Excerpt from Untitled 1950s
Mary would graduate from high school halfway between her eighteenth and nineteenth birthdays. She had acquired a total of two boyfriends up to the present: Jimmy Doyle in fourth grade and Nick Curelli in eleventh grade. Jimmy lost her affection when he decided that frogs were just small living things of no value and it was okay to torment them. Nick lasted for a whole month, until he decided to get seriously wandering hands. When she objected, he scoffed and called her a prude among other things. Mary retorted with a vivid expression that she wasn’t entirely sure what the literal meaning was before slapping him and stomping away.
She had been warding off unwanted attention for almost as long as she could remember, and it made her all the more certain that males who were not family members were probably not going to be her good friends.
At the Belardos’ crowded dinner table on the evening of that break-up with Nick, everyone was giving an account of their day and no one was taking turns. Overly polite was not a feature of family gatherings but loud and emotional could be. Sometimes at these events, Mary privately wondered if she had been adopted.
That evening, Mary just kept her mouth shut; with everyone else volleying stories, complaints, and the occasional insult, she didn’t think anyone would notice. She was wrong.
Her brother, Anthony—Tony, had heard about the incident with Nick third-hand from a friend of Nick’s and wondered how much of it was true. His little sister was normally the quietest of the bunch and she wasn’t known for using foul language. In a typical behavior pattern, he saw an opportunity to have a little fun at his kid sister’s expense.
“Mary; what happened with you and Nick today?”
She shot Tony a look that should have been fatal and ignored the leading question. Her mother was quick to note her daughter’s sharp nonverbal response and demanded, “What does he mean, ‘what happened’?”
She was not smiling, already having become aware that Mary was not acting herself. Everyone around the table went into suspended animation, waiting for her explanation. An uncommon silence fell over the room as Mary continued to glare mutely at Tony.
Her frowning mother repeated in a louder voice, “So, Mary, you didn’t hear me maybe? I asked you what happened? What’s this your brother’s saying?”
Mary focused on her plate of rigatoni and clam sauce, muttering, “I told him off.”
Tony snorted, “That’s the biggest understatement since ‘the Dodgers are bums’!”
Her mother laid down her fork; with the grim expression that meant there would be no further evasion, she declared, “You know what I mean. So now no more waltzing around, you can just tell us what’s going on.”
Even her father was beginning to get his grim, ‘I mean it’ look. Mary sighed and explained in a rapid monotone, “Nick Curelli is not the Mr. Nice Guy that we all thought he was. He seriously tried to get all over me today and when I told him to bug off, he called me a prude and talked nasty. So, I just told him off again, a lot plainer.”
The boisterous and enthusiastic reaction of approval that vibrated around the table was just what she had expected. She did not, however, expect her brother to quote verbatim what she had said to Nick, and when he did, she thought her parents were both going to have heart attacks.
In an epic historical event, her mother could not find the right words to respond to the information. Salvatore gaped at her open mouthed and was the first to find his voice. Again, it was not what Mary expected. With a scowl that creased his entire forehead, he sternly shot, “Good enough for him, but I don’t want you to ever talk like that again. Are you hearing this?”
Her brothers all gave her thumbs up one way or another, which she ignored and solemnly went back to concentrating on her food.
Her mother finally found her voice and demanded in a mellower tone, “I just want to know where a nice girl ever learned to talk like that.”
Mary glanced up briefly and retorted, “I have three brothers, a dozen or so cousins, and I go to public school, right.”
“Don’t be fresh. Like your father said, we don’t ever want to hear of you talking like that again.”
“I’m sure you won’t; sorry.”
Mary still didn’t know for certain what those words meant, but apparently it couldn’t have been too far from what she had wanted to get across to her now ex-boyfriend.