Part One: Thursday
In the final, restless moments of sleep, Vinnie was nagged by a problem he'd neglected to solve before retiring: Was it 'insidious' or 'insiduous'? He opened his eyes, gathered his senses, and reached onto the shelf behind him, which was part of the framework of his bed. He shuffled through the pages of a large dictionary, wondering if he'd ever have the command of language imperative to good writing, to expressing himself properly.
He rolled out of bed and plopped at his desk, yawning deeply. A sheet of looseleaf filled with vocabulary was taped to the wall before him. There was a map of Manhattan, one of Brooklyn, and one of the United States, as well as collages of sports, music and cinema about the room. The two bookcases were filled largely with classics. The desk, old and small, needed refinishing. It'd been his sister's long ago.
He withdrew the manuscript from the top drawer and reflected a moment, with difficulty, mind groggy from sleep. Presently, he found the word. To his surprise, it was spelled correctly. Had he already looked it up? he wondered. He considered striking it and all such words from the text until his vocabulary of usage caught up with that of his recognition.
He glanced at the clock and frowned. It was already 8:30. He could feel the heat, although the sun was at the back of the house, beating against the rear apartment. He slept without an air-conditioner or even a fan.
He plodded through the living room and into the kitchen, where his mother, wearing a colorful dress, was bent over the wash. It'd been weeks since she'd worn black. He could not fathom what had made her change after 25 years. He would not ask for fear she would revert to the demoralizing custom. However, he also feared, should he not remark about it, that she'd assume no one cared and, consequently, that she'd return to mourning attire, to the comfort of self pity. To his chagrin, he was resentful of her having shaken the status quo. He was amazed change was possible after so long. Was he resentful that she was capable of change and he not?
She raised her white head. The age in her face, which was flushed from the stooping of her plump frame, pained him. She scolded him for having risen so early, babbling at length in Sicilian dialect. He ignored her and entered the bathroom. Before stepping out, he paused at the foot of the door, mulling a scene he was having difficulty making work. Noting the trance under which he'd fallen, his mother teased him and laughed heartily. He petted his thick mustache, covering a smile, amazed he'd begrudge her something so simple.
Seated at the edge of his bed, he pulled on sweat socks. He was relaxed, at least as far as his nature would allow him to be, relieved at not having to go to work, to rise at a set time each day, to suffer the temptation of strolling through the school grounds past the nubile young women, to confront his defeat with a colleague he'd failed to attract. He smiled at his mother's inability to comprehend his willingness to rise so early, as she had to rouse him repeatedly during the school year. He had the entire day, the next two months to himself, and he revelled in his freedom. The thought of returning to work depressed him. He forced himself to concentrate on the present.
He kneeled on the kitchen floor and laced his sneakers.
'Dove vai?' his mother demanded, puzzled.
Where d'you think? he said to himself, irked; same place I go every day.
She complained that he was killing himself, that he worked too hard, that he didn't know how to relax. It seemed odd to him that such a tireless homemaker would baby a son. He was resigned, however, to the fact that she'd never tire of mothering. She may have eschewed mourning attire, but she would never eschew the role she'd embraced. There was no sense arguing about it any more. Silence was the weapon he'd chosen to keep her from eroding his will.
'Fa meno oggi,' she urged as he descended the hall stairs.
He groaned at the thought of the long road ahead and wondered if he should heed her advice, shorten the run. What else've you got to do? he thought; you can kill the whole morning. He was stung by the realization that his life seemed to be about passing time and not living it.
As soon as he was out of her sight he removed his T-shirt and hung it on the bannister. He was immediately self conscious of his hirsute, well-defined chest. You love it, he thought; who you kiddin'?
There arose a growling and scratching behind the door of the apartment on the lower floor.
'Okay, Max,' said Vinnie quietly, 'down, boy.'
The commotion ceased. He did not hear his sister. Had she left already?
He walked slowly toward the front door, delaying, for as long as possible, the start of the run. He regretted not having risen at an earlier, cooler hour.
Once outside the gate, he broke into a slow, measured trot. You'll never make it, he told himself after a few steps. The distance, ten miles this day, seemed insurmountable, as it did each day, no matter the mileage. His legs felt brittle. He was already perspiring, the humidity high. He again considered curtailing the run. He suspected he would finish, however. Predictable, he thought, frowning.
He motivated himself by thinking of tomorrow's short run and of his day off, Sunday, which was only three days away.
As he approached the corner, a bicycle turned past the auto parts store on the opposite side of the street. The rider accelerated, imitating the sound of an automobile. Vinnie chuckled, then admonished himself.
'Hi, Vin!' the rider shouted.
'What's up, Sammy Boy!' he returned, forcing enthusiasm upon himself. He'd hoped to escape unnoticed. He was often amazed at how much Sam saw, considering he had sight in one eye only.
'Wheah ya goin'?'
'Joggin'.' He was chagrined at his evasiveness. He wondered how others managed to be abrupt, cold with Sam.
'Wheah - the bicycle peaht?'
'Okay. See ya latah. You be out?'
He was relieved, having expected Sam to ask to tag along. He was also dismayed at his selfishness, his reluctance to reach out. At times he suspected he tolerated Sam simply because he had a perverse desire to know an idiot's mind, and not because he was compassionate, as others remarked.
World class fraud, he thought.
Sam seemed an orphan. Relatives and friends mistreated him. His father had drank himself to death. He was extremely dependent on his mother, who kept strict watch over him. It seemed that he would never grow, that at 20 the best years of his life, his childhood, had passed. Vinnie sensed others avoided or taunted Sam because he vividly manifested the inadequacies of the human race. Perhaps many resented being reminded of how close they may have been to idiocy, of how it seemed to occur randomly, unfairly, without ryhme or reason.
'Ya know Ah'm a slow learna, right?' Sam once said to him with great effort, as if puzzled, even ashamed. Apparently it wasn't enough to be an idiot, one had to realize it as well, suffer the indignation. How had the term 'happy idiot' ever come to be? he wondered.
He'd wanted to tell Sam that it wasn't true, but sensed that the lie would have been seen through. The affliction was unjust precisely because it could not be corrected. It had him question the existence of a loving God. What sin warranted a lifetime of such punishment? Wasn't life difficult enough even for one in perfect health? Why would God ordain something so iniquitous? Either He did not exist or He had abandoned man or He had been dwarfed by His own creation, as an artist's work became greater than himself. He believed life was shaped by will and chance, and preferred it that way, although the role of chance occasionally seemed far too great.