again. This time I'm concentrating on Frannie -- I knew there had to
be more to her than what we've been told. No one is that annoying without
a good reason. -- kb
HOW BAD COULD IT BE?
by Katrina Bowen
It never ends. It just absolutely never ends. I've told Ma, just buy
the stuff in the jars. I mean, how bad could it be? But geez, I get
off work, and what's the first thing she says when I walk in the door?
Not "Why, hello, Frannie. Sit down. Here, have a brownie." Nope.
Because Maria's kids trampled the herb garden, I've got to go to the
store and get basil and parsley. Let's say she used the dried stuff
once. What's the worst thing that could happen? What, would we all
collectively die of inauthentic Italian cooking? At least we'd make
the papers, right? "Family dies tragic, though tasty, death."
Or why not call Ray and have him stop at the store after he gets off
duty? At least he'd be able to tell the good parsley from the bad parsley.
Last time I went, Ma gave me the old "Francesca, please remember to buy
the parsley with the flat leaves" talk. What possible difference could
it make? Ray cooks. Let him buy the damn parsley. The curly stuff is
Ah, but if I'm nice to Ray, maybe he'll bring Benton home again soon.
Yeah, Ray owes me a favor. He forgot my birthday, didn't he? Okay,
so he was busy trying to catch a crazed killer. Is that my fault?
Molly was asking me today why I'm so hung up on Ben. She's never met
him. How can I not be hung up? He's gorgeous, he's sweet, he's honest,
he's dependable, he's gorgeous, oh God, is he gorgeous. I never thought
nice could be so incredibly sexy, but then I met Ben. If he'd come to
Chicago two years earlier than he did... But he didn't. I'd never met
someone like him, and so I fell in love with Jeff and I married Jeff
and I made just about the stupidest mistake of my entire life. Okay,
there was the time when I was seventeen and I dyed my hair blonde, but
those are two completely different things.
And why *is* it that Ray is the only one of us who's any good at cooking?
Maria can manage to put a meal together, like Tony or her kids would
notice if it was edible or not. And me, well, thank God for microwave
dinners and take-out. Paulie ... well, Paulie didn't even like going
in the kitchen. If he hadn't died, he would have eventually starved
Oh, geez. Paulie. Has it really been nine years since he wrapped his
car around that street light? I still think that's what killed Pop.
I know the doctor said it was heart failure, but I really believe he
just didn't want to live
after Paulie died. He was mad at Ray for going to the police academy
-- well, he was usually mad at Ray for something, anyway. Paulie was
his favorite, I always knew that. It wasn't as if Pop ever tried to
pretend otherwise. But I never understood what he had against Ray.
I mean, sure, Pop hit us. He hit all of us, even Paulie sometimes.
But he was always the hardest on Ray. Ma used to talk to him about it.
I remember lying in bed awake, listening to them yelling back and forth.
I used to wish so much that Ma would just leave him ... sometimes, and
I'm so ashamed of this, I used to wish Pop would just drop dead and leave
us in peace. And one day he did, and now I've got to live with the guilt
for wanting it to happen.
I remember the last time Pop ever hit any of us. Ray was the one that
stopped it, even though I don't think he knew that was the way it would
turn out. It was all over that damn tape deck. Paulie told me never
to touch it, but I was nine. What the hell did I know? So, I broke
it. Paulie was so mad when he found out -- he'd never hit me before.
He'd shoved me, he'd tripped me, but he always told Ma, "Aw, I was just
clowning around." But this time he hit me, a real hard slap in the face,
so hard he split my lip open. He was on the football team, so believe
me, he knew how to hit. Ben would never hit a woman. It wouldn't even
occur to him.
And then Ray was there, and he just whaled into Paulie. It was stupid,
probably the stupidest thing he could have done. I mean, he was just
fourteen, and if you think he looks skinny now, you should have seen
him then. But he did it. He wouldn't back down. And Paulie kicked
So Pop walks into Paulie's bedroom. I'm huddled crying in a corner,
Ray's leaning against the wall with two black eyes and a bloody nose,
and Paulie's standing in the middle of the room with both Ray's and my
blood on his hands. And what does Pop do? He asks Ray, "You dummy,
what do you think you're doing, taking your brother on?"
I'll never forget what Ray said. He's got this expression, like, "You
are a complete idiot, but you're just too dumb to know it." Well, he
had that look. And he looked at Pop, and he said, "I'm protecting my
sister, 'cause she wont ever be able to count on either you or Paulie
doing it." And Pop hit him, a good backhanded slap. Ray was probably
expecting that, but he was just too wobbly to do anything about it --
he lost his balance and hit his head against Paulie's dresser. That's
when I heard Ma walk in the house. I ran screaming to her, and then
I spent the rest of the day hiding under my bed. I still don't know
what happened when she got to Paulie's room, but neither Pop or Paulie
ever hit anyone after that. No one even mentioned it, the next day or
No. That's not really true. That night, way after midnight, I snuck
into Ray's room. He was kind of half-leaning against his headboard,
ice packs all over his face. I thought he'd probably be asleep -- I'm
still not sure just why I went in there. But he was awake, and he kind
of waved me over. Then he asked me how I was feeling, and he told me
I oughta be asleep. I sat on the edge of his bed, and I stared at him,
thinking, "He's got a face like raw hamburger and he's worried about
*me*?" Next thing I knew, I was crying and hugging him, and he's rubbing
my back and handing me tissues. Then he walked me back to my room --
Maria never woke up, she could sleep through a tornado -- and he tucked
me in, and he told me that everything was going to be okay.
It wasn't, though. I mean, Pop stopped hitting us, but he never really
treated any of us any better. All the same, I knew that if things ever
got really bad, Ray would be there for me, and I'd be there for him.
Not that either of us would ever actually admit it to the other.
I know now that I should have listened to him about Jeff. He tried to
tell me that Jeff was just like Pop, that I deserved better than him.
But I was so thrilled that someone as good-looking and as smooth as Jeff
Spinelli wanted me enough to marry me ... so I told Ray that he was just
jealous that I'd found someone, and he and Angie had split up. I hurt
him. I knew it as soon as I said it, but you know how it is when your
pride and your anger and your desire to be loved get all tangled up together.
Well, things were great for about four, five months, until November.
Then Jeff started staying out late, and then he started staying out all
night. We argued about everything. Finally, about two weeks before
Christmas, we had a huge fight, and he took a swing at me. Only his
aim was off, and he ended up breaking most of the bones in his hand when
he put his fist through the wall. He's sitting there, screaming at me
to call an ambulance, and I had what I *still* think is my finest moment.
I told him, "If you're man enough to hit your wife, you're man enough
to call your own ambulance." And I grabbed my coat and my purse and my
keys, and I went back to Ma's house.
I never told Ma or Ray or Maria about the fight, just that I was never
going back to him. Ma tried to talk me into counselling, but after a
day or two, she figured out what had happened. Not that she'd ever talk
about it. I just sat around the house, eating fudge and getting a good
case of the Christmas blues. And as for Ray ...
I wanted to get my stuff, but I was afraid to go back there in case Jeff
was in the apartment. So after three days, Ray comes home in the middle
of the afternoon, and he tells me, "Come on, Frannie. We're going to
get your things." I tried to talk him out of it, but he just took my
hand and pulled me out to his car. He said he'd checked out the place,
and Jeff wasn't going to be anywhere around.
I was terrified, but you know what Ray did? He spent the whole drive
telling me knock-knock jokes. Stupid, childish knock-knock jokes. It
was mainly nerves, but by the time we got to the apartment, I was laughing
my head off. And Jeff wasn't there, so we just loaded up all my clothes
and everything, and we were out of there in an hour and a half. Aside
from the divorce proceedings, I haven't seen Jeff since.
But I ran into my downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Wasicek, a few months later,
and she told me something funny. She said how odd it was that Jeff would
first break his hand in a bar fight -- I guess that's the story he cooked
up, so he could still look macho -- and then, only a couple days later,
he slipped on a sidewalk and broke his jaw. She didn't sound at all
sorry about it either, but then, she never liked him all that much.
And that's why Jeff didn't bother us when I was cleaning out my things
... he was in the hospital getting his jaw wired shut. That's something
else Ray and I don't discuss. I mean, I don't know for a fact that he
actually had anything to do with it, right? Besides, I gotta admit,
the thought of Jeff having to spend the holidays without being able to
open his big mouth -- that was a real nice gift.
So yeah, Ray's a pretty good guy. Not that I'd ever tell him that, you
understand. He'd only get more arrogant than he is now.
Ben, on the other hand -- I've never known anyone as perfect as he is,
but he just doesn't seem to notice it. Okay, he talks to this dog that
he insists is a wolf, which has got to be some weird Canadian humor thing,
but I could live with that. If he wants to think his dog is a wolf,
okay, then his dog is a wolf. I just wish I could figure out what he
thinks about me. Sure, he always treats me with respect -- that's something
you don't get from too many guys in Chicago. It's real easy to get spoiled
by a guy treating you like that.
I've tried everything, and I mean everything, to get him interested in
me, but nothing ever seems to work. Ma told me that I was scaring the
poor boy to death, and I should take it easy on him. But I really think
someone like him might be the best thing that could ever happen to someone
like me. I think we'd be so happy together. I mean, how bad could it
("How bad could it be
If you should fall in love with me?"
kd lang, "Sexuality")
"Get a life? I tried that once, but it cut down on my free time too