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Shooting at Midnight Excerpt

Shooting at Midnight Cover

Shooting at Midnight Cover

For my thirteenth birthday, Da gave me a Midtown South sweatshirt that was too big for me, NYPD shorts, and a pair of running shoes.

It was just what I’d asked for.

The next morning, bright and early, I put them on and drove with my Da to Van Cortlandt Park on the north edge of Bronx County, just the two of us. He used orange traffic cones stored in the trunk of the car to set up a small obstacle course while I stretched. When he was finished, he showed me how I was supposed to run it.

“Is it like this at the Academy?” I asked.

“No, but this is a good place for you to start,” he said.

I put everything I had into running that course, and when I had it mastered, Da made me run it in reverse.

I loved every minute of it.

From then on out, usually once a week, Da would take me to Van Cortlandt Park and I would run whatever course he set for me. I’d run it in snow and rain, sunlight and humidity. Couple times his partner, Uncle Jimmy, would join us, and they would smoke and drink beer and watch and heckle and give me pointers.

Couple times that year my sister, Cashel, went with us too, but she hated it and, after the third time, didn’t come back. So Saturdays became days for my Da and me, for my Ma and Cashel.

Which I thought was just great.

For my fourteenth birthday, Da gave me a new pair of running shoes and a set of boxing gloves.

Just what I’d asked for.

We went out to Van Cortlandt Park and Da set up the same course as he had a year ago to the day, and he timed me as I ran it, and when I was done, he showed me the records he’d been keeping in his little notepad, showed me how much I’d improved.

“That’s my girl,” he said.

Then he put on sparring mitts, and he taught me how to throw a punch that would knock a man down. From then on out, we always ended our sessions with me wearing the boxing gloves.

“They’ll make it hard on you. You’re a woman, and they’ll make you pay for it every inch of the way. But we’ll fix it so they never know what hit them. You’re smarter than me. You’ll be tougher too. You’ll get the gold shield I never got; hell, you’ll get your own command. You’ll have all the education and all the ability, and you’ll have the heart and the strength, and that’s the most important thing.”

“Yes, Da,” I said.

“That’s my girl. Now … let’s see that uppercut.”

For my fifteenth birthday, Da gave me new shoes, a new MTS sweatshirt, new shorts, a sports bra, and a copy of the cadet’s handbook. When I opened the sports bra, he blushed and said, “Your Ma picked that out.”

We went to Van Cortlandt Park and reviewed my progress, and Uncle Jimmy came along, and when I was done working out that day, Da and Uncle Jimmy gave me a beer. Then they gave me another one, and another, and I made it through most of a fourth before I got sick-drunk and passed out.

Da joked about how well I could hold my alcohol.

He hadn’t figured out that I’d been sneaking beers after school for months already, drinking with friends.

He hadn’t figured out that I’d begun smoking pot.

Even when I started missing my dates with him, either spending the night at a friend’s he thought he could trust or claiming I was sick because I’d caught a bad bug rather than a savage hangover, he didn’t see it.

He was disappointed, but he never said so.

And by the time he suspected, by the time he was willing to admit what his eldest daughter had gotten herself into, I was gone.

I spent my sixteenth birthday living in an abandoned apartment in Alphabet City, trying to steal enough money to score.

Three months later it was over, Da and Uncle Jimmy bringing me back home to the Bronx at four in the morning, laying me in my bed. I was screaming and shouting and Da held me down while Jimmy got Ma and a basin of hot water and some towels.

“Jesus Lord,” Ma said when she saw me, and she crossed herself.

“Jimmy, go sit with Cashel,” Da said. “Keep her out of here.”

“I’ll be down the hall with her, Dennis,” Jimmy said.

They waited until he had shut the door, and then Da held me still while Ma stripped and bathed me. When she saw my arms, she started to cry.

When they were finished, they left, locking me alone in my room.

* * *

Six days later Da woke me at seven in the morning, dropping my sweats and shoes on the end of the bed.

“I’ll meet you by the car,” he said, and left without locking the door behind him.

When I put on the sweatshirt, it hung looser than it had before. The shoes pinched at my ankles. When I came down the stairs, I had to use the banister for support.

Ma and Cashel were in the kitchen, having waffles for breakfast. They asked how I was feeling.

“Better,” I lied, and went out to the garage, where Da was waiting by his Alfa Romeo.

We drove to Van Cortlandt Park without exchanging a word. It was winter and I was shivering, trying to keep my teeth from chattering. Da turned the heat up higher, but it didn’t help.

He set up the obstacle course in the snow and told me to run it.

I put everything I had into running that course, and I couldn’t do it. My legs wouldn’t work, my coordination was shot. I could barely stand straight. I was sweating after only five minutes, my stomach cramping, my hands shaking. I tripped and fell again and again, and Da just watched.

I got sick, doubled over with dry heaves.

Finally he said, “Come here.”

He put the gloves on my hands, the sparring mitts on his own.

“Jab,” he ordered.

“Da …” I said. “Da … I can’t.”

“Don’t cry.”

“I’m sick … I can’t.”

“Jab.”

“Da …”

“You throw that jab now, goddamn it, or so help me I’ll make you fight back!” When he shouted his voice rumbled across the parade ground, echoing off the snow.

I tried to punch at his extended hand, and the glove on the end of my own felt like it was full of wet sand. There was barely a sound when leather met leather.

“Jesus Christ! Jab! Jab! Use your left, for fuck’s sake!”

I brought my left up and missed. I was crying and the mitts were hard to see.

“Again.”

I tried again. I tried every time he ordered me to. When I hit, it wasn’t hard enough, and when I missed, he swore louder and louder. Finally he ordered a left cross that I just couldn’t raise my arm to give him.

“I can’t, Da, I’m sorry I can’t do it.” I was sobbing when I said it, choking on tears and frustration. “I’m sorry I’m sick, I’m sorry I’m weak—”

Before either of us knew what had happened, the mitt on his right hand shot forward and caught me in the left eye, and I was on the ground in the frozen-sharp snow, feeling my sweats soak with icy water, my gloves hiding my face. I tried to swallow the noise I was making, tried to stand up, and I slipped and fell again.

Da took off his mitts and looked at me, his mouth half open and his eyes almost shut, his breath blowing away from him like steam from a train engine.

I saw what he saw then.

There was never going to be a cadet’s handbook or a command or a gold shield all my own. It was never going to happen.

Da crouched down in the snow in front of me, helped me off with my gloves. He took my face in one huge hand and checked my eye where he’d punched me. Then he helped me up and put me in the car to wait while he stowed everything in the Alfa’s trunk.

We never went back to Van Cortlandt Park.

* * *

That was thirteen years ago.