I swear to ya, I’m not some no good wretched son of a you know what. I didn’t even do anything, it was that damn Mrs. Fitch. Always got her panties in a bunch over the slightest thing. I told her the truth and everything, didn’t do my homework cuz I was playing baseball. Dan and Tony had me all distracted, my mom was in a fit over dinner. What’s a man to do these days? Psh, women.
Sixth grade really isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. If my dad were here, he’d laugh and pat me on the back. At least I was honest. And now I’m so damned late, it’s already 5pm. By the time I get home my mom’s gonna be furious. “Dom what’s the matta with you? Anotha detention? Do I need to have you see a shrink? Is it because of your father? Dom! Yada yada yada.” What a crack of bologna. She’s serious about this whole shrink business, but I can assure you, I’m fine.
The ride home from school ain’t so bad now any how. At this time, there’s barely any kids around. Just lousy sad adults. I just squeeze around them to get a seat in the back. Sometimes I get a window, sometimes I get a old lady. Today the bus seems a little less packed. I love looking out the window as we go down Woodhaven. There’s the Queens Plaza Mall. Piece of crap place. Can’t step in there without your money being sucked outta ya wallet. Here ya go, just take it. Take it all. Who needs to eat food, lemme just eat those shoes. It’s daylight yet, so I can still see the buds on the trees closing and opening, ya know... all that mambo jambo. Gonna smell like the garden section of home depot for the next four months around here. I can already see people’s eyes puffin’ up like tomatoes. There are so many tomato eyes around here I might as well start handing out spaghetti. I’ll be the patron saint of spaghetti. Spaghetti Dom.
Ding! Bus 11 lets me off right here at the intersection of Woodhaven and Metropolitan. The 24 hour shop is on my right. Sometimes I sit with the old man at the wooden table outside. We never really talk, just play Chess. Wendy’s is across the street. Another piece of crap place. Too many delinquents. That’s what my mom says anyways.
I have about a two block walk home from the bus stop. The air is sorta nice, fresh and cool. Not cold, cool. All I need is this sweatshirt, it says Yankees. Can’t believe Jeter retired, he’s a legend. If I was the Yankees manager I would have said, “hey! Jeter just keep playin’. Who cares if you’re getting old. All you gotta do is hit a ball and run a little bit.” But no one would ever listen to me, not even my mom. I’m just some eleven year old. You’d think eleven years alive would get a man some respect. What another load of bologna.
I live in one of these brick apartments here on Woodhaven. There are little plots of lawn sprawling the entire front and back side of our complex. I live on the second floor of 7312. It’s called the Rutledge apartments. Should be called the Ratledge apartments. We’re not even allowed to plant anything in the front. To ya know, spice up the place. What’s the landlord afraid of anyways? The big bad wolf or something? Didn’t know wolves like flowers. There’s my stoop right over there. The one with the plastic lawn chair.
“Yo Dom! Where have ya been?”
Oh great. The delinquent Dan. Damn rat was snickering at me from the corner, “Shut the hell up would ya.”
“I thought Mrs. Fitch killed ya and threw your body in Forest Park.”
“I faked being dead. I layed there for a few minutes in the tree branches. Then got up and walked home.”
“Dan, is that Dom?!” The other idiot Tony was yelling from around the corner. “Yo Dom, come play some ball with us would ya?” Damn guy looked like he just swam in a vat of sweat.
I looked up at my kitchen window, didn’t see my mom. “Sure!” I opened the front door of our building and threw my book bag into the hallway. The street we play ball on is half apartment buildings, half houses. The people with money live in the houses. Tony and I live in the apartment side. Dan’s on the house side. I figured I’d have about another half an hour before my mom came screaming my name like she owned a damn fire house.
The crappy looking Honda over there, that’s first base. The middle of the road between that house and that apartment is second base. That tree over there, that’s third base. Where I’m standing now, it’s home base. Gotta slide my white sneaks like this, the way the professionals do it. Steady my hands on the bat like so, and wham! I run like hell to first base, just making it before Tony could wack me with the ball. Now it’s Dan’s turn. Wham! And OUT.
“What the heck Tony, did you really have to catch it like that?”
“Dan, chill out. It’s the rules,” Tony yelled back while walking to home base. “Pitch me a good one aye, don’t be a sore loser.” After Dan and Tony switched positions, wham! Two men on base! Now it was my turn to pitch one out.
“Alright Dan, one guy on first, one ghost guy on second. You ready? Don’t get out again!”
“Just pitch the ball!”
Wham! Home run! Home run’s are whenever the ball gets passed that yellow house, the witch’s house. “Crap! Dan what the heck you got it in her yard. I’m not getting it.”
“Yeah me neither Dan, not it!”
Dan looked at both Tony and me with that look in his face. The stupid one. He didn’t even answer either of us, just started walking slowly towards her house. The Italian witch of Queens. “You know if you walk any slower than that you’re gonna miss our high school graduation. And we’re only in middle school,” Tony shouted. I couldn’t help but bust out laughing. Dan’s such a loser, he was walking like a scared dog with his tail between his legs. Me and Tony were too busy laughing and pointing fingers at Dan to realize that he had stopped dead in his tracks. “What’s the matta, cat got ya tongue?,” I belted out laughing. Tears coming down my face.
Finally Dan turned around and screamed, “Shut the heck up guys, her door’s opening.” He ran back over to us. “You guys trying to turn me into a potion or something? I’m not a big fan of being boiled to pieces.” All of us looked over to her house and watched. First her cat walked out. The black one. It’s feet and face sniffed around the top step of the witch’s stoop. Then the witch herself walked out. She was wearing one of those white peasant skirts. The long ones. And some flouncy white blouse with long sleeves. Looked like she was wearing white converse sneakers too. God, if she wasn’t a witch, I swear I’d ask her to marry me. She’s not one of those ugly witches, no the complete opposite. She has long dark curly hair, the kind that can kill a man if the wind blows a certain way. Her face has a beautiful olive color, with piercing brown eyes. She’s younger than my mom, but older than me. One of those cougar types. I see how she smiles at me. Maybe she’s a water siren. Like in those pirate movies.
That’s when she bent over by some big plant in her garden. When she stood back up she had the baseball in her hand. I was about to run away and leave those suckers behind, but I couldn’t. I was glued. The witch lady is a weird woman, that’s for sure. Never have I ever seen a person walk their cat on a leash. She was smiling as she walked over to us. Since Dan was the closest, she talked to him, “is this yours?” No answer. Dan probably was peeing his pants.
“Excuse-ah me, this was in my garden,” she’s got one of those Italy accents.
“Yeah, it’s ours,” Tony responded. Witch lady smiled and threw the ball to him.
“DOM!!!!!” The sirens started going off as my mom rounded the corner. Crap.
“DOM! Where the heck have ya been? I’ve been waiting for ya!”
“Yeah I know mom, Dan and Tony got me.”
“Oh yeah, all the way from detention? I got a voicemail from the principal.” Damn old people.
My mom walked over to us, and was now standing by the witch lady. “Oh hi Isabella! how are ya?”
“I’m fine-ah,” witch lady- named Isabella- smiled back, “good weather for my garden!”
“Oh yes! I actually stopped off at home depot across the street and got ya some rose seeds. I’ll bring them over on Friday for our reading.”
“Oh wonderful, thank you so much-ah! I’ve been wanting to plant roses for some time.”
My mom smiled back at “Isabella” and looked at me dead in the eyes, “alright young man, time for supper.” She grabbed me by my earlobe and pulled me all the way to China.
I waved to the guys and sort of looked at Isabella. Can’t even look her in the eyes. I feel like I’m gonna fall over whenever I do. Specially’ since my earlobe was being yanked.
ONE WEEK LATER
Today feels like a real Spring day, all the flowers are out. And there are even more tomato eyes than before. I just got home. My book bag’s on the couch, I’ll do my homework when I get back. Want to catch the guys for some baseball ya know. The corner kinda feels eerie when there’s no one else on the block. Dan and Tony are nowhere to be found. Sometime’s they’re hanging on the street up by Dan’s stoop. Dan’s mom makes some bomb iced tea lemonade. I sort of feel like some, maybe I’ll go give a knock on their door.
“Dom! Hey-ah, Dom!”
I looked over, it was the witch lady. She was yelling at me through her living room window screen, “hey-ah Dom, wait a minute please-ah.”
“Hi,” I said as soon as she walked down her stoop and through the garden gate.
“Dom, your mom gave-ah me some seeds the other day. I have-ah so much to plant. Can you help-ah me?”
“Okay,” my face was blank.
“I’ll give-ah you some money. Can you help-ah now?”
I looked towards Dan’s house, no one was outside. “Yeah, I can help.”
Witch lady smiled, “okay-ah great. I’ll get my stuff. Wait in the garden.”
I followed her through the garden’s gate, and saw all sorts of flowers starting to bloom. Probably all European roses. She came back out five minutes later with a watering bucket and different flowers ready to be planted. She handed me the bag of seeds my mom gave her, “These-ah go in the left corner by my house-ah. I already dug-ah the hole. Can you put the seeds in there-ah and cover it back up with dirt-ah?”
I nodded yes and got to work. As soon as that was over she asked me to help plant the arrangement of different colored flowers she had. All in all it took about an hour to get the tasks done. I looked over to her when I was done, with one of those dumb sideways looks. She had a sour look on her face, “so many weeds-ah. Shoot. Dom, can you come back-ah tomorrow and help me get-ah them out? Here’s twenty. For today-ah and tomorrow.”
She slid the twenty into my hand and I got the biggest smile on my face, “sure thing Ms. Isabella.” She smiled back at me as I ran outta her gate.
“Dom is that you? Did you just come from the witch’s house?!” Dan and Tony were standing near the corner.
“Yeah she gave me twenty bucks!”
“I’m helping her with her garden!”
“Her garden? Yeah helping plant the vegetable that’s gonna go in Dom Stew. I bet you’ll make a really organic meal,” Dan snickered.
“Yeah, sure. I’ll catch ya guys later. Mom’s making lasagna today.”
“Bye, Dom Stew,” they both yelled at me.
I decided to save the twenty in an old decrepit envelope that I found in the living room cabinet. Hid it under my bed after the lasagna last night. I’ve been sweating myself to death in this garden for the past hour getting these weeds out. Every now and again the guys will run past making faces at me. I can hear them laughing all the way to Long Island. Idiots.
Isabella has been in the house with some old woman since I got here after school. She says it’s a client. Whatever that means. All I know is I need something to drink. The sun is beating down on me and my nose is starting to get hellah stuffy. I’m the new tomato eyes.
What’s that ruffling sound near the door? Oh, it’s just the old lady client. She keeps turning around and shaking Isabella’s hand. “Thank you, thank you so much.” I think the old bat’s even crying. She keeps wiping her eyeball. Maybe it’s all the pollen that’s around here. Old lady pollen eyes just shot me a smile as she walked through the garden. She has one of those head scarves on her head like she’s the Virgin Mary. Except it’s colorful, so she’s probably the mother of Guadalupe.
“Dom, come in. I have iced water,” Isabella grabbed my attention.
“Hey sure thanks, I’m dying out here.”
Her house seemed pretty clean and simple. She’s got some crosses and religous stuff hanging around but then again, what Italian doesn’t? I sat at her wooden kitchen table, and she handed me some water and a plate of strawberries. “Do you want-ah mint in your water? I have fresh-ah.”
“Mint? Sure, thanks.”
The woman's got a damn mint tree growing in her sink window. Picked em right off and handed them to me. “It’s-ah good.”
“My mom say’s you’re from Italy. Is this an Italy thing?,” I said while sipping my mint water. It tasted sweet.
Isabella laughed at me, “it’s-ah just a good-ah thing.”
“Where in Italy are ya from?”
“An island of Venice, it’s-ah called Burano.”
“Oh, I’ve never been.”
“How’s-ah the strawberries?”
Damn strawberry juice dripped down my cheeks, “good can I get a napkin please.”
She went over to the marble counter to get me some napkins when I spotted a pack of cards on the table. “Hey, what do ya have there? Playing cards? Wanna play a game of War?”
She laughed, “no-ah, they aren’t for playing.”
“What are they used for then? Decoration?”
“I read-ah people with them.”
“Read people? Like when you read my mom?”
“Yes-ah, that is correct,” her brown eyes were highlighted by a small streak of sunlight as she sat back down. The sun was setting.
“I read things too, lotta books.”
“This-ah kinda reading is-ah different. I’m a psychic medium,” she pierced me with those eyes. I thought I was gonna melt right into the chair and become a piece of lousy wood.
“So you’re a fortune teller? Where’s the ball? The crystal one?”
A breeze came in through the screened kitchen door and blew her hair. In that way that makes a man die. I thought I did die. “I don’t-ah use that. Just these cards.”
“Ah, what’s that around my leg!,” I yelled. I looked down and it was the damn cat. Before I knew it the thing was sitting on my lap.
“Her name is-ah Bella.”
“Hi Bella,” I said. The thing was purring like a lawn mower. “Why do you walk a cat?”
“It’s-ah just something we do in Burano.”
“I think she likes you.”
I petted her as I sipped my mint water, “she’s really soft.”
I finished everything, and told Isabella there were still a lot of weeds in the garden.
“That’s okay-ah. Come back early Saturday morning to finish. I will-ah pay you.”
The funny thing is, the weeds never seemed to stop coming in. I was always picking and there always seemed to be more. And every time, Isabella would say that’s okay-ah come-ah back-ah this day-ah or that day-ah to finish-ah. And I’d come back and there’d always be more weeds. And she’d always give me more money. And I’d always go inside for some mint water and pet Bella. The guys started making fun of me because I’d start getting bent outta shape whenever they called Isabella the witch. They’d laugh even harder because I’d stop dead in the middle of our game when she came outside to walk Bella. They’d call me witch lover, cat lover, spell boy. Everything you can imagine. Stew boy.
The thing is, I had enough money to buy a new baseball bat, balls, mitts, AND shoes. Today, I decided that I’d even go to the Sport’s Authority by Home Depot to pick all of my gear up. I couldn’t wait to show off to the guys. But when I woke up, I noticed my mom crying at our small plastic kitchen table.
“Mom, everything ok?”
“Oh Dom,” she looked at me through tomato eyes. “I’m so behind on everything. And now our stove is broken and I have no money to fix it. I wish your dad was still here.”
I walked over to my mom and hugged her, “me too.”
“Why did he have to leave us? Why did he have to go there? Why, my baby, oh why?,” my mom was sobbing uncontrollably now. She was a stay at home mom before my father went overseas. Now she has to work some desk job at a doctor’s office that barely puts food on the table. My dad, he was a marine. He died during a failed mission over in Afghanistan. About two years ago.
“Sweetheart, can you go and check the mail for me today? The mailman just came.”
“Alright mom, sure hold on.” I dropped my arms from around her nightgown clad body and ran into the bedroom real fast to throw my Yankees sweatshirt on. The one that my dad gave to me before he left for his last deployment.
We got nothing but junk mail. I put it all down on the table in front of my mom, she likes to look through the weekly’s anyways. See what’s on sale, stuff like that. My mom was sifting through the grocery store ads when she stopped, “What’s this?” It was an old decrepit envelope with no name. She opened it. Into her hands fell all the money that I had made from helping Isabella.
“Two hundred and forty dollars, that’s impossible,” my mother turned white as a ghost.
“What’s wrong mom? Isn’t that a good thing.”
She stared at me with her gentle eyes, “Isabella told me, that your father would send me enough money. I didn’t know what it meant… but…”
“What, do you think it’s poisoned with Anthrax or something?”
“No, sweetheart,” my mom chuckled, “… the electrician… he said, over the phone this morning, that it would cost two hundred and forty dollars to fix the stove.”