Read The Namesake Online

Authors: Steven Parlato

The Namesake

BOOK: The Namesake
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the namesake

steven parlato

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Mister Pettafordi’s office is examining room bright
.

Sebastian’s is an okay place
.

There was this kid who killed himself freshman year
.

At Gran’s kitchen table,
I catch the scent of freesia soap and old cooking oil
.

Yesterday was January 19th
.

I was an altar boy in middle school
.

It’s amazing how many people turn out for your birthday, after you’re dead
.

After Mass, we meet at Alberti’s for brunch
.

Balloons thump rhythmically against the nameplate of Dad’s upstairs neighbor
.

There’s no way I’m going home to face Mom
.

It’s Father/Son Day
.

It’s time to open the trunk
.

Guess it was just one of God’s little HA HAs
.

Father Brendan was a caterpillar on a mushroom, blowing bubbles through a giant key
.

Suddenly, I’m in Wonderland
.

“What’s that tune you’re humming?”

“So, what do you think it means, Ev?”

“Well, Evan. This is a surprise. What brings you here?”

“We can’t go through with this.”

I needed a journal break, since it’s gone all sexually ambiguous
.

The herbal tea arced from his nose in an impressive trajectory
.

Easier said than done
.

They say, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

There was something unsettling about seeing Judas with my father’s ears
.

“How’s the wrangling this year, Lex?”

“Well, we weren’t
Waltons close
, but sure, we talked.”

Duct tape: man’s most durable creation
.

Last time I felt this bad in the backseat of a car, I was nine
.

“I told the girl no onions. Do you people need written instructions?”

It’s ringing
.

“Tell me about the baby.”

Guess I could’ve skipped the berries
.

It reminds me of a sports venue — or a casino
.

“He wouldn’t want you here, Evan.”

“More pie?”

At first, I think it’s flour on his hands
.

It’s 3:55 Friday afternoon, and I’ve officially overpacked
.

It feels like we should be blindfolded
.

Can’t believe I got the bottom bunk
.

Bigfoot has left the building
.

I will not blink first
.

They must have a written procedure
.

It should’ve just said SECRETS
.

“Please retrieve all carry-on baggage as we touch down to relative normalcy.”

It’s like wading through ink, chilled ink
.

“Please pass the casserole.”

Acknowledgments

Copyright

For Janet, with love and awe at the depths of your belief.

“What was silent in the father speaks in the son.”

~Friedrich Nietzsche

“And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps the greater.”

~J.R.R. Tolkien,
The Lord of the Rings

Mister Pettafordi’s office is examining room bright
.

It makes me queasy, like I’m here for X-rays — which, in a way, I am. My art teacher slash guidance counselor slash “Think of me as your friend” wants to help. That’s how I landed in the vinyl visitor chair on the wrong side of his desk. I should be in silent study, passing notes to Alexis. Instead, I’m here, embarrassed for Michelangelo’s
David
. He’s beside the file cabinet, a red umbrella hanging from his crooked elbow, looking a little vulnerable, naked under the lights.

I need to write this stupid essay. Mr. P’s fixated on getting me a full scholarship; he says I’m his “best student ever.” But then, that’s what my teachers always say.

Mister P: “Evan, you need to pursue your art.”

Me: “Uh-huh.”

Mister P: “Evan, you’ve got what it takes.”

Me: “Hmm.”

Mister P: “Evan, follow your dream!”

Thing is, I think it’s his dream more than mine now.

But I’m trying to get a jump on this heap of applications. Pettafordi said I need to “dazzle them” with my essay. I asked what I should write about.

He said, “Evan, write what you know.”

As helpful as
that
was, I’ve chosen the opposite. See, I’m not sure I want to study art, or even go to college anymore. So I’ll write what I don’t know. I could do twenty pages on spark plugs or the reproductive cycle of the Andean potato weevil. Except, those I could research. No. I’ll tackle the true unknown.

I never knew my father.

I don’t mean that in a trash TV kind of way. Like,
Up Next, DNA Tests: Real Dads Revealed!
It’s not like that. Mom wasn’t a sperm bank patron. I wasn’t raised by wolverines. I’ve lived most of my fourteen years in a room two doors down from the man, falling asleep to his snores. I could map you his morning stubble, a whorl on his chin like Madagascar.

Nope. Nothing dramatic about the Galloways. We were typical. Mom made Campbell’s soup casseroles. Dad fell asleep in the leather chair on movie night. We were about as normal as it gets. At least, that’s what everyone thought.

Before last April.

Now when I think about stuff, it’s all about how it used to be. We used to have Monopoly marathons. Build model planes. Gorge ourselves at China Buffet. We used to … whatever.

A great philosopher once said, “Used-to-bes don’t count anymore.” Okay, it was this singer, Neil Diamond. My friend Alexis is a huge fan. But I disagree with Old Neil because, really, used-to-bes are the only things that do count anymore. Especially when today sucks so bad.

It’s funny how perfectly life splits into before and after. Before, it was just life, crappy or un’. After, everything’s different.

But I was going to tell you about my father.

My Father by Evan Galloway

My father is tall
.

My father is fun
.

My father reads stories and

Plays with me
.

My father is the best, FATHER NUMBER ONE!

I wrote that in first grade. You could say my opinion of him has
evolved
. For one thing, I realized he was never all that tall. I admit the poem loses something
sans
macaroni frame, but I think it shows real literary promise. I mean, after reading that, I’m sure you can see how I ended up in Honors English, right?

Yeah, I’m smart. All through school I’ve been in the brain group: TAG, the Talented And Gifted Program. It’s actually sort of cool, loads of field trips, elaborate, “self-guided learning opportunities.” Sure, the regular kids call us “Tag Fags,” but that’s never really bothered me. Not much. It’s jealousy, plain and simple. And come on — tag fag? — such an obvious rhyme. Leave it to a remedial reader.

Now I’m at Saint Sebastian’s Catholic High School, third year, following Dad’s footsteps. Yeah, he went here. But I one-upped the old man; I’ll graduate at sixteen. They jumped me a couple grades. So I’m the second Evan Galloway to attend SSCHS. My family calls me “Junior,” but technically, I’m not. Dad and I don’t have the same middle name. Or, didn’t. I do that sometimes, refer to him like he’s still here. Like he didn’t kill himself last spring. Like Gran didn’t find him hanging from a beam in her attic Easter morning, while Mom and I were at Mass.

Sebastian’s is an okay place
.

Sort of an odd mix of regular high school stuff and 2,000-plus years of Catholic tradition.

Example: we have crappy cafeteria food like anyplace, but on Fridays during Lent, at least we’re spared the mystery meat. There’s the rare locker-room fight, but we go to Mass at the drop of a hat. Sure, the boy’s bathroom has that unmistakable pot-smoke smell, but holy water’s available in all classrooms.

The school hasn’t changed much since Dad’s time. Regular teachers outnumber priests and nuns now, although some of the oldsters remain: Sister Dolores, Brother Alphonse, and of course, Father Brendan. It’s a little scary thinking Dad had Father Brendan O’Donnell for Honors psych junior year, same as me.

It’s scary enough to think of a guy named Father Brendan leading his young charges through the dark, twisted mysteries of the human psyche. It’s a given we’ll NEVER fully explore the secrets of sexually motivated behavior.

Father Brendan’s legendary. He’s been at Saint Sebastian’s “since God was a little kid,” as Gramp would say. Every freshman has him for Christian Morality and You. He also teaches psychology to gifted juniors. In photos in the trophy case, you witness his progression from old to ancient. His glasses get larger, thicker. His forehead and waistline grow at an alarming rate. Unlike most old people, he expands with age. The guy oozes authority; even the tough kids just do not screw with him. He’s like an artifact or an icon or something: enigmatic. Holy. It’s like someday he might crack open and reveal a mystery.

Psychology is Tuesday/Thursday, Mods 9 and 10. Father Brendan’s always there when we arrive, behind his desk, eyes closed. His is the only wooden desk at Sebastian’s. All the other instructors have standard-issue, metal teachers’ desks, but Father B insisted on oak. Like the man, the desk is massive. Their combined weight’s been estimated at 2.4 metric tons.

Freshman year, it was eerie to see him in that trance. I’d look really close to make sure he was alive. That’s how I first became acutely aware of Father Brendan’s head: the translucent quality of the skin, the intricate web of veins. The age-spot Rorschach at his temple. The wild sense that if I looked deep enough, I might glimpse the brain working inside. It was like candling eggs in fourth-grade science. I was transported studying that skull, envisioning a world within. Sometimes it shocked me when Father B would open his eyes, adjust his glasses, and speak. I felt like a coroner whose client sits up midautopsy to order a BLT.

Father begins each class with a plea to Saint Sebastian to guide us. The intimacy of his prayer suggests he knew Sebastian personally. Given Father’s age, I suppose that’s within the realm. And Sebastian was as big a character as Father Brendan, a multimartyr. He was tied to a tree, shot with arrows, and left for dead. But his faith sustained him: He survived. Then, he was cudgeled to death. That time it stuck.

It’s awesome having Sebastian as our school’s namesake; you’re in good hands with a guy who had to be killed twice. Then there’s our team name. Our town’s other Catholic schools are stuck with pretty lame mascots: “Hearts,” “Doves” — not too intimidating. We are “The Archers.”

That might seem inappropriate, considering Sebastian was shot full of arrows, but it turns out he’s the patron of archers, so I guess it fits. Plus, it makes for great headlines in the sports section: “Archers Aim at Championship” or “Archers Shoot Toward Semis.” Not that it matters to me; I’m definitely no jock.

No sports, thanks; I’m a brain. I know there is such a thing as a scholar-athlete, but I don’t qualify. I’ve only recently broken 100 pounds, so football’s out. And even though I’m tall, I suck at basketball. I just don’t have the Galloway jock gene. I’m hopeless, an artist. That was an issue with Dad. Not that he really pressured me to go out for a team or anything, at least, not after my stellar T-ball career. But his disappointment in my athletic ineptitude was always sort of palpable. Love of the game was one more thing we never shared.

We had the same name (almost) and practically the same face. We nearly even shared the same birthday. His was January 20th, oddly enough, the feast day of your friend and mine, Saint Sebastian. Mine is the 22nd, but we were separated by way more than two calendar days and a middle name. It’s not like he beat me or drank or anything, not at all. He was a decent guy and an okay Dad. Well, except for the suicide thing.

But that’s a pretty big flaw, all in all.

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