- Andrew Brilliant
Stromboli not a Cannoli
Stromboli Not A Cannoli. A story
“Have you ever seen that movie Stromboli?”
“Can’t say that I have,” Molly says.
Frank tries not to look at Molly’s nipples showing vaguely through her shirt.
“Tell me about it,” Says Molly.
That is all he needs. They are outside at the long bar on the patio of Bella Luna, his local hangout in Jamaica Plain where he lives in Boston. It’s ninety-five degrees and humid even though it is verging on darkness. The expected and hoped-for breeze has not appeared. He is sweating, she not as much. He takes out a handkerchief from his back pocket and wipes his face.
Frank is at Bella Luna to listen to his friends Glen and Gina perform. Frank met Glen when Glen moved to Boston to finish his undergraduate degree in musical performance. Frank found Glen his first apartment. Now ten years later, Glen is an adjunct professor at music schools in Boston and plays in and also leads several bands. Frank recently helped Glen and Gina buy their house. Glen and Gina have a side gig playing together. Gina sings and plays guitar. Glen accompanies on bass.They call it Lambda Avenue.
“I thought you were a film major? Don’t they show you the classics? Rosellini, Fellini, De Sica?”
“Rossellini ... Isabella, wasn’t she married to David Lynch and now she makes those movies about Green Porn?”
“Roberto Rossellini was Isabella’s father, and her mother was Ingrid Bergman. I have heard about those Green Porn films.”
He hesitates a beat or two before he says porn.
“I know who Ingmar Bergman is.”
“Okay, tell me about Stromboli. I’ve had the sandwich.”
“The Stromboli was named after the movie Stromboli, which takes place on the island of Stromboli. Umm, it’s kind of about tuna fish but not really.”
“It’s a love story and at the end of the movie there is a volcanic eruption. And the star is Ingrid Bergman. She had during the filming, a love affair with the director, who was Roberto Rossellini. They had a child, who is Isabella Rossellini. You know Ingrid Bergman was considered one of the most beautiful woman in the world. They must have shown Casablanca in one of your classes.”
“Oh yeah, I know who she is now. Wait, what about the tuna fish? My mother says I shouldn’t eat tuna fish ‘cause they’re bottom feeders.”
Frank and Molly’s mother work at the same agency. She is in a different office in another part of Boston. Marcia would not like to know that Frank is about to offer Molly another drink. Frank does not give a shit. Molly looks around past him and turns back to look at him, sizing him up. He forgot to shave today. His hair is always close cropped, hiding the grey. It makes him look younger.
“Are you waiting for someone?” Frank says.
“Can I get you another drink?”
She hesitates and looks at her almost drained glass and then her phone.
She is already drinking a piña colada when Frank sits down next to Molly on the only stool available at the bar. All the tables on the patio are occupied. He orders the same.
She recognizes him from a company party that her mother Marcia took her too. He does not recognize her immediately. He says to himself, “I am famous” when Molly turns to him and says “Hi Frank.” He does not recall meeting Molly.
“There’s a long scene in the beginning of the movie on the island of Stromboli in the Mediterranean Sea. The fishermen of the island head out in a fleet to start the tuna harvest. It’s the time of year when the tuna are largest. The local priests bless the fishermen before they head off to kill the tuna. The film is in black and white and the scene is a bloody gruesome gross dance of fishermen spearing the large tunas by hand. As fish blood slowly rises to the surface, the movement of these majestic animals slows to a halt.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
Drinks arrive and she takes a pull at the straw. They are paper straws.
He might be losing her. His memory of the rest of Stromboli is vague. He takes a long sip of his drink struggling what to say next.
“I have a better story for you about Jamaica Plain.”
“Okay. Not about tuna fish getting killed, I hope.”
She laughs and turns her legs around towards him. She has white tight shorts on. Almost everyone on the patio is wearing shorts, including Frank. She looks at her phone again. Frank looks around the patio and recognizes one of the servers, the lead guitarist in an Ethiopian rock band.
“I have some time, now, that dick is an hour late. He made me drive all the way from Weston. I’m staying at my dad’s house in Weston for the rest of the summer till my job starts up again and I have to be back in New York. I could be in the pool right now. He’s waiting for the Red Sox game to end. I don’t know why I keep hanging out with him.”
The patio is lit by a string of tiny LED bulbs. The brick walls reflect a warm glow on to everyone. The song “Tonight is going to be a good night” is playing in the background, Frank can barely hear it.
“I used come to Jamaica Plain all the time when I was in school when I was home on vacation. I had two friends from summer camp who lived in JP. And they could get weed. Nina’s parents were never home. We would get high on her back porch. Then go to Jamaica Pond, which was about five minutes away, and then when we got hungry we would go to the Same Old Place and order a whole pie. And then, if we were still hungry walk cross the street to JP Licks for ice cream.”
“It seemed like Nina and Sara knew everyone who came in there. Their friends were much more interesting than the kids I met in Weston. I liked being home for the summers when I was in college, but I always had these boring jobs at one or the other of my dad’s companies, first the bank and then at his construction company. One summer he made me work at his car dealership. I jumped at the chance to come to JP, whenever Nina or Sara called me.”
Molly’s voice increases in volume as she speaks. The competing stimuli, the background music playing Sade louder than it should be played, the Red Sox game playing on the screen behind the inside bar, Molly’s now much too loud voice— Frank feels his blood pulsing.
“One Saturday night, Sara, Nina, and I were really baked. We were staring at the pond. It was really hot, hotter than tonight. We wanted to take our clothes off and jump in the pond.This is totally illegal. I invited them to come out to Weston on Sunday. My dad was in a golf tournament, the finals at the club. We could get high in the woods. We could cheer my dad on and then go to the pool party after. They said they would come. I called them both Sunday morning and neither of them answered. The pool party was kind of boring except that I started talking to one of the life guards, Sam. He was from Jamaica Plain and knew Sara.”
“Sara called me the next Thursday. She invited me to a party at Nina’s apartment. Sam was there. We all got baked and headed over to Same Old Place, where we ran into another friend, Eric, who lived in Brookline. Eric loved the pizza at Same Old Place. We ordered three of the largest pies with everything on it. Those boys could really eat. I was such a blimp back then.”
Frank looks down at Molly’s body again and notices how not blimpy she is. He looks at her face and smiles. He notices one of the bartenders also looking at Molly. Frank smiles at her too. A sliver jet plane shimmers over head in the cloudless dark new moon sky.
“We sat down to eat and watched a soccer match in the back room. There was a bunch of boys watching the game at another table. We didn’t recognize them. They were speaking a mix of Spanish and English. After we finished those pies off we headed across the street to JP Licks and ordered the largest ice cream boat and sat outside looking out on to Centre Street."
Molly pauses and looks around the room. Frank looks down at her chest again searching for the silhouette of her breasts.
"All of a sudden across the street there are screams. Those boys come running out of Same Old Place followed by some more kids. We hear loud crack sounds, and before we can figure out they were gunshots, we see two kids falling down to the ground. And two more stagger out of the Same Old Place with blood streaming from their bodies to the sidewalk. The firetruck came first. The station is 500 yards away. My dad tells me to call the fire department in an emergency because they always show up. We ran around the block to Nina’s house. I drove back to Weston. I guess we should have stayed, as we were witnesses. But we were still really high, anything we said would have made no sense. I saw on the 11 o’clock news that it was some kind of gang thing and three of the kids had died. Two of them lived in JP at the projects about a mile away, and the other kid lived in Roslindale. I never talked to Nina or Sara again after the shooting. And I had no desire ever to go back to JP……ever.”
Molly pauses and looks at her phone. Is it vibrating? Frank can’t be sure. He studies her profile. Molly looks around the patio again. She frowns and turns back towards Frank and raises her head and neck straight up. Frank imagines her naked.
“I heard that Nina and Eric got married. I have no idea where they are. I think Sara moved to Portland to go to medical school. After NYU I stayed in New York for a while trying to write scripts. I got a job as a reader. The production company sent me to LA for five months and I tried again to sell my own scripts. Some of my friends from NYU and kids I knew from Weston got good jobs in the industry but I’m kind of stuck now reading really sucky scripts. But what really sucks is that I’ve passed on some that were made into movies. I can’t believe I passed on one called The Pharaoh Button. It’s coming out on Netflix as a five part thing. I met the writer. She is my age. So I guess I don’t know what I’m doing. The people I work for like me, though. They think I’m a fast reader, and they send me to parties because of the way I look and talk. And I’m great at getting people to give me their phone numbers. The owners are a married couple and they hate going to industry parties. I learned from my dad that in business it’s not enough to give out your cards, you have to get their cards, and I’m good at that. I’m kind of burnt out on New York. I asked my company if I could stay up in Weston this summer. I read the scripts at our pool and if they need me I can get down to New York really fast. I don’t cost them that much and Dad helps. I tried.”
As Molly talks she keeps looking around the patio scanning for Sam. She won’t know anyone in the bar. Frank recognizes some of the faces around him.
“After Harvard, Sam, who was one of those twenty-five Boston Latin School kids who get to go to Harvard every year, went to NYU Law School. Sam looked me up when he found out I was in Manhattan. I hadn’t seen him since the shooting. He called me and I remembered him being kind of cute, and if the shooting hadn’t happened to us maybe we would have been friends that summer in Weston. I don’t know how long he guarded life there after the shooting. We walked around New York sharing our discoveries of Manhattan. Sam wanted to know about the movie business but I never wanted to talk about it since I was kind of low in it ... underachieving. Sam totally wanted to hook up with me and I teased him a couple of times but I was just not into it. In the movie company office I was always running into cute actors and actresses who maybe were not as smart as Sam but were way more interesting and more casual about sleeping together. If I’d ever slept with Sam then, he would have wanted to marry me.”
Molly stops talking and takes another long sip. Molly reminds him of something, someone, something he once read. His life might be taking a new turn with this woman who is more than half his age. Mollys talk gives him more time to compose his own story. He is watching her body language as she speaks. She shifts her legs, turns her shoulders gracefully and seductively, looks directly at his eyes and then down at his shirt and legs. Or maybe he imagines that. Or wishes it.
“I had been in Weston just two weeks this summer and Sam found me online. He’s working on 128 at a real estate development company that one of my father’s friends owns. They made Sam their general counsel. He says, ‘You know I’m a pistol and they see that and they need me.’”
“He’s making a ton of money. He’s driving a bigger better car than my dad is. He’s a fast riser. Maybe he connected ‘cause of his summer lifeguarding at the club in Weston. You know like in the movies. He lives in the Jamaica Tower, the only high rise and the tallest building in JP. There are 35 stories with incredible views in every direction. It’s on the Jamaicaway and across the street is Jamaica Pond. He’s always bragging about how high the co-op fees are. It’s only a one bedroom. But it’s a corner apartment on the twenty-fourth floor. From one corner you can see the planes taking off and landing at Logan.”
Frank lives at the Tower. He is not ready to share this with Molly. The building is home mostly to older couples, down-sizers, young professionals who have good jobs but don’t want to live downtown, medical residents with no student debt who work just up the street at the Longwood hospitals and anyone else wealthy enough. Frank does not want to stop Molly from talking. He is enjoying watching her talk, watching her move. The low warm light of Bella Luna, the soft but not insipid background music mixing with Molly’s energized voice is turning him on now, focusing his mind. That song again about a good night is either in his head or on the speakers. He is not sure.
“Sam is always talking about his place. How he owns it with no mortgage. And the people who live there don’t threaten him in any way. It’s true you get a concierge, a pool, and tennis courts and parking. I would never live there. I had friends in New York who lived in buildings like that and though I thought it was boring, at least, in New York, when you left you could get on a subway and go somewhere cool. Sam’s father retired from his antique lighting business and moved to Savannah to help his sister who needs help with her life, and it’s warmer there. Sam wanted to stay in JP but not in the neighborhood where he lived growing up. Back then he needed to be near his mother at that Alzheimer’s place. The Tower is in JP but it's not like you live in JP. You can hop in your car and never have to go to Centre Street.”
Frank does not mind the walk from the Tower to his office in JP. He walks along the pond or through the neighborhood side streets, or on Centre Street where he might see his friends and clients. He walks by Same Old Place every day on his way to his office. Until his bike accident he could ride over there.
“He called me this past July 4 and I went up to his place, we smoked some weed on his balcony and then ordered pizza delivered from the Same Old Place. I hadn’t been there since the shooting, they still have great pizza. When the pizza delivery arrived we went out on his balcony and watched the fireworks coming from the Esplanade. I was tempted to order JP Licks to be delivered, you can do that now. But then it would have been too much like old times’ sake. And maybe we would cause another shooting. This time I decided to sleep with him and I ended up staying through the weekend. And yeah, now he wants to marry me. I don’t like going to the Tower. The last time I was there I saw, Steve, one of my father’s friends with his soon to be new wife, Shadi."
Frank had sold the property to Shadi’s parents for cash and Steve has contacted Frank about buying a place in the Tower. He says nothing about this to Molly. And still does not want to tell Molly about where he lives. How small his world is. He can’t tune out the sudden increase in volume of the background conversations. His gaze wanders from Molly’s neck upwards to the nine story chimney hovering over the patio.
“They are getting married as soon as she finishes her training and Steve wants to buy the next apartment over in the Tower and combine the two places. His ex-wife has their house in Weston. The thing is, I do like Weston and I guess for now the movie thing is not going to work out. I am kind of a trophy girl to Sam. He likes the idea that we met at the club where he was working, and now he gets me and gets to live in Weston. He can afford it or soon will be able to and my dad will help us. I suppose I could find a job at a private school around here teaching film. I have a resume for that just no films but I can drop names. Maybe I will get lucky just like Sam did. Find a story that I can write a script for.”
“Why did you tell me all this?”
“Oh I don’t know, I remember you, my mom looks up to you. I had a few drinks and I ate a gummy weed thing before I got here. See I think Sam is going to pop the question or maybe give me a ring or something. And I don’t know what to do, really, so I’m nervous about this. I get going a lot and once I do you can’t stop me. I wish I could do this with my scripts. I told Sam to meet me here. I know he doesn’t like coming in too far into JP anymore. The Tower is about as close as he wants to get. He was in high school with Ernesto one of the bartenders here. Sam played basketball with "netso" who also teaches and coaches at English High now. Ernesto still lives here with his parents. Sam got to go to Harvard and law school and is headed quickly for Weston. If I end up going back and living in Weston, not so bad really. I guess it’s what I should be doing. I tried.”
Frank looks at Molly. He had met her mother Marcia when she first started to work at the agency right after her divorce from Molly's father. She got cash out of the divorce but not the house. The fact that she was having an affair with the Whole Foods prepared food guy did not look so good to her attorney. She got enough of a settlement to put a sizable down payment on a condo in Brookline and enough cash to buy time to build her real estate practice. Her Weston friends sent her referrals. Molly stayed with her father. Frank heard about Molly's early successes, in passing, from Marcia. Frank did not get along with Marcia. They had a screaming match once over a deal and then Marcia moved to the Brookline office. So he doesn’t have much contact with her. He is surprised that Molly recognizes him.
“So tell me more about the tuna fish.”
“No, Remember I was going to tell you about fish and Jamaica Plain.”
He laughs when he says the last phrase. Molly starts to giggle too. She touches his wrist and then brushes her finger down to the bottom of the drink glass he is almost finished with and says.“You need another drink too?”
“My man,” she is almost shouting to the bartender.
“My friend, uh, mother’s friend here needs a refill.”
Frank is going to ask Molly if the bartender is Sam’s friend from high school. Then decides not to. And he decides not to say anything about Molly's mother and how much he could not stand her. Or when he wanted to sleep with Marcia and never got that far. And that now he considers her totally incompetent as an agent and would never ever be friends with her.
“... and he’s going to tell us about the fish and Jamaica Pond."
Molly sounds kind of tipsy.
Frank says. “You know I almost met Roberto and Isabella Rossellini when I lived in Manhattan.”
“Well, I almost.”
Molly's voice goes low and almost mimics Frank’s voice. And then Molly starts laughing.
“Wait wait this is too much, I want to hear about the fishes and Jamaica Pond first and fuck the Rosellini's. I may never get back to New York.”
“Have you ever gone on the Swan Boats in the Public Garden?”
“Of course, my nana took me a couple of times. Funny you should bring that up. Sam’s brother worked the Swan Boats the summer of that shooting. He had some secret he wanted to tell us about the boats but he never did. What does that have to do with fishes and Jamaica Pond?”
“The swan boats live in Jamaica Plain in the winter.”
“The swan boats don’t live.”
“I meant that.”
“Yeah, I know what you meant…. I was just messin…”
Molly's voice changes again —goes down lower in pitch as if she is mimicking someone else.
“The family that owns that business keeps them in the backyard of one of their houses in JP. I can’t tell really tell you what street, they might sue me…”
“I wouldn’t know what street you are talking about anyway. I only go to the Tower. Tonight I picked this place from Yelp because I didn’t want to go to Sam’s.”
Another round of drinks arrives.
“That fucker is now over an hour late. And you are not exactly stimulating me with these swan boats.”
Frank takes a drink. It is too sweet for him.
“So one day in early April I am walking down this residential street near Jamaica Pond and I see a trailer truck pull out of a driveway. I see two of those swan boats sitting on the top of the trailer. I never knew about the swan boats wintering in JP. I was surprised to see this. I know this house and I know the owners as clients but they never mentioned about the boats or that in the winter they keep the boats in the backyard.”
Two more piña Colada’s randomly appear in front of them. The music on the patio cuts off but can be heard from the stage area inside. Molly grabs Franks wrist and speaks really loudly interrupting Frank. A few heads on the patio turn to Molly’s loud voice.
“I guess this is a factoid that should interest me since I know some kids from JP and this person who I think is going to propose to me is from JP and his brother worked on the swan boats but you know this is kind of dull as I said before. So maybe you should just suck on that straw and I will do the same. By the way these straws are paper and they don’t work that well, I can taste the paper.”
Molly takes a long pull on the straw and leans over to Frank, and he can and does look down her shirt. She puts her hand on the bottom of his glass and pushes off the bar top to stand up.
“I gotta find a bathroom. Do you know where it is?”
“Go back inside. Pass the bar to the back entrance. The bathroom is in the lobby that leads to the offices in the brewery.”
Frank watches her walk inside. Bella Luna is in an old brewery building complex built in the 1880s. It was closed and vacant, falling apart, when a local nonprofit development group bought it in the seventies and slowly redeveloped it. Nonprofits and small businesses moved in over time. Sam Adams beer moved its offices and a test brewery in there.They opened a tap room. Bela Luna moved in, along with Mike’s Gym and another cafe. There were more people working there now then when it was a brewery back in 1880.
Frank still does not want to tell Molly he lives on the 15th floor at the Tower. And that he sold the unit that the young doctor lives in. Her parents paid 925,000 cash.
Molly is standing over him at the bar, eyeing her empty barstool but also sweeping the room.
“That’s a real interesting bathroom, kind of like some of the ones I saw in Manhattan. This place is not like the other places I go to in Boston. It’s cute. Hippieish but not really. Do you come here a lot? I’ve never been here. Like I said, after that shooting I never went back to JP, and Sam only asks me to come to the Tower. I guess if I lived in JP I’d come here a lot, but that’s not going to happen. Sam wants to bring me back to Weston forever. You were telling me about the boats.”
Molly is definitely tipsy. She puts one hand on Franks shoulder for support and eases back on to the barstool. Frank reads way too much in to this touch.
“That prick is still not here. So you found out where the swan boats are stored. I guess that’s something. But you know it’s not turning me on at all. If this were a pitch you be failing, dude”.
She uses that low voice again. She starts blinking and puts on a big almost fake looking smile as she settles on the stool. Frank looks down at her chest. She begins to fan herself with one of the dishes on the bar. Bella Luna has plastic dishes with do-it-yourself designs. You make a drawing and then send it in someplace and you get a plate back with the drawing on the plate. The one that Molly is using for a fan has a drawing of two cats staring at each other, about to have a fight. Or maybe do something else. The heat has not abated. The music from inside the bar is going up in volume, the lights on the inside stage go on. Frank now is staring at Molly and starts to talk directly at her. He winds up for this pitch.
“I guess that is kind of boring for you, but at the time it was a surprise for me. After the swan boats pulled out of the driveway and headed downtown, I kept walking towards Jamaica Pond. I get to the pond and there are all these state police cars, a few vans, a big pickup truck with the state logo on it, and a crowd of people standing at the water. I don’t see any blue lights or ambulances. You know every now and then there are sirens at the pond and police cars and helicopters and rumors of someone drowning. There’s a three-piece band on the back of one of the trucks playing jazz-rock through a portable sound system. I see Mayor Menino right away and then Governor Patrick. Did you know Deval Patrick’s father was Pat Patrick? Sun Ra’s saxophonist forever. I hear Deval Patrick is running for president.”
“Who is Sun Ra?”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you later. Matt, our city councilor, is there too. He’s my daughter’s age. I think they were in day care together before we moved. And there are a bunch of young kids wearing school uniforms. Channel 5’s van has pulled up to the crowd, and they are setting up to shoot. There’s a young priest. Two women wearing wading boots and grey overalls with some kind of logo on the back carry a big plastic container down to the water’s edge. They place it carefully on the ground. Joyce, her name is printed on her overalls above her right breast, reaches into the container with a net and pulls a live full-grown wiggling trout out of the container. The school kids shriek and giggle at the same time. She goes down to the water’s edge and signals to the kids to come closer. The politicians move in closer in order to be in the shot. The priest comes over, too. The camera crew turns another light on and focuses. Joyce walks over to a little girl whose hair has two long braids and cornrows and lets her hold the net handle. Together they lower the now still fish into the pond. ‘The fish is dead’ the little girls shrieks.”
Frank is looking at Molly to see if she is paying attention. Hd notices the sound level has dropped on the patio. It feels as if the sound has been turned off all over the world. He can’t tell if Molly is listening.
“The kids let out a groan almost in unison. One starts to cry. I could see the politicians are really bummed to be in this scene. The priest is staring at the fish. The priest has no expression. And then, without warning the fish leaps out of the net and takes off into the middle of the pond. The kids scream and high five each other. The grownups start smiling to each other. The camera crew keeps shooting. The reporter moves in closer and shoves her microphone in front of the governor and the mayor. I can’t make out what they’re saying over the din of the kids laughing.”
“The wildlife people go back to their container and nudge it into the water, the rest of the fish are released into the pond. Everyone cheers and screams. The band plays “Take Me to the River.” I hear the mayor saying something to the cameras, thanking the state for providing the fish. I can’t really understand him. I recognize the bass player, Glen. A feeling comes over me. In a flash the day felt sacred. The swan boats, the releasing of the fish. Seeing Glen as part of this. I felt at home in JP, the first time anywhere anytime in my life.”
Molly, or so Frank thinks, hopes really, has been staring at him through the whole monologue.
“That’s very funny.”
Frank is stunned silent. He feels an urge to piss.
“I gotta find the bathroom.”
Frank runs off into the club. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Glen and Gina setting up on the bandstand. He has never heard them perform together. Glen nods at him. But Frank has to piss so hard he does not stop.
When Frank returns to the outside bar, he sees Molly talking to this guy who must be Sam. Sam, whose back is to Frank, is looking at Molly and is gesturing to the bartender. Frank waves at Molly, but she does not react. Frank walks back into the club.
He gets another drink at the inside bar and goes to the band area, where Glen and Gina are noodling into their first song. It is Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” to a reggae beat. There are about 30 people there, and Frank stands in the back of the room till they finish the song. He waves at both Gina and Glen. They both smile at him from afar and launch into their next song. Gina introduces it as one of her own. She calls it “Upstairs Alone With You On This Hot Summer Night.”
Frank turns around and looks out onto the patio through the open barn doors leading to the patio bar. Molly and Sam are gone.
Mr. Brilliant is a photographer, artist, and writer. He is also an estate agent. His photographs have been published and exhibited all over the map. And his first short story was recently published in the late lamented Tishman Review.