Down from Beacon Hill

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December 15, 2012 by The Citron Review

by Ed McCourt



We were walking up the steep, narrow staircase to my Auntie’s apartment on Cooper Street. You said we should bring something from Mike’s Pastries but I said it was all overpriced, that no one from the neighborhood eats it. Then in Auntie’s sitting room, you were running your fingers along the shelves of Oriental glass like you were in a museum. I was stirring the gravy (you call it ‘sauce’) and Auntie was rolling bracioles and yelling at me to make sure the gravy didn’t stick to pan and burn. She brought out the Asti Spumante and you laughed – before dinner you only drink proseccos. Clean and dry.

“Bahh,” My aunty said with a wave of her hand, “what do you know?” And she poured you a glass anyways.

You stayed in the North End when we met, but moved to Beacon Hill when you found the right place.This city always changes. Its people too. My uncle would yell to them from the third story if they came near his parking spots. My Papa called them ‘poor little rich kids.’ I call them yuppies.

But my people lived here too – by the shoestrings. They were here because this is where the boat dropped them. They stayed because the rent was cheap and the grocer was just downstairs. No one paid the rent for them and slipped them the apartment key in a Christmas card labeled ‘My Darling’ in bold, blue ink. They didn’t make middle management. They didn’t make lucky investments.

But she said that some are just born victims. I take risks all the time and mostly do what I want. But you know what? Nothing really bad has ever happened to me. And you know why? Because I don’t act like a victim. It’s something in my eyes. People always tell me that, do you see it? And things just work themselves out, you know?

Things didn’t always work out for the people who used to live here. And when it did, they gave it to god, they never kept it.

We took a cab to Cambridge Street because she couldn’t walk in her shoes. I was still laughing with the cabby when he stopped at her block. Gave him five bucks because he was working on the 4th of July.

I think it’s great that you talk to those people.

Something in her eyes.

This city used to be those people. They drove cabs and cleaned toilets. They did it for the library and city hall and the church on Saturday. This city is full of beautiful buildings but they ain’t worth a damn without clean toilets.

We are walking. Nice old Ford I said and you asked,

Parked here? I don’t know anyone who drives a truck anymore.

And I stayed outside to smoke a cigarette.

And I’m thinking if she didn’t know anyone with a truck, then she must not have known that guy who fixed her water heater last week. Didn’t he drive a Cummings diesel? He did: I saw it parked out front when I was looking through her sheer curtains while I made coffee that morning. Thirty-three inch tires and a leveling kit. I remember hearing the throaty churn of the pistons, the headers panting, the crackling exhaust. She told me how he asked to use the bathroom and she felt bad but didn’t want to say yes and I told her about when I used to move pianos and asked a lady to use the head and the lady asked me if it could wait. She thought it was a funny story. She laughed.

[Beacon Hill.  A half dozen gas lamps lit along a dark, rising street. The black caveats of each foyer, the haloed sconce above it. One lit window on the block, shades drawn. The grass sprouts through the concrete like a manicured carpet of fine fescue is just waiting underneath. He is leaned against the street cleaning sign:

NO PARKING THIS SIDE
Tues & Thurs before 8am

Right in front of the Upton Café. A car is parked there, still running, just before Temple Street, just after Hancock. The car starts to back up and during its five-point turn, the headlights whitewash the hill.]

I am walking and smoking. I pass a kid in khaki shorts and a brown plaid shirt and he looks down at his loafers and avoids my eyes. College boy won’t look at me. I am wearing my black Bruins hoodie. He walks faster.

I am the local. He is the yuppy. It is late and he is not safe.

Another kid in a blue striped polo. He looks down. He walks fast. I am the local.

***

The next morning we are at the café having breakfast. You order the blueberry pancakes and call the manager over. They smell like bacon, you say. Were they cooked near bacon?

I am so sorry, they should not have been cooked beside one another, he says.

But what about the guy who made the pancakes? Did he eat bacon that morning? Was he breathing bacon fumes? And the guy who cleared the table? And the lady who packaged the batter at the factory? Was she a bacon eater? And even if you want to make them yourself at home and your stove is busted… will the guy who fixes it be a bacon-eating, truck driving local?

And I can’t explain it but I’m just sitting there fuming, glaring at the lemon floating in her glass of ice water, and I blurt, Someone eating meat is working at the water plant up on Deer Island and someone eating meat is washing your dishes and… and someone eating meat and driving a truck is fixing the wires that power your house right now, do you know that?

And you say what the hell are you so mad about?

***

I remember when we first met. I was in the North End parking on the corner of Prince and Commercial

and you yelled down to me, glass of something red in your hand:

“You’re crooked. Might want to fix that.”

“Maybe… Is this even a spot?”

“Yeah, you found one. It’s your lucky day.”

I thought it was a full circle. My people were from here and you were from here and you were beautiful and yelling to me from your perch. But you weren’t from here – just visiting.

No one is from this neighborhood anymore.

 

Ed McCourt is an Asst. Prof. of English at Jacksonville University, but his prose is still banging around Boston’s North Shore, working as a mover, and picking up weekend shifts in a local sub shop.  His work has appeared in the Little Patuxent Review, the Red Booth Review, the Bacopa Literary Review, and others.

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