Chapter Two: “Soldiers of Christ”
By that spring Sunday morning, they were at the top of their game. They were eighth graders, the biggest kids in the school yard. School would be over in a couple of months and they would graduate and escape.
They all had made it into Catholic high schools. Not being known for their scholarship, they had not been accepted into the new, elite diocesan high school in Astoria, Mater Dei. But, they avoided shaming themselves, and their families, by being judged irrevocably stupid by the Catholic education system and being relegated to that anteroom of hell, the local public high school, PS 125. So, next fall, the three musketeers would split up as they travelled into the city to three separate Catholic high schools that thought the souls of these barely C-level scholars were worth saving.
As they got ready to file into the church with the rest of their class, the line of girls drew parallel with the line of boys. Mickey knew he shouldn’t be looking around—the nuns might catch him, or even worse, Joey—but he couldn’t help but look for Lori among the girls.
Lori, or Loretta Margaret McShea, as she was known to the good sisters of Our Lady of Lourdes parochial school, and her family had moved into the ground floor of a row house on Mickey’s block on Crescent Street about four years ago. The family came over from a place in Ireland called Cavan. Lori was the oldest of six McShea children, four girls and two boys, by Irish standards a modest-sized family. When they first moved into the neighborhood, they all sounded like they were auditioning for bit parts with Barry Fitzgerald in The Quiet Man. But, after a while in Our Lady of Lourdes’ school yard, they all were perfectly fluent in New York English. Lori was a year behind Mickey in school, a seventh grader this year.
Mickey had never had any interest in girls. But, for the last few months, something seemed to be changing. Gradually, he began to realize that he thought he might think otherwise. He wasn’t interested in what girls did; that was all pretty silly and useless stuff as far as he was concerned. But, he was becoming interested in girls… well… because they were girls. Why? He didn’t have a clue. He never gave it much thought. But, whatever was going on, it was probably sinful and should be suppressed, because it felt so… so… strangely delightful and alluring.
So, Mickey didn’t want to suppress it, especially with Lori, even if it did endanger the salvation of his immortal soul. For him, Lori was a blond-haired, blue-eyed ray of sunshine in his shadowy world of predators and power in the school yard, the playgrounds and the streets of the neighborhood. She was smart, friendly, and Mickey even found himself hanging out with her on her stoop, but only when Joey and Johnny weren’t around.
Now, when he saw her, something seemed to happen inside him, something he didn’t quite understand. But, he knew he was fascinated by it, and strangely saddened, attracted by it, and frightened by it, too. He felt happy and strangely excited by just seeing her.
This made absolutely no sense to Mickey, but here he was on a Sunday morning trying to catch a glimpse of Lori on his way into mass. Mickey suspected that somehow this was not the best way to prepare himself to receive Holy Communion, the spotless white body of the sacrificial lamb, but he didn’t want to miss the chance of catching a glimpse of her. He just couldn’t.
Then he saw her. She was a few yards behind him in the girls’ line. How could he have missed her? She was wearing a bright, pink ribbon in her short blonde hair. Not exactly part of the required school uniform, but Lori was a good student and a respectful girl, so the nuns cut her a break on the ribbon… bright pink… un cordon rose… floating in a sea of white and navy blue… the rose of an Easter dawn… la rose du monde… the rose of her smiling lips.
Suddenly the words of a poem that his Pop used to read to him came flooding back. Apollinaire following a beautiful woman through Amsterdam, a woman he had seen on the street. He stood outside her house hoping for another glimpse of her… mes doigts jetèrent des baisers…
“It took you long enough,” whispered Joey in his ear, “How the nuns didn’t spot you I’ll never know.”
“What are you talking about,” Mickey hissed back, jerking his head forward.
“What am I talking about?” Joey whispered, “If that girl back there with the ribbon were cream, you’d be a cat the way you’re lapping it up. You were looking so hard you almost walked into a wall. Who is that? Isn’t that one of the McShea girls from the block? You got a thing for Lori McShea?”
“No… no… I don’t…”
“Michael Dywer! Joseph Simon!” their teacher, Sister Agnes Immaculata, hissed at them, “Talking in line, being disrespectful, right before you enter into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament! I’ll talk to you two right after mass!”
After they passed Sister Agnes, Joey hissed into Mickey’s ear, “So, Mickey Dwyer’s got a thing for Lori McShea! Will miracles never cease, Lord, will miracles never cease?”
THE VIOLENT SEASON is an epic, expansive collection of heroic short stories centered on the gripping experiences of three young men and their families during the Vietnam War. The book presents a ‘coming-of-age’ narrative that begins in the lush river valleys of upstate New York and on the streets of New York City and provides an insightful perspective of youth and innocence plunged into the crucible of war.
As well, it transcends the “good guys, bad guys” portrayal of human conflict by presenting its readers with a depiction of good people, Americans and Vietnamese, caught up in unthinkably grim and difficult circumstances. THE VIOLENT SEASON celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and its ability to triumph over the horror and tragedy of war.
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Genre – Literary / Historical Fiction
Rating – PG13
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