Sometimes Saturdays go awry.
Tommy Thornsberry leaned back and smiled. His young face partially illuminated by the morning light sliding through the cracks of the worn porch boards over head. He had been building road ways and streets in the dry and dusty dirt for nigh on twenty minutes. Now his play world of twisting streets and roadways lay about him. He sat at the center of his creation and surveyed the limits of his imaginary control. Putting aside his constuction tool, a one by two inch piece of wood, Tommy picked up his car, another block of wood, and slowly drove down one of the roads.
"Rrrrrrrrrrr", he quietly mimicked the sound of an automobile, as he turned on his knees and wiped a strand of spider web from his face. He continued on with his Saturday morning drive. Carefully negotiating the boundaries of his perfectly constructed highways until his fantasy was interrupted by the muffled thunder of foot steps over head.
"Tooooommy!" she yelled, "Have you got my wash water yet?"
He didn't move.
"Tommy! I know you're already up so you better answer, or have a switch ready when I find you!"
The screen door to the back porch screeched open. Tommy scooted out from under
the front porch like a Rabbit on the first day of hunting season. In mid-stride he
picked up the bucket of water he had left setting on the front porch steps and
opened the front screen door just as his mother came in from the back.
"G'morning Momma, I didn't know you were up yet," he panted, "This is the last bucket of your wash water. I already carried in five buckets this morning."
Sally Martin towered over her eldest child, surveying his dirty knees and hair laced with spider webs, and mocked him.
"G'morning Momma", she spat, "I been working real hard carrying water, my ass!" She struck Tommy across the top of his head with her open hand. The blow was hard enough that he staggered against the door frame causing water to slosh from the bucket across his mothers feet. Seeing her face turn red, Tommy dropped the bucket and covered his head with his arms. The last bucket of water for the Saturday morning wash flooded across the worn green and brown patterned linoleum.
"Momma, I'm sorry. I'm sorry Momma." Tommy yelled. Sally's second blow struck Tommy's left shoulder knocking him into the corner by the front door. For ten long seconds the mother slapped and hit her twelve-year old son.
"I have told you time and time again to stay out from under that porch!" she grunted between slaps, "And what do you do? Huh?! You think you can fool me? I'll show you what a fool feels like!"
The sounds of Tommy crying and pleading for his mother to stop multiplied as his little sister Angie and brother Petey, now awakened and cringing in the hallway, joined in.
From the back bedroom, as the crying crescendoed, Jimmy Martin contributed to the madness by shouting, "Sally, you better shut them young'ns up, cause if I have to get up I'll bury every damn one of you in the backyard!".
Sally grabbed Tommy by the arm and roughly pulled him against her. Her face twisted with rage, she whispered harshly, "You get the mop and the mop bucket. You clean this mess off my floor. Then you pack in the rest of my damn wash water. And if I get in trouble with my husband because of your big mouth I'll show you what a whuppin really feels like." Forcing him to look at her she growled, "You understand me little boy?"
"Yes Momma," Tommy gasped.
Turning to Angie and Petey, Sally softened, "Angie honey, everythings alright now. Your big brother just broke the rules of the house baby, that's all. Come here and give Momma a big hug and then you and little Petey go on back to bed, Ok?"
As Angie and Petey snuffled and scurried back to the bedroom, Sally pleadingly reassured Jimmy she had everything under control.
"Everythings alright hon'. My oldest just spilt some water that's all. Soon as he cleans it up he's gonna go to the store and get us something for lunch."
Sally stepped around the water on the floor, went into the kitchen and came back with a piece of wrinkled brown paper and a stubby pencil. In less time than it takes to draw a bucket of water from a well she wrote out a short list of groceries, tossed sandy blonde hair back from her eyes, and handed it to Tommy.
"You tell Alice to put this on my charge account and get back here in one hours time. Then, I want you out of this house for the rest of the day. You understand me?" she said to Tommy.
"Yes Momma. I'll hurry right back," Tommy said as he wiped his eyes.
Taking a firm hold of his elbow she said, "If you aint back here in the time I just told you, by-God I'm gonna give you something else to cry about! You got that?" Sally shook his arm until Tommy nodded his head yes.
Standing, Sally wiped hair from her face and walked into the hallway to the bedroom. Stopping to adjust her bra she glanced back at her son. A look of grief and pain clutched her face for a brief moment as she whispered, "If your Daddy had stayed with me you might have turned into a good young'n."
Tommy brought in the last bucket of wash water about fifteen minutes later. Though he had mopped up the water, he stopped to make sure the living room floor was good and dry before leaving. As he was quietly pulling the door closed behind him he heard his mother and step-father laughing in the back bedroom.
His warm weather wardrobe was always a too small white t-shirt, blue jeans a size too big, and worn-out, dirty-white deck tennis shoes - no socks. He ran the one-quarter mile out of Logan Branch to the main Rock Creek road.
Tommy watched the clouds as he walked the pot-holed Rock Creek road. It was a clear, beautiful, spring morning. One of those when the sky is so colorful and the clouds so white they seem to glow like something out of a picture book. For a few moments Tommy lost himself in the structures of the clouds. He wondered about their origin and was awed by the shear size of their spectacle. Nothing like a beautiful mystery to help one forget about hurting. His step became light and his heart briefly soared above his head when the pick-up truck blew it's horn right beside him. He jumped so high that when he came down his heart was back in his chest and beating really hard. The truck stopped and the door swung open.
"Where you going, Peanut!" the driver bellowed over the blaring radio as he slapped his knee and doubled over with laughter.
"Boy, I scared you good didn't I?" he gasped still laughing.
Tommy couldn't answer. He was still shaking and embarrassed for jumping.
"Get on up here son, just cause you can don't mean you gotta walk everywhere you go!"
Tommy grabbed the door handle, stepped on the running board and jumped into the cab of the old truck dragging the door closed behind him.
"You're gonna have to slam it a little harder than that, Peanut. That old door's 'bout ready to fall off just any time now!"
Tommy opened the door to comply as the truck started up. He pulled it to as hard as he could then gave his full head of dark brown hair a short toss to the left, clearing it from his vision.
"There you go I believe you got it that time!"
Lester Allen Mullins was fairly new to the neighborhood. Someone had nick-named him 'Tater' because he was often seen eating potato chips. He seemed to never be able to carry any conversation without hollering. And he had the annoying habit of acting like every word he had to say was the most important thing in the world. Tommy would just as soon be back out on the road enjoying the clouds, but there was something in his raising that would not allow him to say no to a grown-up. Tommy had never ridden with Tater before. His truck rattled noisily. The radio was too loud, and it smelled like gasoline and old oil. The seats were dirty and looked greasy. A variety of car parts lay on the floor and on the seat between the boy and the driver. Lester himself was a big boned, large man, over six feet tall.
"How you been doing Peanut!" Tater's Jack-O-Lantern face shouted at him, "Are you gettin' any scratch fer your rooster? Talk to me now! What's it like being a young man with all these good looking women running 'round?"
"I, uh....." embarrassed and turning red Tommy looked out the window and watched as the truck rode past old man Bill Lawson's corn patch.
"That's what I thought! Peanut you aint gettin' none are you? Where you goin' anyway, Cincinnati?"
"That's what I thought. You're probably goin' up there to watch the Reds play some baseball today aint ye! Did you know I used to live in Cincinnati......"
"Tater you know I aint going to no Cincinnati!"
Tater howled with laughter, "I got'cha didn't I Peanut! Boy I done made you mad now!"
The truck was passing over the one lane bridge into town. Tommy, blushing beet red and glad his ride was about over said, "Just let me off on the corner."
"Oh, I know what'ch you gonna do now!" Tater shouted, "You going to the pool room and shoot some straight stick with the big dogs!" He stopped the truck at the corner. Tommy hopped out and turned to slam the door.
"Thanks for the ride Tater," he muttered.
"No problem Peanut!" Tater shouted, and pretending to whisper he said, "I'll be goin' back up the holler here in a little bit in case you need a ride. Maybe I can help you figure out what to do with that little rooster of yourn!"
Lester drove away cackling. Tommy thought he sounded like Woody Wood-Pecker gone mad.
For his young age Tommy Thornsberry had sad blue eyes that never sparkled even when he laughed. He was not an unattractive child and so was never the subject of ridicule because of some body part that may have stood out as being too large or too small. Still, he didn't quite fit in at school. He was a bit above the average, but quick to be bored, and so rarely ever applied himself to academic challenges. He was twelve going on thirty-three, shy, polite to a fault, and was often seen rambling about when most folks were home.
On this morning Tommy had no time to ramble. His mom had sent him to the store with strict instruction to be back home within one hour. Still standing on the corner he looked longingly to his right and down the street at the dark inner chamber of the open pool room door and thought of how cool it would feel in there this morning. He loved the cool temperature and underground feel of the place; the antique smell of the tables and chalk. He liked the slow pace of the every day customers who never seemed to have any other places to go. "If you aint back here in the time I told you by-God I'm gonna give you something else to cry about!" he heard his mother saying. He gingerly touched a bruise under his left eye, sighed, and took off toward the store.
Leonard Johnson's two-storied stone house sat next to Hall's grocery store. An alley no wider than a large man's shoulders ran between the house and the store. It was usually filled with rain puddles and trash. This morning was the same with one exception. A large man was actually in the alley leaning against the side of the house. He was about three feet back in the shadow. Tommy noticed his feet first; glancing up he recognized Michael Gibson. His head tilted back as he drank from a large green bottle of Mennon's Aftershave. For Tommy it was like seeing a rabbit with horns. He couldn't help but stare. He watched with astonishment as the green liquid disappeared into Michael's mouth and wondered why in the world would anyone want to drink that stuff. Mr. Gibson was Tommy's favorite substitute teacher. He was always really nice and had bought him chocolate milk once. Mr. Gibson suddenly flung the empty bottle and it clattered to pieces down the alley. He gasped for air as he leaned over and banged his head against the concrete block of the store. Saliva dripped from his mouth as his face tightened into a grimace of pain. He suddenly looked up. Tommy heard him say, "Oh, God no.", as he ran up the steps of the store hoping Mr. Gibson had not recognized him.
Twenty minutes later Tommy was walking across the blue metal bridge that spanned Duck's Creek on his way home. A brown paper bag was curled up in his left arm loaded with a loaf of Heiner's bread, a pound of thick-sliced Balogna, a small jar of Mayonnaise, and a pack of Oreo cookies. He carried a cold but sweating, glass gallon jar of milk in his right hand. Every now and then he would stop to rest his arm and to look at the clouds over-head.
On the other side of the bridge Yellow Poplar, Pin Oak, and Elm trees lined each side of the roadway. One blinking red tail light was barely visible through the low hanging branches and leaves on the left side of the road. As Tommy drew closer and saw that it was Tater's old truck he began angling across the road, but not soon enough.
"Hey, there Peanut." Tater stepped out of the truck waving a magazine. "Have you read the latest Spiderman book?"
"No I aint seen it, but I got to get on home right now my Momma's waiting on me."
"Oh well, jump on in and I'll give you a quick ride up the creek. We can split a stick of Juicy Fruit whatta you say?" Tater was now walking beside him. "Besides all that we got a big ol' thunder storm comin' our way. You don't want to get wet now do you?" Just as Tommy realized Tater wasn't talking really loud he felt his big hand close around his elbow.
"Here I'll take that milk and set it right here in the truck bed while you climb on up inside." Tommy felt his feet leave the ground as Tater picked him up and threw him into the front seat. The left side of his head crashed against something hard and wet. His small body went limp. His shirt crumpled up under his arms. One shoe had fallen off.
Tommy was dreaming when he woke up. He dreamed that he was in a small dark room and he was not alone. Something else was in there with him. It filled the little room with malice without shape; without name; without face. He could feel the hatred pressing against his skin. His mouth was wet with fear. It tasted like lead and mud. This literal dream presence existed for no other reason than to intimidate and dominate and kill him. He didn't dare to move even one muscle for fear this thing would begin to tear his arms and legs from his body. How could he ever survive with so much fear that there was no longer room for himself? He now lay on the floor without arms and legs, unable to move, afraid to breathe for the worst had yet to happen. He didn't know what it was that would happen but he knew that it would. He wanted to hide his head and face. But he no longer had hands. He suddenly had to jump; to move himself away from this horror. The pressure and desperation was too much. And when he did move it spoke. Like rocks grinding it growled unintelligible words. Tommy screamed.
A loud explosion slammed into the small room and the monster screamed. Tommy sat up. Lester Mullins was wrapped around and over the drivers' side door of his old truck. He looked like he was trying to crawl on top of the vehicle. A shattered white bone was sticking out of Lester's upper right arm. It was waving about.and spewing blood in all directions. The rest of his arm was gone.
"Noooooooo!" Lester screamed between gutteral sobs as thunder crashed overhead. Lightning crackled and large drops of rain began to slowly splash about.
Then Tommy saw Mr. Gibson. His face as white as the bone of Lester's upper arm. He was trembling so hard the shotgun he held was literally waving at Lester.
"I should........ have killed....... you... you sorry sonofabitch!" Mr. Gibson gasped the words. "That's my booooooooy!" he screamed long and painfully, sinking to his knees, "My son you were violating!" The shotgun fired again knocking walnuts from a nearby tree.
Tommy, numbed and frozen in place, could no longer comprehend what was taking place in front of him.
Lester Mullins slowly slid to sit on the ground. His eyes closing. Rain dripping from his curly greasy hair.
Michael tenderly restored Tommy's clothes. He picked him up and carried him back to his car and gently laid him inside. Tommy's unblinking eyes staring at his face the whole time. Damping his handkerchief in his still flowing tears and rain water, he washed Tommy's face and hands.
"Hey Tommy", he whispered, "I've got some matchbox toy cars at my home. Why don't you and I go get'em? Huh? What do you think? Would you like that?"
Tommy's quiet eyes turned and looked through the windshield at the rain splashing across the car. Somewhere deep inside, he knew, that without his arms and legs, he could never play under the porch again.