Faith and Sunday
Alberto was holding his daughter’s hand as they exited over the marble floors of St. John’s into the sun half hidden behind the clouds. The blessed water from the sign of the cross mixed on his forehead with slight beads of sweat that he wiped with a subtle glance of his thumb. His boy holding his mother’s hand was shaking Msgr. Torres’ hand and he thought about how beautiful Carol his wife was when he took her unexpectedly, passionate, in the shower hoping the kids could not hear just before the eleven thirty mass.
“Caballero! Que pasa eh?” Msgr.’s outstretched hand was extended warm as; old friend’s hands tend to be.
“What ya think Msgr., bring Pettite back or what?”
“Ah well, you know what I think Alberto. Further he wants to pitch in on our lovely new digs. I would hope that money remains the smallest of issues between them.”
“Yeah, money’s always a small issue with the Yanks.”
“I know, I know. Pray for ol’ 46 though, eh? He’s worked hard for us.”
“Yes…he has. I loved your homily today by the way, see you in the week,” Alberto said, going away taking his wife in his arm, their kid’s steps in front leading the way to the car in back of the church.
“You thought it was a good homily?” Carol asked looking ahead, her breath faintly outlined by early March air.
“I did. I always like the Msgr.’s stuff, you know that.”
“He kisses your ass because he likes the size of our envelopes.”
“Yeah maybe, my ass. Fr. Crawford’s much better.”
“Well, now you’re talking about a completely different kind of ass kissing.”
Her hand fell lazily into the back pocket of his Hugo Boss pants. He noticed the new highlights she had been talking about getting, deciding that he liked them very much. They enjoyed a good life. She was a good woman and he found himself still very attracted to her. Her body was still firm save for some dips and changes that life and their kids had brought naturally. They had grown close again recently. At times the fights had been so bad they only spoke to one another in front of the kids, hating the fact that their lives had become typical. But as more time passed the animosity had started to fade, the storms seemed nearly behind them.
“You felt amazing this morning,” he said taking her closer, kissing her flush on her cold cheek that she tilted slightly toward him.
“Let’s next weekend…” she paused.
“Let’s next weekend what?”
“Let’s get rid of our two beautiful children and get a room at the Plaza.”
“The Plaza, huh? That little out of the way bed and breakfast?”
“Well?” She smiled almost laughing. “Why not? We can afford it. You can adjust your schedule.”
“Yeah we can, and yes, I can.”
“And you know my sister and Johnny will take the kids no questions. It’s been so long Alberto…it’s been too long.”
“I don’t see why not, Baby.”
“Good.” She sighed. “I’ll make the arrangements this week.”
“Ah…” Alberto paused and strangely the sound of Msgr.’s voice vibrated in and out of his mind. No words or definitive structure, just tone and pitch. “Let me set it up. I’m pretty sure I can get a suite rated through Zuckerman and his people, so I’ll take care of it.”
“Okay. I’ll call my sister.”
Carol’s lips had always been one of his favorite features on her. Always full with dark shades of gloss or lipstick, and walking in, Alberto wanted to kiss her as he had in the shower, his tongue all over them, but quickly reminded himself of where they were, settling on just the pride of her being his wife, the woman raising his children. There were reasons this Sunday he thought, why he had been noticing everything next to him, and in front of him – words, friends, truth.
“C, honey, would you mind if I caught the …”
“No. I don’t mind. I had a feeling you were going to ask. I don’t mind, just don’t be late please, and don’t be hammered. All I have to do is heat it up. I went to Rosario’s on Friday.”
“Give me the keys, tell your children.”
He handed over the keys, the familiar sound calling his children to him. His daughter Lindsey ran, his son Frankie sauntered perplexed.
“What’s the matter champ?”
“Where are YOU going?” He asked sarcastically looking back at his father the way Alberto looked at his father; Frankie’s sarcasm, the sound of his mother Carol’s.
“He’s going to watch the Knicks game, stupid!” Lindsey shouted abrupt waving her arms in any direction they would go.
“OH!!! You don’t talk to your brother like that.”
“Say ‘sorry’ to your brother Frankie.”
“Sorry Frankie,” she sighed not caring.
“I’ll be home for supper kid... Couple hours, yea?”
“Yeah.” Frankie smiled giving and getting kisses from his father who then had him in a bear hug balanced on one knee.
“Think about Tampa this year and we will talk about it over dinner, ok Frankie?”
“Really?!” His dark brown eyes fully arose from the sunken position they had held moments ago.
“Well, yeah. We better get a move on. Spring trainings almost over, kid. I think we can all use a little trip to Tampa anyways,” Alberto said looking at Carol’s green eyes, stroking the top of Lindsey’s hair.
He stood up and kissed Carol. Carol rubbed her fingers against him just as she used to do when they kissed in public, when they first started dating.
“Don’t be late,” She whispered. “And bring some dessert…for us, I mean, for later.”
“Ok.” Alberto smiled. He walked several strides before deciding to wave, but his family had already started towards their beige Cadillac parked next to the black Cadillac that was the property of St. Johns.
The sun was dying in the clouds when Alberto hailed a gypsy cab to the upper eastside. The traffic was thin, the roads whitened from winter salt. The driver had a hard time slowing for rises of concrete and barely kept to the edge of major potholes now unearthed with the absence of snow. The girders of the Queensboro Bridge passed out of the corner of his eye with the presence and time of ghosts. The words of Msgr. Torres’ homily transformed into emotions. Carol and his children raw in his memory, his blood ran all over his fit body back into his face where the feelings pushed out his eyes in the form of thick tears.
“Give and it shall be given to you. For whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return.”
Alberto swore from the third pew that when Msgr. Torres spoke his dark eyes, illuminated with the gold of his aviator frames, were intended directly for him. At that moment, next to his wife and children, every carefully crafted lie and all the happy hour and midnight self-justifications bore itself inside him as right and wrong.
His father had mistresses, his brother had mistresses, and hopefully Frankie would break the cycle, Alberto thought. He has had one other lover during his twelve-year marriage – Sandy, a secretary for a distributor that he no longer worked with. She was a gorgeous 24-year old black woman who understood the relationship would never go anywhere outside the walls of midtown hotels that she put on her visa, that Alberto would give her cash and gifts for. There was little emotion, which meant easier rationalizations, better constructed lies, and on the advice of Alberto Pauletti, Sr., a clean break, no regrets.
It was the previous June when he met Shelley at a high-end fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City. His company was making a sizable donation and though Alberto was not part of the program himself, two of his top executives were and urged him for an appearance.
Shelley that night wore a black cocktail dress and black stockings. Her little sister Aya was 7 and quite in charge of the room with her energy amidst everyone’s foregone conclusion that she was indeed special. Aya wore a red satin dress with black shoes, her dark Philippine skin running all the way up into a well-coifed ensemble of curls. It was, in fact, Aya who noticed Alberto before Shelley. After the photographs of the check – his executives with theirs – Aya appeared, her eyes a little lost and curious.
“She’s mine.” Shelley appeared relieved as if she had been looking for her. “7 years old and she’s got it for Italian guys, Oy.” She sighed.
“How do you know I’m Italian?”
“Honey, you wear it as well as that suit.”
Shelley’s hand was well manicured with a faint bit of sweat. After exchanging pleasantries, names, purpose for being there, praise of the program, they moved to backgrounds. Her manners were well practiced; her blue eyes a touch cloudy. The black cocktail dress was sleeveless showing her powdered white skin that was marbled with swirls of faint red around her shoulders, and the base of her neck. As they talked her self-deprecating wit surprised him. Her body appeared to be more voluptuous than Carol’s, though as quick as the comparisons between the two arrived in his mind they were escorted out just as fast. Her voice was deep but not hoarse or raspy. He could not help but let himself be taken by how she subtly talked with her hands, how her hair was the perfect length for her just below the ear, jet black, sexy as the shadows and the private spaces the room held. She called him on every bluff and no woman had done that in years. He told her that he was married and all she did was shake her head and say, “Oy, Let’s just play.” He could still feel the deep, brash feeling in his chest of that night that wove itself over many nights and many afternoons.
That was last June, now it was March he thought to himself. He felt that he had to end it before the cracks of his secret emotions started to flow, before the guilt seeped into his family and work, leaving everything he’d worked for, created, a statistic.
“86th and Lexington,” Alberto spoke somber wiping his eyes. This would be, had to be, the last time sneaking to her 17th floor apartment. Torres’ words still resonating, grating, forcing Alberto to deal with a black part of his life that must be confronted, dealt with, discarded as soon as time would permit.
“So much of today’s practices or ill-practices, what we see, what is reflected, what we settle for, how we have come to give up so easily, is…falls…upon each of us evenly. The responsibility is ours. Whether it is in business, in our family, in our word, community, or handshake, please ask yourselves: ’what am I doing? How am I to blame? Did I try today? Or did I lie today? How can I correct this? How can I help?’
“These are fundamental, common sense questions that we ALL were taught from the earliest of ages, and yet in our everyday lives, we have lost the sensibility and conviction to answer them and practice what we know is right. Let’s today pray for the courage to admit and right our wrongs, to have an everyday diligence to right and stay our courses, for something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our selfishness’ and our short comings.”
The cab rolled to 3rd avenue, and Alberto asked the driver to make a left on 81st street. On the corner, JoAnne’s Wine and Cheese was nearly empty, sparking the warm memory of the summer night where Shelley and he shared their last bottle of Simi red just before taking her for the first time.
On arriving to her building, Alberto noticed first that the doorman was Ted, which put part of him at ease due to the fact that Ted was the most professional out of the bunch. No matter how ugly things got, worse to heinous, Ted would be a gentleman and mind his own business. He exited the cab near-side almost forgetting his gloves, ignoring his change.
“Mr. Pauletti, a good afternoon to you, sir,” Ted rang out in a deep Staten Island accent handling a package. “Shall I ring Ms. Cohen for you?”
“Yes Ted, please. How are things with you?”
“Never better sir.” Ted held the building phone lazy to his ear as if it were a part of him. “How’s the clothing business? Fast and furious I bet.”
Alberto looked him up and down wondering what he was thinking. ‘He knows,’ He told himself twice. ‘He knows I’m married, what I’m here for. I fuckin’ hate doormen.’ He found himself creating paranoid scenarios in second-long frames before reminding himself that small talk was Ted’s craft, and that he ultimately liked him.
“You bet. No rest for designer wholesale.”
They smirked politely at each other while Alberto’s mind then began to wonder where she could be, and perhaps with whom. He never showed up unexpected especially on a Sunday. He could hear the faint ring over and over which then blended in with his thoughts of what she might be doing and with whom…over and over. He did not call, text, or e-mail. He had no time. He would wait, or come back he told himself. It was worth it, it must be do----
“Ms. Cohen? Hi, I have Mr. Pauletti here for you...Yes ma’am, you do the same. Go on ahead, Mr. Pauletti. A good day to you.”
There was an elevator waiting which seemed odd to Alberto. Usually the wait and anticipation had sometimes forced him to take the stairs, causing him to catch his breath along the way and several minutes in the hallway before knocking on her door. One of those times Shelley caught him while she was waiting and wondering what was taking so long. They laughed about it all that afternoon and Alberto could sense that she cared for him very much, possibly more than she would ever, could ever, allow herself to admit. The hum of the elevator carried the weight of Albert’s sighs putting him at peace for several moments between the 9th and 15th floors.
“I know it’s Sunday.” He spoke awkwardly meeting her at her door.
“Yeah, it’s Sunday.”
“Are you alone?”
“Don’t be an ass. Come in.” She went to take his coat as she always had, but he waved her off. “What’s wrong?” She asked standing in front of him.
Alberto walked past her two steps to the kitchen island that separated the living room, where they had had sex many times, where they conversed over whatever she had in the refrigerator, sometimes in the late hours, sometimes both of them on the run after a quick afternoon meeting. He thought about her habit of leaning against it, bracing herself while they kissed goodbye. Then his mind went blank as if he was ten again, being asked by his parents why he was stealing his father’s Parliaments. He glanced at her face and for the first time during their relationship saw a truly worried look on it. It was sincere, intense, and fell warm inside him.
“You’re scaring me.” She said definitive.
In the living room the computer was on, open to a spreadsheet letting him know that she had been working, explaining why she had been late to the phone. The fabric on her sofa was grey and expensive. There were no lights on. Alberto looked through the sliding doors past her balcony, and the sun had completely gone leaving the remaining white ash color of the day just before dark. In those instances, there was no Msgr. No Carol. No Lindsey. No Frankie.
“I had to see you.”
“Here I am.”
She was wearing a grey Tom Petty concert shirt that had formed to her body from many years of wear. It faintly outlined the sides of her breasts that he was still very much aroused by. Her blue shorts ran baggy below her knees with a yellow trim donning a Michigan university insignia and any question of her wearing panties further gave way to her body, and her giving it to him without limitations.
“Are you ok? I’ve never seen you like this.”
Her voice reminded him of how safe and alive he felt with her in her apartment. No responsibilities except to please her, to make the most out of their time and sex, their conversations, thoughts and laughter. All the guilt had become frozen somewhere outside of him without any coercion or force, all Alberto felt was right. Right in his being there, right in his thoughts, damn the rest.
“I came here to have you.”
“So have me.”
Shelley pulled her shirt overhead and took down her shorts stepping out of them one leg at a time. She waited for him not wearing panties or a bra, giving Alberto plain day sight of her. He felt her entire body over before kissing her, handling every inch of what she offered, of what he could not turn down. The quiet of the room was painted by their familiar sounds, his clothes being taken off, her tongue in and out of his mouth, the pressure of their want, being exhausted through gasps.
“You came over here to break it off, didn’t you?” She asked in between kisses on his neck and his shoulders. He kept pulling at her blindly, burying himself in her skin, and in her breaths.