"Learning To Read"
by Jerry Vilhotti

The boy in the very next hospital bed, burned by friends who decided to "Burywater" him because he was different and they didn't want any of them in their school where unknowingly they were the same: poor; being educated by teachers who looked down on all disgusting foreigners and begrudgingly taught them skills to just get by and Johnny recalled his first months at the new school transferring from Saint Anthony's, on the peel side of town, where Father Moriarty had taken the strap to Johnny because he had dared talk in Sister Kathleen's first grade class - never finding out the reason was that Johnny was telling the boy next to him - who asked him - the number of the catechism page. The Father called him "A little Tony" each of the twenty times he crashed down onto the boy's hand that seemed to have eight penises pointing at him.

The new principal Miss Moriarity - who looked exactly like the guy who all the teachers said had fathered the country - told the blond third grader with curly hair: "There's no way we can teach your kind good. All we got to do Mr. Johnny Sanque whose going to be a thief like your older brother Leny One N with the cold black eyes who threw me down a flight of stairs the day he quit eighth grade is make you smart enough to work in our factories to do little tasks over and over again and then when there's a war to make us better - be the good citizen we taught you to be and go die!"

Johnny would not die in meaningless cold or hot wars. He would always believe the only war that was meaningful and necessary was the Second World War and if he hadn't been so very much young, he would have joined the millions of whom many millions died fighting those with the dark shadows on their souls attempting to herd people like cattle into following their dictates and he would have gladly fought to preserve those before the Dark Ages principles that had uplifted humanity to a semblance of dignity and would have fallen to a death like King Kong had from the Empire State Building - dying for beauty and meanings that were slowly being stolen by those who were snatching victory from the jaws of their once great defeat.

The boy full of bandages and he, with a large red drenched bandage covering his right leg, exchanged some words, many silences and read to each other the few comic books that were brought to them by their fathers. Johnny talked to the slits that showed the boy's eyes; eyes that were wisps of black smoke; curling from the stacks of factories.

Within a week the boy full of bandages died and Johnny was told by a nurse, who had taken him away the night before, that little "No Read" had gone to a better place. When Johnny said he wanted to go there too, she said: "He went into a cold ground - six feet under where his eyes could no longer see!"

And that's when Johnny felt like the time his mother, who wished Johnny was sixteen and old enough to go to work, told him to go down into the bowels of their new home, not far from the mosquito infested swamps, to try and bring up heat and he did go down and placed piles of coal inside the furnace bed covered with white gray ash waste and how he blew upon them to make them become a warmth but they would not read the air coming out of his mouth in streams of cold vapors that was attempting to replace all the different kinds of cold in this place called Burywater that was slowly drowning under icy icy waters.

END 3-27-02

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