The peace and quietness of a summer morning, by a lake near “Stinkin” Lincoln, Maine, was shattered by the startling discharge of a Remington Model 1875 Single Action Army revolver.
My father’s loud cry and a string of bad words followed. My blood froze. I flung my make-believe-dragon-killing sword down and raced up the dirt pathway that went from the lake to the front of Mr. Wildon’s cottage.
When I reached the front of it, Dad was facing away, and both his arms curled like wings as he hobbled toward a little bench. His limp, and the way he held his arms, reminded me of a chicken. I giggled.
However, when he turned, his face was twisted up ugly from pain and red blood flowed down the front of his pants. It was clear then he wasn’t joking.
Wetness filled my eyes as guilt fluttered in my stomach because I laughed, although Dad was hurt.
Dad moved his lower jaw slowly from left to right. He was angry as he sat on the bench with his bloodied leg extended straight out.
“Hey, nut. I will be all right.” His teeth were gritted and in a strained voice, taking three sharp breaths, he said, “Go and get Mister Wildon for me, okay? Be quick.”
I ran down the stone path for the front door of the cottage and remembered Mister Wildon was in the boathouse near the lake. I changed directions, racing to the garage side and toward the boathouse. Small pebbles flew up behind my strides.
As I neared it, Mister Wildon was whistling. A stubby old man, he looked like Santa Claus without a beard as he leaned over a table with various parts of an outboard motor that just two days ago wouldn’t start.
“Mister Wildon, excuse me. Dad’s hurt. He shot himself.”
“My dad shot himself in the leg.”
“In the leg?”
Mister Wildon skirted the debris on the floor on his tiptoes and grabbed his cane. He reached into his back pocket for “Old Faithful,” a flask, I knew, filled with Jack Daniels. After two healthy swigs, we ambled up the hill.
By the time we got back to the front of the cottage, Dad was sitting on the bench with a ripped cloth tied tightly above his knee. He had been a medic in the Army.
Mister Wildon and Dad whispered long words that I had heard when I visited Dad in the Emergency Room at Yale New Haven Hospital where he worked.
After helping Dad get out of the chair and stand, Mister Wildon gave him his cane to lean on. Dad couldn’t really bend his leg.
They made their way to the old green, rusty, 1964 Chevy pickup truck with Dad leaning on Mr. Wildon’s shoulder for support. With each step Dad exclaimed, “Jeez,” or “C’mon.”
Getting to the truck breathing heavily, he opened the door and slowly turned his body with his backside toward the seats. He waved Mister Wildon away. He used his arms to rise up into the pickup, turned, then settled in the seat, and slammed the door. He laid his head back and blew quick breaths into the air, like a snorting bull.
“Dad, can I come?”
“No. You stay here.” Panting, he said, “Find Missus Wildon in the kitchen and tell her what happened. Tell her Mister Wildon and I had to go to the hospital. And tell her not to worry. Go on. Run.”
I jetted to the house, my heart racing and salty water filling my eyes.
He’s going to die. I know it. I won’t ever see him again. Ma is all the way in Connecticut and there’s no phone in the cottage.
I tried the front door. It was locked. As I ran around to the back of the house, the old truck pitter popped, pitter popped, in the rumble of firing up. I didn’t want them to leave before I could tell my father that I did what he told me to do. I wanted Dad to feel proud of me for behaving like a big kid.
Missus Wildon was sitting at the kitchen counter, sipping tea and watching the Munich Olympics on a small black and white television.
“Excuse me Missus Wildon. Mister Wildon is taking my dad to the hospital. He shot himself in the leg.”
Staring at the sportscaster, Missus Wildon said, “What was that, hon?”
I could hear the truck backfiring. I still had a chance to see him off.
Speaking slower, chest heaving up and down, I said, “Mister Wildon is taking my dad to the hospital. He shot himself in the leg.”
“Shot himself. Oh my…” She turned and faced me.
“I’ll be right back. I want to tell my dad bye.”
Turning on my heels I bolted out the door and raced up the hill. The tires crunched on the gravel in the driveway.
Please don’t leave yet, I prayed in my mind.
When I got to the top of the hill, the back of the truck was bouncing down the dirt trail that led to the main road. I was feeling something awful that I didn’t show Dad I could follow his instructions like a big kid.
Just then the truck slowed down. Dad’s head poked out the window, and he yelled, craning his neck to look back, “Behave yourself. You’re the man in charge now, so you be good. Mister Wildon will come back and get you. And you mind Missus Wildon.”
His head darted in and his hand popped out the window, giving me the thumbs up. He kept his hand out the window as the car took a curve and disappeared behind a line of tall evergreens.
As I marched back to my sword stick resting in the dirt, a tear or three crawled out, and I swiped the tears and mucous with the back of my arm. I hated to see Dad hurt. I hated the feeling that I couldn’t do anything to help.
With a gentle warm breeze swirling past, I walked quietly down to the lake to skip stones like Dad showed me when we first arrived. The trick was to find flat stones. I got one to skip three times. Then I sat down and just looked at the water.
After a while, Missus Wildon yelled from the porch. “Little Eddie, Little Eddie.”
“Come on inside. Ann is on the CB radio and she wants to talk to you.”
Miss Ann is Dad’s friend. Her license was suspended, and she asked my father to help her drive up here. She’s one of his friends that Dad told me to keep secret. I was never to tell anyone about his secret friends.
Excited to talk on the radio and swatting at a horde of pesky bugs, I marched like a soldier toward the house. I saluted a bush, the woodpile, and an old, rusted wheelbarrow before climbing the stairs into the kitchen.
The inside of the cottage was one big room. One area was for watching TV and one was for cooking. There was a small storage space upstairs. Two rooms had been added on, Dad told me, and used for bedrooms.
Missus Wildon showed me how to hold the mic and press the button on the side to talk. I heard Miss Ann loud and clear.
“I know about your dad. Are you okay, Little Eddie?”
“Are you coming back soon, Miss Ann?”
“I’ll be back this afternoon just like your father told you this morning. Is that okay?”
“Yes. Do you know when I can see my dad?”
“I’m not too sure. My father will let you know as soon as he finds out, okay?”
The weight of a tear swelled in one eye.
“Little Eddie is that okay?”
“Yes. It’s okay.”
“Now I know you’re a big boy and you feel sad. But your father will be all right. Who is the toughest guy that you know?”
“That’s right. You think a little old bullet in the leg is going to do something to your dad? He was walking around after, right? ”
“Dad’s tough as nails.”
“That’s right, he’s tough as nails and so are you. I’m sure he’s very proud of you because he knows you’re being brave. Yeah?”
“Yeah. Miss Ann, is there any way I can call my mom?”
“Your dad said he was going to call your mother from the hospital. Is that all right?”
“That’s good. I don’t want her to be worried.”
“All right. Please let me talk to my mother now and you be good. Your dad is going to be fine, Little Eddie. I think you might have a visitor later today. A friend of my mother’s has a son about your age. Would you like that?”
“Yes, I could have someone to play with.”
“Okay. Give the mic back to my mother and bye, Little Eddie.”
I handed the talking part back to Missus Wildon. “I’m going back outside.”
“Please be careful.”
I sat down on the same bench that Dad sat on after he shot himself. Blood was on the grass. The sky was clear blue with puffy white clouds. Dad told me I should always think things through.
I remembered what Miss Ann said about Dad being tough. She was right. He would be okay. I also thought that when I see him, I will make sure he told Mom about what happened. I didn’t want Ma to worry about me. Dad called Ma twangy, meaning she worried too much. I don’t think she worried too much, but she did, sometimes, worry about stuff that didn’t bother Dad. She’d be really worried about me if she didn’t talk with me soon to see if I was all right.
Miss Ann told me she was coming back after the funeral. She had said other things, but I forgot them when Missus Wildon walked over to me and asked, “Maybe we could get a little ice cream in town. Would you like that, young fella?”
“Well, get your jacket and c’mon.”
Riding in Missus Wildon’s blue Gremlin, I glanced over at this odd woman. I was trying to remember if she had even smiled since we had arrived.
In profile, her face reminded me of the face of a penguin. She had bushy eyebrows protruding over batwing-shaped eyeglasses. Her white, gray hair puffed up over her head in the same way as cotton candy does. She was also heavyset like Mister Wildon, but she was lightning fast. I saw her catch a pan lid that was sliding off the kitchen counter, halfway across the kitchen area, before it hit the floor. She got there as fast as a cat.
As Missus Wildon’s car swerved around curves with tall trees on each side, I remembered my father telling me that Miss Ann had to go to the funeral of her ex-husband’s mother in Maine. Miss Ann was short and shaped like ladies in my mother’s Lane Bryant catalogue. She was Italian and cooked the best spaghetti I ever had. She and Dad spent hours in a back room while I played freely on a plush carpet and watched her color television.
About a week ago, Dad told me we would meet Miss Ann’s parents, Mister and Missus Wildon. Dad said that Mister Wildon was a friendly guy and that Missus Wildon was a quiet lady. “But nice though,” he had assured me.
“The Log Cabin Ice Cream Parlor” should be on the cover of Saturday Evening Post. The place was old-fashioned, but in a friendly way. The wooden walls were covered with old pictures and posters. Dusty Fishing rods, lobster traps, boating oars, and contraptions I had no idea about, dangled from the ceiling tied with old thick rope.
Sitting in a booth eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream with hot maple syrup dripping down the sides, I heard Missus Wildon speak for the first time since leaving the cottage.
“You worried about your pa?”
“Not too much. He told me he was going to be all right.”
I scooped a huge spoonful of ice cream into my mouth, hoping she wouldn’t talk while I ate. I really wanted to enjoy my ice cream. To be honest, I admit I was a little scared of this quiet lady. She looked like a mean substitute teacher who only wants to grab you by the ears and escort you to the principal’s office.
The cold of a huge scoop of ice cream bashed me in the teeth. My teeth shrieked in pain. The wad fell out of my mouth back into the glass dish. I looked at Missus Wildon. I was thankful she was reaching for something in her pocketbook and hadn’t seen me. It would show I had no table manners.
“Have you ever been this far north?” she asked, placing her change purse on the table, and taking a sip of tea.
I stirred the melting ice cream and syrup together and decided it best to take a TV show approach.
“I reckon not.”
I had heard the word “reckon” on the Beverly Hillbillies. I liked the way it sounded. I wrote “reckon” on my list of favorite sounding words like, “sensible,” “pamphlet,” and “Idaho.”
“You like school?”
“What do you plan on doing when you grow up?”
“I want to be a TV star, a race car driver, or a scientist, ma’am.”
“Are you smart?”
“I get the best grades in my class. But Joann is trying to catch me.”
“Is she your girlfriend?”
“No. She’s yukee. She says I smell like the beach and hotel soap.”
“I’d watch her if I were you.”
“Believe me I watch out for her tricks. She’s a wascally wabbit.”
“Well, if I may give you a bit of advice, don’t bother with that TV and that racing too much. Stick to being a scientist or a doctor.”
She reached across the table and put her puffed-up hand with the swollen fingers on my arm. She let it rest a few seconds, leaned back, then folded her arms across her hefty bosom and watched as I finished my ice cream.
After scraping the last bit of syrup and ice cream out of the bowl and fighting the urge to lick it, knowing that wasn’t polite at all, I looked up at Missus Wildon. She was patting the table to the beat of Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes” playing on an old jukebox. Her head was turned. She seemed to stare at something far out in the distance.
“Missus Wildon. Thank you for the ice cream.”
She turned her icy blue eyes and looked at me.
“Know who this is?”
“Yeah. That’s the King.”
“The King indeed.”
She stood up. I stood and followed her as she paid the tall teenager behind the counter and then went out the front door to the tingle of the bells tacked to the frame.
She limped slightly, and her short arms swung as she walked. Her stout body rolled along the parking lot.
She said as we both got into the car, “Do you reckon we should get back now?”
“I reckon so.”
“I reckon so, too.”
After getting back, I walked to the lake shore to sing opera, which I had done since the first day we got up here. My mother listened to Mario Lanza recordings on the reel-to-reel tape deck in my parent’s bedroom. I loved to play with toys in their bedroom while she listened to these operas.
Standing on the pier facing my audience, a few ducks, the lake, and the pine trees circling near the shore, I bowed before I began singing. Then I let loose the most operatic tone I could summon. The echo sounded amazing. A frog leaped into the water off a log, and three ducks took off into the air.
I didn’t sing in English, Italian, German, or any recognizable language. I sang passionately. The first day my father had heard this performance he told me I sounded like a dying moose.
Just then a car pulled up near the cottage.
From behind trees and thick foliage, I knew I couldn’t be seen. It must be the visitors Missus Ann talked about. There was a rather thin woman with her hair done up in a bun walking toward the front door, with a redheaded tall boy trailing behind. In the boy’s hand, even from this distance, I saw a toy or something.
I turned to continue my performance but sat down. I wondered who the boy was. I wondered if I was being impolite by not going into the house and not introducing myself. Well, I concluded, maybe they won’t even know I’m out here.
A few seconds after these thoughts, the boy came skipping down the path with a big broad smile and a G.I. Joe action figure. After he spotted me and I got a good look at him, we knew within seconds that we would be best of friends.
The redhead broke the ice.
“Put it here pal,” he extended his hand. “My name is Edwin. You can call me Eddie if you like.”
I couldn’t hold in my joyous laughter. “You can call me Eddie, but my real name is Edward.”
It was like someone pressed a tickle spot; we howled so with belly-tightening laughter.
“My G.I. Joe has a scuba outfit. Let’s see if he will float in the lake.”
Now, we had a plan. Nothing brings two boys closer together than a plan.
After G.I. Joe sunk to the bottom six or seven times, he and I ran through the woods pretending we were soldiers in Vietnam.
Then we picked up a few sticks and fought off the “L” shaped boulder who, in this incarnation, was a dinosaur attacking the town.
About one-half hour later, after pretending to be Jim and Willy from Mission: Impossible and after defeating an Evil Scientist and his evil companion (one resembling an “L” shaped boulder, the other a pine tree), who were no match for both the Green Hornet and Batman, we sat down on the “L” shaped boulder.
“Will you be here long?”
“I don’t know. My dad is in the hospital.”
“Does he have cancer?”
“No. He just shot himself.”
“That’s good, then he will live. If he ain’t got no cancer, he will live.”
“He will be okay. He was in the Army.”
“He must be tough.”
“He is. I bet your dad’s pretty tough too.”
“Not really. He’s a preacher. He just gets tough with the drunks and backsliders down at the tavern.”
“What’s a backslider?”
“I ain’t too sure. Hey, maybe you can come to my house if you are going to be around?”
“Maybe. I will ask my dad if it’s okay when I see him today.”
“Good. Let’s go ask my mom. She’ll say yes. She is always trying to get other boys to come over and play. Not too many come by because of Dad being a preacher.”
“That don’t bother me none.”
“Okay, let’s go ask her.”
Edwin and I jumped on our make-believe Harleys and vroomed around a few trees before bursting through the kitchen door. Missus Wildon and Edwin’s mother were sitting at the kitchen table with two nearly empty bottles of Coca Cola and two white plastic cups sporting the seal of Maine. The women were laughing when we clamored through the door heading to the table.
“Ma... Ma… Can my new pal come over?”
His mother, with buck teeth and a lazy eye, turned and looked at both us boys and screamed as if she had seen a ghost.
We stopped dead. Edwin’s mother turned sharply to Missus Wildon and hissed, “Barbara, you didn’t tell me…”
She stood up beet red in the face and yelled at Edwin, “Get in the car.”
“You heard what I said. Get in the car now!”
We turned and slowly walked out the door. Once outside, we dashed to the car. As Edwin opened the door and slid into the front seat, teardrops flowed down his face. The car door slammed.
“Every time I want to have fun she always goes and spoils it. I hate her.”
Edwin jumped out of the car and started screaming, “I hate her. I hate her. I can’t stand her she’s so mean.”
He was heaving breaths and his face was red and twisted up. I felt sorry for my new friend. I patted him on the shoulder as he crawled back into the car. He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a box of tissue. He blew his nose a few times.
“I hate her. I hate her,” Edwin murmured to himself between heaving sobs.
I didn’t know what to say or do. Then it hit me.
“Hey, Edwin, your G.I. Joe. We forgot it down at the lake. I’ll go get it.”
Like a cheetah, I tore down the path to the lake and grabbed the G.I. Joe, whose scuba gear was cold and moist, and then started back up the hill.
I heard raised voices from the kitchen window. On tippy toes, bent low, I crept close to the window in order to hear more clearly.
I heard Missus Wildon say, “You’re right. I wouldn’t want my child playing with no damn black monkey either.”
Now that was one of the silliest things that I ever heard a grown-up say. I bent over, laughing. Everybody knows there are no monkeys in Maine.
At the car Edwin reached out with sad eyes and took his G.I. Joe while Missus Wildon opened the front door of the cottage. Edwin’s mom came marching out, mumbling under her breath, all the way to the car. The angry woman never looked in my direction. She marched right past me as if I didn’t exist.
When the car started up, Edwin put his hand out the window. We interlocked fingers and his mother put the car in gear and eased forward. Tires crunched on the rocks in the driveway, and we let go.
I looked back at the cottage. Missus Wildon stood in the doorway with her fists on her hips. She didn’t say a word. She stared at me for a second or two. Then she turned silently and closed the door.
The woods called me for another mission.
A torn cloth fit around my head like the headdress of a warrior. The other half had been tied around my pop’s leg after he’d shot himself.
I just received orders from headquarters. I was to search for secret killer monkeys created by a mad scientist. It was my job to find these dangerous creatures.
I knew this animal didn’t exist in Maine. However, as commander of the newly founded explorer team, I must go and seek out this mysterious and deadly beast.
Midway upon my quest to find the super top-secret creature, I heard Mister Wildon’s truck grumble up the driveway. I jumped in the air and ran to meet him.
Mister Wildon said, “Hop in.” I was going to see my dad.
While cruising down winding roads, Mister Wildon explained to me what took place after he and Dad got to the hospital.
“At the hospital doctors were worried that his knee had been damaged permanently. When they looked and got some x-rays done, they said he was lucky. The bullet missed shattering his kneecap by just a teeny-weenie bit. So doctors took out the bullet. Now they have to be on the lookout just to be sure there’s no infection around the knee area. There’s some muscle damage too. That’s why he will have to stay a few days extra. He’s going to have to use crutches until the muscles around the knee heal. Otherwise, he’s fit as a fiddle.”
“Does he have the bullet?”
Mister Wildon laughed. “Your dad said you’d ask that. He told me to tell you he will show it to you when we get there.”
I leaned back and felt less worried, but a tear or two rolled down my cheek anyway.
The hospital building was the most modern thing I’d seen since being up here. The outside looked even newer than where Dad worked. Inside, the floors were so polished you could see your reflection. All the metal glistened. The walls looked as if they were just painted yesterday.
At the door of Dad’s hospital room, I stopped. Mister Wildon went ahead. I crept in and looked around the hanging curtain. Dad was sitting up, with his wrapped knee the size of a volleyball. He flashed a big smile when he saw me.
Immediately after seeing my father, I made sobbing noises.
Mister Wildon quietly left the room.
“I was afraid for you, Daddy” was repeated between sobs, heaves, and sniffles. With Dad in bed, I couldn’t hug him. So I wrapped my small arms around Dad’s big arm and squeezed as tight as I could. Still crying, I wouldn’t let go for a long time.
Finally, “Hey, nut, you want to see the bullet?”
Wiping my eyes I said, “Can I?”
In a clear plastic container with a lid was a small dark chunk of metal. I picked up the container and shook it.
“This little thing did all that, Dad?” I asked, pointing to the huge bandage on his knee.
“Will it explode?”
“You talk to Ma?”
“Yes, I did. I told her not to worry. There was no phone where you were but I said you were okay. You know how your mother can keep up a fuss.”
“Oh yeah, but after I told her you were fine, I promised her you would call her collect later when she got home from work.”
“Mr. Wildon doesn’t have a phone.”
“I’ll have him take you into town.”
“How long are you going to be here?”
“No more than a day or two. Then we can go back home.”
After opening the lid and turning the cup upside down, the bullet plopped in my hand. It was heavier than I expected. Squeezing it between my fingers and moving it in the air like a fly, my buzzing noises stopped when Mister Wildon came back into the room carrying three bottles of soda.
“Who likes Orange pop?”
“I do.” My hand shot up. “Can I have one, please?”
Turning to the patient Mister Wildon said, “Hey Wounded Knee, you want one?”
I twisted the loosened cap off and took a long sip. The bubbles tickled my throat. The best part of drinking soda.
We all sat around, and Dad and Mr. Wildon shot the breeze. The mountains out the windows looked like a place that would be fun to explore. On top of one was a ranger tower. I felt better seeing Dad and knowing he was fine.
Mister Wildon jumped up after a while and said that he and I had to head back. Dad told me that Mister Wildon, or maybe Miss Ann, would bring me to visit tomorrow morning.
I gave Dad another squeeze on the arm before leaving.
“I hear you’re being a good boy and not giving anyone any trouble.”
“Keep it up. You’re making me proud. You’re acting like a big kid now. A real little man.”
“I’m trying, Daddy. I really am. See look.” I flexed my arm for a few seconds just like Charles Atlas.
“Wow. You know what?”
I shook my head.
“You’re doing a darn good job. A real good job. All right, nut?”
“Love you, Dad.”
“Love you too, nut.”
Riding down an empty road, I sat still and stared out the window at the trees zooming past. I was trying to work out what I had heard at Mr. Wildon’s cottage. My Childcraft books, my brother’s encyclopedias, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on TV, and the American Wildlife magazines I had read, none of them ever mentioned anything about monkeys living in Maine.
“Little Eddie,” Mister Wildon called.
Deep in thought I didn’t hear him.
“Hey pal, you seem quiet. Maybe we could get some ice cream later after supper.”
“Sure,” I said, turning toward him.
“Mister Wildon, I’m curious. Is there a Big Foot in Maine anywhere?”
“No. I haven’t heard of any.”
“Is there a missing link?”
“A missing link?”
“Half man, half ape monster?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“None of them either. Why?”
“I heard Missus Wildon tell Edwin’s mom...”
“Edwin? Who’s Edwin?”
“Yeah, Edwin. His daddy’s a preacher that don’t take no guff from backsliders.”
“Oh, that Edwin.”
“Missus Wildon said, ‘I wouldn’t want my child playing with no blankety-blank black monkey.’ That’s silly because there are no monkeys in Maine.”
Mister Wildon slammed the brakes on the empty road. The car tires screeched. Lurching forward, I strained with my body weight against my seatbelt. Looking in the rearview mirror, he pulled to the side of the road and took out “Old Faithful” for a glug or two.
“Are you okay, Mister Wildon?”
“Yes. I’m sorry about that. So, what happened this morning?”
I told the whole story from peeking at Edwin and his mother through the bushes to the car zooming away after Edwin and I locked fingers.
“Black monkey… Missus Wildon said she didn’t want her child around a black monkey either.”
Mr. Wildon sat and looked at me. His expression seemed like he was trying to figure out a crossword puzzle or a chess move.
Then he smiled, in an off way, and laughed a creepy laugh. “That is funny. Because there are no monkeys in Maine. Right?”
Why did he look so panicked? His face was beet red. Mr. Wildon was the jolliest old man I met beside Santa.
What was wrong?
Why did Mister Wildon seem so…?
Chills swam up my back from my lower spine and swept over my scalp as my face burned. Missus Wildon was talking about me. I was the black monkey. Edwin’s mom didn’t want Edwin to play with me because I was black.
I kicked my feet and yelled. Molten drops of anger and frustration poured down.
“I am black but I am a boy I am not a monkey. I am a boy.”
“No. That’s not fair. That’s not fair…”
I began bawling like an infant.
I was fragmented. Cut deep. Wounded. Split. My psyche strained under the force of being torn apart. I gave birth and was reborn simultaneously. Internally, I functioned in dual roles — bringing forth a new living thing and becoming a new living entity at the same time. I resurrected from something already dead. A part of myself was forcefully ejected, removed for good, and, concurrently, I was forced out of myself. Bearer and borne.
Between sobs and gasps for air, I said, “Mister Wildon, I don’t want to stay at your house no more. I don’t want to go inside. Don’t make me, please.”
“We’ll see, Little Eddie.”
“Mister Wildon, did you know Missus Wildon hated black people?”
“I knew she hasn’t seen a black person ever, in her entire life.”
“If she hasn’t seen a black person, then why’s she prejudice?”
“That’s a good question.”
When we drove into the driveway, Dad’s car was sitting there. Miss Ann was back. I was relieved.
“Wait, Little Eddie. I’ll see what’s going on. I’ll be right out. ”
I looked through the trees and saw the lake. In my mind I saw Edwin and me playing with his G.I. Joe and laughing. I remembered how Edwin acted when his mother told him to get in the car. Did he know his mother was prejudiced?
Lost in my thoughts I didn’t know Miss Ann had come to the car until I heard the back door open and she tossed my duffle bag into the back seat.
“Little Eddie, how are you doing?”
“I guess I’m okay.”
“I’m sorry you had to hear what my mother said.”
“Don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have been so nosey.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but what my mother said wasn’t right, Little Eddie. It wasn’t right. Being nosey or not. Listen, she wants to come out and say sorry. Is that okay?”
I took in a deep breath. I was scared. I really didn’t want to see her, and I really didn’t want to hear her voice. But then I thought about Mother and Dad. I thought about what they would want me to do. I knew saying no would be impolite. I didn’t want to be impolite, with no manners. I remember my mother talking about having dignity, which she said is acting like a gentleman and being polite even if you really don’t feel like it.
Staring at my feet, I said, “It’s okay.”
My magic sword leaning against the L-shaped boulder made me relax.
Missus Wildon had on the same dress she had been wearing since we got here. The same one she had on when we drove to the ice cream shoppe. Her arms swung back and forth and she was carefully coming up the slight incline to the car. She stopped a few feet away from the door and folded her arms. Her face and neck were red, and she was breathing hard as the window rolled down slowly.
“Little Eddie, I have to say I’m sorry that you heard what I said.”
“Missus Wildon, I thought you were a nice lady because we had ice cream and we liked The King. And I told you about Joann… I told you about my grades…” Heat flushed my cheeks. “I was going to tell my mother you were nice and I hoped you could meet her one day.”
Scorching anger erupted. “But you’re not a nice lady. I don’t like you, I don’t want to be your friend no more, I’m not your friend…”
Moans ignited and snot exploded out my nose and over my mouth. Saliva dripped down from my lips. Rapid moans forced my chest to fill and empty in fast succession.
Missus Wildon reached into her pocket to hand me a folded paper towel. My head swiveled, no.
“Go on, you need it. You’re making a mess.” She leaned closer and handed it to me.
The soft and thick paper towel smeared everything more than actually cleaning anything. However, having the wad of damp paper in my hand felt good.
“I’m sorry I was yelling at you. I know it isn’t polite to yell. I should always be polite. I’m sorry.”
“I accept your apology. That’s all right.”
“Why are you prejudiced, Missus Wildon.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m prejudice. I’m just not too used to being around certain type of people.”
“You called me a black monkey. That’s not fair. You’re a grown-up. I thought grown-ups don’t pick on little kids.”
“Little Eddie, I like you. You’re a good kid. You’re a real smart kid. You want to be a scientist. Listen, Edwin’s ma and I kid around about a lot of stuff. Some things we say to each other, privately, isn’t meant for others to hear. Some things we say to each other are downright mean. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings at all. Your dad is in the hospital and I wouldn’t do something like that on purpose. That would be awful. You might not believe me and I would understand it if you don’t. I understand. I do apologize. I’m going back inside now. I hope your father gets better soon and I hope everyone gets home safely.”
I looked into her eyes and a part of me wanted to believe her and a part of me felt she wasn’t being all the way truthful. She turned and walked away.
Miss Ann and I went to the hospital right after leaving her parents’ cottage. When we got there, visiting hours were over but the head nurse, who knew Miss Ann from high school, escorted us to his room just for a quick hello. His bear-like snore echoed down the quiet hospital hallway with its shiny floor that reflected, almost as clear as a mirror, the long lights on the ceiling.
When we got there, he was asleep, and the nurse thought it was best if we didn’t wake him just now. She told us he’d probably be getting out tomorrow, no later than the day after.
Miss Ann and I stayed at a little motel down the road from the hospital called the “Sleeping Moose.” You could see a big sign with flashing lights when we drove to it.
As we pulled in the driveway, there was a statue of a moose wearing pajamas and a sleeping hat, carrying a pillow under one arm, and holding a lantern in the other. The lantern wasn’t lit with fire but with a fancy bulb that flickered. I liked the moose because he looked a lot like Bullwinkle.
It was getting dark. The air was getting cooler fast. I was glad when we got inside and Miss Ann put on the heater and turned on the TV. There was a little table, and we sat at the table and she pulled out our McDonald’s and laid out napkins.
While Mark Spitz won another race, there was a knock on the door. Miss Ann stood and walked to the door and shouted, “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Esther. Edwin and I want to talk to Little Eddie.”
Miss Ann looked over to me. While my mouth was stuffed with French fries, my head nodded yes with enthusiasm. I would get a chance to see my new friend Edwin again.
The door creaked open. Edwin’s mother and Edwin walked in. Edwin had a big smile on his face, and I noticed he was carrying a different G.I. Joe. His mother, on the other hand, had an expression on her face like she had rocks in her shoe.
“Ann, long time no see. You came up for the funeral. My condolences.”
“Thank you, Esther.”
“Also, I want to apologize sincerely to this young man sitting here. I understand you go by the name Little Eddie.
“Little Eddie, I hear you were upset by what you heard, and I do wish to say I’m sorry. I didn’t know you overheard us. I asked Missus Wilson where you two were staying and I hope you don’t mind me stopping in. Do you?”
“No, ma’am, it’s okay.”
“I want to say, face to face, that I’m extremely sorry that you had to go through all that, and on top of it all, your father was laid up in the hospital after shooting himself in the leg. Have you seen him?”
“How’s he holding up.”
“He is doing fine and he’ll be getting out tomorrow at some point.”
“I’ve been praying for him after I’d heard what happened and I’ve really wanted to ask you to forgive me for saying such mean things about you. I’m a mother. Do you accept my apology?”
“Can I give you a hug, young man.”
Something in the way that woman hugged me made me cry, not because I was sad or upset, but her hug told me I would be okay, my daddy would be okay, and everyone in the room would be okay. She smelled like ivory soap.
“I know, sweetie, you’ve having a hard time.”
“I feel better now though.”
A backhanded swipe cleared dampness off my face. “Yes, and thanks.”
“Well, we aren’t finished yet.”
“Yes, Little Eddie.”
We both laughed.
“On account of what happened, I’m giving you a gift of friendship. Please take my G.I. Joe and this means we will be friends forever. You can have something to play with on your way home.”
“When my dad found out what happened, he suggested we get each other’s addresses and we can be pen pals.”
“That would be swell.”
The next day Dad was released. Before he got out of the hospital, I got to talk to my mother.
She asked me if I had made any new friends. I knew she would be furious if I told her what had happened, so I just told her I made a friend named Edwin and he gave me a G.I. Joe.
What made me conceal from her all that happened? Even now, as I sit down and write this all out, I honestly can’t say for sure.
Did I know for sure then? I don’t think so.
But something inside me told me to leave it alone. What fragmented part of me, what altered aspect of my being wanted or needed to conceal this from my mother? I can’t honestly say.
Dad had an affair years later with Miss Ann, or perhaps, as I think back, finally got caught and my parents got divorced.
Edwin and I stayed pen pals for at least nearly three years afterward. His last letter said that his father got a call to pastor a church in Buffalo, New York. He promised to write to me, but never did.
We found each other on Facebook recently. I had forgotten most of this but after linking up, those buried incidents filled my mind for weeks. Thus, I wrote it all out.
As fate would have it, Edwin is a preacher, and he lives in Maine. He married an African-American woman named Cecilia. They had a son and a daughter and have grandchildren now.
I swear I wanted to ask him about what took place years ago. How did he feel about it? Perhaps for clarity. Or perhaps just from plain old curiosity. But I didn’t. I couldn’t, for one simple reason, because it would not have been polite to dig it all back up.