Gina sat in the back office of her Aunt Josie’s bar, waiting to get her ass chewed by her Uncle Wayne. She’d gotten nabbed by the cops for getting into a fistfight with Kaczmarek, the douche bag neighbor. Fist-fight was maybe not the best word for what happened, which was that Gina had clobbered Kaczmarek in the face with a snow shovel and shattered his nose.
The office was a hot, tiny room with an old wooden drawer desk and a crud-covered window facing Damen Avenue. Gina sat in the wobbly chair where they put busboys to fire them. Josie’s old-lady perfume choked the room, and Gina wished she could open the window, but it was nailed shut and blocked by a clanking radiator. A boxy Ukrainian Jesus glared down at her from the wall. Gina made a face at Him and turned away to stare at a ceramic paperweight: a boy and girl with huge, sappy eyes, sailing a wooden boat stuffed with farm animals. Gina cocked her head. Were the kids taking the animals on vacation? Another one for the list, Gina thought. Never clutter up your place with knickknacks and then complain that you have too much crap.
Uncle Wayne opened the door and a sliver of mid-afternoon bar noise slipped in with him—glass and soft voices. McGreevy, the cop who had dropped Gina off, was at the bar sipping one of Josie’s espressos from a tiny white cup. He looked like he was at a doll tea party.
“You want a Coke or something?” Uncle Wayne sat down across from her in the boss’s chair. He was not really her uncle. There was no keeping track of all the second and third cousin-ships and once-removals of her mom’s huge Ukrainian-Italian family. They were all just “uncles,” all the loud guys who ran the bar and gambling room Aunt Josie had inherited from old Uncle Vito years ago. The gambling room was in the back of the bar, behind a pale, scuffed door marked ELECTRICAL.
Gina shook her head no to the Coke.
“What’d you break that shithead’s face for?” Uncle Wayne said. He was six and a half feet solid, and over 300 pounds. All the Dios, men and women, were either tall, fat or both, though Wayne was the opposite of what people meant when they called you fat. They meant you were stupid, lazy, slow. Uncle Wayne was slow, maybe, but slow like one of those jungle cats on a nature special.
Gina glanced up at him. “I thought McGreevy told you what happened.”
“Officer McGreevy did tell me.” Wayne settled back in the chair. “And now I’m asking you.”
Gina’s snow boots had left sludge on the floor, and she scuffed at it with her toe. “Mom and I shoveled out a space in front of the house. It took like an hour. We got up at four.” It had snowed all night and the drifts were waist high. They had looked to Gina like warm pillows she could sink into and go back to sleep.
“Was your dad with you?”
“No. Mom said to let him sleep because he was up late the night before.” Getting shitfaced, she didn’t add, but understanding flickered across Wayne’s face anyway. “She put a chair down when she left for work.” You shoveled out a parking space, you put down a chair to mark it. Everybody knew that. “But then Kaczmarek just moved the chair while she was at work, and took her space. She tried to say something to him.” Gina felt the rage slice through her again. “She wasn’t even rude or anything.”
Wayne tilted his head. “And then?”
“He got mad and said some stuff.” He was going to make her say it, wasn’t he?
Gina stared back at Wayne. “He called her a fat dago cunt.” She didn’t remember exactly what happened next. She just remembered the look on her mom’s face, a sad sort of agreement: yep, that’s me. The rest was lost in a white-hot gap. It wasn’t even Kaczmarek she was mad at, Gina realized, with his stupid slicked-back hair and Cavariccis. It was her mom. Gina was mad that her mom could hate herself so much. That she would recognize herself in those ugly words.