What the hell she tailed me down here, thought Tommy Muldoon. Might as well see what it’s all about. I had a notion, looking at me the way she does… saying things. Nine o’clock, she shouldn’t be out this late. School night, too. Not for me any more, school days, school nights…one day’s as good as the other. Running the junk wagon days, boxing school at the church nights.
If you want the deed, it’s there, said Shorty, word’s out Eileen O’Rourke’s sweet on Muldoon. Particularly since you duked it with those two Westchester quiffs outside the Avallon saloon. She’s the way to kick it off, Tom, nothin’d be easier…now that you’re the new world champeen of the Bronx.
Tommy had paid Shorty no mind. World champion of the Bronx, what a joke! The two guys were drunk, and picked a tiff with my grandfather, who’s BLIND for God’s sake. How tough could they have been? Stupid mostly. The newspaper was funny though… Not since Benny Leonard debuted at the Mott Haven A.C. has…blah-blah-blah.Soon’s they saw I knew how to hold my hands, the whole thing was over. The hitting was easy. Anybody could have done it.
But the mornings when he awoke stuck up like a broomstick he thought only of her. And over the past few weeks it seemed like he was always bumping into her. On the wagon in the morning, he’d see her coming up Willis Avenue on the way to school. She wore a middie blouse with a long blue skirt, just like all the others except she seemed much older to him, perhaps because she was tall and solidly built, perhaps because he wasn’t in school anymore.
Once, in the middle of an afternoon, he had taken a run in the park. There she was, coming along the path up by the ball field. She wore a green dress and the wind was up and at his back, hurrying him along. Then he saw. So developed she was, that’s why she seems older. That, and the other stuff, and the way she looked at him, her eyes cast down, smiling, and saying, Hello Tommy Muldoon. What’s the rush? Stealing apples?
He pulled up, not even breathing hard.
“Are you following me, Eileen?” He thought his voice cracked.
“I am not,” she said, looking at him from the side, her chin tucked. “I’m on my way to the dentist.”
Then she tossed her head in that way of hers – she had a grand mane of red hair that she wore loose and today it was blowing back all over her like a million tiny wires alive and blazing. He did not think her face beautiful but her eyebrows arched ever so little, her chin was strong, perhaps too much, but she had said, Bye-bye, Tommy Muldoon, and off she walked, in that way she had.
Perhaps when she is older, Tommy thought, she will grow heavy and round like so many of them. But now? He watched her walk off. Her stride and the breeze that just lifted her dress enough and her firm legs sheathed in white stockings, the backs muscled and showing it, all this he noticed. Is it true, he wondered?
He could find out now. God, he knew he could. There she was, right on the church steps. She still wore the hanky on her head. Inside praying was she? As soon as he saw her he had backed down the stairs to the basement telling the others passing him that he had forgotten his sweatshirt and would catch up later. Even though Eileen was from another parish, Saint Roch’s, he didn’t want to take any chances. Whether it was Saint Jerome’s, Immaculate Conception or Saint Roch’s, the word got around fast. He wouldn’t say anything. But would she?
It was cool, not cold, a typical mid October evening, the smell of smoke in the air. He looked down the alley where the priests walked in the daytime saying their breviary, shuffling through the dry, dead leaves. And Tommy felt good. He had dealt a few good pokes tonight even though they were still only supposed to work on their jabs. No matter what you thought you knew about fighting going in, the priest started everyone out the same. Fighting’s like becoming a priest, Father Joe had said that first day, be patient and you’ll end up with consecrated hands. Ha, ha, ha. But like being a priest, first you’ve got to learn the lingo. And jab is the first word in boxing. So it’s been jab, jab, jab for almost a month. Not that Tommy minded. He loved to snap those heads back. Glory be, said Father Joe, you’ve got a heckuva skewer there my boy.
“Hello Tommy Muldoon.” She unpinned her hanky and tucked it up her sleeve, leaning the while against the wall beside the front door of the church, three steps up from the sidewalk.
The belt of her coat was turned once over itself, like a bathrobe perhaps. The coat fell just above her knees, her skirt hung just above her ankles. With her hair pinned up, and the shadows, she seemed even older than Tommy had imagined. In the twenties maybe, though, of course, they were both the same age, seventeen.
The dark and the cool air and her leaning against the church all made Tommy feel bold.
“So you are following me, Eileen.”
“A little prayer never hurt, Tom.” She shifted easily, crossing her feet at the instep. Then Tommy caught her fragrance. And he felt a surge of energy and then warm low down. There was nothing else to do.
“Come,” he said, and he heard her click after him into the alley between the church and the rectory. For an instant he thought, this is crazy, what if Father Joe is around? He spun about quickly.
And she caught his face gently in her hands and then her tongue was in his mouth. He had never been like this with any woman and he was suddenly winded by the fullness of her. All this was new, not the thought, the experience. The tip of his tongue explored the front of her teeth. Electricity, he thought, the jolt from a socket when you’re not being careful. And now she too seemed winded, her breath beating at his cheek. He broke off and plunged his face full in her hair, inhaling her. So tightly she held him, and her foot had hooked the back of his knee, her breath rasping his ear, calling out in some strange and cadenced language.
He felt her down below, the pressure, the slow, hard rhythm. She was rubbing him with herself and he was amazed.
“Hold me, Tom,” she tossed her head, “Back there and low… wait…yes…there!” She undid the belt of her coat.
His breath caught, and caught again, and he blew out through pursed lips, but not quickly, once, twice, three times. She placed his hands beneath her coat behind, on her buttocks and hopped up into him and he grunted as if he had taken a blow. Now he cupped her with both his hands and pressed her close and she moved to him even stronger. She was right there, under her skirt, under his touch. He could feel the loose folds of her bloomers, the tops of her stockings, and higher just her. How soft she is there, how… and he smelled a wild scent… an aroma from the park, maybe the woods. Was that…? And he held her tighter, moving his finger and he felt the cleft and the trembling and she seemed to be pouring herself against him, flowing, the rhythm… my God. She grabbed his hand, lifted his finger from her, and was against him again.
That bone down there, she’s working me, ironing me out, lifting, he thought, then felt himself slowly, slowly climbing toward his belly, and he took a great gulp of air. He heard her breathing slow, more controlled now than at first, inevitable. How does this happen, he thought? Here, where the priests of Saint Jerome’s walk their daily beat praying. He thought he smelled onions. And then he smelled her again and he was sure.
God, he loved this… feeling, of this… of her leg rubbing his calf, and her so bold and at him.
“Here,” she said abruptly, as if she were in pain. “Here! Touch!” She unclasped his hand from her bottom and guided him into the vee of her blouse. Seventeen, like him, enormous.
“Touch me, please.” And she undid the few buttons. She wore only a thin bandeau and he could feel everything.
“Other hand!” She helped his finger again. “There. Oh…”
Her back was against the rectory wall. A light shone dimly at the far end by the garbage cans where the leaves swirled and flipped and spun. He had imagined it would be this way, her knowing everything. He couldn’t imagine any another way. And then at once he could. He listened to his breathing and he seemed to be standing next to himself watching like some referee.
“Get away…” he mumbled.
“Yes, Tom,” she breathed, husky, distant… and she pulled him closer.
“There!…More!” she said, misunderstanding him completely, and then she spun about and he was against the wall.
He was seeing the two of them bumping in the alley, knocking on the rectory wall. His arms were pinned and he was wondering about her. Why is she doing this? With me? With everyone? Is it true? Everyone? He liked her better when she had said “stealing apples?” to him in the park that blowing day or just before even, with the hanky on her head. It’s all going away, he thought.
Those mornings when he would spill himself into the handkerchief and cry out, he was thinking all the while about her. He didn’t care about anything then. That’s why he was here now, because he had thought it for so long that it had to happen. That’s the way his life was. If he kept concentrating on something, it would happen.
“Oh God, oh my… now… please… oh-love… inside… oh…” she said and ground into him so hard that he heard his knuckle crack and he had to grab the wall with his other hand for balance. “Oh… oh…” and he thought she may be weeping and he drew his finger free.
She seemed so enormous now, fully exposed and swinging, her camisole twisted low. Both legs up behind his knees again as she took another little crowhop into him and he could feel the muscles he had seen that day in the park, muscled and showing, and she flung her head back and sighed like a punch in the stomach and then she reached down for him. Her dress was up to her thighs, her bloomers down and the both of them steaming the chill air, breathing each other, and her hand was warm.
Safer, he thought, safer. Ridiculous. Not feeling up the Virgin Mary for Christ sake…but still…an alley… against the wall… Jesus!
“No, Eileen, no!” He pushed her away and he felt her legs relax instantly and she staggered backwards off-balance and awkward. He reached out to her and she brushed his arms away. It felt colder now and he shivered. She stood apart from him, her feet planted, adjusting her underthings and her stockings were dark not white. She fluffed out her skirt and brushed it down to her ankles, then smoothed her coat, looping the belt quickly in the same casual way. Everything was straightened.
“Oh Jesus, Tom…” Her face shone, her wild hair framed her like an explosion. She did look beautiful, he thought, wild and beautiful.
“I… I’m sorry… not here. I made a mistake, Eileen.”
“A mistake? About what? This?”
“Maybe… I don’t know… Jesus!” He realized that he was now holding her face in the same way she had held his, like a kitten, he thought. His mind was crazy. What does it mean, this way I’m holding her face? Was she really loose like everyone said? A slut? Could he ever be paired with her in the daylight, strolling down Willis Avenue, or meeting her after school?Buying her an ice cream? Would that ever be? Would she ever be paired with someone else? Maybe he should try it first with one of the women from the shack by the river? No, that’d be even worse. They waved hello to him when he rolled past collecting in the morning. They were like friends. He could never do that down there with them.
She stepped away, further collecting herself, pinning up her hair. “Well see me when you’re sure. I don’t want to waste time, Tom, mine or yours.”
So that’s it, he thought. Wasting time. Seventeen years old. Jesus, wasting time.
And suddenly, he wanted the feel of her leg again, there behind his knee, and that little hop into him when she was full and ready, and the other leg up now, and the pressure of her hard spot down there that had lifted him. But for all the perspiration and gasping and blowing steam he didn’t think he had even been ready then to do anything. Unsettled, is what he got, but not the way he had imagined, not the way he got in the mornings. By himself it was different. Then his mind would get wild and stay like that all the way through. But now, when he could do something about it, nothing. Stupid rectory.
“I don’t think I’m wasting time, Eileen. I’m down here boxing and you show up on the church steps.”
“You know what I mean, Tom.”
“I do, and I don’t.” And he suddenly imagined her walking along between those two big-mouth sports that had muscled his grandfather off the sidewalk and remembered her legs, tight and sheathed, so muscular, that he had felt… the white stockings… silk perhaps?
She tossed her head at him and turned, facing away.
“Oh just pound yourself, Tom! Use your stupid boxing gloves!”
And he grabbed her by the shoulders. “Eileen!”
She shrugged him off.
“Stop!” she said, but still did not move away.
“Shhh… Please, Eileen.” He encircled her with his arms.
“Too late,” she said, “I gotta go.” And then she took a step.
“Just a… please!” And he was suddenly full into her, pressing himself against the back of her coat, riding hard.
She did not respond, nor did she struggle. He was working it, breathing fast again, she was there, him remembering what he had just almost done with her, feeling again everything in his mind, her riding up on him then, she was there, straightening him, yes, he thought that again, straightening him, and she was still there, straightening him, and him imagining everything again.
He thought she moved into him, but she had not moved at all.
Instead she said, “What are you doing back there? You’re like a mongrel humping a table leg.”
There was no hope for him. He kept at it, breathing heavily into the nape of her neck, his hands trying to feel her again, but her coat was thick and tied and her arms were crossed and he could not get inside. She was enormous. There was nothing he could do.
“Stop!” she said at last, and then louder, “NO!”
But he could not stop for he was imagining her so fully and him so fully and now into her fully and, oh, love! and he let go all over himself so completely and it felt so wonderful, oh did it, oh Jesus, did it… and then he felt awful and he knew he would be cold.
“Ass,” she said,” you stupid ass!” And she clicked out of the alley all straightened, everything arranged.