I Know That's What You Are

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

A 9-year-old boy learns that his suspicions about his neighbours, based on rumours spread by his friends at school, are all wrong. Mostly.

It was the early days of August this particular year and the satisfying breezes that cooled the sweaty backs of boys in brown, sometimes yellow, T-shirts were largely absent.  On this day, a Sunday, the unhurried scre-eeee-ch of a heat bug seemed more like the whistling of a boiling kettle wafting steam up and down the street and where a mother was as likely to be heard yelling “If you’re bored, go outside!” as was a father declaring “It’s too damn hot to cut the grass!”.  Cory was lying on his stomach gazing at the pictures in his new hockey magazine which came dutifully in the mail even in the months when there was no hockey on TV or on the radio or in the sports section of the newspaper.  There was an oscillating fan a few feet away on the white rug.  As the fan head reached the end of one arc, it cried out in panic “Tock-Tock-Tock!” as if stuck but would somehow free itself in time to begin its short journey to the other end of its jurisdiction.  The pages of Cory’s magazine fluttered gleefully each time the beam of wind swept over him.

Mum was in the kitchen chopping through some thick vegetables on the counter.  Kerr-UNK!  Kerr-UNK!   The little brown transistor radio on top of the refrigerator broadcasted a chat between two men with very deep voices who sounded nearly identical except one of them  ended all his sentences with a quirky upward inflection.  There was so much zappy static interrupting the program that it sounded as if lightning bolts were flicking from the radio itself.

There was an urgent, rattly knock on the screen door.

“Cory?” Mum called.  “Could you please answer that?  My hands are messy.”

Cory rolled up into a sitting position and climbed to his feet.  He didn’t really want to answer the knock but the front door was wide open and whomever was there would have heard his name called out.  He dragged his feet hoping that Mum would have time to put down her knife, wipe off her hands and beat him to the door.

The door knocker turned out to be Walter, the troubled teenage boy from across the road.  He had his hand on the door lever as he peered in, his face in shadow against the screen.  As Cory descended the two narrow steps to the front entrance, Walter opened the screen door and leaned his upper body in.  He was a big, bulky lad who wore only long pants even on hot days like today.  He had wiry curls that sprouted up over a high forehead and kept sprouting downwards past his ears until they came together to form a scraggly beard.  It looked like his chubby face was poking out from the middle of a tumbleweed.   He had small eyes, rash-red cheeks and the odour of a freshly puffed cigarette on his breath.  Although he reminded Cory of the wild-haired players in his hockey magazines and on his hockey cards, he kept his distance.

“Hi Cory.”  Walter began.  He seemed in a hurry.  “I notice you got a fancy new hockey net.  Can I borrow it for a few hours this afternoon?  Maybe I should talk to your mom.”

“Uh…”  Cory did not want Walter anywhere near his new hockey net.

“Walter!  Hello!”  Mum’s voice piped up from behind.  She was good friends with Walter’s parents and had watched over Walter from time to time when he was a baby.  “What can we do for you today?”

“Hi Mrs. Hillman.  I was asking Cory if I could use his net to play road hockey with my friends.”

“Hmm.”  Mum leaned on the hand rail.  “Thought I heard it was supposed to rain today.”

“Not til tonight.”

“Oh, well then…”  Mum took a seat on the top step.   “What do you think Cory?  Is that fine?”

“I don’t know.” Cory said while attempting a “NO” with his eyes.

“Were you planning on using it today?” Mum tilted her head towards him.

“Sort of.”

Mum turned to Walter.  “Can Cory come with you?  He’s a good goalie, aren't you Cory?”

Walter shifted in the doorway.  He had expected to have his answer by now.  “Well, we’ve got some good goalies too - not that you’re not good, Cory, but it’s the other boys...they can get a little rough.”

Cory knew bad things about those other boys and was happy that Walter was at least trying to keep them away from him.

“I see.” Mum said.  She refocused her attention back to Cory.  “In that case, one day isn’t going to hurt.  Walter has to work during the week and this is his only chance to have fun.”

Walter’s eyes were on him.  Cory knew this line of questioning was all for show, that if Walter wanted his hockey net then he would have it.  If the net went missing one day, the Portugeese twins up the street who stole the light bulbs out of his dad’s Christmas light strings and smashed them against the gymnasium wall would get the blame as they always did.

“Nothing to worry about, Cory.  It’s safe with me.” Walter said.  “You’ll have it back before suppertime.”

“Well, go get the net then.” Mum said.  Apparently Cory had agreed without saying a word.  He twisted his body away from the front door and climbed back up to the main floor.  Mum added a late “Please”.  As he took to the back door, he overheard her asking Walter, “How’s Melody? Is she still available for next Friday?”

The narrow garage which smelled permanently of leaking gasoline was taken up with the family station wagon.  Cory had to squeeze around the front of the car to get at his net which hung on two large spiral nails.  He needed to take it down carefully so as not to catch the mesh on the nails and lower it so that the edges of the folded aluminum frame wouldn’t come in contact with the hood of the car.  He offered it up wordlessly to Walter like protection money.  Walter crammed the net into the back hatch of his second hand blue Monza.  Cory watched the car back out of the driveway like a bow string being drawn back, then with a clank and a clunk, the Monza shot away down the street, its tires roaring out a warcry.

Around mid-afternoon, a fringe of dark clouds formed up along the horizon.  The air was still thick with humidity but every now and then a puff of asthmatic wind would touch upon the back of the neck like a prankster hiding in the shadows.  Cory took shelter with his friend Derrick in an empty carport.  The concrete floor was cool against their bare legs as they sat throwing what was left of their hockey card collection against the far wall.

“I heard that Melody can’t babysitter us anymore.” said Derrick.

“Why not?”

“Cos she got shot between the legs.”

“You mean her privates?”

“Yeah.”

“How do you know this?”

“I heard Adrianna telling it.”

 “Who shot her then?”  Cory paused his turn in the game. 

“I dunno but there was a lot of blood apparently.”

“I didn’t see any ambulance.”

“No.  She just had to lie down for a few days while her mom washed the blood off.”

Derrick won the current game and collected the cards laying at the foot of the wall.

“Who’d want to shoot Melody?” Cory asked, unconcerned that his collection of cards was depleting fast.

“One of Walter’s friends, probably.  Which means he’ll be dead soon enough.”

“That’s why they didn’t call the police I guess.”

The boys took turns throwing cards at a single card designated for leaning against the corner of the wall.  Whoever knocked it down kept all the cards used to that end.

“One of them stole my bike lock.”  Derrick said.

“Who?”

“That red-haired guy with all the freckles.  He made me unlock my bike and say the combination.  Then he ran off with it and left my bike alone.  Crazy huh.”

“Did your dad call the police?”

“You nuts?  I just said I lost it.”

“Melody was supposed to babysit me next weekend.  My mom will freak.” 

A sudden, sharp breeze curled into the carport and scattered the loose cards.

“Wanna take some shots?” Derrick changed the subject while he scooped up his new winnings.

“Okay.  I’ll go get my stick.”

“Get your new net too.”

“I just wanna shoot against the wall.”

“Come on.   We can do breakaways.  I can shoot on you.  You can shoot on me.”

“It’s stuffed in the garage and I can’t get at it.”

“So, I’ll help.  Come on.”

The boys bunched and stored their cards in respective tin lunch boxes.   Cory searched his imagination for a new excuse.  He could already hear himself confessing should Derrick learn that his net was missing.  “I just thought of something...” Cory began although he had no idea what he had just thought of.

There was a deep rumble out beyond the carport.  The boys were just now noticing that the sky had darkened.  When they came up to the edge of the carport, there was another roll of thunder.  The driveway was lightly spotted with raindrops.  A heavy gust blew an empty cardboard box across the driveway.  A sudden flash of lightning lit up the interior of the carport.  Both boys jumped.  The thunder that followed rattled their knobbly little knees.

“CORY!” Mum’s voice called from up the street.

A few new raindrops smacked the driveway like thrown wet clay.  All thoughts of the net and of breakaways and of cowardice were washed away in that brief wave.

“I gotta go.” said Cory then slipped away.

The storm was chucking down hard when Cory and his family gathered for dinner that evening.  The living room curtains danced and swayed in front of the open window while the sound of heavy falling rain was like that of an angry army at war with the shrubs and the garden.  Mum  dished out large spoonfuls of candied carrots.

“I hope Walter and his friends got out of the rain in time.  I don’t see his car in the driveway.”

“He’s still got my net, mom”.

“I’m sure your net is fine, honey.”

“What if he steals it?”

“No!  What kind of boy do you think he is?”

“Oh, I know some things.”

“What kind of things?”

“I’ll talk to his father then.” Dad offered.

“No dad!”

There was a muffled bang-bang-bang on the front door.

“There’s your net.” Dad said.  “Well, go answer it.  Don’t keep him waiting.”

When Cory opened the door, the whoosh of the rain let itself into the house.  Walter was standing under the awning holding the folded net in front of him.  Cory spotted a large crimp in the crossbar that wasn’t there before.

“Sorry I’m late.”  Walter said.  His curly hair was wet and stuck to his forehead.  There was a puffy red blotch under one eye 

“Hi Walter.” Mum said as she stepped in behind Cory.  “Just leave it against the brick and come inside until it lets up.”

Walter let himself into the house.  Cory stiffened against the railing.  There wasn’t a lot of room for two bodies at the foot of the stairs.  Walter breathed out heavy lungfuls of smoky air.

Mum noticed the bloodied mark on his face.

“That looks painful.”

“Just a little scratch, really.”

“You see how rough it was?” Mum said to Cory.  Then she spotted a large rip in one of the legs of Walter’s trousers, from the knee to ankle.   “Oh!” 

Walter held up a paper bag.

“Got something for you, Cory.  I’ve been meaning to give you this for a while.” 

He handed the bag to Cory who received it suspiciously.

“They’re just my old cards.  I don’t collect anymore but I know you like ‘em.”

“Uh, thanks.”

“That’s very kind of you Walter.” said Mum.  “Cory will take good care of them for you.” 

Cory peered inside the bag.  He saw a couple of smiling but unrecognizable faces looking back at him.  Suddenly the bag was squished against his chest then he was squished against the wall as Walter leaned his whole dead weight into him.  Mum cried out.  “Walter, what’s wrong?”  Just as suddenly, Walter fell away and slumped down hard on the carpeted steps at Cory’s feet.   The paper bag fell from Cory’s hands and spilled its contents all over the floor.

“Somebody shot Walter too!”  was Cory’s first thought. 

“It’s okay, Cory.” Mum saw the situation for what it was.  “ Are you all right?”

Walter sat up, not quite sure where he was.

“You fainted.”  Mum said to him.  “You haven’t had any water all day I bet.” 

“What’s going on?” Dad called from the kitchen.

“Nothing!  Walter’s just dehydrated.” Mum yelled back.  “Cory stay here.  I’ll be right back.”

Mum zipped into the kitchen and, after a blur of motion, zipped back with a tall glass of orange juice.  She passed it to Walter who took it in both hands like a toddler.  Holding it weakly to his mouth, he drank it all down in a matter of seconds.

Cory started picking up the fallen cards and was surprised by what he discovered.  All the faces of the players on Walter’s cards looked like choir boys.  Their hair was neatly combed.  They all smiled for the camera.  They looked like what his dad called ‘good lads’.  The players on his own cards were shaggy-haired, unsmiling men which is what the pictures in his magazines and the games on TV confirmed.  Poor Walter.  His cards were terrible!  No wonder he was getting rid of them.

Walter handed the glass back to Mum with a quivering hand. 

“How’s that?” she asked.

“Better.  I’m sorry.” 

Walter stood up slowly and put a hand on the door knob.

“Go home and get some rest.  Okay?”  Mum urged him.

“Thanks for the net, Cory.” Walter mumbled almost inaudibly but Cory heard every word.

“I...I hope you find the guy who shot Melody.”

“Cory!” Mum exclaimed.  “What a thing to say!   We’ll see Melody on Friday and I’m sure she’s just fine.”

“Sure.” Walter mumbled again then he let himself out of the house.

There was a pause in the rain.  The sun broke through and lit up the wet surfaces.  It hurt the eyes to gaze out at the slick road.  Cory and Mum watched out the front window as Walter slogged up his driveway, past the dull blue Monza sitting quiet and inert, like he only had enough steps in him to make it as far as his own front door.

 


Submitted: April 22, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Horto. All rights reserved.

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