,” he said. “You’d have done better on the train!”
She squeezed his hand, “How rich?” she repeated.
“How rich am I?” he asked with surprise.
“No, the men who fuck Marina.” She answered, fully aware that the answer teased him. He brushed the pinky of the hand that held his against his cock.
“Super-rich,” he laughed.
“Richer than you?” she asked.
“Richer than Marina?” She said.
That time, he didn’t answer. There was a nerve that seemed to be struck there.
After a long pause, he said: “Some fetishes, I think, are a way of kind of itching a scratch. Something entirely non-sexual even – to fill some kind of need that you feel. That will probably sound a little weird to you.”
“You mean like a girl whose father walked out on her then turning around and losing her virginity just after her eighteenth birthday to a man who stays with his kids even if his wife is a bitch?” She asked.
He looked at her, thoughtfully and with a tinge of guilt, “…maybe it doesn’t sound that weird.”
Once they were past the Stadium, traffic picked up and his thoughtfulness gave way. He pulled off the main route and detoured through a maze until April had no idea where she was. It was confusing but at the same time exhilarating. She wanted to ask where he was going.
Their destination was a brick building with a tall spire that, big as it was, was nonetheless dwarfed by the skyscrapers around it. At the top of the steeple was a copper roof long-tarnished green in the elements. An old-fashioned, ornate cross was atop the steeple. It wasn’t as big as other Catholic churches downtown but it was old and charming.
“Have we found God?” April asked with a laugh.
Bill parked in a space that offered them a good vantage point of the old Church and turned off the engine. They sat in silence for a minute.
“What am I doing?” He muttered. After a long and pregnant breather, he continued.
“When I was a boy,” he began, “my Dad worked really hard as a window-washer in the city. The work was dangerous and the pay – back then – was terrible. Marina had life fed to her with a silver spoon but my Mom and I were lucky that we had food in ours. From the third grade through Middle School and High School, I had to wake up long before the Sun so that we could make it in to the Old Saint Pat’s before I had to be in class. We’d hear the Sunrise Mass if we got in early enough and then we would pray.”
This story already warmed April’s heart as she thought of little Billy McIntyre, a poor version of little Sammy, praying with his humble-beginnings father like something out of a Lifetime Holiday Special.
“What did you pray for?” she asked.
He sighed: “For money, mostly. Not money in general but specific problems: for my Ma to get well when she was sick, which was a lot. To make the mortgage, keep the heat on, pay the grocery bill and to find work. Always to find more work. Every morning, my Ma made us each a bologna sandwich for lunch, hell or high-water. She’d put mine in my brown paper bag and Dad’s in this old silver lunch-pail from the St. Vincent de Paul store. After Church, he’d take me to school and take that sandwich that Ma had made for him out of his old, beat-up lunch-pail and put it into my lunch bag, so that I could have two sandwiches for lunch. ‘Growing boys need big lunches,’ he’d say. ‘Old men do just as well with a cup from the soup-man at the corner’.”
Bill shook his head. “Stubborn old fool never went to the doctor. We had no idea that he was diabetic until he damn near killed himself and his crew-mate on the scaffold. Diabetic shock, then a coma.”
Done fooling around, April clung to Bill’s massive forearm with both her hands, tears flowing freely from her eyes.
“He made me swear never to tell my Ma about those damned sandwiches – and I never did. He prayed hard for a paycheck and worked even harder. But when he’d get a paycheck, he would take me with him after school down to a bank over two blocks that way and one block down. He would have me work out on the back of the deposit slip ten percent of his wages – long before I was supposed to be able to do math like that. Then I would fill out the deposit slip, ninety percent into the checking account and ten percent into a little savings account in my name. ‘That’s your future, William,’ he’d say. ‘That’s the life your old man never had’.”
There was no hope for April, anymore. Her brown eyes welled with tears and she sobbed with a sad but charmed smile.
“He loved you,” she said.
He nodded. “He took care of people. His heart was too big for his head. At his funeral, I asked the man who had been up there with him how I could find that sunnuva bitch soup-man who had thinned out my Dad’s soup so much that he never made it home to my Ma. I wanted to kill him. I just wanted to beat the shit out of him until the fucking bastard died.”
Now, bitter tears pricked the corners of Bill’s eyes. It broke April’s heart. One tear barely had time to roll down his cheek before it was caught by his free hand and scooped away with a sniffle.
“…There was no soup-man,” she finished the story for him.
Bill turned his face sharply toward the window. “Seventeen-years-old and a stupid boy,” he muttered bitterly. “Just a stupid, stupid boy.”
“No!” She assured him. “That’s not your fault, Bill!”
He looked down into his lap and interlaced his fingers into hers.
“After school, I worked bussing tables and construction and hotel maintenance – anything to help my Ma and I make ends-meet. And I would keep putting that ten percent away. After High School, most of the guys I knew joined the army and got as far away from the Midwest as they could. I had worked hard in school and I was offered a scholarship to go to State. I turned it down to stay home with my Ma and take care of her. I lied to her and said that I didn’t get accepted anywhere.” He laughed at himself. “Chip off the old block.”
“She died when I was twenty-six,” he said. “Breast cancer was too advanced to do anything about by the time she caught it but it took her fast, thank God. I sold our little old house and got to go to college. I had to pay my own way but without anyone to take care of, I made it through easily. I got my Bachelor’s in Math and then I went to the bank and cashed out of Dad’s little savings account. That got me through grad school, studying economics, and that’s where I met Marina.”
He smiled, even then. “At first I didn’t know what she saw in me. Her parents had all but arranged for her to marry into yuppie royalty. I guess that I was a way for her to stake out an independent claim, you know? Be her own woman. Take a chance on love. But it always made me wonder – what if she hadn’t married the boy with two bologna sandwiches?”
April laughed through her tears. “She’d have been poorer for it,” she said, thumbing away a tear in his eye and caressing his coarse five o’clock shadow.
He looked up at her, “You sound so sure.”
She smiled, “I am.”
It did suddenly make sense, now. Not giving her what she needed had nothing to do with sex but it had become that way as Marina spent more and more of her time hob-nobbing with her socialite elitists and then, rather than worry about it, anymore, she just indulges Bill’s worried mind with a fantasy where she preferred someone from her own background. That itch emanated from deep in his heart and the sex had become a convenient way to scratch it.
She kissed his hand. A silly gesture, but one that felt right. It was in that moment in a parked car in front of “Old Saint Pat’s” that she knew it for the first time: she loved her Baby-Daddy.