By Mike Miklasciewski
As told to Zacharias Brokiewicz
1 / Dearly Departed
“Remember when he swam across the river?” Asked Zack.
“All the way underwater with a knife in his mouth,” added Richie.
“Them poor bastard Nazi Krauts on Pequea island didn’t even see it coming.” Marveled Stoshu.
The three friends stood in a tableau vivant reminiscent of a breadline from the depression a few years prior, but this time cast with bedraggled adolescents rather than adults waiting in the queue. One exception stood just ahead of them: a tall man not as ragged and besmirched as the rest but even more somber.
“I still have one of them Jimmy Coalfeet’s claws he gave me.”
“My mom made me throw out Coalfeet’s hat.”
“It still had a scalp in it!”
“He always liked you best.”
“I don’t know. Them claws was pretty nice.”
“Boy, there’s lots of kids here.”
“Durkee, hmmph, figures.”
“Wonder what he’s thinking.”
“Nope, Durkee, you dipshit.”
“Probably sad having to say goodbye to the only grown up who treated him halfways normal.”
The Zack intoned “First I will share a few drams of grappa with the Kaiser’s cousin, the only Protestant I like Herr Durkheiser…” recalling Mighty Mike’s customary sharing of wine with the tall, German, deaf-mute who lived across the street.
“Look if I want any crap I will squeeze it out your head, that was my favorite phrase of Mike’s,” lamented Stoshu.
“Man, those schmudoks could hurt,” and Richie turned and flicked Stoshu on the nose.
“You don’t do it right it’s like this,” and Stoshu returned the favor to which Richie replied with a downcast glance, “Guess all that’s gone, too…”
Richie, the scrawny terminus of the Rincavage line. Zack, tall and lean, his once blonde hair now jet-black, his frame just starting to pack on muscle, and Stoshu, lumpen and sad-eyed, his interminable stupidity outpaced only by an infinite sadness.
Richie said, “I was surprised my mom let me come to this.”
Zack commented “My mom doesn’t care.”
Stoshu kept quiet. His mom was dead.
The front porch steps had a fresh coat of paint but still creaked underfoot; middle of the top step had an indentation where Mighty Mike Miklasciewski’s would plant “me arse and regale ye urchins with tales of the worlds just down the street and others far far beyond” and, comfortably drunk, hold court with the neighborhood kids.
Durkee emerged from the house onto the porch sobbing after paying his last respects.
Richie tugged Zack’s elbow and nodded to the shaking man who paused, threw back his bony shoulders and blew his nose long and hard into a hanky before regaining his composure and crossing the street to his house.
“Did you know mutes could make a noise like that?” Richie asked his best buddy and fellow altar boy.
“Of course,” said Zack, “Just seems strange because we think there’s something really wrong with him and there isn’t. Put him in a group with other crying adults and he would look normal.”
“Durkee’s the only adult here,” said Stoshu, “Why do they call it a wake if someone’s dead?
2/ Cold Hard Facts
“That Mike was a disgrace,” said Richie’s father, “He let her down. The last one of their line and he spends it drinking in the gutter. That poor woman. Six kids and I’m glad we only had two boys.”
“Why do you think I let Richard go see him laid out? It’s a tough lesson to learn that your heroes aren’t what you think they are…but he’s an old enough boy now and it if he doesn’t learn soon, he’ll end up just like that.” replied Richie’s mother ruefully.
Zack was overhearing their conversation on the back stoop and let them catch their collective breaths before knocking. His parents never talked, Stashu’s Dad mumbled to himself, and Richie’s parents never shut up, bantering “ad nauseum,” as Mike once said with a wink.
“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Rincavage, is Richard home?”
3 / A Hundred Years is Almost a Century
“How are you doing?” Zack asked Richie as they left the latter’s house.
“My mom and dad said he was carrying the wine on his shoulder, and he was so drunk he fell on the jug …cut his jungular…but he was too drunk to know the difference…” sobbed Richie in response.
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” said Zack. “He died at the hospital, yes, but he took himself to the hospital, walking all the way across the river, because he want to stop in a few bars on the way…and then when they he got there there were some sick babies from the orphanage and he let them go first,” Zack extemporized, “And all them little orphans babies lived.”
“I shit you not Richie. You think Mighty Mike gave one shit about himself?”
This query perplexed Richie, silencing him into the most profound contemplation he had ever practiced before or since, “No?” he offered meekly.
“Wrong,” countered and corrected Zack, “He did. And he knew we all pass form this mortal coil and it’s what we leave behind that counts. Like Jimmy Coalfeet’s claws…”
“And the Ballad of Piss Ball Pete!” offered Richie with a light in his eye and smile on his not quivering lips.
“And” Zack said leaning in close to his buddy and flicking Richie’s nasal septum with his middle finger, “The schmudok!”
“You boys ready for the centennial parade?” asked Mr. Kovaleski from his porch to the kids.
“Oh shit,” exclaimed Zack, “I have that goddamn essay to write for that hag Evans…” then took off running back home uphill before stopping abruptly.
“Mr. K,” asked Zack.
Mr. Kovaleski raised a finger, stepped into the kitchen and returned with a new marble composition book and several freshly sharpened pencils. He always kept a few of each on hand.
“What are you going to write about? Or should I say, ‘Who’?” asked Mr. Kovaleski.
“Great men of the centennial…I guess…”
“Say you should write about Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee; I have a few books if you’re interested…” but Zack was nearly convulsed by inspiration.
“Thanks Mr. K!” yelled Zack as he bounded across the street to his house.
Finally, something Zack could sink his teeth into. Latin? Who gives a shit? He learned enough as an altar boy. Comportment? Comportment! Go ahead he thought, use that in a sentence then you can grade me for it. He sat at the kitchen table. Cabbage boiled on the stove. His mom was pulling in laundry off the line from the second floor back porch to an old oak.
“Great Men of the Centennial” An Essay by Mighty Mike Miklasciewski’s as told to Zacharias Brokiewicz…
Zack furrowed his brow, stuck out his tongue and really put his shoulder into it. And his imagination. And something else he couldn’t quite name. An energy, an energy that sometimes made him mad or feel hopeless. An energy had been with him as long as he could remember but now metastasizing exponentially inside him. It was an energy, a kinetic impulse to learn and see and do while being stifled in the scuffle of a dying coal town that he loved and abhorred.
He grabbed another pencil rather than sharpen his old one. There was no time. There was only now!
“That’s using your head for something other than a hat rack,” he could hear Mighty Mike whisper in his ear and feel the dank wine breath on his cheek with a playful punch goading him on to greater depth and expression, rising up from off his chair at the kitchen table till his kicked the chair over behind him.
4 / F is for Fiction
“F?” asked Zack slumped in a chair before his teacher’s desk in the otherwise empty room.
mines during the first wave of European immigration.
Miss Evan exhaled, then said, “The Indians were real savages at that point doing vile ‘things’ to women and children. And livestock,” she embellished, “Your history is obviously slanted and fictional.”
“And not to mention it would make Mike over a hundred years old….,” she smiled and tried to lighten the mood, “Now do you know anyone over one hundred years old?”
“Jimmy Coalfeet was 188 and getting stronger every year, living off raw cats and raiding peoples’ cellars until Mike caught him, declawed him and threw him down the Phillips St. shaft. Wait…” Zack thought, that’s all in the essay, did she even read past the first line? “Yes, Mr. Brokowitz. It’s all lies. I have heard of Mr. Molochowski, and I am truly sorry he has passed to his, passing, but these tales don’t stretch the truth, they smash it into bits till…I can’t find it anywhere.”
“But an F?”
The petite, henna-haired school marm asked for the essay, looked through it and said, “Just the first sentence, ‘Mighty Mike led the Centennial Parade through town in honor of all those nameless who nameless who have fallen before us and those who will fall after, only to rise again…’”
She then found another, “Mighty Mike and the Exalted Indian Chief Indian Chief Kakowatchiky lead a strike against the mine owners and their management minions to stop mining under sacred Shawnee grazing lands and impart no further calamitous damage of the aforementioned relics within!”
“That’s why the Shawnee cemetery caved you can look it up,” rejoined Zack, “They didn’t listen and if not for Mighty Mike all those dead would have washed down the hill but for him repelling down to inter their remains with solemnity and respect,” calculating that one in his favor though admittedly it was a stretch. He only put it in there to tick off Miss Evans and her kind, the Welsh and English, who managed the current stock of employees after they themselves worked the
Miss Evans waved an already gloved hand dismissively, “Your parents are more than welcome to discuss your work with me anytime,” she smirked, then puckered her lips and wondered what was playing at the Shawnee Theater that weekend.
His first “F”. His pop was out of town mining hard coal down near Pittsburgh and his mom would feign illiteracy in the English language whenever she spoke with someone off the hill. Nope. No teacher conference, thanks.
“Sorry. Mr. Brokowitz.”
A quote of Mike’s came to Zack’s mind. He sat up in his chair. He stood up and walked to the classroom door.
“Brokiewicz. Bro – kev – ich,” Zack corrected his teacher. “Oh, and Miss Evans,” he continued, “to quote Mighty Mike Miklasciewski, ‘Most of my lies aren’t true’.”