Five men dressed in black suits lounged at the far end of the covered seating, hats resting on the table and lungs puffing out cigar smoke. The island of suited solidarity suggested a yang to the drooling, wobbling, prancing children who filled the park. One string-bean of a boy ran his toy train off the table in front of me. His older brother eclipsed the innocent attempt at terror by catching the engine before it hit the pavement. He handed it back to the string-bean with a charming tenderness.
Kids are small. But they take up so much space. They really make a place their own, even the sound space. The buzz of their chatter, peaked by piercing screams, filled out the humid, just-after-rain air.
I’d had my eye on the five men since I arrived with Dad and the boys. I could tell they weren’t just the ragazzi putzing around after school or work down by the railway station—commonly referred to as The Joint due to its joining of the WNY&P, “Little Giant,” P&W, B&O and the “Pennsy” railways. The mens’ individual appearances didn’t vary from the everyday fellow. Back then all the men smoked cigars and wore hats. They all dressed in suits, but the thing is, they never, ever stood in groups.
Those suited fellows took up little space compared to the kids. They kind of blended into the crowd, and their voices sunk beneath the big, picnic rumble. I supposed by their ominous appearance they had been the unlucky recipients of some generational curse. The allure of such a possibility surpassed my cagey curiosity and ignited into full-blown rapture.
In those days the world still fascinated my hazel gaze. People had stories, and they told them—all. A wealthy inheritance of stories proceeded down from generation to generation. Now that inheritance was the only treasure I could count on, so I bet my life on it.
I had heard my fair share of charming, romantic sagas about midnight street races and fantastical tales about how the old men made their ways from Italia to Mahoningtown, Pennsylvania. Even as a kid, I knew that the stories were, at best, only based on true stories. The great art of after-spaghetti, wine-drinking tale-telling hinged on the grandiose inflating and deflating of various historical events for the purpose of intoxicating the listeners. Even in the haphazard rhapsody of childhood, we all kind of secretly dreaded that the stories we heard were too otherworldly, too extreme, too good. But we took them for what they were, stories. We dreamed them into existence.
That giving up fact for fiction changed just after I turned eleven. I finally learned how to weave my way through the characters and plot twists. I developed what I thought to be a “good sense” for discriminating between reality and illusion. But it stained me with a haunting sadness.
Gia, my wildly invasive cousin, positioned herself in the human-infested chasm between the five men and me. Gia’s hair bounced—incessantly—as she told me all about her new job at Colombo’s Ice Cream Stand. Like how she had tried almost all the flavors except for caramel, because she preferred to have caramel on her sundae instead of intermixed with the actual white scoop of paradise itself. Her long eyelashes flitted as she told me about the cleaning procedure for the ice bin, which apparently was agonizing.
“I never feel totally good about it!” Gia exclaimed. “For some reason, the ice bin builds up these little piles of dust around the corners, and then the melting ice cakes them into the corners. The water evaporates overnight, because Johnny makes us leave it open.”
Morbid, imaginally constructed images flashed in my brain—crusty, old skin-cell particles, and various other wastes bonded to the sides of the bin.
“And,” she continued, “if we use sanitary liquid on it, we contaminate the ice. So we can only use boiling water, which is super hot, cuz our hands are so cold from being in the coolers all day!”
My stomach growled. I tried to shield my imagination from the white paradise. I decided to tune out of the rest of the information she divulged about the internal drama of Johnny Colombo’s Ice Cream lest I be scarred and caught hostage in ice cream purgatory, unable to again partake of its divine splendor with full integrity and bliss. Plus, I just abhorred the conversation—monologue—anyway.
A gold flicker caught my eye. One of those men at the far table wore a gold crucifix around his neck. Again, it beamed into my vision. Gia’s hair, flapping about her enthusiastic tale of Colombo’s or whatever the heck she had moved on to, hid and revealed the refracting sunlight about thirty times a second.
A middle-aged woman in a fitted baby-blue dress sauntered over to the guys. Immediately, the intensity of their conversation ceased. They all sat puffing and looking in different directions. She stood, stroking the back of one of the men’s heads. A guy across the table from them leaned forward, swinging his hand about. They all laughed, even the woman. After bending down and kissing him on the cheek, she walked away. That “away” from them, however, was directly toward me.
She walked like cigarette smoke, lazily whipping her feet before her, kind of like a drunk person does. Yet her corset-like posture conveyed that she indeed was in complete control.
I found it odd that I didn’t actually recognize that woman or those men. It was the annual family reunion, after all. But if there is one thing that I learned about the world of Italian immigrants, it’s that families are so extensive and interrelated you could probably get away with attending any family reunion in town.
The woman continued weaving around small children and unorganized picnic tables. I wondered if she was actually approaching me.
Praise for Good Blood
“Think ‘Flannery O’Connor meets the godfather,’ and you have a sense of Kylee Pastore’s debut novel, Good Blood. Full of mystery and meaning, this haunting tale follows a girl coming of age in a family that is both more and less than what she imagined them to be.”
―Sandra Glahn, author of Vindicating Vixens and Lethal Harvest
“Pastore’s debut novel dazzles with its ability to tend to literary concerns of prose and character development alongside a plot that churns forward with twisting freneticism. Ultimately, this is a story of a family, and the complicated obligations of ‘blood.’ The first-person narrator allows this literary mystery to function also as a worthy bildungsroman in the style of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, in which Rosie wrestles with good and evil among impossibly complex circumstances.”
―Kolby, Amazon Reviewer
About the Author
K. C. Pastore is a writer and visual artist from New Castle, Pennsylvania. She currently dwells in the city that never sleeps where she spends plenty of time caring for plants and dining with friends. This is her debut novel.