We are pleased to present to you a new short story by Barry Gifford, one of the shrewdest and most authentically American authors to ever put words on a page. We have featured his writing several times in VICE, so we’re not going to clog up the works and get all granular over here. Suffice it to say that if you see his name on the cover of a book, read it and you won’t be disappointed. This short and sweet one below is from his forthcoming collection The Roy Stories, due out in October from Seven Stories Press. It’s about a pedophile barber named Rocco.
Roy overheard his mother telling her friend Kay that Rocco the barber, who lived next door, had molested her on the front steps of her house. Kay and his mother were sitting in the living room and Roy, who was nine years old, was standing in the front hallway where the women could not see him.
“He was very nice at first,” said Roy’s mother, “just making conversation, then all of a sudden he tried to kiss me on the mouth. I turned my head away but he kept trying, pushing himself at me and putting his hands on my breasts. I pushed him away and yelled, ‘Rape!’ I called him a whoremaster because his wife, Maria, told me he’d been a pimp in Naples during the war. She was probably one of his girls.”
Kay was an on-and-off girlfriend of Roy’s Uncle Buck, his mother’s brother. She was a glamorous woman, a redhead who looked like Rita Hayworth and wore wonderful perfume. Roy was always glad to see her because Kay would kiss and hug him and he could smell her. She was married to a rich lawyer but she always went out with Buck when he visited Chicago. Once Roy had asked his uncle why he hadn’t married Kay and Buck said, “Well, Roy, there are some girls you marry and some you’re happy to see marry someone else, which doesn’t mean you can’t still see them sometimes.”
“Are you going to tell Rudy?” Kay asked Roy’s mother.
“I’m thinking about it. Rudy would have his legs broken.”
Rudy was Roy’s father. He and Roy’s mother had divorced when Roy was five but they were very friendly and always spoke well of one another around Roy. Often when his mother needed a favor or money in a hurry she called Rudy.
“He deserves it, the pig,” said Kay. “Rudy’s had worse things done to guys.”
Roy left the house quietly, closing the front door without letting the women hear him go. On his way to the park to play baseball, Roy could not help but picture in his mind Rocco the barber attacking his mother. He did not say anything about it to anyone at the park but later that afternoon, after his game had ended, Roy walked up to Ojibway Boulevard to where Rocco’s barbershop was and stood across the street.
It was late August and the air was heavy. As the sky darkened, a few raindrops fell and a weak wind began to blow. Rocco’s dog, a three-legged Doberman pinscher named Smoky, was chained, as usual, to a pole in front of the barbershop. One story was that Smoky had lost his left rear leg in a fight to the death with a wolverine when Rocco had taken the dog with him on a hunting trip to Michigan or Wisconsin. Tommy Cunningham told Roy that Rocco’s son, Amelio, who was six years older than Roy and Tommy, said Smoky had killed the wolverine by biting it in the throat but that the wolverine had attacked Smoky first and torn off the dog’s leg. Another story was that Smoky had been hit by a bus and run over on Ojibway Boulevard while he was chasing a kid and trying to bite him, which is the one Roy believed because Smoky tried to bite any kid who came close to him.
Roy took out his Davy Crockett pocket knife and opened it. He crossed the street and waited until there were no passersby watching. Just at a moment when Smoky had his big dark brown head turned to lick the stub of his missing leg, Roy darted at the dog and plunged the blade into Smoky’s right eye. The animal howled and whipped his head around, dislodging the knife, which clattered to the sidewalk. Roy quickly picked it up and ran. He did not wait to see Rocco and other men come out of the barbershop to see what Smoky was howling and whimpering about.
When Roy got home, his mother and Kay were not there. He rinsed the blood off his knife at the kitchen sink, wiped it clean with a dish towel, then went into his room and buried it at the bottom of his toy chest. He went back into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of chocolate milk, carried it onto the back porch and sat down on the top step. The rain started coming down harder.
The next time Roy passed Rocco’s barbershop, Smoky was not chained in front. Roy would go to Arturo’s Barber College to get his hair cut, even though it was farther from his house. The guys learning to cut hair there were butchers but they only charged a quarter. Roy hated to go to the barber’s anyway. He wished he never had to get a haircut again.
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