Every time Robert pulled the starchy, white surplice over his head, he thought of watching his ma help his grandma into her nightgown, even though hers was flannel with pink flowers on it. He knew the other boys got to watch Hawaii 5-0 on the color tv in the rectory on Tuesday nights and the housekeeper made them chocolate chip cookies, and sometimes Father Ignatius gave them private catechism lessons in his study. The other boys gave each other nicknames based on the show but they called him Porkie, which he knew had nothing to do with Hawaii 5-0. His ma told him he was lucky to stay home and watch tv with her instead, but he felt sure that father Ignatius left him out because he was fat.
In the locker room after the game, Victor Viccarelli flicked a towel at his butt and called him a name he would never say out loud himself. He’d known most of the team since elementary school and St. Augustus days, although he’d stopped going to church when his grandma died, but he still wasn’t one of them. Robert hated showering in the mildewed open shower room where he felt his size was not an advantage, like it was on the field, but an excuse for others to pummel and pinch, as if he were made of clay, not flesh. He laughed it off but sometimes let the shower stream longer on his reddened face to obscure the tears.
He never thought he would become friends with Victor Vic, but from the day they sat next to each other in the molded plastic chairs of the Marine recruiting office, under a dog-eared poster claiming, “We Don’t Promise You a Rose Garden,” they had learned to appreciate and protect one another. One evening at chow, when Robert was picking out the stringy cubes of pineapple from the fruit cocktail and pushing them to the side of his plate, Victor made a joke about watching Hawaii 5-0 at St. Augustus, as if they’d both been there. “Those were some days,” he said. Robert shrugged and said nothing, feeling that pit-of-the-stomach weakness that still lurked beneath the armor of his camouflage uniform.
It was his ma who spotted the obituary in the local paper, circled it in red magic marker for him and left it on the kitchen table, so he saw it when he got home from work. Victor had hung himself with his standard issue Marine mesh belt in a Holiday Inn in Manhattan, Kansas. That wasn’t in the obituary, of course; another old classmate who worked at the airport with Robert heard it from a friend of Vic’s sister. Robert thought about going by the Viccarellis’ house to pay respects, but he had never really known the family.
No one in town besides Robert seemed surprised by the story about Father Ignatius, who was long gone now, anyway. Sandra Viccarelli wrote a rambling, angry letter to the editor about her brother, but people said she was a drug addict and a drama queen and just wanted attention for herself. Robert spent days watching reruns of Hawaii 5-0, his bulk pressing down, down into the brown plaid couch, his calloused fingers picking at the wiry upholstery. His ma asked him to come to mass with her, just this once, and he said no.
Theo Greenblatt’s prose, both fiction and nonfiction, appears in Cleaver, The Columbia Journal, Jellyfish Review, The Normal School Online, Tikkun, Harvard Review, and numerous other venues. She is a previous winner of The London Magazine Short Story Competition. Theo holds a PhD from the University of Rhode Island and teaches writing to aspiring officer candidates at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI.