Having fun with my current WIP (work in progress).
Talk about luck of the draw. Matthew Pagano had been lucky enough to have snagged the best ma any fella could want. The best pa too. Had being the key word. Within months of each other, first Giorgio and then Emma Pagano had departed this world, leaving Matt to fend for himself. Damn. That’s what happens when people old enough to be grandparents become parents for the first time. An orphan at the age of twenty-two, Matt had expressed these feelings to no one but himself. Some fellas his age had already tied themselves down to a clinging wife; and if that wasn’t bad enough, a baby or two. Not that Matt had anything against a family, just not him acquiring one in the near future. For now, he was bent on finding a decent paying job. Okay, any job. That was going to take more than brains or good luck with the whole country in the throes of the Great Depression. Great, Matt’s ass. More like the Damn Depression.
At least his ma and pa had given Matt a good life, not in Chicago but in a distant suburb. They even went so far as to make sure he got through high school when most fellas were dropping out after a year or two. There was a time when he’d considered the religious life, maybe that of a parish priest. Then he got into a minor scrape and was told he didn’t meet the seminary’s high standards.
Two weeks after burying his ma, Matt had been going through his parents’ papers when he came across an official document, one that made him feel like he’d been punched in the gut. Too stunned at the time to follow up on the document, he waited another year before contacting the Holy Guardian Angels Children’s Home, seeking answers he still wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“So pleased to finally meet you, young man,” Mother Superior Mary Joseph said with a slight smile as she motioned Matt to take a seat across the desk from where she sat. “We would have contacted you before now but due to an unfortunate fire some years ago, certain adoption records, including yours, were destroyed.” She paused, shaking her head. “And then there’s the State of Illinois with its stringent policy of sealing the official records. Such a pity.”
“As I told you over the phone,” Matt said, “both of my parents passed away last year, which is how I found out about the adoption.” Leaning forward, he gave Mother Superior the original envelope with the document contained inside, along with a baby blanket he’d found stapled to the envelope.
After reviewing the document, Mother Superior ran two fingers over an embroidered corner of the blue blanket. “Ah, yes. I recognize Beulah Lawson’s handiwork, her signature teddy bear. Such a dedicated midwife, although I’m not sure why she didn’t register this particular birth, which only added to the confusion later on.”
Matt leaned back and squared his shoulders against the dark oak chair. He considered lifting one ankle to the opposite knee but decided against such a relaxed position. Instead, he got right to the purpose of his visit. “I’d sure like to meet my real ma. I mean my birth mother. That is, if she’d like to meet me. Last thing I want is to cause any trouble. Hell, I … er … pardon my language.”
Mother Superior nodded with a pained expression that struck Matt as uncalled for. After all, he did ask her pardon; and it wasn’t like she’d never heard such language before. He waited for her okay to continue; but getting none, he forged ahead on his own. “Anyways, she’s probably married with kids who don’t know even know I exist. I hope we’ll all get along, me being raised as an only child and all. Not that I’m complaining, you understand. Far from it, I just …”
Mary Joseph (as he now thought of the mother superior) stopped his one-sided conversation with an authoritative show of her outstretched palm. “Before you go any further, I regret having to tell you this: your birth mother died last week. I’m so sorry, Matthew. If it’s any consolation, she searched many years for you. And wanted nothing more in life than for the two of you to be reunited.”
Matt resisted the urge to slump in his chair. Instead, he lowered his head and mouthed a damn, taking care not to let Mary Joseph read his lips. “I should’ve come sooner,” he said. “Maybe she would’ve liked me. I’m sure I would’ve liked her.”
He sat in silence for another minute, mentally trying to justify his actions, the guilt he felt for not having contacted the orphanage sooner. Finally, he cleared his throat and mustered the courage to ask, “What can you tell me about her?”
As if on cue, the door to Mary Joseph’s office opened and in walked a much younger nun, balancing a tray of sandwiches and a steaming pot of tea. The nun filled two teacups halfway, then left. As soon as the door clicked shut, Mary Joseph opened the lower drawer of her desk and removed a bottle of what appeared to be hooch.
“A gift from one of our generous benefactors,” she explained while opening it. She topped off both cups of tea, sending a pleasant aroma in Matt’s direction. “We all have our vices,” she continued. “Better to indulge those vices in small doses than let them get out of hand.” After lifting her cup to Matt, she sipped with controlled pleasure.
As did Matt, forcing himself to stop before emptying the entire cup with one gulp. Amen to vices, he thought. Better to indulge with fine whiskey from Canada than lousy hooch from a Chicago bathtub. Mary Joseph gestured to the sandwiches and Matt took two triangles of ham and cheese, savoring each bite of the first triangle before getting back to the purpose of his visit.
“About my mother,” he said.
“Yes, of course,” Mary Joseph replied. “Tell me, Matthew. Have you ever heard of Night School?”
“Who hasn’t,” Matt said with a shrug of broad shoulders. “Everybody knows Night School. At one time Chicago’s most popular … gentlemen’s club. Or most notorious, depending on which side of good and evil you happen to be on.”
Mary Joseph smiled with tight lips. She took another sip of tea, giving Matt the opportunity to attack his second triangle. While munching on it, he recalled his only visit to Night School. That would’ve been around five years ago, not too long after he turned eighteen. He’d sat through a brief but interesting chat with Headmistress Giulietta Bracca and thought her to be the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, her blonde hair and eyebrows arched over eyes as green as his own. What the hell, the woman went so far as to set up him and Pooch with a pair of hookers who specialized in first-timers.
“Obviously, the headmistress is no longer in charge,” Matt said for lack of anything better to say. Anyone with half a brain who read the local rag or followed scuttlebutt on the street would’ve known about Giulietta Bracca dying at the hands of a deranged brewmeister who then did away with himself.
“Yes, she died last week,” Mary Joseph said again.
It took another minute before those words registered with Matt, who’d been peering into his empty cup. “Hold on,” he said, setting the cup down. “Are you telling me …?”
The mother superior nodded. She poured less tea than before, topping it with more whiskey.
Manners be damned. Matt picked up the cup, drained its contents, and returned the cup to its saucer. The next words he spoke bordered on a whisper. “Why Giulietta Bracca? Why didn’t she want me?”
Mary Joseph cleared her throat. “Mrs. Bracca was hardly more than a child herself. And you were a sickly newborn, so weak the midwife didn’t bother registering your existence. But make no mistake about Mrs. Bracca’s feelings: she wanted nothing more than to mother you. She fell asleep cradling you in her arms, only to awake hours later and realize you were gone. Whisked away by your father, according to Mrs. Bracca. Unknown to her at the time, you were left outside the door of Holy Guardian Angels, which is where I found you. As I did a number of other infants during my early years here, before being transferred elsewhere. Six years ago I returned as Mother Superior and met Ms. Bracca shortly thereafter. God rest her soul. She was quite generous to Holy Guardian Angels.”
“And what about my father?”
“Mrs. Bracca was so devastated by his cruelty toward you, she ended their relationship shortly thereafter. He died years ago, or so I’ve been told.” The hallway clocked chimed twice, bringing the discussion to a sudden end. “More information regarding your parentage may be forthcoming from a discussion with Mrs. Bracca’s lawyer,” Mary Joseph said, pressing a business card in Matt’s hand. “Out of respect for her memory and generosity, I shall call ahead, as a way of introducing you and confirming our discussion.”
End of Excerpt ###