|A storella by Jerry Vilhotti--
Biagi so much wanted to get up and feel the vigor he felt as a 16 year old borrowing Tami Mauriello's robe - the very same man who had staggered the great Joe Louis in the first round of their championship fight at Yankee Stadium but only to be knocked out in that very same round because he could not back up on a heel that had been run over by a truck when he was a kid. That night Biagi had fought and won his first fight. He was proud that he still held the record at the East Harlem Club for knocking out his opponent in 11 seconds.
When he came home to show his mother the trophy was when he told his father that he was going to be a fighter. He remembered that the Sanques, who lived in the apartment above, were visiting that evening. When he was kissing his mother, he was cold-cocked by his father knocking him fully out and saying he would not tolerate a bum in his family.
He could still feel the pain that hurt as much as when he was earning two Purple Hearts while fighting all the way from Africa to Germany, saving their countries' liberties while not wishing to talk German with an American accent.
He questioned what he and the rest of all the hyphenated-Americans had fought for. Had not a new dictator sprung from their country wanting to be the next Hitler? He could do nothing about it. He knew he was losing his last great fight to cancer. He prayed softly, though he was not a religious man even when he was fighting hand to hand in a war that the self-haters, warmongers, greed prostitutes and breeders of indifference would not fight.
He was remembering that his eighth grade teacher had told the class that one of the Founding Fathers, who was the only one not rich and refusing to own slaves, said that when a people give up their freedoms for security, they deserve neither one. She had added that a people who falsely "think" they are free, indeed, hopelessly were enslaved.
In a half sleep he recalled his father and his words of 20 years before ..."Would it be O.K. if I came to live with your family? I'll sleep in the cellar. Your dear mother's ghost haunts me in the old house by the abandoned tire factory because she says she'll never forgive me for all my running around and, Biagi, even though the tire company across the road is gone, someone is hiding in the furnace smelling like burnt tires waiting to come out to kill me!"
Biagi had looked at this old man nearing retirement, this viscous man who had tied him and his younger brother Tonto to pipes deep underneath their South Bronx tenement. (Tonto was so named because of the picture cards he carried in the pocket of his dungarees and because he was dark complected and so unlike Biagi with his blond hair and eyes of blue.) ...It was the very same tenement a future Secretary of State would grow up in and eventually be able to say so casually that humans were being killed by his great American fighting forces - when he had "led them" and that he could care less about counting enemy combatants.
After his father had beaten him and his brother with a strap -- he recalled that they were ages six and seven-- he still could duplicate what it felt like remaining bound in the dark cellar occupied by rats walking about them in the night. Biagi always thought his brother's stutter was due to all those beatings.
His father's bald head had glistened just like the church dome copulating with the sky in the small Italian town he and his troops had captured. Biagi had looked at him with deep contempt recalling how a compassionate neighbor Mister O'Neil had called the cops but their beatings did not stop as the cops winking and whispering told his father that keeping the shit off the streets was making their jobs easier and making all the "Big Sirs" downtown happy...that, indeed, he was doing a service to their great country.
The father had enlisted Biagi and his brother Tonto when they were old enough into a poor kids' work program and told them that if they did not send their full paychecks back to him, he would take them to Montana and tie them to the trees that were being cut and send them down a deep river with no means of escape.
Biagi had looked into his father's beady eyes that would get smaller and smaller the more he drank and said, "Only our dog sleeps in the cellar, old man! Only our dog sleeps in the cellar! No, old man, you can't come to live with my family. Go die in Montana!...."
Biagi repeated the old familiar words to the wall and then closed his eyes for the final time.
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