MacIntosh story continues: TWO LANE HIGHWAY
After an accident
that kills his parents, Allen Connellys transition isnt smooth. A
home with an insecure aunt and an uncle with Alzheimers isnt a
perfect fit for a boy on the cusp of teenage rebellion. Aunt Rose struggles
with the edgy boys restlessness and her husbands forgetfulness.
Yet, its Allen who mends the seams when everything falls apart. Is it his
need or theirs that keep this unlikely family together?
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
If you dont know where you are going, any road
will get you there. -- Lewis Carroll
The shrill of the
phone fractured the cool night air. A fire truck to the rescue at two a.m.? The
uncommon noise bore into my senses. Not the usual clank and crash downstairs
Id learned to sleep through. A door closed with a thud, the hum of the
refrigerator, their chatter that often escalated to angry shouts. With the
sudden sharp tone, I woke in a state of confusion.
high-pitched ring made my eyes go owl wide. The phone seldom rang during the
day. It surprised me to such a degree I fought the urge to get up and run.
Regaining my senses, I turned over in bed, pulled at the cover to keep the
chill off my shoulders and stuffed the pillow over my ear to avoid the next
Three times, four.
Strange that my grandmother didnt respond. With no sign of relief, I sat
up in the narrow bed and contemplated whether I should wonder down and tackle
the problem. Something important? But my grandmother controlled the phone. She
paid the bill. That message had been delivered so often my parents only used it
when she wasnt in the house.
How could she
sleep through the noise? Why would she ignore it?
There were only
two small bedrooms in my grandmothers house and adults had priority, of
course. Gramma had the first floor as her official domain and my parents laid
claim to the upper bedroom and a small bathroom; steps from where I slept. My
space was nothing more than the second story alcove, a sardine can. A twin bed
and a three-drawer dresser. No barriers to ward off whatever drifted my way.
Sounds and smells filtered only by likes and dislikes and a subconscious
trigger that worked at its best when lights went out. Momentarily, I felt lost,
out of place.
I kicked back the
thin blanket, scooted to the edge of the bed and let one leg dangle to the
floor. Then I heard the shuffle of her feet and sank back down. Relax.
Before I pulled up
the cover, closed my eyes, though, her voice as cold as the black night, halted
Then the crack of
the handset against the wall made me flinch.
What did he
do now? Hell and damnation. And the middle of the night.
The call had to be
about my father. Bar fights and my father were as common as fleas on the
backyard dog. Kicked off the Buffalo police force, third offense. Thats
why wed moved to Allentown. Even though hed been on good behavior
for more than twelve months and had held on to the job with the Allentown
Police Department for six of those months, I sensed this would be the end to a
long period of calm. The return of his true nature.
There had been an
early warning. Hed left the house in a foul mood. The truth was the
cramped quarters and his dislike for my grandmothers rules worked against
My mother, the
eternal peacemaker, suggested they go out on the town for the evening. The
change might temper his restlessness, she said.
In the past, under
even normal circumstances, his mood could turn on a dime. Edginess to
fulminating rage. And he had a favorite target for venting his volcanic
When forced out of
the kitchen or living room because Id voiced an opinion about his lack of
control, when I talked back to him, I had only one place to retreat. My small
bed in the alcove. No door to hide behind. Left alone, as a means of getting
even, I doodled pictures of my father with pointed ears, smoke curling from
within, coal black eyes with red dots. Skull bones on his forehead.
My mother, in the
middle of an altercation, would do her best to defuse the issue but sometimes
it took more than a tease and a smile to get him out of the house for a dinner
date. This night, she suggested they go to his favorite bar. She must have been
more than afraid or shed never suggest a night of drinking. Truth driven,
she knew, I knew, if he didnt retain dominance over his defiant son, she
would be his next victim. Her diversions didnt always work out the way
she intended but away from home often became the best alternative.
As usual, with the
kitchen as a staging battle because of slurps, cold food, pointed forks thrust
with warnings, I retreated up the stairs as fast as possible to avoid further
contact with him. My grandmother and watchful mother remained stationed at the
wooden scarred table in the kitchen near the stairs. A soft blockade. He
wouldnt advance in their sight. I took refuge in my bed and his stream of
threats were contained for the time being. But I did hear him pace back and
forth, hard shoes, click of his heels, until the bar invitation caught his
attention. Michael Connelly, who thrived on trouble, father of one, tormentor
of many, had a taste for Seagrams or any lager or frothy ale. Either
would sooth his tormented soul.
My grandmother had
issued her last warning that evening. She didnt mince words. If he broke
anything, destroyed her property, laid a hand on anyone in her sight, hed
be out on the street.
back on my pillow with the thought that if my mother succeeded in changing his
mood and played the date game well, hed be tanked by ten. If not,
hed return to his favorite punching bag and settle a score with me.
Thats what kept me in my corner, didnt pop out of the bed at the
first sound, tried to sleep to avoid a storm. So far, hed never struck me
when I was already down.
Often, I hid under
the bed, away from the spittle, the foul breath of beer and whiskey. The rise
of his fist only landed on the pillow and a pile of blankets. Yes, I tried as
hard as I could to keep my mouth shut. Not add to his rant. Sometimes I failed
but if I remained quiet, hed waddle away and fall on his bed, flat faced
for at least eight hours.
I turned my head
to the faint light downstairs and listened. I had to decipher the substance of
the tense conversation. Had my mother called for help? When Gramma repeated the
words County Hospital, I knew the night would not end well. The greater
concern was my mothers safety.
Embodied with a
gentile heart, she couldnt be anything but kind to me, devoted,
attentive. Her love filled the voids in our lives. Was he jealous?
The irony was she
walked on hot fires to protect her angry husband, too.
hovered and Grammas crackling voice shattered the chill air, I sensed
thered be little sleep for either one of us. I crept down the hall and
craned around the archway to learn what had ignited her outburst. The light
grew dimmer when she stood up. She turned, still clutching the phone in her
hand and saw me pressed against the wall.
cant ya send one of his friends over, she said into the mouthpiece.
Her steely gaze fixed on me. I cant do nothing with the boy
here. A long pause. Her eyes rolling. Why now? The middle of the
night. Another pause. Oh, damn it, guess I can call my
sister. The phone fell back into its cradle.
I sat down on the
landing, in my undershorts. My knees knocked together. My hands failed to hold
my legs steady so I leaned back on the wooden stairs and stared at the ceiling.
Wait it out or succumb to that urge to run for cover?
Boy, I see
you there. Why in the hell did you come down with no clothes on? Get dressed or
stay in your bed. Theres been an accident. That father of yours. Damn him
all to hell.
The cupboard door
opened. A thud when it closed. The sound of a steady stream from bottle to
glass. A swish, a slurp. I knew the routine. Shed sit for a while, an
elbow on the table, the glass and its brown liquid in the other hand. Tip it to
her lips, slow, methodical. Half empty, then shed swig the last half in
one long swallow.
passed. Bottle to glass like a metronome. The phone broke her pace and this
time she answered on the first ring.
Yeah, I hear
you. I cant come to no trauma center. I got a kid here and I dont
drive in the dark. Its an emergency you say but what can I do? A
long pause. Okay, okay
I hear ya. Itll take a while. Okay,
Ill ask for the charge nurse in the trauma ward. A rapid hang up.
Long enough for me to shake off the weariness and go upstairs for my jeans and
a tee shirt. Then I heard the clack, clack rounding of the dial. Short, long,
more numbers than a local call.
I had a vague
memory of the Philadelphia relative. My mother mentioned her aunt on occasion.
Id met her when I was about four. Seven years had passed. A foggy
recollection, nothing remarkable. An aunt they said, Grammas younger
sister. Gramma called her the black sheep. I surmised it meant something
was wrong with her attitude, not her skin.
When they talked
on the phone, my grandmother ended the conversation in the same way. Bitterness
softened by a trip to the cupboard. A kid couldnt be anything but
frightened by an aunt who had such an effect on her older sister.
What words did
this relative use to trigger my grandmothers revulsion? If she came to
the rescue tonight, Id better brace for another round of familial verbal
The doorbell rang.
Grammas shuffle, the routine grunts, her harsh damn it, and the
door opened. The news could not have been worse than what two of my
fathers co-workers reported.
The voice of a
man, Sorry, Maam, aint no easy way to say this.
Michaels gone. Your daughter hanging on. We come to take you over to the
of my fathers death caused a wave of heat to run down my cold back and I
unwrapped my arms from across my chest and breathed in a strange, new
Relief ran like a
Id escape his rage tonight but something deeper, more satisfying. I
embraced the thought my mother would be forever safe.
going nowhere with you two thugs, gramma spit out.
Two hours later,
the strange aunt, Rose Marie MacIntosh, arrived and launched a major alteration
in my life. Not by unkind words, not with condemning pity. She looked in my
eyes and expressed sorrow for my loss. The unnerving fact was my grandmother
had not been unable to convey any manner of sympathy toward me.
Aunt Rose looked
in my eyes and said in a true, mournful tone, Im so sorry.