I hated living this way. I was given my weekly allowance of thirty-five dollars. That amount was supposed to feed Frank and our three children, pay the rent, and cover any other expenses. My husband, Frank was off once again. He had just gotten paid fast cash for loading ammunition on a ship that was headed back into war. Tonight, Frank would either be whoring, or he was betting on the fights in the back of old man Lewis’ store. I didn’t know which was worse. At least when he was with the ladies, I didn’t have to suffer through his drunken groping.
Ray was outside running up and down the halls with his brother, Robert and his friend Tony. If I didn’t stop them soon the lady from the third floor, Mrs. Pawnyee Packova would be downstairs banging on my door. I opened the door to yell out at them, and the gentleman who had recently moved in upstairs had both Ray and Robert by the scruff of their necks. Tony, I saw scuttling away from the door to run home.
I hadn’t met him officially yet, and I wasn’t ready to meet him now, but he had saved me the trouble of stopping those mischievous boys.
The man was tall, and as he neared the door, he seemed to be six feet or more. He had thick wavy hair, which was combed back neatly away from his forehead, not like the unruly mess I had. His light gray eyes seemed to look right through me as he pushed the boys through the hall in front of him. Suddenly he smiled, and I wished that I was wearing anything but the ratty blue dress.
Then a strange thought crossed my mind. If the man of my dreams had a face, it wouldn’t have been nearly as attractive as this man’s was.
I swallowed and pulled the boys from his grasp. “Ray, Robbie come inside and quit bothering this man. I…I’m sorry if they were causing you any problems, sir.” I held the boys by the back of their necks in front of me to hide my dress.
He was dressed in an elegant wool suit, white shirt, and tie. He looked like he’d fit in anywhere but this building. He chuckled, “I was once one of those, no need to apologize, ma’am.”
The boys pulled themselves loose from my weakening grip and ran into the modest room behind me. I had nothing left to hide behind. I nervously swept a loose strand of hair with the back of my wrist, and I noticed his eyes follow the movement, then linger momentarily on my chest before his face flushed as he quickly looked away.
I glanced down and saw I had opened a button in my efforts to restrain my two hellions. I hastily buttoned my dress and said the first thing that entered my head. “I’d offer you some tea or coffee, but I haven’t had a chance to send the boys to the corner market yet.”
“I’m sorry for my rudeness; I didn’t mean to intrude on your morning this way. Coffee would have been a pleasant treat, but…” He stuck his large hand out in front of him, and I noticed how clean and perfect his nails were. “I’m Graysen Cooper, and I just moved into the apartment upstairs. I think I’m directly over yours. It’s nice to meet you, ma’am.”
I took his hand and felt a rush of something pass between us. He must have felt it too, his thick dark brows met in the middle, and I heard the swift intake of his breath. “It’s nice to make your acquaintance. I’m Elizabeth Klatt.” We shook hands then I quickly pulled mine out of his and wiped it across the front of my dress.
One side of his full mouth lifted in a smile. My movements hadn’t gone unnoticed. “It’s nice to meet you, Elizabeth.”
Later that afternoon, after I had cleaned up the mess that the two boys had made while playing outside in the hydrant water, I changed into the only clean dress that was still in my closet. I had done my wash and needed to go up to the roof and hang my laundry out to dry. While finishing up that project, I’d send the boys to the corner store and the deli to pick up a few things for me to make for supper. I didn’t know whether expect Frank, but if there weren’t anything hot and ready for him to eat, I would suffer the consequences.
I wrote a note for my boys to give to Mr. Wilson at the corner store and one for Mrs. Leibowitz at the deli. I wouldn’t make anything elaborate, just in case he stayed gone. I crossed my fingers in the pleats of my dress, hoping for a break from his attentions tonight. He’d been rougher with me lately; I didn’t know if work was getting harder or if he was drinking more when he was away. Whatever the reason, I would make sure to cross all my t’s.
“Ray, come here. You are the older brother, and you must set a good example for your brother, Robert. Go straight to the market first, then to the deli. Hurry home afterward so that the cheese stays fresh. Do you understand?” I waited for them both to nod their heads. “Your brother, Frank Junior will be home later this afternoon with his friend, Joey. Then I will have you all help me make supper.” I kissed the tops of both heads and scooted them outside the apartment door; I watched until they had left the building.
I stacked the two baskets of clothes on top of one another, and then dropped a handful of clothespins on the top. I hated doing laundry because of the climb to the top floor. The clotheslines were strung out on the rooftops in this neighborhood; we didn’t have the space to hang our wet things in between the buildings.
I started climbing the stairs and couldn’t help myself from glancing over at the door with the 2F on the front. The new tenant was directly over my apartment. I’d make sure to keep the boys quieter so as not to disturb him. I continued to climb the stairs and let my thoughts wander to Mr. Cooper. He was a handsome man, and well-dressed. I didn’t know many obviously able-bodied men who were still in the neighborhood. Most had gone off to fight in the war.
My Frank was a longshoreman, and he was doing his part for the war by helping load supplies and ammunition onto the ships that took them overseas and straight to the source of contention.
There had been many times lately where I would have gladly worked to earn money for my family if Frank had joined the fight as a soldier. As it was, I was going to have to find some other way to earn some extra money to pay down our tabs at the stores in the neighborhood. I had taken in some ironing to do for a few of the people on the street. That I could do at home, but it wasn’t enough.
It could be if my husband didn’t waste it on booze and broads. My father had been right when he had warned me about marrying Frank. Three boys and a battered body and mind later, I wish I had listened to him. I dropped my basket of clothes and crossed myself while whispering, “God rest his soul and my sweet mother’s.”
I began hanging the boys’ pants and made sure to share one clothespin on two pant legs. I had done this so many times that I could have hung them in my sleep. My mind continued to wander, and I thought about my parents. Aunt Ginny said that their deaths were mob-related, she spoke of a Paula Jones threatening them both right before they were found dead. I remembered thinking at the time that I hadn’t heard of any female mobsters. Uncle Mike shushed her whenever she tried to bring it up to me again. I never heard the exact cause of their deaths, only that they had both suffered.
Frank hadn’t wanted me spending any time with the other members of my family after my parents were gone. He became even more possessive of me. My Aunt Ginny called me occasionally to see how I was doing and to check on the boys. She lived too far away for me to take the kids for a visit. Long Island might as well have been the moon, as far as Frank was concerned. I hadn’t left the Bronx since my parents’ funeral.
I reached into the basket and realized the only things that were still in them were my under clothes. The thought of hanging them outside on the rooftop was scandalous. I had seen many of my neighbors’ lacy underthings hung out to dry, and I could never be so bold especially when there was a chance that my new neighbor might see them.
I felt myself blushing at that thought.
I gathered the baskets with my personal items at the bottom and hurried down the stairs to watch for the boys. I hoped they hadn’t returned yet or I knew I’d have a mess inside. I still needed to hang these things in my bedroom then start supper. I purposely avoided looking at 2F as I hurried down the stairs.
I had just finished draping my underthings around the bedroom when I heard the front door slam shut. “Ray, Robert set sacks on the kitchen table, and I’ll be right out… Frank, I didn’t expect to see you home yet.”
If I hadn’t been so distracted with my thoughts, I would have been able to smell him the moment he walked in the door. He was drunk, and I would be in trouble because dinner wasn’t ready yet. The boys weren’t home either, and I was afraid they would come back and find him like this.
“Frank, the boys should be here any minute. Please go into our room and get undressed. You need to sober up before they get here. Frankie is bringing his friend, Joey, over for dinner. Please, Frank! I’ll have dinner ready by the time you get out of the shower.”
I tried to brush past him, and he reached out and grabbed my upper arm. “Why don ye join me in the sh…shower? Give me a kiss, Lizzy.”
“Frank, the boys could walk in any moment, please let go, you’re hurting me!” I could hear the kids screaming and laughing as they entered our building, and the noise distracted Frank enough for me to pull loose from the hold he had on my upper arm.
I hurried to the door and took the sacks from the boys, while gritting my teeth to stop the tears. I had to find somewhere for them to go. Frank was in a foul mood, and if they didn’t leave, he could take it out on them as well.
Just then the telephone rang, and I reached for it before Frank could knock it off the countertop. He hated the ringing sound when he was drunk. “Hello, this is Elizabeth Klatt speaking. Frankie, let me ask your father first; hang on. It’s Frankie, and he wants to know if he can spend the night at Joey’s house one more time. He said that Joey’s grandma is taking them to the Yankees’ ball game tonight, she knows one of the players and has free seats for the whole family.”
Ray and Robert start yelling out, “Can we go, can we go? Please, why does Frankie always get to do everything fun? We get to do nothing.”
I recognized the look on Frank’s face and knew I’d better stop their whining, or they would both get a whipping. “Boys, I can’t hear what your father is saying. Hush now. You aren’t old enough to be on that subway by yourselves, and I can’t take you. I need to take care of your father. Frank, can he stay the night?” I held the handset close to my heaving chest; I was nervous that Frank would go off on me before I could make sure all my boys were safe.
Frank sat down on one of the kitchen chairs and yelled for Ray to help him get his boots off, and then he leered at me. “Tell him te stay all weekend if he wants, but only if you can fine somewheres for these two te go.”
I lifted the receiver up to my ear. “Did you hear what your father said? You can stay all weekend if you would like, but please try to be home sooner than Monday to help me with Ray and Robbie. I love you, and be sure to thank them for taking you to the ballgame.”
“Robbie, come over here and help me get your father’s boots off, Ray, run across the hall and ask Tony’s parents if you two can stay over at their place for a few hours.” Please don’t argue. Please don’t argue. The words repeatedly played in my head.
Ray must have felt the tension in the room. “I’m sure they will say yes. Come on, Robbie. Help me with Dad’s boots, and we can go over there and ask together.”