Excerpt from Welcome Home
From the story “The ‘Terror'”
They’d first met when Ted was still boxing as an amateur. Ted was a typical Brooklyn boy and had learned his skills both in Armenson’s Gym on Wyckoff Avenue and, just as often, on the surrounding streets and alleys. It was not far from the gym that he’d first come upon Marylin’s radar in a most dramatic fashion.
Ted was walking home from a particularly rough workout when he saw a group of three toughs on the corner of Stockholm Street and Irving Ave, giving the business to the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Even from half a block away, Ted could see she was tall and slender, built like a swimsuit model, and clearly in distress. As he got closer he could hear them assailing her with lewd remarks. When their catcalls and gutter remarks evolved to grabbing and groping, Ted stepped it.
“Leave her go,” he’d said calmly. He was anything but calm. His arms, tired from an hour on the heavy bag, felt like hanging meat at the sides of his body. He wasn’t at all sure he could lift them, let alone use them. One of the guys, a stocky Puerto Rican fellow who had about six inches and fifty pounds on Ted, let go of Marylin’s arm and turned to face him.
“What you gonna do, hero?”
Ted looked from him to the other two guys, a scrawny white kid, and a lanky black dude, who had Marylin’s other arm still tightly grasped. Ted saw the fear in her eyes as she looked at him pleadingly.
“Well, I’m first going to break dat asshole’s arm unless he leaves go of the lady,” he said pointing to the tall kid. “Den I’m going to hit da skinny guy on the right side of his chin with my left hand. Den I’m going to beat you, widdin inches of your miserable life, I tink.”
However, before they could process any of his bravado, Ted flew instead at the big guy. He’d known, even as he was explaining his battle plan to the hoods, that he’d have to take care of the puertorriqueño first. He was the only real danger. So he led with a left hook and followed with an uppercut. The thug fell like the sack of turds that he was, and with his leg twitching in a manner that the other two toughs found very disturbing, just laid there. Before Ted could turn his attention to either of the other two, they began to run, exactly as he’d hoped they would, because there was no way he was going to be able to lift his arms a second time.
“Oh my God! Thank you so much!” Marylin said. “I thought they were going to kill me.” Ted couldn’t take his eyes off her. She looked like one of those girls in the Macy’s ads, blonde with green eyes that smiled even when her mouth wasn’t. Her nose turned up slightly, a trait that had always appealed to Ted for some reason. Her neck was long and slender and all he could think about was touching her there, letting his fingers gently trace along the smooth skin.
“Prob’ly not,” he had told her. “But I doubt dey were going to ask to buy you ice cream.” She laughed, and he laughed with her, lamenting it at once, as his bruised ribs screamed. He winced and touched his side. Marylin noticed.
“You’re hurt,” she said. “But those boys never even touched you!”
“Not them,” he answered. “I got a whole team of guys who get to punch me every day over at Armenson’s. I’m a boxer.”
“A pretty good one too, I’m guessing,” she said, pointing to the still unconscious guy at their feet. Ted listened to her voice like it was music. She sounded sweet, educated. Not like Ted, with his thick Red Hook inflection.
“Yeah, about him… We might wanna make light of dis place before he wakes up. I don’t tink I could do dat again right now. Standing around here, it ain’t prob’ly such a smart idea.”
“So, what do you think we should do?” she had asked, showing him for the first time the mischievous smile that would reduce him to a powerless baby for the next ten years.
“I guess I could buy you some ice cream,” he said. “Since dey ain’t gonna.”
The graphic visual memory of that first meeting, and of the abandoned seat in Madison Square Garden ten years later both dissolved now, and the bleak desert landscape returned to the fore of his consciousness. In the shallow distance, a solitary building could be distinguished. Ted looked a third time at the gas and said, “Fumes don’t fail me now.” The echo of the empty car made him mad again, but his anger retreated as the small shack turned out to indeed be a tiny gas station. Ted pulled in, heaving a sigh of relief, and looked through the picture window that comprised a controlling percentage of the front of the building. He saw a grizzled old man, who he immediately named “Pops,” motion for him to pump his own fuel. He filled the tank and went inside.
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