Creative Writing Submission: “The Red Winter”

Editors Note: The following piece is a fictional short story. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

(Gratisography/Pexels)

The Bronx: 1963

The clock struck nine, and the winter sun in the city had already been down for four hours. Like clockwork Albert Rosa laid out his best suit for church the next morning, he did this every Saturday night, at nine o'clock on the dot. Precisely at nine o’five he made his way into the next room, kissing his mother goodnight before returning to his bed.

He knelt down, placing his hands on the neatly folded sheets. Without hesitation he blessed himself.

“The father, the son, and the holy spirit.”

He clasped his hands together, interlocking his fingers. He closed his eyes and tilted his head toward the ceiling.

"Dear God” he whispered “Watch over my mother, protect her from the evil in this world and I will be eternally grateful, as always thank you lord, Amen.”

Albert struggled to rise and climb into bed, his frail body and strength displayed his age. He slipped off the wire framed glasses from his pale-aged, and wrinkled face. He rolled over on his stomach and sank his sharp nose into a soft pillow. The oscillating fan positioned on the bureau next to him caused his long silky hair to sway back and forth throughout the night. He kept it on every night, even in the winter. He would listen to the soft swirling blades cutting through the air before dozing off in the comfort of his old apartment.

The next day; Sunday, Albert sprang out of bed with a pip in his step. The meat market that he owned and operated, located next door, was closed. He was going to spend the day at church with his mother, what more could he ask for?

By six-thirty in the morning he was dressed and ready to go. He waited for his lead-footed mother in the apartments hallway, positioning himself in front of the fake gold plastered mirror that hung in between two door frames. Albert frowned at himself in the reflection of the mirror, the collar of his cheap, gaudy suit aggravated the back of his neck. He pawed at it like a dog, hoping that eventually someone would come along and set him free.

“Al!.. Albert!” Yelled his mother “Where are you? Are you ready yet?”

The quivering voice turned the corner, entering the hallway. Her ocean blue Sunday dress illuminated the compact and overly mundane space, her fragile eighty-two year old body trembled as she shuffled her way toward Albert. Her colorful rosary beads were clenched tightly in her hands as though God himself had come down from the heavens and bestowed them upon her.  

“We're going to be late” She continued “I want to get there before it starts to snow, you know how I feel about driving in the snow!”

Over time her speech and movements had been reduced to slower than molasses, but Albert knew that her brain functioned faster than his own. There wasn’t much that you could hide from little miss Isabella Rosa.

Albert grinned, as he was used to her antics

“You look good ma’, as always. Let’s get going.” He guided her down the small hallway, and through the quaint kitchen before reaching the front door. Albert supporting her the whole way.

Just as the funeral-like procession was about to come to it’s end, the phone on the kitchen wall let out a violent ring that shook Isabella to her core.

“Wh-who could be calling at such a time? Mass hasn’t even started yet!” She folded her arms in frustration. Albert stumbled through the kitchen, past the large trays lined with freshly baked holiday cookies, dodging under the decorative plastic greens, where he grabbed the phone on the third ring and placed it to his ear.

“Hello?” said Albert “Yea, hey Bobby what’s up?” He pressed the phone tighter to his ear, he knew if Robert was calling, especially at this hour, it was something important.

“Right now?” His eyes darted to his mother, who was patiently convulsing, looking not at him, but the snowy landscape beyond the screen door.

“No, no of course, I’ll head there now.”

He placed the phone on the hook and gently approached his mother, who by now had gotten so furious that her bottom lip began to shake and her foot closest to the door; tap.

“ I gotta’ go ma’” Said Albert as he began to release the dog collared suit’s grip from his neck, strolling cautiously back through the hallway.

“There’s a shipment of meat comin’ into the market right now, I gotta’ be there, I’m sorry ma’. Get a ride with Laura from next door, she’ll understand!”

Isabella stood as still as a statue, staring out of the house with her now squinted serpent-like eyes.

“I’m sorry ma’, I’ll go to church later tonight!” Pleaded Albert

Isabella slowly slipped her skinny fragile arms into her winter jacket. Her crimson red wrinkled lips remained sealed as she stepped out of the apartment, and onto the snowy staircase.

Albert let out a massive sigh of relief. He wasn’t lying, there was a shipment coming in and it needed his inspection. Ever since Albert took over the market from his father five years ago, the quality of meat nosedived. A few disgruntled customers became turned off to what one customer called an “ungodly after taste”. Charlene Montgomery was her name, just short of seventy-eight years old. Alberts patience was worn thin when she demanded to know where the meat was coming from. He assured her that his product and its origins was not the problem, and that it was surely a figment of her imagination.

Within minutes segments of his dog collared suit were strewn about his room, and he was changed into dirt covered blue jeans, and a white t-shirt. After lacing up his weathered Chippewa boots, Albert knelt down beside his bed on the creaky wooden floor. This time, instead of praying, Albert grabbed the edge of one of the floorboards, lifted up, and placed the wooden plank on top of the bed. He reached into the hole and retrieved a pack of marlboro cigarettes accompanied by a small matchbox. He rose to his feet before wandering back into the hallway. His eagerness to have a cigarette was overwhelming, he was itching to get his fix.

As he passed the golden framed mirror hung in the middle of the hallway he stopped. He spotted something in the corner of his eye that amused him. Still clasping the pack of Marlboros in his hand he back tracked to the mirror. There he saw himself, in tattered clothing, dying to engage in an activity that was deemed unsafe and in the words of his mother Isabella “A sin against the Lord”. He couldn’t help but smile, he laughed, his hand caressed the golden frame. Never did he realize that his life was so equivalent to an object. Despite fighting back tears, he continued on, out of the hallway.

The storm began to pick up just as Albert stepped outside. A waft of wind and snow slapped his face and bare arms, snowflakes collected delicately on his glasses. The cold-white snow had minute influence on Albert. As instinctive as a spider spinning a web, Albert lit up a cigarette in a matter of seconds. He had become a professional over the years, hiding it from his mother, lighting up every time he stepped outside. His necklace, a golden chain leading down to a symbol of a cross hung loosely over his white t-shirt. He grabbed it quickly and shoved it under his shirt in order to protect it from the snow. There he leaned, and waited, waited for a friend who had spontaneously become more important than his own mother, his blood, his religion. He let out his first exhale.

(D. Robert Wolcheck/Flickr)

The Bronx neighborhood was silent, the snow had already collected heavily on the road, and was piling higher by the hour. The only noticeable commotion came from the occasional car inching its way across the snowy path, leaving a trail for other cars to travel through. ‘Most likely dedicated christians trying to get to mass’ Albert joked. An image of his mother hovered into his head, he checked his watch; it read six-fifty five AM. Church would be starting at any moment, that would give him an hour to work. Give or take.

By the time Albert reached his final drag a beat up box truck emerged from the corner and began backing into the alleyway. Albert stepped down the snowy staircase and helped the truck move back into place so that it lined up with the door to the market. Once the truck was parked, the drivers door swung open with a great force. Emerging from the driver's seat was Robert DiMartino.

If you ever saw Robert on the streets, on any given day, he would have been wearing the finest suits from the neighborhood paired with immaculately combed hair. Today was a different story, today he wore a dark blue sweatshirt with light grey sweatpants, and aged sneakers. Although this was Robert's normal attire on delivery days, Albert could sense that he was extra focused today. Robert headed straight to the back of the van, nodding in Alberts direction.

“Chang” He said as a form of acknowledgement.

“Robert”

Jimmy Chang was a nickname that Albert received over the years, he was given it for the theory that he was the Italian version of a Chinatown cook who incorporated cats into his meals. It was a dark, racist, and ultimately mythological nickname in which only a handful of people knew the real meaning.

Together they opened the large rolling door at the rear of the truck. Robert climbed into the back and began pushing what seemed to be a massive laundry pile towards Albert. The enlarged mass was wrapped in an array of blankets and sheets and tied at both ends with black cord. When it came off the edge of the van and into Albert's hands, he struggled to keep the mass steady. He tried his best not to slip on the snow as he lead it down the stairs, and into the markets basement with Robert in tow. He always tried to prove to Robert that he wasn’t weak, but Robert knew, everyone knew. Sometimes Robert had to come with extra manpower just to get the job done on time.

Step by step they brought the rectangular mass down the stairs leading to Albert's butchering station. On the contrary to the conventional, for reasons unknown to him, Alberts basement was warm all year round. A single light coming from the corner of the warm cellar bounced off of the brick walls and illuminated the basement in a dull shade of blood red. Beneath the light was a giant stainless steel industrial table where Robert and Albert rested the beast. Robert nodded to Albert and ascended up the stairs, back into the snowy white atmosphere. No need for conversing, they both knew what was about to occur. The door to the markets basement slammed shut, leaving a small flurry of snow into the room. Albert waited and listened as he heard the distant muffling of the truck driving off into the deserted streets.

“Let’s get to work” he said to himself as he cleaned his glasses for the final time.

He checked his watch, it read seven-o’five. That gave him fifty five minutes to finish the job. He opened a drawer in the cabinet to the right of the table, grabbing a new pair of bright yellow gloves, and a white apron. In the next cabinet, he chose his array of cutlery, grabbing a six inch meat cleaver as well as his favorite bone saw which he nicknamed “The Almighty” due to it’s indestructible design. He placed both instruments on the table and before untwining the black cords, he paused and looked up. There on the wall in front of him hung a wooden and gold crucifix. He blessed himself.

The black cords untangled with ease, Albert flipped over the blankets and sheets. A bloody mess was revealed, the body was fresh. The being was in fact still alive, its pulse still beating. It was clear to Albert that it had suffered several wounds to the chest, and became unconscious because of it. To Albert it was considered an insult to receive a beast alive, he was certain that this was the work of an amateur. Because of its continuously beating pulse, its blood was still pumping, pumping out of its body.

Its eyes were open, glossed over, pupils large, staring at the ceiling, or at the crucifix, or at the heavens above. With the final snap of the yellow gloves, Albert had finished preparing himself. He craned his head over the being and stared into its eyes. Their pupils never met, not until now.  

“Jeez pa’, you see this guy?” Albert looked over to his right, sitting on a shelf above the stainless steel table was a portrait of his father, looking over him.

“He’s a damn mess, that’s for sure.”

The being was not that of cattle, nor pig, nor sheep, for it was a he, and he was human. Albert didn’t know who he was or why he was chosen to be “deleted” out of the “system”, he simply didn’t care. His concealed career was one that asked a lot of him. But he enjoyed the alone time. It was a line of work that held no room for questions or curiosities, only results.

Albert grabbed the meat cleaver from the table. Without hesitation he wound the cleaver upwards, coming just inches before the crucifix and swung down, striking the man on the neck below the adam's apple. There was an unsettling cracking noise, and for a moment Albert swore he saw the man's mouth move. Blood spurted from the hacked wound, all over the walls, all over the crucifix, all over himself. Yet he hacked again and again until the man's pulse, at last, stopped beating. Skin and tendons separated in a gristly mess as head and body were no longer one. To many this would have been a horrific scene. As a seasoned veteran, a skilled professional of the craft, Albert didn’t flinch, not once.

The apron that was previously white was now a splattered red, a signal that Albert had ended yet another life. More like “finished”, as he finished many others over the years.

Now that the man was deceased Albert moved on to other parts of the body. He began preparing the meaty and fatty portions to be ground up and packaged into a sellable product upstairs. It was easy business, one hundred percent profit, no one could tell the difference between human and cow.

He placed the blood drenched cleaver back on the table and went for the bone saw, that’s when he heard the door to the outside swing open. Time slowed. ‘No!’ He thought to himself in panic ‘The door!’, he had completely forgotten to lock the door, church, the snow, everything distracted him into thinking that he was safe today. He managed to time everything so perfectly that he forgot the most important aspect in evading a blown cover.

Out of the frame of the door came the snowy, small, fragile figure of his mother. The snow had gotten even heavier, church had been canceled and Albert's mother wanted to let him know. She was still wearing the blue Sunday dress, still clenching her rosary beads tightly in her hands, she stepped down the stairs calling out his name

“Albert.. Albert..”

There was nothing he could do, it was over, she saw everything. A loud screech echoed across the basement walls, the rosary beads fell to the floor, the snow engulfed the room.


John Moreno is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at john.moreno@uconn.edu.