In the late winter of 1963 they would move from Malin Head Bay to Watertown, New York. This was keeping-going in a new way. Not by Greyhound bus and not poor and desperate but driven in Chet Gallagher’s comfortable 1959 Cadillac wide and floating as a boat.
“We have a new life, now. A decent life. No one will follow us, here!”
Over a flurried weekend it was arranged: Hazel would be employed as a salesclerk at Zimmerman Brothers Pianos & Music Supplies in Watertown. And Zack would be taking piano lessons with the older Zimmerman brother who gave lessons to serious pupils only.
From Malin Head Bay they would move forty miles south to the much larger city of Watertown, where they knew no one. From the cramped and ill-smelling apartment above Hutt Pharmacy they would move to a two-bedroom apartment with freshly painted white walls on the second floor of a brownstone on Washington Street, a five-minute walk from Zimmerman’s.
Hazel Jones would be paying her own rent for this apartment. Mr. Gallagher would not be paying her rent. Her salary at Zimmerman’s was almost three times as much as her usherette’s salary had been at the Bay Palace Theater.
“When you sell music, you are selling beauty. From now on, I will be selling beauty.”
From now on, Zack would be taking serious piano lessons. Zack would have his own piano. Zack was a child-not-a-child.
From Bay Street Elementary, Zack would be transferred to a new school, North Watertown Elementary. Here, he was enrolled in second grade. There was the possibility, too, that he might be advanced another grade if he continued to excel in school.
One day, Mr. Gallagher had driven Zack and his mother to the Watertown school, where Zack spent several hours taking tests: reading, writing, arithmetic, matching up geometrical figures. The tests were not difficult, Zack completed them quickly. Afterward was an interview with the principal of North Watertown Elementary, and this too seemed to go very well.
It must have been, Chet Gallagher had made these arrangements, too. Mommy hinted this was so. Mommy assured Zack he would be very happy in the new school, happier than he’d been at the old.
“Mrs. Jones, do you have your son’s birth certificate?”
“Yes. I do.”
Such a document was required in the Watertown public school district for all children seeking enrollment. Zack’s birth certificate declared that Zacharias August Jones had been born November 29, 1956, in Port Oriskany, New York. His parents were Hazel Jones and William Jones (now deceased).
The birth certificate, new-looking, was a fascimile, Hazel explained to the principal. For the original had been lost years ago in a house fire.
Goodbye to Malin Head Bay! Except he’d been tormented by older children, and never much encouraged by Mr. Sarrantini, Zack had liked living in the old river town.
Walking along the pebbly beach with Mommy, just the two of them. And snowbound days at home, just the two of them. And that night in the Malin Head Inn, that had changed their lives.
Chet Gallagher was Mommy’s friend, and Zack’s friend, too. No sooner had Mommy and Zack moved into the new apartment in Watertown than there was the possibility that they might move again: to a house that Mr. Gallagher was negotiating to buy, or had already bought.
Too excited to sleep Zack lay very still in his bed listening to the adults speaking together in another room of the new apartment.
Through the wall he heard them. His fingers twitched striking notes on an invisible keyboard.
For speech is a kind of music. Even when words are blurred, their tone, their rhythm prevails.
…but wouldn’t you want to, Hazel?
It wouldn’t be right. If…
Bullshit. That’s no reason.
People would talk.
So who gives a damn, if people talk? What people? Who even knows you here?
At Zimmerman’s, they know me. And they know you.
And there’s Zack.
Let’s ask him, then.
No! Please don’t wake him, it would only make him upset. You know how he admires you.
Well, I admire him. He’s a terrific kid.
He’s had so much upset in his life, he’s only six years old…
You want to get married, Hazel? That’s it?
I…I don’t know. I don’t think…
Marry me, then. What the hell.
They were not quarreling exactly. Hazel Jones was not one to quarrel. Her manner was soft, earnest. Her voice was liquidy and pleading like a song. Hearing Hazel Jones was like listening to a radio song. Gallagher, the man, was the one to lose his temper, unexpectedly. Especially when he’d been drinking. And often when he came to visit Hazel he’d been drinking. Zack would be drifting off to sleep, awakened suddenly by Gallagher’s raised voice, the sound of a fist striking something, a chair being pushed away from a table, Gallagher on his feet swearing and headed for the door and Hazel Jones’s voice pleading Chet, please. Chet! But away Gallagher would go like a waterfall of notes cascading along a keyboard, once the momentum begins it can’t be stopped, heavy footsteps on the stairs, a man’s pride wounded, wouldn’t return for days, holed up back in Malin Head Bay and would not even telephone allowing Hazel Jones to know God damn he could walk out of her life as he’d walked into it he could walk out of any woman’s life as he’d walked into it and then what?
“Because I’m not a whore. I am not.”
It was a small upright, the piano Gallagher bought for Zack. Insisting it was “secondhand”-“a bargain.” Not a new piano, Gallagher had bought it at Zimmerman’s at a discount. A gift for the boy, Gallagher said Hazel need feel no indebtedness.
“It isn’t a Steinway, it’s a Baldwin. Really, Hazel. It didn’t cost much.”
The keys were not ivory but plastic, glaring white. The wood was veneer, though very smooth, teak-colored. The piano was the size of the battered piano in the Bay Street Junior High School but had a far clearer tone. Zack was stunned by the gift. Zack had seemed almost to recoil from it, at first, overcome. Hazel had seen in the child’s face the stricken look of an adult woman. Like no normal child in such a circumstance, Zack had begun to cry.
Hazel thought uneasily He feels the burden of the gift. He won’t be equal to it.
The deliverymen had brought the piano to ZACHARIAS JONES. On a card prominently attached to the piano was Gallagher’s scrawl-
Gallagher spoke, in his teasing way, of the house he was buying in Watertown: “The feature that will attract you most, Hazel, is its two separate entrances: we can come and go without seeing each other for weeks.”
She hated it, the child was eavesdropping on her. No business of a child’s, Mommy’s private life. Nudging her with his elbow hard enough to hurt. “But why, Mommy? Don’t you like Mr. Gallagher?” and Hazel said evasively, “Yes. I like Mr. Gallagher.” And the child said, in that pleading-bullying way of a willful child, “He’s real nice, isn’t he? Mommy?” and Hazel said, “A man can seem nice, Zack. Before you come to live with him.”
Between mother and child there passed the shadow of that man. In their shared speech that man was never given a name and Hazel had to wonder if Zack remembered his father’s name.
It was not a name to be uttered aloud. Yet, still it haunted her in weak moments.
Wondering if Zack recalled his own, early name. So many times uttered in Mommy’s voice, in love.
As if somehow Niley had been her firstborn. And this older, more difficult and willful Zacharias was another child whom she could not love quite so much.
Zacharias was growing from her, she knew. His allegiance was shifting from Mommy to the adult man in their lives, Gallagher. She supposed it was inevitable, it was altogether normal. Yet she must protect her son, as she must protect herself.
Saying, as she stroked his warm forehead, “I don’t think that we are ready to live with a man, Zack. I don’t think that we can trust a man. Not yet.” Speaking so frankly was not Hazel’s favored mode of speech with her child, she worried she would regret it.
“But when, Mommy?”
“Someday, maybe. I can’t promise.”
“Next month? Next week?”
“Certainly not next week. I said-”
“Mr. Gallagher told me-”
“Never mind what Mr. Gallagher told you, he has no right to talk to you behind my back.”
“Wasn’t behind your back! He told me!”
Suddenly Zack was angry. It was like snapping your fingers, how quickly the child became angry. Demanding to know why couldn’t they live with Mr. Gallagher if he wanted them! Nobody else wanted them did they! Nobody else wanted to marry them! If Mr. Gallagher was buying a house for them! Hazel was stunned to see the rage in her son’s hot little face, a contorted little fist of a face, and the threat of violence in his flailing fists. He wants a father. He thinks I am keeping his father from him.
She tried to speak calmly. It was not Hazel Jones’s style to become emotional in response to others’ emotions.
“Honey, it’s none of your business. What passes between Mr. Gallagher and me is none of your business, you’re just a child.”
Now Zack was truly furious. Shouted outrageously he was not a child, he was not a damn stupid child he was not.
He pushed out of her arms and ran from her, trembling. He did not strike her with his fists but pushed from her as if he hated her, slammed into his room and shut the door against her as she stared after him dazed and shaken.
The tantrum passed. Zack emerged from his room and went at once to the piano. Already that day he’d practiced for two hours. Now he would play and replay his lesson for Mr. Zimmerman, then reward himself (Hazel supposed this was the logic, a bargain) with random playing, more advanced compositions in his John Thomson’s Modern Course for the Piano book or jazz/boogie-woogie Chet Gallagher style.
Hazel teased him: “Play ”Savin‘ All My Love For You.“”
Maybe. Maybe he would.
Hazel took comfort, hearing her son at the piano. Preparing dinner for the two of them. Even when Zack played loudly or carelessly or repeated sequences of notes compulsively as if to punish both himself and her she thought We are in the right place in all the world, Hazel Jones has brought us here.