The year was 1942 and the war had started.
They rolled on the floor and flailed at one another while she screamed curse words that even a sailor wouldn't utter. I think mostly he was trying to hold her off, but every once in while he landed a good one, and so did she. When they finally separated he got up and headed for the door, grabbing his hat from the coat rack and slamming it on his head. He also slammed the door, leaving the three of us alone. Mom sat and cried and swore and then she threw the lamp on the floor, breaking the bulb, which seemed to calm her down. After a few minutes she picked up Danny and told me to come along to the bathroom. As she bathed us she kept telling us she was sorry, but all the while she was calling him a son-of-a-bitch and saying that she would get even. She dressed us in our pajamas and tucked us in bed, leaving me wide-eyed and scared, wondering where my dad had gone. I was still remembering the fight on the floor. She sat in the other room with only the light from the kitchen illuminating her, and after she had smoked several cigarettes she came quietly to our bedroom and stood looking at us. Danny was asleep and I pretended to be. In a moment I heard the front door open and close, and thought my dad had returned. He hadn't. Mom was gone, leaving us alone in the house.
She didn't come back, either. The next day in the afternoon my dad came home and asked us where she had gone, but we had no idea and both of us asked a lot of questions. "Where did you go, Dad?" "Why did you hit each other?" Of course, there were no answers. For some things in my life I have found there is never an answer. "Are you going to stay, Dad?" "Is Mom coming back?"
She never came back and weeks turned into summer months while the three of us stayed there, Danny and me alone during the day while Dad went off to work. I was seven years old and Danny was five. School started and Dad took us on the first day, but after that we walked together and went by ourselves. No one was ever at home when we came back from school in the afternoon, and often when Dad came from work in the evening he would get a shower and go across the street to where Madilyn lived. She was a red-haired woman who had a son, a teenaged boy named Andy, who lived with her. Madilyn used to come over and talk with Mom sometimes, but now my dad was going over there almost every night. Me? I listened to the radio. Danny went out and peeked in windows, mostly at Madilyn's house.
Andy scared the hell out of me. One afternoon he called me across the street and took me into the ramshackle garage behind his house and closed the door. It didn't close all the way, but left a shaft of light laying on the floor and the rest of the cob-webbed place in stygian darkness. I turned to find the breach in the entry but Andy was there with his pants down and grabbed me by the hair, jerking me away from freedom and pulling me towards his crotch. I was lucky. My screams brought a response from the woman who lived next door and that son-of-a-bitch Andy let me go. I broke for the crack of light and ran home. I often wished I had told my dad about it, although I never did and today I doubt if he would have said anything to Madilyn. He was enjoying his arrangement too well. But after that I was careful to never get close to Andy, and wouldn't go across the street anymore. Perverted bastard.
Captain Midnight. One Man's Family. Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy. Superman. Charlie McCarthy. Baby Snooks. I was hooked. Danny wasn't. And then one day the radio didn't work. The lights didn't work, either. The electric bill was unpaid and the power company simply shut off the electricty. Dad brought home a big box of candles and showed me how to light one, and of course left us alone again while he went over to Madilyn's. I sure missed those radio shows. Danny came home with cigarettes he had stolen from the cars in the neighborhood and wanted me to try them with him, but I didn't. He would light one from a candle and wave it in circles at the window, hoping to attract someones attention. I can still see him with a cigarette in his mouth and his eyes squinted tight because of the smoke. Tough guy. Five years old.
Christmas came and I was sure Santa was going to leave a big pile of toys. Nope. Maybe it was because we didn't have a Christmas tree for him to leave them under, but early on that morning there was a single present for me and another one for Danny. Surprisingly, the two presents were from Madilyn. She had wrapped up skates, the kind you clamp onto a pair of shoes, and left them by the front door.
Later that same Christmas afternoon Mom's sister, Betty, came by and found Danny and me alone again. Dad was across the street, doing whatever it was he did with Madilyn. Betty gave each of a huge stack of comic books and hugged us, and said that they were from my mom, but I think they were really from her. I remember she stood in the kitchen with her hand on the light switch, flipping it back and forth, wondering why the lights didn't work. Then she opened the refrigerator... and the stench of the spoiled food made her gasp as we both stared at the piece of beef writhing with tiny white maggots. It was when she looked at me that the tears came. She slammed the door and I found out that my aunt could swear almost as well as my mom. I don't think that refrigerator had been opened since the power was shut off.
She was still crying as she went across the street to find my dad, and a few minutes later the two of them were in the street shouting at each other. I really don't know what she was yelling, but the next day the electricity was turned back on. I think that's why she went over there. I got to listen to the radio again, and that was the best Christmas present of all. But you know, I didn't like the year 1942 much and I don't think the rest of the world did either.