Ride a Cockhorse

By RAYMOND KENNEDY  |  August 14, 2012

Unfortunately, Mrs. Fitzgibbons's married daughter, Barbara, who often visited her mother on Saturday mornings, took an altogether different view of the noisy, militaristic display parading past in the street. Barbara Berdowsky was a person very much up to the minute in her social views, and in her manner of expressing herself associated a coarse tongue with the language of feminist liberation, environmentalism, and other such current enthusiasms. "They look like a bunch of fucking Nazis," she said.

Mrs. Fitzgibbons had not heard, however, as at that moment she was standing behind the leafy curtain of Dutchman's-pipe that ornamented her front porch, staring fixedly at the lean ramrod figure of the drum major himself. Terry Sugrue had halted smartly right in front of her house, holding his baton on a high diagonal from his chest, to signify, no doubt, the introduction of a new musical piece. He was marching in place. His head was up; he had a brass whistle in his mouth; the sun was in his face. Behind him, the row of majorettes had followed suit, their bare knees and white boots flashing up and down in perfect synchronicity with his own steps. The golden tassels of his prodigious baton blew and shimmered in the October air. Mrs. Fitzgibbons had an impulse to run into the street and wrestle him to the pavement. Suddenly, the drums fell silent, the boy's whistle pierced the air, up shot the baton, there was a great clash of cymbals, and twenty trumpets sounded in unison.

In tempo with the vigorous diagonal strokes of the drum major's baton, the band came past Mrs. Fitzgibbons's house. The noise was breathtaking. The drumming was indescribable. The purple-and-white uniforms lit up. The musical selection chosen by the bandmaster, Mr. Pivack (who wore a special beige-and-cream uniform and habitually skipped about on one side or the other of his talented assembly), became recognizable to the ear. It was the high school's own football fight song. Mrs. Fitzgibbons kept her eyes fixed all the while on the vain young drum major, as he highstepped his way up the tree-flanked roadway toward the Franklin Street football field. The music was so loud that Barbara didn't hear her mother's remark, obliterated as it was by the grunting of the tubas going past. "I'd like to change his diapers," said Mrs. Fitzgibbons.

She never knew what had come over her, nor was she much inclined to think about it, but for a week running, Mrs. Fitzgibbons dressed up for herself every night and went riding in her car. One evening, before going out, she caught an unexpected glimpse of herself in the hall mirror and was delighted to discover a stranger looking back at her. She was wearing the dark violet Charmeuse dress that she had worn to her daughter's wedding, and had accessorized with the silver and amethyst choker that her late husband, Larry, had given her one Christmas; her hair was tied back, and her face made up with obvious skill; even the lift of her own breasts struck Mrs. Fitzgibbons as the attraction of someone else. For more than an hour that evening, she drove around town in her dented Honda; she had the windows down and was listening to the Top 40 on the radio. It was the car that Larry had bought for them back in 1982, two years before he died. "Everybody thinks that the Chinese make junks," he used to say, "but the Japanese made this one." (Larry was witty. Mrs. Fitzgibbons never denied him that. On his deathbed, when he knew he was finished, he smiled at her, and said, "What were my last words?" That was Larry's farewell. He never spoke again.)

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