A Shame of Love, Part Two

Story begins Here.

Thursday, March 18th, 1993

Art stood in front of Kane and said, “Another the same?”

“Sure.” Kane slid his glass toward the bartender. “That woman at the far end of the bar, the one trying to turn a trick, what’s her name?”

Art didn’t look in the woman’s direction. A man who’d been in the business for twenty years, he’d memorized every face at the bar. He knew who Kane was talking about and knew enough not to draw attention to them, but he appeared not to know how to answer the question.

Kane smiled. “I’m not interested. I’m just wondering. I assume she works here.”

“She’s one of Clyde’s girls. She goes by Celeste, but I think her real name is Stephanie, Stephanie Shanders or Slanders or Schaefers, something like that. She grew up around here, but that was a long time ago. I guess I don’t remember.”

Kane nodded.

Art said, “She’s all right. She’s fallen on hard times, but she’s good people. I can talk to her about her arm.”

Kane waved the comment away. “Don’t worry about it.”

Art mixed another drink.

Kane thought about the Stephanie he once knew, a girl who’d attended Lincoln Elementary, which was now an abandoned two-story building on the far side of Lincoln Cemetery, an eyesore of early twentieth century construction that embodied the urban decay felt throughout the diocese.

Kane could still hear the jeers of kids from Woodland Park, Little Italy, or The Hill, kids they’d run into along the river or at the park. 

“Stinking Lincoln, what you drinking? Is it beer? Is it wine? Oh my God it’s turpentine.”

Kane couldn’t remember why the chants had made him or his friends so mad. Maybe they’d liked to fight. Maybe it cut a little close to the truth. Kane’s father and mother had both been alcoholics. Stephanie’s father had been an alcoholic, a drinking buddy of Kane’s dad, and when they were younger, Kane, his brother, and Stephanie had played together as kids. They’d ridden their bikes to the park, played basketball, tackle football, kickball, and baseball, and gotten into fights with kids from the other neighborhoods. Often enough they fought their friends from St. Patrick’s, kids they’d bike home with. 

Stephanie, Kane remembered, had been a better fighter than Kane’s brother. She could take a jab without so much as a flinch. At an age when girls were often stronger than boys, she’d keep swinging, driving the boys back.

In those days, only a rare kickball game ended without at least one scuffle, but most of the time nobody got hurt, at least not seriously. A few bruises or a black eye were pretty common, but most of the kids from St. Patrick’s were as likely to get bruises or a black eye at home as they were to get it at the park, so the lumps and bumps blended in, and a scuffle on the playground provided an easy explanation.

But it hadn’t all been knuckles and tough talk. Kane remembered Stephanie sitting with him in the park and picking at blades of grass. Kane had told her about his subscription to Odyssey Magazine. He’d told her that he was going to read all the books in the library even if it took him his entire life. She’d told him that she wanted to learn the names of every star in the galaxy. She’d been saving to buy a telescope. She’d told him that she could kick his ass, and he’d laughed in her face. She’d kissed him, the first girl to ever kiss him, and he’d wanted to kiss her, but he hadn’t known if he should, and after the moment passed, he realized he hadn’t known how.

There’d been a time, an innocent time, when Kane had thought about Stephanie every day. She’d been the only girl in his life at a time when he didn’t know what a woman was. He could still remember her laugh, a youthful giggle that rippled from deep in her throat and escaped the tight jaw that strangled her words.

What had happened to her?

Continued in Part Three.

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