The Palm, the Pine, the Cypress
by Robert James Russell
{from e-Issue #13}

 

Later, after his forty-ninth birthday party, Jerome, sitting alone in his lounge drunk on Sambuca, was flush with nostalgia, and so he booted up the wedge-shaped laptop his daughter Mallory had just bought him—to keep him busy in an otherwise lonely house—and opened the program she had downloaded that let him visit any street in the world.

He was thinking then of Freddy Blaszak, his dear friend from childhood who died in a car crash when he was off at college. Freddy lived down the street, so Jerome entered an approximate address into the program and was transported to 9th Avenue in Queens, maneuvering down the narrow street, slowly moving past the earth-toned homes, the posted-at-interval pine and pin oak planted in the thin strips of grass between sidewalk and street, and stopped at his childhood home. It looked different on the computer screen, more modern, and the homes flanking it, too, seemed newer, but the skies were still that same slate color, still so inert.

Exploring the neighborhood, Jerome realized that across the street and up some, what used to be a Greek Orthodox Church was now a vacant lot with a large sign posting it all for sale. He wondered if it—now, in the present, after the picture was taken—had already been built up into something new. He scrolled back to his old house, the short stoop with the painted-white iron railing leading up, the sunken drive leading to—what once was, at least—a garage so packed full of used furniture his Pop had scavenged from yard sales that they had to keep their car, an ancient Buick he imagined had been birthed out of a single block of steel, parked out along the street.

He thought of Freddy again—of how, on Easter Feast Day, the Greeks would parade down 9th Avenue led by the priests wearing their black cassocks and kalimavkions with the black veils. Jerome remembered, too, how mysterious they all were—the women especially, who’d be holding palm fronds folded into crucifixes or the unmistakable blue and white Greek flags and wearing headscarves and colorful dresses, women who seemed otherworldly compared to the girls they knew: exotic women, women with dark curled hair and olive skin, women with wide hips and large breasts that they were sure tasted like some wonderful Mediterranean fruit. They would be over at Freddy’s, sitting on his porch, watching the parade pass by—this yearly tradition—and once, when they were thirteen, Freddy got the idea to throw a rock—a small one—at one of the priests in the front, a grey-bearded man of indiscriminate age.

Sitting in the lounge all these years later, Jerome thought he had tried to stop him from doing it, but now, memory faded and foggy, he wondered if that might be the morals of middle-age taking over, rewriting his youth. Jerome sipped the Sambuca, touched a three-inch scar along his neck. When the rock hit the priest, however, he didn’t balk or stop the parade, he simply glanced at the boys with steeled eyes, lips thin and pink and pressed firmly together—Freddy standing on the porch, mouth open, waiting for something to happen, Jerome sitting near his feet—pardoning them silently for what they could never say aloud.

Robert James Russell is the author of the novel Mesilla (Dock Street Press), and the chapbook Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out (WhiskeyPaper Press). He is a founding editor of the literary journals Midwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. You can find him online at robertjamesrussell.com.