By Frank Murphy
When Eddie picked up his crutches and stood up to go to the bathroom, my father stood up as well, moving his chair out of Eddie’s way. And when a tenant knocked on the door a little later to ask my mother to do something in the building my father introduced Eddie to him as, “A friend of the family,” although the tenant had probably seen Eddie there more often than my father.
My mother called us for dinner, but Eddie said that he wasn’t hungry, which for some reason made my father angrier. My father stood up and leaned over Eddie, urged him to eat, and yelled to my mother to bring Eddie a plate. “What’s the matter with our food?” my father asked. “Eat some damn it.” Finally, my father went into the kitchen and brought out a plate of food which Eddie pushed abruptly away.
“Take it,” my father screamed, “God damn it, take the food.”
We froze as Eddie once again pushed away the food. My father’s anger filled the room. Eddie tried to remain calm in the face of my father’s anger. “Please,” he said, holding his hands out, palms facing my father. “No.”
Again, and again my father pushed the plate of food towards Eddie who kept refusing. “If you won’t eat my food by God you’ll wear it.” My father pulled his hand back and threw the plate of food at Eddie.
We heard the “plop’ sound of the plate hitting Uncle Eddie, and the sight of meat and potatoes covering his body, his clothing. Also, a shocked cry from my mother.
Ann Marie began to cry as only she could, loud screeches that built up and up until you thought they would never stop. It made me fear my father might go for her next. It wouldn’t have been the first time he hit her for crying. I was also afraid he might hit Uncle Eddie. I was six, my sister four, my big brother ten, and we were scared out of our minds.
My mother got a cloth from the kitchen to wipe up the mess. “You crazy son of a bitch.” Eddie said as he tried unsuccessfully to rise from the couch, falling back, looking helpless. My father stood shaking his head. I was afraid to move, but the fight was out of my father. “Jesus Christ,” he whispered as if he were praying. After that, without saying a word to anyone, my father walked out the door. We didn’t see him again for a long time.
Moments later we heard a loud knock on the door. It was the police One of the tenants must have called them. They entered the apartment aggressively, practically pushing my mother aside, but when they saw Uncle Eddie who was standing before the couch holding himself up on his crutches, and now dressed in clean clothing, they instantly became more polite. One of the cops winked at my sister.
After asking Uncle Eddie if everything was alright, they left with a warning to my mother that they would be back if there was any more trouble. After they left we finished our supper, now gone cold, and went to bed.
The house was quiet.
We never spoke about what happened. Eddie stayed with us for a few more weeks, and then his health turned worse and he was placed in a hospital. We visited him a few times, taking a ferry across to the little island in the East River. Eventually, we lost contact with him. I think he died.
Joe and I tried helping our mother more, even staying away from school to sweep and mop the hallways, carry out garbage cans filled with ashes, and bring coal from the shoot into the coalbins, but it wasn’t enough. She was fired and we all were homeless and scrambling for a place to live. I don’t know what Uncle Eddie meant when he said, “When the whistle blows, everything goes.” Still, it almost seemed appropriate.