Alex Ramsey lost his son two years before; then his wife took to gin, and he lost his job with the Bronx police force. Now he's working as a security guard for a burgeoning high-rise apartment complex, figuring the worst he'll encounter will be marital disputes, drunks, and an occasional teenage ruffian. But then the body of a boy just the age of his son would have been is found beaten, raped and hung by the river flowing through the grounds.
ISBN: 978-1-931982-97-9 Library binding $26 Sale $13.00
ISBN: 978-1-931982-98-6 Trade paper $15.95 Sale $8.50
Philip Cioffari is the author of two books of fiction: the mystery/thriller, CATHOLIC BOYS, and the short story collection, A HISTORY OF THINGS LOST OR BROKEN, which won the Tartt First Fiction Prize, and the D. H. Lawrence award for fiction. His short stories have been published widely in commercial and literary magazines and anthologies, including North American Review, Playboy, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Florida Fiction, and Southern Humanities Review. He has written and directed for Off and Off-Off Broadway. His Indie feature film, which he wrote and directed, LOVE IN THE AGE OF DION, has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island Intíl Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Independent Film & Video Festival. He is a Professor of English, and director of the Performing and Literary Arts Honors Program, at William Paterson University.
from the Book:
The Bronx, 1960
The air smelled of rotting fish.
The girl, breathing through her mouth to avoid it, heard the river gurgling at the edges of the mudflats, and beyond that the whoosh of cars on the parkway towering on cement buttresses above the swamp grass.
In the firelight she began to undress--her top first, a white jersey that fit tight, and then her shorts, hooking her thumbs inside the waistline and pushing down, first one side then the other, a motion more jagged than she intended. She had done it before and they liked it, even though she wasnít yet graceful like the women in the movies. From the shadows at the fireís edge, they cheered her on.
Baby, baby! Sweet baby!
Her shorts fell to her feet and she kicked free of them. Naked now, she stood waiting. She was thin with small breasts that she apologized for by hunching forward. The heat of the fire warmed her back. Damper, cooler air from the river tingled her arms and legs. Usually they played these games in the hallways but she liked the thrill of this, outdoors, only several hundred yards from the housing project, swamp grass and mud sucking at her toes, boys calling to her from the shadows.
A song played inside her head: come to me baby, whisper in my ear. . . . She closed her eyes and let her body drift with the music, this way and that, far across the river and the swamp grass that in her mind went on and on forever--until hands wrapped around her arms, thick and calloused hands that squeezed through to her bones. It hurt a little but she kept her eyes closed while the hands brought her down to the grass and mud.
Spread Ďem, honey, a voice said.
She did as she was told, opening her legs and lying back so that the grass tickled and the rank smell of mud bloomed around her. Her boyfriend, the leader, tall and hard in his black leather jacket, shoved a boy toward her. She didnít know his name but had seen him around: playground, candy store, wherever. He was pale, thin as she was, shaking like he was cold, like it wasnít hot-as-hell June.
Faggot hereís got something to prove, her boyfriend said. He shoved the boy again. Donít cha? Donít cha? The boy stumbled but regained his balance, bent double, arms flailed back. Her boyfriend grabbed his neck and squeezed, the boy making gurgling noises like the river, her boyfriend squeezing tighter, shaking him harder as she watched the kidís eyes bulge like they were filling with air; for a moment she thought they might pop, spitting blood and membrane all over her.
The boy was kneeling now, his narrow face wagging between the knobby posts of her knees, her boyfriend forcing him down until his face was flush against her, wiping like a rag across hair and the folds of her crack, the boy coughing and choking.
He a faggot homo pole-sucker, or a man? Which one? Which one?
A man, the boy said, choking, barely getting the words out. A man like you.
Prove it then.
Her boyfriend let go of the kidís neck and the others came forward. Two of them held the boy while the others ripped open his belt and yanked his shirt and pants off. He crawled to his knees and cringed like a dog. And then the kick came: her boyfriendís black shit-kicker on his butt, sending him sprawling on top of her. Prove youíre not a faggot. Prove it!
She watched him prop himself on his hands like he was going to do pushups over her, his eyes focused on her throat or neck, anywhere but her face. He froze there propped like that: soft between his legs, shriveled up. Her boyfriend shouted, Prove it, homo fucking pansy.
The boyís eyes shut tight. Lips clenched, neck veins taut, he began to move: slow at first then faster, up down, up down, up down: crying now, but faster faster, his soft flesh squashing against her thighs. He held her tighter and tighter and she squirmed to free herself, sliding side to side; but he clung to her, sobbing and pumping harder than ever, too hard, way too hard she was thinking--what kind of a freak are you anyway?--and then he was pushing his face between her breasts like he wanted to crawl inside through flesh and bone to somewhere deep and dark and quiet and then he quit everything except the sobbing, louder now, too loud she thought for such a skinny kid.
She tried to push him away--he was disgusting, no man at all, not like the other guys, strong and hard before she even put her mouth there--but she didnít have to push very long because the other boys were dragging him to his feet, pulling and shoving him. He was spinning between them, between punches and kicks, words and groans, faggot faggot faggot faggot, spinning spinning, a thin lithe shadow colliding with the larger shadows of the older boys, get him get the little faggot. No chance--he had no chance at all--and for the first time that night she felt both fear and sorrow rise inside her like trapped birds. There was something helplessly soft about the boy: for a moment against the riverís dark motion his body seemed to glow, the firelight like a fading sun setting on his skin.