Had Celia not known exactly where the Torado abode was,
she would not have found it in twilight's light. Its exterior was a
very dingy affair. Compared to the pedigree façade of Irma’s, the
home she was pulling up to now was a junk yard dog. From the
road it vanished into the scenery, the flat brown scenery.
There were no cars in front of the house so she correctly
assumed the thing to do was park, like the others, behind the
house and yes, the cars were parked back there.
As she cut the engine she noticed a sliver of light coming
from a window who’s curtain had been minimally pulled aside
to accommodate a watchful eye. And then it was dark again.
“A regular welcome wagon.”
Phil met Celia at the door, happy to see her and Phil was a
man who one might suspect, assigned sacred duty to be
always a flawless host.
The scene inside was as diametrically opposite to everything
else in Ardensville as one could never imagine. Once again, had
she awoke in this home, she might be convinced she was in
Bensonhurst or Howard Beach or North Jersey.
Everyone was drinking and smoking, except that small bird like
man from the market who sat somewhat off to the side and only
drank though he did chew celery sticks with urgency. The boys
smoked cigars and the girls smoked cigarettes. Introductions were
made and Celia could not remember when the drink showed up in
“You know Mary and Mike over there. That’s Rose on the
couch with Vincent. Jimmy waitin' to play cards and Lina and
Barbara in the kitchen.” Lina and Barbara waved from the open
“Who is that distinguished gentleman in the corner?” Celia
asked, her curiosity peeked.
“Oh, yeah, ’at’s my cousin Lou. He’s always been a lil’ loopy
but he’s one of us so we brought’m and he help’s in the store.
He’s harmless. My aunt Giselle devoted her life to him.” Phil
“Did we come to play cards or should I deal solitaire ova heah?”
barked an impatient Jimmy, clearly, not a charm school graduate.
Silently, with stealth and then some, an austere and elegant man,
perfectly attired though entirely distinct and in-homogeneous to
the group glided into the room, seemingly from no where.
“Aye, Celia, this is Hank but he’d like it if ya called him Henry.
Ain’t that right Henry. Hank is our “liaison” to the Feds and the
world. He brings the good cigars and booze.”
“How’s bout a case of Manhattan Specials fa chris sake Hank?”
was Mary’s 2 cents while putting the sandwiches on the card table.
“How do you do Celia. I am special agent Henry Durrant. Mary
informed me about you and your visit to Ardensville. Welcome to
our fair city.”
“I didn’t inform, I mentioned it, I mentioned it fa chris sake.
Fuggin’ feds.” Mary went to but also did not graduate charm
“You must possess highly developed investigative and social
skills” continued Agent Durrant, “to have realized, infiltrated and
survived our little enclave here. I applaud you Celia. Really, I do.”
“Okay, c’mon”, announced Phil, “Are we playin’ cards here
or What’s My Line?”
The assembled men, excluding Lou, and Hank who parked
himself on a strategically placed stool, adjourned to the card
area with it’s grand casino style card table, dramatic lighting
and everything. The wives stayed where they were and all was
regular except for the new and unusual woman who was now in
the game with no apparent culture shock. In fact, she even
grabbed a Cuban and in impersonation of the men around her
ritually prepared it, lit it and it hung from the corner her mouth
to the awe and great respect of the boys. And Hank.
The game was going on an hour or better now. The better part of
a fresh bottle of tequila was gone and Celia was up. A lot. As she
re-ordered the just dealt hand, she began to hum. For most of the
men this meant another hand they’d better fold on but Phil realized
something else and Phil started to hum with Celia.
“Aye, I know dat” Phil rejoiced. “Wus dat tune?”
Hank was delighted and amused. He seemed to sense what was
going to happen, clearly.
“It’s Verdi, Para Migi Caro, last act of Traviata” Celia answered
not sure if she had said or hummed something wrong while laying
down 3 jacks and a pair of sevens.
“Yeah, yeah, Para migi caro,” and Phil was singing in a rich
full tenor. The cigar departed from Celia’s lips and she began
to sing. Para migi is a romantic and tragic duet. The men put their
cards down and the whole table and Hank were bathed in the light
of operatic content.
“ Ohh!!, just fuggin great. Who invited Maria Callas ova heah.
Aye Hank, what they run outta Dusty Spingfields back home?
Maybe ya gotta a Tina Turner sittin’roun’ not doing anything.”
Mary, and the girls were out the door with a bottle of Cinzano and
a new found appreciation of the night sky.
Glasses were full, cheeks were red and the men and Celia
swayed as one. The women were probably not far enough from
the house to know how wonderfully the group sang the drinking
Hours later, very tired, somewhat drunk and a little bit hoarse,
Celia was holding up the wall at the bottom of the stairs that led
to her apartment and bed. The method she employed was to fall
forward up the stairs while still leaning on the wall. If she could
get to the top step and then maybe crawl the rest, that would be
good. Or maybe just take a short nap on the landing.
Half way up Celia caught her shoulder on one of those picture
nails left in the wall by Irma’s ancestors and added to the falling
up the stairs momentum, she felt a tug and heard a rip.
The victim of this chance meeting was Celia’s precious jacket.
The Penny jacket. Suddenly sober, Celia charged upstairs to
assess the damage to her holy vestment.
Upon examination, yet again, Celia came to discover what Penny
failed to remember or confess on the porch.
Beneath the beautiful patchwork quilt work lied the truth about
Penny’s past from which she was now a refugee in the present.
She found patches, the sort of patches one would attach to a
football jersey. These were not those patches, not exactly. Instead
of Smithtown Bulldogs, one patch said S.D.S. Another now
exposed patch did not say Uniondale Lady Lions. It said simply,
“Authority?” Another displayed “SNCC”
“Well hello Miss Penny!”
The haze of tequila lifted. The dust on the road settled and Celia
saw the landscape and the horizon in the cleansing light of,
“U-huh, what it is, what it is, what it is.”