Living Without Leaving a Stain

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Other stories in the set: Dude | Oxygen | Success

Hooky

The U-Haul truck had pulled out and left Vermont at dawn, and here now twelve hours later Ned is standing in front of a green shingle house on a cement sidewalk while Mom is inside the house shrieking.

The hallway was dark. There wasn't much light. The apartment contained just enough windows to satisfy the law. The place was built for people who'd come there because they couldn't afford anything else. The landlord hadn't even painted for the new tenants.

Mom's fingernails were broken and the plaster wall had long grooves dug into it, as though she had tried to scratch the entire event away: the move, the ride, the house, but all that happened was her nails broke. The shriek had been her realization that she could not scratch it away. The furniture was coming off the truck. Her husband hadn't kept his word.

He'd promised to leave the city. That was the main reason she'd married him. We'll leave New York City and never return. He'd said that.

The locals weren't poor hungry or poor without heat. Nobody was living in cardboard boxes. Everybody, in the neighborhood, had all the basic stuff: beds, chairs, tables, but not a thing was remarkable. They weren't the kind of furnishings that would be passed down to the next generation. You'd be lucky if the stuff held together until it was paid off.

    *

Wakey, Wakey

    *

It wasn't long before the family had a new routine . It started with an alarm clock. Mom had lots of alarm clocks. All set for seven a.m. This morning she was standing outside the door to Ned's bedroom with an old two-beller.

Mom had no room of her own. She spent the bulk of her waking time prowling the hallway or sitting in the bathroom. Dad had his office. The girls shared a room, and Ned had his tiny room: big enough for a bed and a dresser, but Mom had no space of her own.

She slept with her husband on a fold out couch in the living room. All that separated them from the street was a thin pane of glass. The pavement wasn't but a few feet away. The window sash was half rotten, and every time a truck went by the glass rattled.

"Turn the alarm off or I'm not moving. It really is annoying to have someone wake you up and cajole you into doing things you don't want to do." That's how Ned spoke to his Mom. He spoke through a closed door. He had disturbing memories of her touch. Each hug, came with a message. It was like she was cajoling him into doing something he had no desire to do.

"Are you hungry?" She asked looking so humble with her hair drawn back and a simple house dress, but she was a master of mayhem and strife. Mom always doing things on your behalf that you didn't ask for.

"Turn off the clock. I'm not goin' for awhile." The door to Ned's bedroom remained closed. She knew he would get upset if she opened the door. Her son's position would harden beyond reason. So Mom got as close as she could without opening. She stepped right up to it and was holding the alarm on the door. Ned could hear the bell banging against the wooden door.

"Going, not goin'. School doesn't start in a while. It starts in fifty-one minutes. The bus ride is twenty-six minutes, the walk to the bus stop six, and the buses only come every ten minutes. That requires forty-one minutes. That leaves only ten minutes for eating and washing."

Public School number Fifty-Six wasn't anything like Plato's Academy. It wasn't aspiring to be the academy. It was more like a factory. The teacher, Mrs. Gruenburg, wasn't all that scholarly. Sure she'd heard of Plato, but Ned doubted she'd read him. Gruenburg didn't have a lyrical bone in her body. It wasn't like Dad taking the daily stuff and trying to make you see something bigger. It was more like preparing the young for harness. Always letting you know, that they had the power to send you to places where you had to stand with your hands behind your back and wait for other people to tell you your fate.

Ned was pulled from his thoughts by a sudden squeak in the direction of the door. "Mother, remove your hand from the door knob, at once." Ned said it and meant it. He would throw things around the room and might smash the clock. He'd done it before. He really didn't want to be touched.

The door opened a crack, wide enough for her to slide a pair of pants on metal stretchers through.

Ned grabbed the pants, pulled them from his mother's hand, and slammed the door shut. "They're damp. I'm not going anywhere in damp pants. Turn that alarm clock off, or I'm going to step on it." Ned made the same kind of bouncing on the bedspring noises his father did. Mom removed her hand from the door knob and backed away. She moved toward the bathroom, her fort. Really the only room that could be called hers. Meaning she was the only family member who used it for purposes beside showering, bathing, peeing, pooing, or washing. She would lock the door and remain inside for long spells with the light out. That infuriated her husband. It somehow proved that she had problems: who beside a person with problems would sit on a toilet in a dark bathroom for hours.

Mom waited until Ned quieted down and then came closer to his door. She could not be silenced. "You don't understand the consequences of your behavior. Your father doesn't just read books, he went to school and received degrees. Without a diploma nobody will hire you."

"That's a lie, Mom. If I write a great book, they'll give me an honorary degree."

"Your father's great book is on draft four, and we don't have any savings. We had to ask Uncle Ben for money last month."

It wasn't as through one could argue Mrs. C down or wear her out. She had the selflessness of a saint, but was misguided, operating on false premises. She believed that if one spent most of their time doing things they didn't enjoy then they would be rewarded. Life, living well, requires taking a lot of foul tasting medicine.

But really Mom had a double message. On the one hand, she seemed to be trying to protect you and on the other, to torment you. Since the shriek the quality of the cooking and laundering had taken a definite decline. Mom had become a sneak, a rebel, whispering behind Dad's back and spoiling dinner. Something in the family fabric had been changed, torn, by the move. Mom was always unhappy. Valium had stopped the shrieking but it wasn't powerful enough to quell the insurrection. She had this way of pulling you away from what you where doing by saying all the things you didn't want to hear. It was enough to make one's head spin, really a torment. You couldn't get anything done with Mom hammering at you and the only way to stop her was to scare her. That's what Dad did. He'd threatened to smash what she had left of Vermont. It was one of those plastic domed things that you shake and the snow falls down on a little house on an idyllic road in the country. That's what she would do in the darkened bathroom. She'd sit on the toilet watching the snow fall on an imaginary road.

"The consequences," repeated Mom. Her words all mixed up with the alarm bells.

One knew better than to engage Mom, but it's hard to ignore somebody standing outside your door telling you things you don't want to hear. And after a while one couldn't simply be prudent. Doubts crept in, and you started to wonder if perhaps Mom was right or worse that Mom and you shared a similar disposition. The boy was struggling not to be Mom.

"The sanitation department requires a High School diploma."

"Dad has a PHD. He uses his brains, and we're poorer than a sanitation employee."

"Your father is crazy. He refuses to consult to private industry. He writes books that will get him fired. He left books here for you in front of the door."

"Slide them in, but do not try to touch me."

"Don't start reading. According to the principal, you are the only student to ever be failed for reading under his desk. You don't even bother to read the assigned book. That's what Mr. Johnston said."

"Turn that clock off. It's interrupting us. Dad is trying to write, I'm going to look over these books, and you're standing there making noises. Get the girls ready."

"The girls have gone."

"When the sun dries the pants I'll go. Meanwhile, I'll have a look at the books. Don't come through that door. Get your hand off the knob."

"I'm not doing this for me. All I wanted was a hug."

Ned flinched when she said that. He had bad memories of her touch. So bad that it dampened his interest in women and soured him. "I was considering going to school, checking into homeroom, but the more you talk, the more resolved I become to go to Flat Rock."

Ned had really meant it as a taunt or threat, but as soon as he said it he had an image of himself crossing Pantie Peek Bridge and entering the park. It had always been that way with him. When he saw himself doing something, he would do it.

Authority stopped on the south side of the bridge. The police only came if they where summoned. The Park was like the Heart of Darkness: outside the reach of the firm (reference?) and more or less controlled by a self proclaimed king, but it had something else too. When you started down the path toward Flat Rock, something heavy fell off, the air felt alive, and you started dreaming about voyages.

"You're stealing bicycles. All that stuff is stolen. You and Richie, the homosexual. Everyday that bike of yours has another part. A month ago, it was just a frame. Yesterday, you put on a seat. You're going to get caught. That's for sure. Your father doesn't know. Plenty Heap Dumb that's what PHD stands for. He doesn't even know what's going on around here. He doesn't think his little philosopher is a thief and a substance abuser. What did you do yesterday? The bike has a new seat and everyone else got a report card. You don't even bother forging them."

"The bikes are going to get us to the boat. Richie and I are going to ride them to Pelham Bay. His father said we could take the boat out by ourselves." Ned said that but he didn't quite mean it. It wasn't that simple. He didn't have the guts to go alone, and Richie wasn't all that enthusiastic. He liked the Park and the shops along Fordham road. It was the lack of courage that defined Ned's life, kept him and his mother from doing things that they wanted to do. That's what fear did. It grabbed you and held you, but knowing that didn't mean it stopped.

Richie's Dad had really panicked and come pretty close to running into a fifty foot steel-hull fishing boat. It had all seemed so easy on the way out of the marina, but once they'd cleared Condom Canyon and started out for Breezy Point, the fog came in. Both the Rockaways and Coney Island disappeared. They had no radio or compass. After that, Richie's Dad had never gone out. It wasn't so much the four hours they'd spent tied to a buoy, but that he'd come undone in front of the boys.

Ned thought back to what his father had said about fear: that beneath it was peace. That Vermont was something inside and when you could stand up and look over your fear and the way it exaggerated things, than you'd feel like you're in Vermont. But the Professor hadn't been in the fog. He'd been home in his office seated at his desk. Would he have been dashing around the boat like Richie's Dad hoping to spot land.

"All your jackets have special silk book-pockets sewn in by a tailor. Who pays for that; why do your books have to be in silk? We didn't buy you those jackets."

"Poverty is unacceptable."

"Your father didn't say that!"

"No, that's my idea. My dreams can't be limited by your economy. Your lack of funds is not my problem."

"Your father may not know how to write a check or where to get the money to put into a checking account, but he is a moral man. You could get a job after school. Work in the bike shop."

"Jobs are for people who have no imagination."

"I told your father you're too young to read Nietzsche. Did he say that? Your father never speaks like that."

"No Mom, Nietzsche was a poor professor like Dad. He didn't need a bike. I heard a guy in front of Stoobies grocery store say that."

"How could your father move us to a place like this. Does he know you're training to be a hoodlum."

"Dad is not affected by environment, barely knows where he is. He moves from his home office to the university and back."

"Every other kid with scholastic interests gets a library card and borrows books, but you steal hard bound editions. They've even given you a name: The Book. Well Mr. Book a hoodlum with a book is still a hoodlum. There aren't any Jewish people in a hundred miles and there hasn't been a Jewish hoodlum since Lepki. He got the electric chair."

"When you get that little boat out in the bay and turn off the motor and drift around with the wind blowing on your bare feet than you feel like you're in Vermont." Ned always whispered when he spoke about the boat.

The boat was a secret. Ned and Richie were sure if anyone knew, they'd would sink her out of spite. It was not a neighborhood where people's triumphs were celebrated. Triumphs made everyone miserable. They made the other guys feel stuck.

But Mom liked hearing her son talk about the boat. She knew he missed Vermont. That was something special between them. This whispering about the boat. It was all they had left.

"Does this boat have life preservers?" She asked, but it was a different kind of query, nurturing. Ned believed she was trying to improve the odds and believed the journey to be an important one. That was what they had: whispering about ways out, but the peace never lasted long, just long enough to recall that it existed.

"Of course Mom, we're takin' the coast guard safety course."

"It’s taking not takin'. Last warning get up or I'm coming in." It was as though Mom had not heard herself. Her fear overwhelmed her faith in her son. In a heartbeat she resumed badgering. She was relentless. Mom went too far; she made it hard to feel her love.

The more she spoke the smaller the room felt. There wasn't much space left after putting in the bed, dresser, and a few shelves-- the left over piece served as Ned's desk. He'd sit on the bed and put the board on his thighs when he was writing in the journal. School and books where two separate things. He loved books and hated school almost as much as his mother hated her husband for giving the boy the wrong books.

The boy couldn't help but see that the move had devastated Mom. She'd gotten in that truck kind of a fizzy-haired amateur organic gardener who got around on a bike and gotten out a greasy haired lunatic in baggy house dress, pale from lack of sun and wilting, but it would take more than his wife going off the deep end to deter Dad, opportunities like this only came once in a lifetime. Besides life on a dirt road on the outskirts of Burlington had been a little slow, maybe too much of a good thing.

"You're starting to talk like a working class kid. It's not havin' a good time. It's having a good time. What kind of work do you think that kind of speech will get you? A Coca Cola delivery route."

"A glass of orange juice might just help me out of bed and over the hump.?”

"You took drugs last night. That's why you can't move."

"My pants are damp. That's the problem. Have you ever gone out in damp pants on a cold morning. Its horrible. If you'd really wanted me to go, you shouda had the pants ready."

"Should have. That talk makes me ill.”

"Dad said . . ."

"Your father can barely keep a roof over our heads. Look where we're living, and you're starting to talk like them and steal." Her voice kept rising and there was a tremble like if she revved any higher something was going to snap.

But the boy too was fighting to hold onto something. He couldn't let himself believe she was right. It lead him away from everything that inspired him. It was more than school. It was compromise. Dad had said every time you compromise, you shrink, lose part of yourself that enables you to navigate and at a certain point you've compromised so much that you ask other people's opinions and start looking at models instead of doing things your way. The boy understood that his father had compromised so much that his freedom was restricted to his head. That's why he'd become shaped like a chair.

His father married before he could afford it. The boy didn't respect that. He felt as though it showed some kind of weakness or greediness taking more than you could gracefully control. He wanted his father to lead him out. Getting lost in the fog had really shaken Ned. The boy wanted from his father the one thing he couldn't give or wasn't interested in giving. It amounted to the same. Dad wasn't leaving his chair or his wife.

"Don't you want to get back to Vermont. Every night I lay awake trying to hear the sound of the woods over the cars. Sometimes I can hear a stream in a passing car. I grew up in a neighborhood like this. People get old at twenty. You could be an oceanographer. Now get up."

The volume of Mom's voice had exceeded the Disturb-Dad-Octave. The worst crime in the house was disturbing Dad. You knew he was mad when he shut down his typewriter. He had an IBM typewriter with so many hours on it that the keys banged into the paper and the electric motor made as much noise as a refrigerator. Even the neighbors knew when Dad shut it down. The police had come more than once to tell him to stop typing because the neighbors couldn't sleep. A second after shutdown, the door to the office flew open, and Mom fled; she locked herself in the bathroom.

Dad had never hollered in Vermont. Nevermind actually giving Mom a bloody nose. It had come about in the sudden way that all violent encounters do. It hadn't been that way and suddenly it was.

The professor had never struck his wife in Vermont. The situation never pointed in that direction. It was hard to say exactly where the violence came from, but people in that little corner of the Northeast Bronx where very explosive. It was ugly. The houses where ugly, the streets where treeless, jobs where tenuous, and people drank. Mr. Dad punched Mrs. Mom in the nose. It bled. The girls were gone, but Ned saw it.

The professor and his son had looked at each other for a long time while Mom held a towel pressed to the bridge of her nose. The men were confused. The father felt as though the boy should have defended his mother, and the boy had seen something in Dad he didn't know was there like somehow all his knowledge hadn't made him smart. Afterwards Mom spent a lot of time on the toilet staring at that snow covered lane inside that plastic bubble, making imaginary snowfalls, and crying. You could hear her when you walked by.

When Dad sat down on the bed, it no longer mattered where you were. Adventure was around the corner. There were no dead ends.

The Professor was glad to see his son reading, satisfied that the boy was reading the books he choose, not that Harry, Dick, and Jane stuff the school assigned, but substantial books that survived the test of time. Delighted that not only was his son reading important books but finding himself within them in a way that he the father could not. The boy read slowly, deliberately and looked for examples in the world. He was learning to think.

"Dad in the Indian Cave down in Bronx Park. There are new paintings right alongside the old ones, and the pile of rocks in front of the opening are gone. Anyone can look inside."

"Down in" what does that mean?" interjected Mom from behind the door. She had left the bathroom when she heard her husband sit down on the bed. She wasn't going to let an opportunity pass. Either her husband would have to deal with her or spend his morning standing outside the bathroom door in which case he'd be unable to put more poison in the boy's head.

"Are they copies?" It took a lot to get Dad mad. He could ignore Mom for as much as half an hour, as long as he could continue his lecture. So one-liners where acceptable. Mom could make interstitial remarks. And then all would be so to speak normal. Mom would be pacing the hall, getting more frenetic as it became certain that her son wasn't going to school and his father didn't seem to care. Dad would make his points, and the boy would after getting the points start to feel a desire to be outdoors. something that neither of his parents seemed to feel. It was unmistakable. The air was saying enough talking. Ned's eyes started focusing on the window instead of Dad. The symptoms were clear. The boy wasn't built for school or normal work. It wasn't something he'd gotten from either of his parents. It belonged to him. None of the relatives were like that.

The boy answered his father. "No, the paintings depict the battle with Bonus for the cave. They're finger paintings done in glossy car paints. The large figure is falling down the waterfall, and the small figure is peering at him from atop."

"Wow, that's fantastic. A man with no learning. Not any education suddenly hears the Delphic Oracle. . ."

"Socrates was ordered to know himself," answered the son, proud to know the answer his father had taught him to give. It all had to do with seeing yourself, being conscious of yourself although you had no eyes to do so.

"He wrote something underneath the painting with Bonus going over the fall. He dipped his fingers in the paint and wrote: Now I can hear the falls."

Dad didn't know if those words where something Johnnie wrote or something his son wished Johnnie had written, but one thing he did know was that the difference between Johnnie and his son was that Johnnie had gone out alone and done what he dreamt of. His boy didn't have the confidence.

The Professor had been thinking about his career when he chose to move from Vermont. The offer from a prestigious University for a tenure track position was all he'd been thinking about. He'd never imagined his wife and son would be looking for Vermont under the rug, behind a lamppost, or in a candy store. Mom was caught between her fear of her husband and the need to tell her son important things, set him on the right course. She felt that if she restrained herself from speaking, her husband, the brilliant PHD, would send the boy down the wrong track, and it was her maternal duty to intervene.

"Johnnie Bromo is not a hero; he's a thug reigning over a territory that belongs to the City of New York. We're not talking Heart of Darkness here we're talking about a bunch of truants hanging around outside the reach of the law.

"Have you told your father about the only girl who goes to Flat Rock, Mary Ann Dogless. That's how they call her because she always wanted a dog, and her parents refused to get her one. So she sits all day at Flat Rock with the zipper to her jeans locked shut by a matrix of safety pins telling everyone about the dog she doesn't have. That's the kind of girl our son knows."

The professor's voice changed. He chose to treat his wife as a student who was pulling the class onto an irrelevant tangent, a point of view not worth considering. He went on saying the same thing, working his way through his thoughts but the undertone had changed. He was angry. His excitement about finding an example of the Art Spirit in Bronx Park had been pushed aside to make room for a warning to his wife to remain silent and not intervene. The warning was contained in the timbre of his voice and underlined by making the bed springs creak as though he were preparing to lunge. "That's right. Johnnie is very interesting. He invents himself. First he took control of the park and now in the solitude of success he has begun to wonder who he is, but he has no culture, no education so he is imitating what is at hand. He's using stone age tools. "

While Dad was speaking the breathing behind Ned's door had become more agitated, almost frantic. "If an education is so important, than why aren't you insisting that your son go to school. It's nine fifteen. Attendance has been taken and first period has begun."

The Professor continued, but he stood, suddenly. Mom scurried down the hall, took up a position half way between the bathroom and the door to her son's room. She stood on point waiting to see if the door to Ned's room would open. She remained at the midway point. Either the door would open and she would scurry into the bathroom or the bed springs would creak and she'd advance to the bedroom door.

Dad sat down and continued as though nothing had happened. "At times entire cultures, as happened in Renaissance Italy, give themselves to the creative impulse. At other times, individuals under certain circumstances which would be hard to generalize without sounding trite, invent themselves. Johnnie has begun to wonder who he is. He's pulling himself out of himself so he can get a look. That's fantastic."

The professor had become engrossed in his thoughts and forgotten about his wife, but Mom never missed an opportunity; she was always on point. "Gabe is next. Mr. Bromo won't fight him hand to hand. No, he'll zing him from a tree with the slingshot. Stun him and push him over the waterfall. That's how he killed Bonus. Gabe should not be telling everyone that Johnnie is scared of him."

Dad didn't have a clue as to how Mom knew things although Ned had begun to suspect Richie. He suspected what his father could not even imagine: that Richie was selling gossip and barbiturates to Mom. She had accurate information about a place where adults were never seen. You could always tell when she hit her mark because everyone would get real quiet. Mom's imagination was fantastic. She could have made a fortune in Hollywood. She loved dopey stories with happy endings and wanted everything to be phony like the movies.

Dad couldn't help himself ; he really got excited in a childlike way whenever anything interesting was said. All you had to do was throw him something to chew on. "Johnnie is undermining the bully culture that's the reason Gabe wants to fight him. All the kids whose lunch money he has stolen, the drug dealers he's robbed, and the guys he's beat up in front of their girl friends are starting to use J.B.'s tactics. Hand to hand combat is going out of style."

Dad was right. Gabe couldn't walk down the street any longer without a flower pot falling off a roof, a rock flying out of nowhere, or somebody offering him free drugs. All the dealers had special Gabe pills filled with everything from mercury knocked out of thermometers to arsenic. Kids were running when he was still half a block away. They weren't trying to be brave. Instead they'd circle around. A kid named Happy, who Gabe had shaken down in front of his girlfriend, threw a cherry bomb at his head. They say it made him deaf in the left ear. Gabe couldn't run very fast. He was built like a fire hydrant.

Gabe felt no pain. Everyone knew. He'd fought the martial arts guy on the basketball court in front of the entire neighborhood. The guy kicked Gabe as hard as he could right in the middle of the forehead, and his foot shattered. Everyone heard it. A bump started growing out of Gabe's head but he just kept on coming. The Kevlar Man ground the guy's knee into pulp.

"Gabe will end in the dungeon; he'll be stoned to death, and a hundred people will come to his funeral."

Dad had lost his track. It wasn't so much his wife's attempt at prophecy, but his son. He could see the boy wanted to escape but he didn't have the courage to go alone. The boy didn't like the indoors, yet he was staying in the house although it made him squirmy. It had always been that way. When he'd been an infant they had to take him outdoors to quiet him: neither the father or mother were like that. "Have you ridden the bike to the boat?" Dad asked, trying to recover the intimacy with his son that the strife with his wife or maybe really his reaction to his wife's badgering had ruined. He even felt somehow justified in using the word badgering. This wasn't a case of emotional inflation.

"You mean, the stolen bike," interjected Mom.

"Dad, its not like going to Stoobies or riding in Richie's Dad's car. The trip is a big deal. Parts are still needed; things are far from perfect break pads, a proper set of bearings for the front fork and gas money. Cash is the hardest thing to get one's hands on."

Dad's body didn't move when the boy said that. You couldn't tell what he was feeling by looking at him, but his thoughts where in a tizzy. His son wasn't asking for money. He knew his father had none. He was figuring out how to steal it. The father hadn't imagined thief. He'd been thinking about something more intellectual, a life of the mind.

"That's was the boy's answer, but it didn't nearly express the full extent of his apprehension, the fear of getting lost, made him tremble. He wanted his father to stop talking and lead the way.

Ned was really trying to get to the point where he felt certain that they would not get lost. Reaching this point of surety was his primary mental occupation. There were some rough neighborhoods between here and there.

"The homosexual. Does your father know that your best friend performs fellatio on Gabe in front of an audience. Or like everyone else he feels as though Mr. Richie is beyond reproach because he carries a knife and is so willing to use it. Is this the friend we are discussing? Is Mr. Book just killing time here until his tailor opens?"

"Do you have a map? A route and compass would help."

Dad really tried to remain out of the fray. It wasn't his fault that his wife's opinion was not really the opinion of the household members as a whole but really the opinions of Mom and perhaps the girls. Mom was all resistance and difficulties while Dad had this way of bringing the day into focus. It was like he helped you to recall what was most important and tried his best to give you the tools to pursue your wish. For certain Ned would awake tomorrow to a book on navigation borrowed from the university library, but Ned wanted to own a map and compass. He could see the maps, on a rack near the cashier at the Coliseum bookstore on Fifty-Seventh street. The compass was behind the counter at the Army Navy store.

"How do you think the little philosopher will acquire that compass?"

"We might get lost. There are a lot of question marks and uncertainties such as the exact route to the marina, how much oil in the fuel.

"Oh we're back to your friend. Mr. Bound for an assembly line position if he's lucky enough to find one. Has he been arrested yet?"

"That's your fear talking: the world is flat and you might fall off. Imaginary fears are easy to recognize; they're too perfect."

"Dad, when I get scared I feel like I will never get home nothing will ever be familiar again. I can't even remember the way to the boat."

The father knew his son was talking about his escape, working up to the moment when he would have the courage to take his voyage. His eyes where darting around like he was looking for a hole in the wall to crawl through or a window to pop out of.

"Most people do their boating after work or school; they don't sit around discussing it when they should be in school first period is over. Students are on their way to second."

Dad bristled with fury and more or less sprung from the bed, but Mom was quicker. As soon as she heard the timbre of the bed springs change, she fled down the hall, and took her position between the bathroom and Ned's door waiting to see how far her husband would go.

It really wasn't like Ned was thinking about putting on his shoes. It was more like he could no longer remain where he was that he could not understand why the other family members would remain in such a place. He couldn't say. I made a choice, but he was thinking about Bronx River a place where you could throw a rock without getting into trouble.

Ned's pants no longer felt damp. He was thinking that as soon as he crossed Pantie Peek Bridge, the nauseous feeling would pass. He wouldn't be wondering if Dad was going to punch Mom in the nose for ruining the lecture. That's what he'd do. He'd go to his little spot just south of flat rock. He'd sit by the Stepping Stone and read about navigation.