Author’s note: The first two of the following pages appear in almost the same form in the children’s book: Herb. The story, after the first two pages, follows a completely different path.
Jimmy, Super Kid.
“It’s filling up, the whole house is going to explode!” my little sister shouts at the top of her lungs. My father, taking his sweet time, gets out of our light blue with a white stripe 1954 Chevy Bel Air with a power glide transmission. He strolls over to the front of our house and feels along the edge of the door. He knocks on the door at about eight inches above the porch floor, then at a foot, then at eighteen inches and then two feet.
“It’s up to here”, my father says with his hand about twenty inches above the threshold.
“How can a house hold that much water?” my mother who is just inches behind my father asks, she looks around the edge of my father but makes sure to keep him between her and the house.
“She’s a well built house”, my father responds with more than just a little pride, “and we built her strong and tight. We will need something to bust a hole in the side. That door will never open against all that weight.” I leave the three of them standing around the front door and walk around to the back yard. The back door opens out. I climb the two steps to the back porch and walk up to the back door. Water is leaking at the bottom and up both edges to about twenty inches high. I pull and twist on the doorknob. It’s locked. I pull and twist once more, just to make sure. The door blows open, almost taking my hand with it. A wall of water knocks me flat and then carries me across the back yard, all the way to the fence seventy feet away. And then, as quickly as it had come the water is gone. I walk the seventy feet, across wet grass, back to where I had been standing only seconds before and go into the house, through the kitchen and down the hall and into the bathroom. I turn off the water running into the bathtub and pull the plug so the tub can drain. I walk farther down the hall into our front room and open the front door.
“Welcome home”, I say to my mom, dad, and sister. All three of them give me the wide-eyed stare I have become accustomed to. I walk to the smallest bedroom, the one at the end of the hall. My bed is still dry on top, there is some water wicking into the mattress and the box springs are still dripping onto the water logged carpet but the top of the mattress is dry. I kick off my wet shoes, pull my wet socks off and lay down on my back on top of my bed in my wet and muddy clothes. It’s good to be home. I sleep through hours of shop vac vacuuming and loads of tumble-drying. By the time I wake up most of the crying and accusing is over. I get out of my wrinkled clothes, take a quick shower (I never take a bath) and walk down the hall to the kitchen. My mother is still cleaning up a few things in the kitchen sink.
“About time you woke up”, she says as soon as she sees me. “You’ve managed to miss most of the clean-up work.”
“Good morning Mother”, I give her a quick hug from behind her, my arms just reach around her waist. On the way out the back door I let the wooden screen door slam just a little. Heroes do not do clean-up work.
We live on Cedar Street and the walk into town is lined with cedar trees, forty feet apart with branches just touching. I would like to meet the person in charge of such careful city planning. The concrete sidewalk is six feet away from the curb and gutter that is next to the asphalt road. Within the six feet the cedar trees grow and the city mows the grass that grows between them, so it’s like a long skinny park everyone owns. I can walk on the grass if I want to and no old guy from his porch can holler at me to keep off. Today I walk on the four foot wide concrete sidewalk being careful to keep off the lines that mark off two by two foot squares and I never step on cracks – no need to invite calamity. The road through town was dug up a few years ago and replaced with red bricks in a herringbone pattern. Out of the same red bricks planters were built that are now filled with flowers and small trees. The cars have all been diverted to parking lots behind the stores, bicycles are still allowed. I notice a group forming in front of the used bookstore, which just happens to be where I’m headed. I nudge a tall, six foot nine, a hundred and sixty pound guy in the back of the crowd. He has a clear view. Being nine years old and four foot tall all I can see is backs and bottoms. He turns and misses me altogether.
“Down here”, I say while tugging on his shirtsleeve. He looks down through rimless glasses and finally focuses on what must look like the proverbial ant, me. “What’s going on?” I ask.
“Mr. Allen is being held at gunpoint – he came in early and interrupted a thug robbing his shop,” he said stopping to breathe three times.
“And why are we all just standing here?” I ask with just a little bit of wonder.
“The police – are coming,” he said like that explained everything. I work my way past him and in and out until I make it to the front of the thirty or so people who have gathered to watch poor Mr. Allen. Through the front window he can be seen standing behind his sales counter. He looks small and old pushing himself hard against the wall trying to keep himself as far away from the over-weight man with a gun as he can. Mr. Allen stares without blinking straight at the gun’s black barrel. I push open the thick glass door; the crowd behind me lets out a unison gasp.
“Mr. Allen, I’ve come about the new Flash comic book.” I look at Mr. Allen like nothing is going on and speak in a casual, calm voice.
“Jimmy, get back, there’s a man with a gun.” Mr. Allen is a friend and he’s looking out for me but, right now, I just don’t need looking after. I give Mr. Allen a knowing nod. I turn and look at the man with the gun. I jump a little when I see him, pretending I haven’t seen him standing there.
“What do you plan to do with that gun?” I ask, like I really want to know. I walk a little closer to the man as I speak and point my finger almost touching the gun still pointed at Mr. Allen.
“I was looking for money or something to sell,” he said quietly, almost apologetically.
“It’s too late for that”, I state, very matter-of-factly, without a hint of doubt. “Put the gun on top of that pile of books”, I take my eyes off him for a split second and look at the top of the pile of books a few feet from where he stands. He places the gun on the books and looks down at the ground. “Sit in that chair by the door and wait for the police, they should be here in less than ten minutes”, he sits as I walk over to the counter behind which Mr. Allen is still pressed against the wall. “Did the new Flash come in while I was on vacation?” Mr. Allen relaxes and leans on the counter like he usually does; his usual smile comes back too. He reaches under the counter.
“I saved you a copy, Jimmy, It’s an especially good episode, lots of very fast moving”, Mr. Allen says, he still wasn’t quite ready for conversation. “Thank-you Jimmy”, he says nodding toward the dejected man on the chair near the glass door.
“No Problem”, I say and turn toward the door. I nod at the thug in the chair and push open the door. Light applause erupts as the crowd makes a path for me – they are already standing. My next stop will be Woolworths; I need refills for my Pez dispenser.
A creek runs across our town, a kid from somewhere south of here called it a canal once, he was quickly put in his place, it’s a creek. Most places along the creek if you roll up your pants legs you can cross without much trouble but there are a few pools here and there that are deep enough to swim in – but we don’t, too much green slime. A single person wide path runs along the water on each side, this time of year the grass grows in patches here and there, in the water and beside the water, waist high – if your waist is as high off the ground as mine. The path goes up and down, takes detours around thick clumps of green and the larger rocks. Every once in a while water trickles in from some pipe or a drainage ditch and requires a jump, sometimes a run and a jump, just don’t land on slippery clay! If you’re in a hurry it would be best to stay on the sidewalk next to the street less than a hundred feet away. But the creek is always a good place to spend a summer’s day.