Thursday, May 14, 2009

Things Were Better Then (Part III)

I got a ton of stuff on my plate to write about. Today the muse didn't just whisper in my ear, she set up a Spinal Tap amp and cranked it to 11. So I'll be getting down to some writing, but for the nonce I have a story in play, and this story ain't done. Here's part III of my short story "Things Were Better Then."

After lunch, Jojo’s father marched up the stairs and walked into Jojo’s room. He was still wearing his morning bathrobe with undershirt and plaid sleeping pants. His hair was still tousled and his big mustache still slightly uncombed. When he walked through the door, he saw Jojo, fully dressed with his shoes on, lying on his belly on his bed, quietly reading Huckleberry Finn, kicking his feet absently in the air. Seeing the shoes and the play clothes, he gave a snort and shook his head.

“Funny boy, funny boy, “ Jojo’s father said. “You expect me to believe you’re reading that? Huckleberry Finn? And that you’ve been reading it all morning? Do I look stupid to you? I could barely read that when I was twelve!”

Jojo looked at his father, smiled, and nodded his head. He held up the book, and read a paragraph out loud.

“Fine, fine, enough! Smartpants boy. You can go out. Just be back before dinner. I have to fix up the balcony and I don’t want you running around doing God knows what.”

Jojo didn’t need to hear anything else, so he bolted past his father, downstairs and outside. As he went out the front door, he could hear his Father’s muted yell to not be late for dinner.

Jojo ran down the road from his house to the park that was between the two elementary schools. There were a bunch of kids there, some playing soccer, some playing tag, but Jojo passed these by and went straight to the ones playing marbles. He took out a small bag from his pocket, and picked a larger one out, which he called a bank, and dropped it on the ground. Where it landed, he dug a hole in the gravel with his heel, and stood and waited until someone came over to play him.

Jojo didn’t have to wait very long as most of the kids knew him, and a few of them hurried up to finish their games so they could get in on whatever game Jojo was going to play. A few minutes later, while Jojo was taking some practice tosses to warm up, a couple bigger boys came over and challenged Jojo.

Within an hour, most of the kids in the park were gathered in a circle around a game between Jojo and Frank Bourno, who was a big Italian boy two years older than Jojo. They were placing bets on who would win, wagering everything from sticks of gum, comic books, to baseball cards. The only thing they didn’t bet was marbles, as it was the unspoken rule that marbles were only to be played for.

When the game finished, Frank had lost it all, even including the worthless ordinaries he bought at the store for a few pennies. He looked as if he was going to take his marbles back whether Jojo liked it or not, but the crowd grumbled their disagreement with that plan, and Frank quickly decided to settle things another way.

Five minutes later, Jojo walked from the park minus everything he had won, but up three dollars in his pocket. Frank had bought back what marbles he could afford from Jojo, at the inflated gouging prices Jojo charged, and the other boys in the crowd, most of them down a few because of Jojo, had bought the rest.

* * *

It is a singular fact of nature that, though never acknowledged by scientists, there is one thing that remains irrevocably true nonetheless -- science may say that there is nothing that travels faster than the speed of light, but those scientists who say that, I believe, have never paid due attention to the intricacies of the grapevine. Before Brown had even finished speaking and hung up the phone, scuttlebutt had traveled halfway around the town and had landed into the ears of Officer O’Shanahan. and Officer O’Leary, both of whom were hardened hell-bound papists. Upon hearing that Brown was no longer their God-for-all-intents-and-purposes, and that they would no longer have to fear His wrath by stepping foot in the house of Mary and the Pope, they wasted not a moment’s breath hurrying over to mass.

On the way, they decided to take a detour to St. John’s, to tell the rest of the lads who had a mind to get away from the Protestants the good news about Brown’s departure. As they left St. John’s on their way to St. Francis Xavier’s, they managed to snag six other fellow Catholics to bring along.

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