Here's a story dealing with a character we haven't seen very much of at all: Mike's mom. She may have shaped his life, but few people have tackled just what sort of person she was. Meriden Bruce takes a look that provides much food for thought.
Mary Dinsmore Logan sat by her open kitchen window overlooking the stoop of the old brownstone that rose five stories more above her. She sat by the window smoking a cigarette while her kitchen floor dried. She'd be able to see the kids before they could come in and track her clean floor. It was June and soon they'd be out of school driving her crazy a whole day instead of just a half.
Mary drew fiercely on her cigarette, going over the order of her plans for the rest of the afternoon. Dinner was ready. Frank's mother's stew that he loved was on the stove. Soda bread came out of the oven before she'd started the floor. Ambrosia salad was in the fridge and she had cookies and ice cream for dessert. She'd bathe after the kids came home and were settled in front of the TV -- unless the boys stayed out after school, which they did more and more even though they weren't supposed to. Her hand reflexively rose to feel that no hair had escaped the pins beneath the hair net she wore. She tiptoed across the floor to avoid wet spots that might have pooled on the uneven linoleum, checking that everything was spotless on the way to the bedroom. The bedroom was spotless too, even her work corner where the floor model Singer sewing machine stood next to a card table that neatly held her sewing things. There was always a faint smell of Frank in this room. It was stronger than her own perfume, stronger than room deodorizer, stronger than the strong solution of bleach she cleaned with. She didn't know where it came from....maybe his smelly cop's feet. It couldn't be his underwear because she never allowed it to get dirty. She secretly relished the odor even as she tried to eradicate it.
She pulled the basting out of the canary yellow summer dress she'd put together after watching Frank's reaction to Bridgit Gillespie at a church dinner about a month ago. Bridgit had noticed, too, and kept putting herself into poses that would get Frank's attention. Even with his belly starting to push against his shirt Frank still turned women's heads. Women could never resist Logan men; it was the Black Irish in them, that's what his mother said, and Mary always thought she was in a position to know. It held true in Mary's experience. Frank liked flirty little dresses so Mary had taken mental measure of Bridgit's little green dress, made a few improvements on it, and it was now ready for its final ironing.
Mary paused a moment, faltering, tangling in her own plans. Maybe Frank would be just as tired after a day spent in court testifying as he was after a day walking his beat. Maybe he wouldn't see the canary yellow dress and how it highlighted her dark hair. Maybe he wouldn't want her to go with him when he went out after dinner. She just wanted him to look at her the way he'd looked at Bridgit Gillespie, the way he used to look at her before the kids, before he got tired, before he went out to the bar every night, before Michael had been born. The pretty line of her jaw hardened, her mouth flattened as she clenched her back teeth against one another. She took the dress from the ironing board and slipped it over the dress form. She smoothed and fluffed and adjusted for a few minutes, then the one smile that would crease her face that day softened her tight mouth.
The hall door opened and she heard the sounds of the boys entering the front room. She glanced at the metal alarm clock on the table by Frank's side of the bed. It was later than she thought. The boys hadn't come directly home and she'd gotten lost in the dress and her thoughts. Now she'd have to rush through her bath. Her mouth tightened again as she came on the boys tussling in the front room. She could tell they were just playing, but they could knock something over. Joe should know better. But sometimes it was hard to control Michael when he bounced off the walls.
She pulled them apart, scolding them for rough housing, for being late. She hauled on Michael's arm and pulled him around to face her because he was already backtalking when she saw the muddy knee of his pants leg and then saw the tear.
"What's this?" she was squatting in front of him. She pulled on his arm again and saw the light leave his eyes. "How'd that happen?"
He looked at his brother, then at the floor.
"Don't look at him. Look at me." She yanked at him again. The light flickered in his eyes, then she felt the energy start to course in his body again.
"I hit a home run, Mom!"
"You did not, you little liar." Joe thwacked the back of his head. Michael began to jig at the end of his mother's arm.
"You heard what Denny Meagan said. If it hadna hit that tree it would of gone outa the lot! It was like a home run! Wham! I was like Sandy Kofax!" and Michael began to twist himself up to hit another ball.
Mary unwound him to face her again. "You're supposed to come home and change before you go out to play. You think I got nothin' better to do than make your clothes just so you can ruin 'em?" Michael was looking at the floor waiting for the scolding to be over.
"Huh?" she pulled his chin up and was forcibly struck as she was almost every day by how much he looked like Frank. She squeezed his chin harder than she meant to and she saw him wince and then a lightening flash of anger in his big eyes. Her heart contracted briefly and she pushed her fingers roughly through his dark hair as he bounded out of her hands.
"Change your clothes and don't make a mess," she called after them. "If you do, no TV."
Teresa would be home soon from Girl's Sodality at the Church and she could keep an eye on the boys....if she didn't lock herself in her room. Mary decided to risk it and take her bath before Teresa came home. She drew the bath water as she herded the boys to the TV.
Mary closed the bathroom door and locked it against interruptions. She stripped her capri pants and blouse and underwear, checked in the mirror that none of her hairpins had come loose to drag in the water. She made sure that all the granules of scented bath salts had melted, and slipped in. The heat embraced her taut, hard body, entered her limbs and finally penetrated her core and she felt things begin to slip and loosen inside her. The apartment was in deep quiet with only the murmur of the TV like a string of bubbles in water. She felt an extra flush of pleasure, a surge of certainty that the evening would go well.
Finally, after an hour of preparation she looked at herself in the mirror of her vanity table. She looked as good as she'd ever looked in high school. When Frank had been so crazy about her.....when he couldn't keep his hands off her.
The boys were lying on the floor watching TV.
"Is Teresa back yet?" she asked as she passed them on her way to the kitchen. They were so focused on the cartoon they didn't hear her.
"Boys!" she said louder. "Joe!"
"What!" he said, turning abruptly toward her. "Mom...you look great. Mikey, look at Mom!"
"I said 'Did your sister come home yet?' ". Michael had scurried toward her on all fours doing five different things at once. He was fingering the edge of her dress, smelling her leg and pretending he was a bucking bronco.
"She's in her room...you look great, Mom!" Joe repeated.
"You look really pretty," Michael told her, too, as his head accidentally went up the front of her skirt as he bucked.
"You smell good, too!"
"Michael, stop it!" she shouted at him, grabbing his arm, pulling him bucking from beneath her skirt. They smiled at her like dumb little monkeys, she thought. She was pleased by their compliments, but they made her uncomfortable. Michael wore his father's expression of devilment.
"Joe, go get your sister and tell her to come and help me. Go back to the TV," she waved them both away from her and went into the kitchen.
Mary took a white apron with lace edges that she'd starched and crisply ironed from a kitchen drawer and tied it around her waist. She turned a low heat on under the stew and sliced the soda bread. She fanned the pieces on a plate, handling the knife and the bread gingerly because she didn't want to scratch the deep red polish that was still fresh on her nails. Her gold Bulova watch that Frank had given her for her birthday last year read 5:00. Since he wasn't coming from the precinct house there was nothing to keep him. He should be home by 5:30. She felt her excitement mounting and she told herself she was being stupid. But she kept seeing herself seated on the big, curved banquette at Grady's, tucked in the protective curve of his arm, laughing with their neighbors and some of Frank's friends on the force. Her yellow dress lit the dim bar, its full skirt partly draped over Frank's knee. He was solid beside her and she could feel his chest move in and out with his breath and his gray eyes caught the light of her yellow dress.
Noise erupted from the front room and Mary caught her own breath sharply. She slammed the flat of the knife hard against the counter.
"Shut up, you kids," she shouted at them. She shut her eyes against the anger that was rising up her throat. She took a breath against it. It wasn't anger; it was tension, but it shattered into shards against the kids. Another outburst came from the front room and she stormed toward it, her arms moving at her sides like scissors. "I told you to shut up and I'm not kidding," Teresa was turning the TV channel as the boys clamored at her.
"Teresa, get out here and help me with dinner."
"Why do they always get to watch what they want?" she whined meanly, taking a swipe at Joe as she passed him. Teresa preceded Mary into the kitchen then turned to face her. "Where are you going?" she demanded with her perpetually sullen expression.
"I thought I'd go out with your Dad tonight. Set the table."
Mary saw something uncertain pass Teresa's 13 year old mask and the tension tightened in her shoulders. It was 5:25 when they completed the table and Mary heard the sound of the door opening from the other room. Her heart jumped and she turned toward the front room to meet Frank as the telephone rang behind her in the kitchen. A split second of disorientation followed the sound of Frank's voice on the phone because she had been so keyed to meet him as he came in the door. It was like a chicken's body running on after its head had been chopped off. Her heart that had jumped a moment before in tense anticipation now fell to silence. Teresa lurked just beyond the kitchen door listening to her mother's phone conversation.
"I thought I just heard you coming through the front door." Mary's laugh was short and brittle. "Where are you? Dinner's almost ready --"
"Frank, I made your favorite food. Dinner's ready and we're waiting for you." She spoke quietly and spaced her words in an even, temperate pace.
"Why don't you come home now and go out after dinner. Maybe I'll even come along."
"Oh, right," she lost her careful spacing and her consonants became hard and sharp, "you'll stumble in here at midnight."
"One of these nights I'm gonna put the chain on the door, Frank, and you'll have to sleep outside with the bums you roust every morning."
He hung up on her. Mary carefully replaced the receiver. She turned and caught sight of her daughter half exposed behind the kitchen door.
"What the hell are you looking at?" she shouted. "Were you eavesdropping? Clear his place and pour the milk." She gestured at the table furiously. "Serve the dinner. I'm changing!"
The boys glanced at her cautiously as she passed. She took her heels off in the bedroom and threw them at the closet door. She tore off her clip earrings and threw them at her vanity table. She changed back into her capri pants, refusing the tears imprisoned behind the wall of her fury. She wanted to hurt Frank; she wanted to hit him; slap his face until her hands stung; shake him until something rattled inside him. She wanted his flesh under her nails.
She went back to the kitchen, telling the boys they were to come for dinner as she passed. They immediately turned off the TV and followed her. They sat side by side at the dinette in the kitchen. Teresa had served and sat across from them. Mary sat at one end. Their silence made the empty seat more apparent and Mary's fury was like another presence at the table. They ate in silence, the children sitting squarely in their chairs, Mary sitting skewed to one side, her slim legs crossed and wound around one another. She stabbed at her food and her red nails were loud against the paler colors of the kitchen.
The boys were hungry and ate eagerly, but with careful manners. They slowed after ten minutes; Joe asked for seconds, which Teresa gave him. Michael took another piece of bread, but began to break it into pieces.
"Don't play with your food!" Mary snapped at him.
He put the bread down and returned his hands to his lap as his mother and the nuns at school had taught him. But then something lit his gray eyes and he shoved a hand into his pants pocket. His dark lashes fluttered with frustration and he ventured to speak. He leaned toward his brother and said carefully "You have my Indian head nickel."
Joe, annoyed, said, "No, I don't. Turn around," casting a quick glance at his mother.
"Yes you do," Michael hissed in a loud stage whisper. "I showed it to you and you didn't give it back."
"Yes I did. Now shut up and turn around." Michael reached out his hand toward Joe's pocket.
"Michael!" Mary snapped and Michael froze. "Get away from your brother. Move to the empty place."
He got up slowly and with exaggerated care began to move each piece of his place setting. His carefulness gave way to a private game at some point; he deployed his knife and fork like military guns.
"Michael...." Mary's voice was pregnant with warning. He sat quickly in Frank's empty place and Mary glowered at him. He reached out for his milk, sliding his arm on the table, opening and closing his hand like a piece of machinery. His hand made contact and the glass tipped from his grasp sending the contents in a low trajectory, splattering over Mary's clean floor, spattering the refrigerator, the wall, the baseboard and lower cupboards. Mary's face blanched and the children became still as statues. She rose and stood over Michael whose head was lowered, her features screwing into an ugly mask.
"I just washed that floor this afternoon," she screamed at him.
"I'm sorry," he said fast and loud, head still lowered.
"You're sorry? What good does that do? Sorry doesn't make any difference. Does it clean up the mess?" He shook his head no. "You're damn right it doesn't. You're gonna clean up the mess."
She balled up the back of his shirt in her fist and pulled him onto the floor on his knees. She whipped a galvanized bucket from a utility closet and half filled it with water, saturated a sponge and threw it at the boy hunkered down in the pool of spilled milk, head still lowered. She shoved the bucket at him, sloshing water that mixed with the milk. She stood over him and he finally raised his head to her.
"I didn't do it on purpose," he spoke in his own behalf, angry at his mother, but afraid, too.
"Clean it up!" she shouted at him.
"It was an accident."
"Clean it up!" she shouted louder. He moved the wet sponge blindly in the spill. He began to cry and stopped to look at her.
"Why are you always so mad?" he demanded of her.
"What? What did you say? Are you talking back to me?" She pulled him around, sprawled on the wet floor, to face her squarely. "You can't backtalk to me...do you understand?" She shook him. "Do you understand? You can't do this to me."
Her fury had turned to spitting white-hot frenzy. She took the big, metal spoon from the stove and hauled him up by one arm to aim at his backside, but the blows struck his back, the little knobs of his spine, the bony part of his shoulder.
"Do you hear me? You will not do this to me." Michael looked up at her, angry and accusing, from beneath his raised arms. "You cannot do this to me," she chanted to the rhythm of her blows.
The other kids were shouting, making noise, but it all happened outside the envelope she and Michael were locked in. "You cannot do this to me," she insisted again and again to Michael who wore Frank's face and who flashed Frank's eyes at her. But the hard, unyielding anger she saw in them she recognized as her own.
Mary began to cry. Joe pried the spoon from her hand and Teresa pulled Michael from beneath their mother. He was wet from the milk and water on the floor; his dark hair matted against his skull. His shirt ruched up in back and Mary saw a long welt swelling red and purple across his backbone. Hot, raw sobs came up from her belly. She ran from the kitchen, down the hall and slammed the bedroom door behind her, flattened herself against it like an animal cornered or a fugitive evading capture. Her grief was wild and she didn't know what to do with it. Sobs choked her, turning her stomach inside out, and tears mixed with her mascara stinging her eyes, blinding her. Mary sank to the floor and crawled to the bed. She laid on Frank's side and took her own pillow from beneath the yellow chenille spread, cradled it in her arms and contracted into a fetal position. She began to rock back and forth in a hard, jerking motion, and over time the rocking grew gentler as it soothed and calmed her. Opening her eyes she saw the yellow beaded rosary that hung on her bedpost. She took it and twisted it around her palm, its' yellow beads slipping easily between her thumb and forefinger. A peaceful Christ hung on the rosewood cross above their bed; a wedding gift from Aunt Grace and Uncle Tommy. This Christ was long past his suffering; he'd left it behind. A yellow bead rolled between her fingers.
The pattern of the prayer slowed her heart. She closed her eyes. Her thoughts were like a tangled skein of words, images and people. Frank as a little boy who looked like Michael; Michael with the body of a man and his father's face; the Holy Family: Mary and her beautiful baby boy who looked so much like his father. Grace.....fruit.....sinners, yes, God, yes....pray for us.
She opened her eyes and saw Michael's face beside her bed bathed in the light of the street lamps that shone through the windows. His eyebrows were bunched together and his chin jutted forward. He was angry. His little face was stubborn and demanding, but she didn't know what he wanted. Finally Mary took him by the wrist and putting aside the pillow she'd clutched to her chest pulled him into its place. He was rigid and unmoving beside her and she thought he might push her away. His hair was stiff and smelled of dried milk. She pushed her fingers into its thick mass, separating its stuck together strands. She'd have to get him into the tub before school tomorrow. She felt his muscles slowly slacken as she fussed with his hair and finally he was a dead weight in her arms. She closed her eyes.