Hershey Bars with Almonds

By Kimmarie Lynch, student, Metropolitan Center – Manhattan Unit

April 5, 2011

I used to live around the corner from this girl named Kelly O’Malley who was as mean as a nun. We lived in Dorchester, a toughie Irish working-class town just south of Boston proper, famous for its drunks and its rows and rows of triple-deckers. A triple-decker is a three-story building with a five-room apartment on each floor. The apartments were like this: two small bedrooms, a small living room, a small dining room (usually made into a small bedroom), a small kitchen, a small bathroom and usually a single mother. In the 90s, these apartments were renovated and sold as condos for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the 70s, they went for a hundred dollars a month.

Across the street, Mrs. Quigley’s was filled with ten kids, a German shepherd and a bumper pool table in the living room. Around the corner, thirteen-year-old mean ol’ Kelly O’Malley had her own room in one of the only split-level houses in town, and sometimes she’d let us hang out in it.

We thought of her house the way Laura Ingalls from Little House on thePrairie thought of Nellie Olsen’s house: huge and fancy and rich. It was a four-bed, two-bath, with a living room, dining room, rumpus room and a basement apartment where her one-legged grandfather lived. Kelly had one bedroom. Her oldest sister Claire (who was sixteen) had one and her two younger sisters Shannon (who was my age, twelve) and Erin (who was eleven) had bunk-beds in the third. The fourth bedroom stayed exactly as it was left three years before, on the day her fifteen-year-old brother Kevin was killed on the train tracks running from the cops. Mrs. O’Malley had slept downstairs on the couch ever since the kids were babies and her alcoholic husband smashed in the window with the hopes of putting their marriage back together.

Even though Kelly was so mean, we loved to be around her because she had a filthy mouth, a white suit exactly like the one Stephanie Mangano wore in Saturday Night Fever and a little job at the Dorchester market. She spent all her money on make-up, cigarettes and 45s and we knew she was in a good mood when she’d put one of her stereophonic speakers in the window and blast “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” That song was like a clarion call to “Cherries in the Snow” lipstick and more menthols. Her room smelled like Noxzema and wet dog. She had a full-size bed with a puffed up comforter where we would all sit while she put on fully choreographed shows using her Panasonic 8-track record player and her Mr. Microphone.

On the days when there was no music we tried to avoid her. We’d hang out behind the Avenue Bakery and wait for someone to dump the day-old doughnuts. None of us were allowed to hang out back there because the old ladies who worked there were always saying nasty stuff about our mothers for being divorced and having a bunch of hungry kids. We’d hide behind the dumpster and wait for Mickey the Retard to empty the trash. One day Kelly came back there just as Colleen O’Leary was pulling out a dozen honey dips. She reached her arm up in a gesture that made us think she was going to help her. Instead, she snatched the box, took one, dumped the rest on the ground and pushed Colleen in the dumpster.

“Yas are all disgustin gah-bidge pickahs and I’m tellin ya muthas.” She said this as she walked back toward the street eating our dug-up treasure.

Colleen would have gotten in trouble for hanging out behind the bakery, but she told her mother why she stunk like sour milk and Kelly was the one who got put on punishment. For the next week Kelly cornered her in the schoolyard, punched her in the stomach and took her mayonnaise sandwich and fed it to Paulie Campbell’s dog.

We were like the ducks in that game at the fair. If you got caught in Kelly’s crosshairs, you just had to pray you’d make it to the other side of the pond. But there was always a chance of ambush.

In the middle of a thunderstorm one summer day, we were playing Monopoly on my front porch. I bought early and was kicking butt, when Kelly tiptoed up the stairs, smacked me on the back and said, “I wanna play too.”

“Too late, we already stahted like haff an owh-ha ago,” her little sister Shannon said.

“Well let me take yaw turn then.”

Shannon handed her the dice and she landed on my investment, Park Place with two houses and a hotel on it. Lightning momentarily lit up the board.

“Ha,” I said. “That’s two thousand, three hundred and fifty dollahs. Pay up!”

Thunder cracked right over our heads. Kelly started to collect the money out of Shannon’s bank, but then, out of nowhere she flipped the board up in my face, gathered every piece of my pastel colored money, ran down the porch steps and threw it all in the gutter. We all ran down to try and save it, but most of it had already gone down the sewer like that family’s raft in Land of the Lost. I walked back up the stairs cursing and quietly crying and saw Kelly turning cartwheels in the pouring rain.

We could never figure out why she was so mean, but we had theories. I used to think it was because she was hungry. We were all a little bit hungry, but I never saw her eat any real food. She never ate the free public-school breakfast or the free public-school lunch, and Mrs. O’Malley was never home to cook dinner. Shannon used to eat Coco Puffs or Cup a Soup for supper, but the only things I ever saw Kelly eat were watermelon Blow Pops and Hershey bars with almonds. She never ate the almonds though. I once asked her why she didn’t just eat plain Hershey bars and she whipped a chocolate covered almond at my head. When she turned her back, I picked up the almond and ate it.

Kelly stopped going to school in the middle of the seventh grade. Shannon told me she was sick, but she didn’t act sick. During February vacation she told Eileen O’Connor that the ice-covered Savin Hill bay was frozen solid and safe to walk on. Eileen fell through, caught walking pneumonia and was in the hospital for two weeks. But it was Kelly who really looked sick. She was so small and skinny that people thought she was Shannon’s little sister. We were wearing training bras and Kathleen O’Malley was already in a B-cup, but Kelly didn’t even need a 32 double-A yet. For a while I chalked it up to her Hershey bar without almonds diet, but there was more to it.

During the day, when she wasn’t in school, she’d stay in the basement apartment with the one-legged grandfather because her mother didn’t want the truant officer to find her home alone. When she heard Shannon and I come home from school she’d come flying up the stairs, still in her pajamas and red-faced like she had windburn asking, “How many n----s beat yas up tahday?”

She’d then go into the bathroom where she’d turn on the water in the shower and the sink and flush the toilet over and over again. At the same time she’d light matches and spray rose scented Airwick. It smelled like church. Shannon told me that part of why she couldn’t go to school was because whatever was wrong with her made her go number two all the time. Sometimes she’d talk to us through the door while we made up choreography in the hallway. But she was so unpredictable.

The day we got so excited about having almost finished a duet to “Love Hangover,” she started screaming her face off, “Why yahs always tryin tah listen tah me, stawp spyin on me. Get away frum the f---n door and leave me alone. I have a right tah my g-d d--n privacy.”

We’d sneak out of the house, sit quietly on the front porch and let her hide herself away in there for hours, wasting water and wasting away.

We once snuck down into the grandfather’s apartment when he was at the doctor and Kelly was locked in the bathroom. We were looking for pictures of her dead brother Kevin; as nobody in her family ever talked about him and all the pictures of him were removed form the house. Shannon said she was starting to feel him fading away like daytime and she needed to remember what he looked like. We went to her grandfather’s bedroom and all of Kelly’s unfinished schoolwork was piled on the unmade bed. Shannon looked in the bedside table drawer and discovered a stack of dirty magazines.

“Ewwwww, what’s this?” She asked as she flipped through one. I looked under the bed and was amazed to see stacks and stacks packed under there.

“What did he need all of these for?” I picked one up and flipped through it. I started to feel all nervous and hot.

“Um, I gotta go Shannon,” I said.

“Me too,” she said as she closed the drawer. We never went back down there.

When Kelly was seventeen she went into the hospital. She had Crohns disease for years, but it was misdiagnosed. So when her colon ruptured and she got peritonitis, it was too late to treat it. Peritonitis was what killed the little girl from Poltergeist. Kelly was in the hospital for months and almost died. Something was wrong with her heart too. I went with Shannon to visit her, not knowing that on top of surviving peritonitis and having her colon removed, she was recovering from open-heart surgery. She looked tiny. Tiny and white and sad. I brought her a Hershey bar with almonds, but the nurse said she wouldn’t be able to eat it for a while. I broke it apart and put the chocolate pieces near her for when she woke up. Shannon and I split the almonds.

When she finally got out of the hospital, a colostomy bag was her new lifetime accessory and the hole in her heart was sewn up. I thought I’d figured out why she was so mean, a piece of her heart was missing. But then she went on to be a poet, her most famous title being The Darkness Downstairs. Shannon went on to be a social worker. She removes sexually abused kids from their homes.

I talk to Kelly every once in a while. I always ask, “How’s yah haht?”

“All sewn up, yaws?” She asks.

“Little bit broken,” I say.

Kelly’s worst scar is on her heart, on the inside. Mine is on my right thigh from when she told me that her cousin’s chained up Doberman was really friendly and I ended up with fourteen stitches. I’ve forgiven her for that.

(Editor’s note: SUNY Empire State College reserves the right to edit text deemed unsuitable for a general audience, including slurs based on religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or disability; or other offensive language. This policy is not meant to limit the scope of the writing, but to guarantee the pleasure of the reader.)

Kimmarie Lynch

Kimmarie Lynch