It was one of those summers that kept its heat, built on it every day, added another brick then another till it felt like we were walking round in a kiln. It was the summer that saw the end of Old Lilian and Don Grayson and that poor little dog that Troy Welkman left locked in his truck. Most of all though, it was the summer that killed Tony Moretti.
Everyone knew Tony and Tony knew everyone. Knowing everyone was Tony’s business. He knew when it was your birthday, always came with a gift and a song. He knew when you were sick, sent one of his sisters round with soup. He knew when you were behind on your TV payments or struggling to make rent, and there he was again, this time a clutch of dollars in his hand.
Tony was a saint half his life, Father Thomas said at his sending-off.
It was the other half that worried us, we replied in amen.
Tony knew everybody and Tony knew everything. If you got a new job or a bonus for Christmas, there was Tony for his share. If your cousins came into town with some fish or some beef - no labels, no questions - there was Tony, making a claim. If your sister got married and the Italian side of the family came with brown envelopes bursting green notes, there was Tony, dancing with the wives at the wedding as he put his hand among the cash and took his fill. Every shopkeeper in town dreaded the rattle of the door, the clatter of the bell that meant Tony was coming in to check the register.
It was the summer that killed Tony. The heat that kept on building like a string that kept on stretching. Stretch it so far and - snap.
Someone shot Tony, twice, in the back, as he walked up the church steps late one night. Could’ve been anyone, the town said, and the Sheriff could only agree.
They drew a chalk line round where he fell, took his body away. His sisters came that night and washed away the blood from the steps, careful though to keep the chalk line neat and clean. And the summer kept its heat and the sidewalk kept the shape of Tony Moretti, splayed like a spit roast.
And each time we went up the steps to church, there he was, waving us in, reminding us that you can be half a saint and half a sinner, but sometimes it’s better to be one thing or the other, not both at the same time. Because if you’re both, said Father Thomas, the Lord doesn’t know what to do with you, and you can spend a long time in a limbo made of chalk if the summer keeps its heat.