Church of Marvels: A Novel

Free Church of Marvels: A Novel by Leslie Parry

Book: Church of Marvels: A Novel by Leslie Parry Read Free Book Online
Authors: Leslie Parry
folding the napkins and righting the spoons, as if everyone were expected back for supper.
    But soon he grew desperate. He ate everything in the Scarlattas’ cupboard, sold off what remained. He stole the apples left scattered after the market had cleared; he took the coat off a drunk sleeping in a doorway, and this Sylvan felt sorriest for, robbing a thin man of his warmth on a winter night. But he thought of Frankie lying in the corner by the stove, sweating even as snow drifted in through chinks in the wall. There were times when he’d lean over the bed as Frankie blubbered and moaned and will him to just close his eyes . He was tired of stealing for him, tired of staying in the freezing apartment because he couldn’t be moved, tired of waking and worrying, of being so fretful that he threw up his breakfast and was hungry all over again. But mostly he was tired of waiting. For two weeks he watched Frankie get sicker and sicker, and there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t be saved. The sooner it happened, the sooner Sylvan would be on a streetcar, and away.
    And so one morning, Sylvan had just walked out the door as Frankie’s lungs took on a grim, familiar rattle—he walked the snowy streets with his hands in his pockets, shivering in his stolen coat. He couldn’t bear to watch. Being there meant that he would let it happen, that he was somehow in league with death, its lame and silent partner. He couldn’t do it—he couldn’t sit by and watch. If he left, it was in God’s hands.
    There had been a ghost in the house ever since.
    Now, with the baby in his arms, he closed and locked the door, then worked his way through the yard, with its smell of lard and pipesmoke and iron-burned laundry. Undergarments flapped wildly on the fire escapes above, soiled with sweat and blood: private stains, flying high over the city like crests on the flags of a ship. He walked out to Ludlow Street, his eyes aching in the early sun. There were streets named Mulberry and Orchard and Cherry, streets bright and tart, streets with a color and a taste. But Ludlow sounded heavy and numb, like a mouth with a bitten tongue.
    It was only a few blocks to Ellen Izzo’s, but now in daylight, with the baby in his arms, it might as well have been a mile. He hurried as fast as he could, trying to keep her quiet. She clung to him, nuzzling his coat and leaving a trail of milky spit along the front. What if we should pass her mother right here on the street? he wondered. Someone who recognized the dimpled chin and dark hair and green eyes? How would he explain it? When he raised his head—wondering if people were gaping as he passed, or whispering to each other conspiratorially—he saw that they only looked through him, as if he weren’t even there.
    Your curiosity, Mrs. Scarlatta had once said, is a dangerous thing. We all need to know our place, or how else would the world go on turning?
    But even then, only a child, sitting on the stairs after a rumble and holding a frozen hog’s foot to his cheek, Sylvan wondered, How does anyone even know what their place ought to be? He fought for the money now, he always said—and he did; he needed whatever came his way—but the truth was that he liked it. He started when he was nine or ten, because he had to—he needed to fend off the lookouts and guttersnipes, the other boys who tried to bully him and rob him of what little he had. And the feeling afterward—walking the streets like a golden hum—he couldn’t give it up. He was good at it—it was the only thing he’d ever felt good at in his life, and the way he looked somehow helped him. It made the men he faced do a double take. Look, his eyes seemed to dare them. Look at me.
    Now he turned down the alley by the oyster house, past the old pear tree that stood dead in the ground. Even though it was hot out, his teeth chattered and his head pulsed. In his arms the baby’s eyes fluttered open. Did she know him? he wondered. And would she

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