An Appropriate Sense of Class

My sister had been missing for a couple of hours, that were now turning into a few. The freshness of the situation was diminishing in excitement. My brother and I were losing the ability to picture the places where she could hide from us.

The most unlikely place, was Mr. Hamilton's garden shed. Among the two rusted push mowers, the sharp smells of dust and cat markings we were unlikely to find Kate. The stray cats could get into the shed through one small broken window in a row high on the wall. What we had to do was to push on the swollen door, and as the green paint flaked off we had to worry if the door would fall off its hinges.

The garden shed was never considered a place to play, because it never had any interesting treasure in the black wooden apple crates. It was all wing nuts and lubricating oils, but the shed was a good place to hide. The shed was deep enough into a wooded area that making your way was difficult, but then not enough of a challenge to dissuade you every time.

First, you had to climb over my father's brush pile. The heap of maple branches, greasy grass clipping, and briar trimming cleaned from the yard before my father's weekly mow. The stones went to a small pile beside the thorny flowering quince tree. These stones were left to mark the boundaries of my mother's garden that will never exist.

There were a great many things you had to be careful of. Climbing over the pile was one of the more important ones. If you were to slip once and scrape up your arm so much, that you couldn't hide from you mother. Slip twice, and you could end up like Eric, with the end of a stick under your eyelid and three boys telling you the got to get home for boiled dinner.

Once you were over the pile, you will need to hop the red snow fence that is bulging under the girth of the heap. There is no danger here, except for the fact that this will leave you exposed for a moment in the Johnny Marshall's back yard.

Johnny's mother is usually too drunk to come out and say much. Maybe, just to ask me if my mother is at home. She usually disappeared for most of the day in a part of the house that no one is able to find.

I think, that she may be on the oily cellar stairs, lights out, daylight smoldering in through seams in the bulkhead. She would be smoking on the stairs, taking care to use an ashtray, but then just the same, drinking Vodka from the bottle neck.

She told me once, that there is a difference between wearing a pink sweat suit and a bathrobe all day long.

I am sure Rosemary is behind the heavy red doors door leading to the dark cellar stairs. So, we assume the house is empty.

To the left, you will have to scoot over a rock wall and behind a row of pines. This is the edge of Mr. Hamilton's property. We have broken all the lower branches off one side of the row of pines to make a passage. Behind the pines there is a brick wall on which sits a graying picket fence. The pickets are so close that you are not to be able to see the underground pool behind it.

Soon, my brother and I will throw rotten apples and pine cones, carefully covered with a thick mud and ash mixture. This coating we stirred up in the summer leftovers at the bottom of the rusted habachi.

We do this, only because we hate Roger. Roger owns the pool and we hate him for this fact, as well as, because he doesn't speak to any off us. Also, because he mows his lawn with his shirt off, and he has never invited our parents over to the house for drinks.

My mother says that Roger does not keep the company of women, save one, his mother. Roger has only spoken to me once.

It was late and I was on summer vacation. Everyone in my house was asleep, and I went down the stairs quietly, in my red shorts. The linoleum was cool on my feet as I went to the refrigerator. In the dark, I opened the door and picked a slice of cheese and ate it. There was grape jam, milk in glass bottles, and carrots. The air felt cool beside the open door, and I just stood there doing nothing at all.

The green shade was being sucked to the screen in the window, and then blown back over the lip of the window sill. I could hear Roger and some other people splashing and laughing in the pool.

So, I closed the refrigerator door and crept to the window that would give me the best vantage point. I saw flood lights on behind the picket fence. I lifted the green shade and inch, as to peer out on the side yard. Across my father's yard the spotlight illuminated the cracks in the fence.

Quietly, I pushed the screen door open, and walked in to the night. I had yet to be told not to do this by my parents. I also knew what the larger amount of wrong surrounding this act was. No one had to know anything about my adventure.

This is what I told myself.

The air was much cooler outside of the house. The cement stairs were still holding their warmth from the day. The people in the pool were making too much noise for the crickets to sing. A light from the basement at the O'Connell's was still burning, but everyone else on the street had gone to bed. One streetlight shone empty on the asphalt.

I stepped out into the path carefully. One stone at a time down half of the walk. This was before putting my bare feet into the grass of the backyard was necessary. I told myself I would have to step carefully.

Before stepping into the grass of the yard, I thought about the worms in the dirt and the crumb piles they would leave. Dried grass, my father said it was good to leave it on the lawn, but stuck to my wet feet in clumps and between my toes. The wind rustled the maple leaves, the movement, giant and spreading in blacks and greens. I moved to the edge of the yard. Under the tree was where the grass or moss wouldn't grow. There was just a smattering of quack grass, dirt and pebbles.

I walked quietly over the dirt patch. This was where rocks that would crack and whip out with dust when my father dragged the gas mower over it. These pieces now stuck to the bottoms of my feet. They hurt and I wanted my Chuck Taylors. I hated bare feet. In the grass with the bees, or in the ocean with the horse shoe crabs and toe grinders, on the hot pavement, just about anywhere other than the bathroom.

I turned my head sideways as I got to the wall, and peered under the fence. The space was all cement, smooth and expensive. There was bright lights and lawn furniture. Someone was sitting on the edge of the pool in black ladies underwear dangling their feet in the water. There was a man's voice saying something about a person named Jack, and how things didn't look like they were going to work out, and that he didn't think that he was going to see him ever again.

His voice made me feel sad.

I didn't know who Jack was. I thought, that maybe this man worked with Jack, because my father worked with a guy named Jose, or sometimes it was just Joe. Then there were other times when he would call him that son-of-a-bitch Joe. When my father said this, it made me feel jumpy and lonesome. Jose left for a job in Houston.

I think my father missed his old partner and had to work with Barney.

When Barney had a terrible accident at the factory. My father tried to pick him up off the cement floor and tried to wash him off in the sink, but Barney's skin came off. Something that had splashed all over him also caused a terrible burn on my father's hand.

Now my dad has a scar on the inside of his finger and palm. The scar is large and wormy. My father can't ever make the finger stand up straight anymore. Sometimes on Sundays, when we are at church, I hold onto his bent finger when Father Doran says, "Peace be with you.".

This is just to let him know that everything is okay.

When Barney got all melted at work, my dad came home and pulled all the green shades down. My mom made me get out of the house. I told her I was going to play with my friend Rico. Really, I just sat outside the front door and listened to the both of them.

My dad cried. He also said that Barney's head looked like a pumpkin, or that his head was as big as a pumpkin. Then he cried some more. My mom gave him a little bottle of beer, which only made him cry harder. I learned that day my dad made sucking noises when he cries, like I do sometimes.

One Sunday after church we had to go and visit his wife. Her house smelled like baby powder, and she played a long song for us on her electric organ. The song made me sleepy and I started to cry. My dad rubbed his finger a lot. Things didn't work out with Barney, at least that is what he told me.

Watching everyone at the pool I could see the person in the woman's black underpants stand up and do a cannonball. I thought this was the best thing to do since Roger didn't have a slide.

Everyone on the other side of the fence cheered and hooted, a little. This was exactly what I would have done if I wasn't trying to be quiet. So, I smiled to myself.

Maybe, someone saw my fingers sticking under the fence. I saw feet walking over to the fence, wet feet slapping on the cement. Then a body leaned over blocking the light and dripping on to me. I could see a silver chain hanging from his neck. This was Roger.

He said to me, "Hey, Nicky, you better go back to bed. Your mom might have a..."

This is where he paused and looked at the women in the swim cap, keeping his mouth closed but lifting his lower lip.

He continued, "a terrible fit if she knew you were out here." Which made the woman in the swimming cap smile, like she had heard a joke.

I wanted to ask him how he knew my name as he waved me away, but I immediately backed up. My eyes never left him until two other heads appeared over the fence. The was a guy who looked just like him but wasn't his brother, and a tall girl in a swim cap. I turned and ran to the cement stairs, in through the red door, and in to the kitchen. I was not careful where I stopped and took off my shorts and wiped my feet on them. In just my underwear, the dog, Shawnee came close to me. His nails clacked against the linoleum floor, and he yelped a little when I picked him up. He was always making some kind of noise. We laid down on the couch together. I was too shaky to make it up the stairs silently. So, I lay close to Shawnee and breathed into his seal skin trying to fling off my terror.

I knew Roger was going to tell my parents I was out. Everything was going to change.

I must have found my way upstairs after I had fallen asleep, because I woke in my bed and the sheets were filthy.

Roger never said a thing, but I still hated him, and that is why we threw trash into his pool.

Mr. Basil's Highschool Creative Writing Workshop circa 1982