Green Hills Literary Lantern

Mailbox

 

Jerry Hanna was standing on his front lawn with a shovel full of dog turds. I was standing on the sidewalk at the corner, a big blue mailbox near me.

“Open the mailbox.”

“What?”

“Open the mailbox there. Hold it open.”

I opened the mailbox and kept my hand under the metal door as it swung down. Jerry walked over and raised the shovel and put the shovel into the opening and shook the shovel so the turds would fall off. When the shovel was empty he took it out of the mailbox and I let the door swing shut. We were both laughing. That’s how I met Jerry Hanna.

Of course I knew Jerry Hanna but we didn’t hang out together. He lived around the corner from me and a block over. His house was on the corner, a mailbox in front of his house. Jerry was half a grade ahead of me, his class starting at the end of January, mine starting in the fall.

* * *

“Open the mailbox, Wade Ricky.”

Everyone liked to call me by both my first and last names because my names were like two first names. People got off on that.

Jerry Hanna was watering his front yard with a garden hose. I opened the mailbox and Jerry walked over and stuck the hose in. It didn’t take long for water to start flowing out the bottom where a hinge was. The hinge was for the door that the mailman opened to get the mail.

“The check’s in the mail,” Jerry said, and smiled, the hose still in the mailbox. One of the things Jerry Hanna and I had in common was that everyone called him by both his names too.

Jerry Hanna had thick black hair and he combed it like Elvis Presley. Elvis was in the Army. Elvis was popular. Jerry took the hose out of the mailbox and said, “That should do it.”

* * *

“Open the mailbox.”

I opened the mailbox and Jerry Hanna lit one of those small packs of firecrackers and tossed it in. I let go of the mailbox door and it swung shut and we ran up onto Jerry’s lawn to listen to those firecrackers going off inside the mailbox. When the firecrackers stopped I asked Jerry if he weren’t afraid of the mailman coming around. He said that wasn’t a problem because the pick-up times were posted on the mailbox. I hadn’t known that.

* * *

“Hey, Wade Ricky.”

“Yeah.”

“Come here.”

I walked over.

Jerry reached into the front pocket of his Levi’s and pulled out a cherry bomb. Then he reached into his other front pocket and pulled out a Zippo lighter. We went to the mailbox and I opened the door.

Up on Jerry’s lawn we watched as that cherry bomb threw open the mailbox door like a fat lip flapping open and then flapping shut -- Boom! That brought the neighbors out, which in turn sent Jerry and me through the front door of Jerry’s house. I had never been in Jerry Hanna’s house before.

The living room of Jerry Hanna’s house looked like other living rooms in the neighborhood -- a TV, a couch, a couple of armchairs, a coffee table. But in Jerry Hanna’s living room there were Jerry’s older sister, Amy, and Amy’s friend, Darlene Hastings. They were watching TV. It was four in the afternoon.

“What was that?” Amy said.

“I don’t know,” Jerry answered, and smiled. Jerry Hanna had a million-dollar smile, kind of like a salesman, except that Jerry had a chipped front tooth. Jerry’s face was smooth and white and he had thick dark eyebrows. I was eleven years old. Jerry was twelve. He had been held back a semester and that’s why he was only a half grade different than me instead of a whole year.

“How are you, Darlene?” Jerry said.

“Why don’t you and your friend go back outside?” Amy said.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Jerry said. “I was talking to Darlene.”

Both Amy and Darlene were on the couch. Both Amy and Darlene were in junior high school, which was where Jerry would have been if he hadn’t been put back a semester. Jerry’s black eyes were going back and forth between Amy and Darlene, his smile coming and going accordingly.

“I’m just fine, Jerry Hanna,” Darlene said.

“That’s good,” Jerry replied, and stood smiling.

Jerry said to me, “Come on,” and we went to the kitchen where Jerry opened a package of Oreo’s. He grabbed a handful and told me to grab a handful and we went out the kitchen door to the backyard leaving the opened bag of cookies on the kitchen counter.

“Darlene’s already got tits,” Jerry told me.

Jerry’s backyard was like most of the backyards in the neighborhood, a shade tree, a few fruit trees, shrubs, a lawn, and a concrete slab that was a patio.

Jerry’s two dogs came over. They were a boxer mix, maybe a boxer and a beagle. I stuck an Oreo cookie in my mouth and started chewing. Amy had tits too, but I didn’t say anything about that.

Jerry tossed the dogs a cookie and they started fighting over it. One dog was male and the other female but that didn’t seem to make a difference. They were tearing each other up, a regular dogfight even after the cookie was gone. I didn’t see which one ate the cookie.

Jerry said, “Watch this,” and stuck a cookie in his mouth and then crumbled up the remaining three cookies between his hands and let the pieces fall to the ground. The two dogs forgot about fighting and put their muzzles to the cement patio. They ate like pigs.

 

* * *

One Tuesday morning while I was standing on the corner next to the mailbox Jerry Hanna came out his front door and said, “Hey, Wade Ricky, we’re going snake huntin’. You wanna go?”

I said, “Sure,” even though I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Albert and Danny are going. We’re going to meet here in about ten minutes. You got a canteen?”

“Yeah.”

“Go get it. Fill it with water. It gets hot up in the hills.”

“OK.”

I went home and dug up my canteen and filled it with water and returned. Albert Perez and Danny Rojas lived on Jerry’s block. They were in junior high school. Both Albert and Danny had black hair and brown skin. Albert was slim. Danny was big.

The four of us started walking. Everyone had an army canteen. Jerry and Danny had their canteens hanging from their belts. Their belts were weaved through the canvas cases of their canteens. I had my canteen hooked to a wide canvas belt. We had the canteens around in back of us because our arms would hit the canteens when they were at our sides.

Albert’s canteen didn’t have a case. He tried putting his belt through the little chain that was fastened to the cap of the canteen and that kept the cap from getting lost. But that didn’t work out because the little chain broke after he started walking and the canteen started swinging. So Albert carried his canteen in his hand.

Jerry, in addition to a canteen, had a rolled up gunnysack tied with a piece of twine. He tied the gunnysack to his belt with the loose ends of the twine. The gunnysack was in back next to his canteen. The gunnysack was for the snakes we were going to catch.

“Art got a gopher snake up in the hills last week. It eats mice,” Jerry told us. Art was Art Vasquez and he lived one block over from Jerry, two blocks over from me.

“Mice?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“What about rats?” I asked.

“I guess if the snake is big enough it can handle a rat,” Jerry said. “But a white rat is more expensive than those little mice they sell up at that pet shop near San-Val.”

“How about chicks, like those baby chickens they sell at Roscoe Feed? They’re really cheap,” I said.

Albert and Danny were looking at me, but now they looked at Jerry.

“What the hell,” Jerry said. “We can try a chick and see what happens.”

“How about rattlesnakes?” I said. “Aren’t there rattlesnakes in the hills?”

“Yeah, there are. I brought a pocketknife in case someone gets bit. I’ll cut an X with the knife where the fang marks are and then suck the poison out and spit it out,” Jerry said. “If you hear a rattler, just freeze. Don’t move. That’s what you want to do.”

It took us about forty-five minutes to reach the foothills, but before we got there Danny pulled out a pack of cigarettes and gave us each a cigarette. Jerry said to me, “Go ahead. It won’t kill you.” Jerry lit the cigarettes with his Zippo lighter, so then we were walking down streets with houses, some of the streets with sidewalks and some without, and we were smoking Kents. Jerry told me to inhale. Now and then someone would spit.

“We can’t smoke in the hills,” Jerry told us. “We start a fire up there and we’ll be in big trouble.”

Albert and Danny didn’t say much. They just smoked their cigarettes and glanced at the foothills now and then. Albert was wearing a pair of high-top tennis shoes. Danny was wearing a pair of black wingtips. Both Albert and Danny were wearing creased khakis and white T-shirts.

When we got near the foothills we walked along Glenoaks Boulevard to where a firebreak road looked like it came down. This turned out to be a shortcut to the firebreak road. The shortcut was steep and rutted from when it rained. There were two steel poles on either side of where the slope came down to the road. A steel cable ran between the poles. The cable was locked with a padlock. It was a cinch to step over the cable.

Going up the slope was a different story. The foothills looked solid from far away, but they were actually sandy and crumbly. Our tennis shoes and wingtips didn’t do too well on the slope. We tried bending over to grab on to something but there was nothing to grab on to, no bushes or anything. We kind of crawled up the slope on our hands and knees. Albert only had one hand to do this with because his other hand held his canteen. There were no rattlesnakes on the slope.

The first thing we did when we got to the firebreak road was to start guzzling water. Albert had a head start on us because he didn’t have to reach around and get his canteen out of a canvas case. It was about ten in the morning. It was the middle of August.

Danny pulled a plastic comb out of his back pocket and started combing his hair. Albert and Jerry got their combs out and combed their hair. I didn’t have a comb. When the hair-combing was done we started up the firebreak road.

We walked on the firebreak road all the way to the top of the foothills where there was a rounded peak. It was easy walking because the firebreak road was a wide dirt road that wound up through the hills. It wasn’t steep. We didn’t see any snakes. The only things we saw were stinkbugs and a few doves. Off the firebreak road there were brown weeds. The only thing green was manzanita, which was here and there in big clumps. When we reached the top of the peak, Albert said, “We made it.”

We sat down on the rocky, crumbly ground up there and finished off the last of our water. We had been saving it for this occasion. After that Danny got out the cigarettes. While we were smoking we looked out over the San Fernando Valley, but we couldn’t see most of it because it was covered with smog. We couldn’t even see our houses.

We finished smoking and started down. On the way down Jerry suggested that we take one of the small ravines instead of the firebreak road because maybe the snakes were in ravines. We picked a ravine that didn’t look too steep and started down. At times there was manzanita that we could grab on to. At other times there was nothing but weeds to grab on to. The weeds came out of the ground pretty easy. About a third of the way down Albert threw his canteen away.

Finally, the gully eased up and flattened out a bit so we could walk straight up like people. It was about two-thirty. There wasn’t any breeze. My tongue felt like chalk. My throat felt the same way.

We heard a rattlesnake and we stopped walking. It was the first time I had heard a rattlesnake but as soon as I heard it I knew what it was. I had wondered about that.

The snake was coiled on top of a flat rock ahead of us and to our left. It was fifteen to twenty feet away. It had its rattle up in the air. Its head looked like a triangle. We stood watching it. It kept rattling.

“It’s just like in the movies,” Albert said.

“That’s a diamondback,” Jerry Hanna said.

Lizards were flicking about everywhere. We started walking slowly. We kept far to the right of the rattlesnake, the gully wider here than it had been before. Also, the gully was somewhat sandy with large rocks and with tufts of yellow grass. The snake kept rattling and it kept looking at us. When we were past it by about twenty-five feet we stopped.

Jerry Hanna picked up a rock and threw it at the rattlesnake. The rock missed. We started throwing rocks at the snake. The snake stopped rattling and slithered off the rock and went into dry brush and disappeared.

“Where’d it go?” Albert said.

“It went into the grass,” Jerry said.

“I don’t see it,” Albert said.

“Walk over there and kick around, you might see it,” Jerry said.

“Fuck you,” Albert said.

Danny leaned to the side and let some saliva fall from his mouth.

We began walking again. The rattlesnake had made me forget about being thirsty, but now I remembered. I guess Albert remember too, because he said, “We should have brought more water.”

There was no telling who saw it first, but it was Danny who was the closest and who simply walked over and picked it up after Jerry said, “Yeah. There’s no rattle. That’s a gopher snake.” Danny picked it up like it was an instant pet, the snake stretched out on the dirt and waiting. Other than the rattle, though, it looked a lot like the rattlesnake we had just seen. Danny held it loosely behind the head. The snake wrapped its body around Danny’s forearm. All of us took a good look at it. It was a big one, five or six feet long.

“OK,” Jerry said, “put him in the gunnysack.” Jerry untied the sack from his belt and unrolled it.

Danny had some scars on his face like he had been burned or something a long time ago. His nose was a little to the side like it was bent. His teeth were brown. He smelled like hair tonic but he also smelled like sweat. We were all sweating. Our shirts were soaked.

“Go ahead, just drop him in the gunnysack,” Jerry said. He was holding the sack open.

“He’s fine where he is,” Danny said. Danny’s voice was deeper than the rest of ours. There was no up and down when Danny talked. His voice was flat.

“He won’t get away in the gunnysack,” Jerry said.

Danny looked at Jerry. Danny’s eyes were black the same as Jerry’s and Albert’s, but Danny’s eyes weren’t shiny like Jerry’s and Albert’s. Danny’s eyes were like his voice.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Danny said.

Jerry shifted his weight. Then he rolled the gunnysack up and tied it with twine and tied it back on his belt.

We started walking again, each of us taking a separate path down the gully, our eyes close to the ground in front of us because these snakes were hard to see because they looked just like the ground.

We didn’t see any more snakes. We came to a dead-end street, houses just down the road. We walked to the first house and unscrewed a sprinkler from the garden hose and turned the water on and started drinking.

A boy opened the front door of the house and looked at us. The boy was only about a second or third grader. Jerry Hanna straightened and looked at the boy and said, “What are you looking at?” The boy didn’t say anything. The boy had brown hair and brown eyes. “What are you looking at?” Jerry said again. The boy didn’t answer. “Hey, you got any Cokes in your refrigerator?” Jerry said, and started walking toward the boy. The boy closed the door and then there was the sound of a lock. Jerry stopped walking. Jerry said, “That little fucker.”

After we were done drinking we held the hose up and put our heads under the water. While I was holding the hose up for Danny, he said, “Don’t get water on my shoes. If you fuck up my shoes, I’ll kick your ass.”

When we were done watering our heads and done drinking a second time, I went over to turn the water off, but Jerry said, “Leave it on.” So we left the water running and walked away.

* * *

Jerry Hanna and I were on the corner next to the mailbox. It was about two in the afternoon.

“Let’s go up to town. We’ll go to the drugstore and sit at the counter and have iced water,” Jerry said.

Town was just past our school. It was only fifteen minutes away. As we walked Jerry told me that we could get free iced water at the counter in the drugstore. Jerry also told me that there were a couple of important things he wanted to talk to me about. He thought the counter in the drugstore would be a good place to talk.

We sat down on stools at the counter and a waitress with a white apron and a little hat that looked like a doily stuck on top of her hair came up and looked at us through a pair of glasses. Her face was thin and wrinkled. Jerry and I were the only ones at the counter. The counter was U-shaped. Inside the drugstore it was cooler than outside. Jerry smiled and said, “Two iced waters, please.”

The waitress looked at us for a moment and then she went away. She came back with two glasses of iced water and set them down in front of us. Jerry said, “Thank you.” The waitress walked away and went behind a divider, which was where the grill was.

Jerry and I picked up our glasses of iced water and raised them, but before my lips touched the glass, Jerry said, “Don’t drink it all. Make it last. This is our ticket to stay in here.” So, while we ‘nursed’ our iced waters, Jerry Hanna told me about ‘important things.’

“We’re going to go back up to the hills. But this time it’s just going to be me and you.”

I nodded.

“Do you know what Danny did with that gopher snake?” Jerry said.

“No.”

“He let it go in his room. He didn’t have an empty aquarium or anything to put it in, so he let it go in his bedroom before they went to sleep. His brother Mike told me. Danny closed the door and put a piece of baloney on the floor and a cup of water so the snake could eat and drink. The snake went under Danny’s bed as soon as he let it go and they haven’t seen it since.”

I picked up my glass of iced water and took a tiny sip.

“You know,” Jerry said, “that diamondback was really something. I looked in a book and now I know what to do. I’m going to rig up a wooden pole with clothesline cord so that there’s a loop at the end. You pull the cord and the loop closes like a noose. That’s how you get rattlesnakes.”

I looked at Jerry.

“We’re going to go back up there and get that sucker.”

I sat a moment. Then I said, “What happens after the rattlesnake is at the end of the pole?”

“You hold the gunnysack open and I drop it in.”

I waited.

“The noose is around the snake’s neck. They can’t strike that way. You drop them into the sack backwards, tail first. It’s safe.”

I was still looking at Jerry.

“OK. I’ll hold the gunnysack open. You drop the snake in,” Jerry said.

I looked down at my glass of iced water. It was making a puddle on the counter.

“The rattlesnake is in the gunnysack, and then what?” I asked.

“We bring it home.”

“What are you going to do with it at home?” I said. “I mean, you can’t walk around with it on your arm.”

Jerry smiled and picked up his glass of iced water. He took a sip and set his glass down.

“We drop it in the mailbox.”

That took a moment. After it sunk in, I picked up my glass of iced water and took a sip.

The next ‘important things’ had nothing to do with snakes.

“I want you to help me write a letter,” Jerry Hanna said.

“A letter?”

“Yeah.”

“Why can’t you write it?” I said.

“Because you have good handwriting. And ah, you’re better at these things -- spelling and things.”

Jerry pulled two sheets of folded notebook paper out of his pocket along with a pen and a folded envelope and a torn piece of paper with an address.

“You mean you want me to write it here?” I said.

“Yeah, why not? The post office is next door. We’ll go in there and mail it. I got money for a stamp. I want her to get it right away.”

“Her?”

“Yeah. Darlene Hastings.”

Jerry put the pen and paper in front of me.

“Darlene Hastings?” I said. “Why can’t you tell her what you want to tell her? Why do you have to send her a letter?”

“Because of my sister,” Jerry said. “That’s the whole problem. Darlene really comes over to see me, but my sister is always hanging around so we never have a chance to be alone.”

I nodded.

“Take yesterday,” Jerry said. “I’m in the kitchen and Darlene comes to the kitchen door, but then here comes Amy. She can’t take a hint.”

I nodded again. Then I said, “What do you want me to write?”

“Now this is the important part. I’ll tell you what I want to say and then you can put it down the right way.”

“The right way?”

“Yeah.”

“OK.”

“I want to tell her that she’s got really nice tits. I want to . . .”

“Nice tits?” I said. “You just can’t put that down in a letter.”

“I know, I know. That’s why I’m asking you to write this. You know how to say things like this. How do you say ‘nice tits’ the right way?”

I reached for my glass of iced water.

“Well?” Jerry said.

“Give me a minute. I’m thinking.”

“OK.”

“Maybe . . . developed. Well developed.”

“‘Well developed.’ That’s perfect,” Jerry said. “Yeah. Tell her that she’s well developed and that I’m well developed.”

I looked at him.

“I already got hair on my balls,” Jerry said.

I nodded. “OK. Two well developed people.”

“Tell her to come over to my house at 3:46 on Thursday. My mother takes Amy to guitar lessons in Burbank every Thursday. They leave the house at 3:45. They get back home at 5:15. That’ll give Darlene and me time together. Tell Darlene that nothing can go wrong because if my sister gets sick or something and can’t go, then Darlene only has to say that she came over to see Amy, you know, if my mother or Amy answers the door.”

“You’re going to sign this?”

“Well,” Jerry said, “you can sign it with my name, otherwise it’ll look funny, you know, the handwriting difference. Just write, ‘Yours truly, Jerry Hanna.’”

“What about the envelope?”

“You write that too,” Jerry said.

“What about a return address?”

“A return address?”

“Yeah.”

“I guess you need that, don’t you? But don’t put down my address, because her mother might think something’s up if she happens to get to the mail first. Put down something good for a name and then make up a phony address.”

“OK,” I said, and sat for a moment, and then said, “How about E. Presley?”

Jerry’s million-dollar smile went across his face.

“You’re a fucking genius.”

* * *

Jerry Hanna was on his front lawn with a mower and a can of gasoline. He was putting gas in the mower.

“Jerry Hanna.”

He straightened and looked at me.

“My fucking sister got a hold of that letter.”

“What?”

“Yeah. I don’t know, maybe Darlene gave it to her, maybe she stole it from Darlene. She said Darlene gave it to her. She started waving it in my face and reading it to me. I took it away from her and burned it in the backyard. She told my mother that I hit her. My dad came home from work and my mother told my dad that I hit Amy and my dad hit me.”

“Jeez.”

Jerry’s jaw muscles were flexing and un-flexing, his one hand clenching and unclenching.

“Open the mailbox, Wade Ricky.”

I looked at him. Then I went to the mailbox and opened it. Jerry walked over with the can of gas and started pouring gas into the mailbox. When the can was empty he set it on the sidewalk and reached into his pocket and pulled out his Zippo lighter.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “This thing’s going to blow up.”

“Fuck this thing!” Jerry said. “Fuck the mail!”

I let go of the mailbox door and it swung shut.

“I’ll do it myself,” Jerry said.

“You stand here holding the door open, you’re going to get burned up,” I said.

“OK. Get a fucking brick from the flowerbed and bring it over here to hold the door open.”

I went to the flowerbed and lifted a brick and brought it over and opened the mailbox door and set the brick on it. Everything smelled like gasoline. I went to the lawn. Jerry flicked the lighter open and stuck his arm out toward the mailbox and flicked the wheel of the Zippo. Foom. A big flame shot out of the mailbox. Jerry’s arm came back. The Zippo fell to the sidewalk. Jerry’s hands were on his face. The mailbox was burning like one of those smokestacks in an oil refinery. I ran over. Jerry was buckled over.

“Are you OK?” I said. “Jerry.”

He was rubbing his face with his hands.

“Can you see? Can you fucking see?” I said. I got a hold of his arm and pulled. “Look at me,” I said. He brought his hands away and I got down and looked up at his face. His eyebrows were just little curly things and so was his hair at his forehead. He opened his eyes. “Can you see?” I said.

He nodded and said, “Yeah.” Then he said, “Fuck.”

I picked up the Zippo and the can of gas. We went up on the lawn.

The lady across the street opened her front door and came out and stood on her porch. She pointed at the mailbox and said, “Hey! The mailbox is on fire!”

Jerry yelled back, “Really?”

“Yeah,” the lady said. “I’m going to call the fire department.”

Jerry said, “You don’t need to do that. It’s nothing!”

“Nothing?! The goddamn mailbox is on fire!” She turned and went in her house.

“We’d better take this shit around back,” Jerry said to me. Jerry wheeled the lawnmower to the backyard while I carried the gas can. I gave Jerry back his Zippo.  After that I went home, and after that I heard sirens.

* * *

The next day when I went over to the corner, I saw that the mailbox was all burned up, black and with the paint peeled and with the door taped shut. In front of Jerry Hanna’s house there was a police car and two regular cars. One of the regular cars had an official seal on the door. Jerry’s father’s pickup was in the driveway.

I walked back home. I looked out the window and I waited -- waited for the police to show up

The next day there was a flier from the post office in every mailbox in the neighborhood notifying everyone that the mail in the mailbox at Nara Avenue and Wick Street had been destroyed on August 25th.

The next day the burnt up mailbox was gone and a new one was in its place. I stood looking at the new mailbox. Jerry Hanna didn’t come out his front door.

I walked over every day and looked at the new mailbox on the corner, and every day there was no Jerry Hanna.

* * *

Just after Labor Day with school going to begin the following week, I saw Jerry on his front lawn picking up dog dirt with a shovel. There was a big bruise on his face.

“Jerry Hanna.”

He looked up. “Wade Ricky.” I walked over.

“It’s a federal offense to tamper with the U.S. mail,” Jerry said.

“That sounds official.”

“Straight from the horse’s mouth.” He smiled but then he stopped. Maybe it hurt him to smile.

“My dad has to pay for the mailbox that got burned up.”

“Really? How much is it?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They’re going to send a bill.”

“Wow.”

“No snake hunting for a while,” Jerry said. “I’m grounded. I can go to school next week, but I got to come home and stay in the house or the backyard.”

“I’ll come over and we can play cards or something,” I said.

“No can do. I’m not allowed to have friends over.”

I looked at him.

“I better get around back with this,” he said, and meant the shovel with the dog turds.

I said, “Thanks.”

“For what?” he said.

“Well, the cops didn’t come to my house. I didn’t get in trouble.”

He looked at me hard, and then he said, “You didn’t think I’d squeal on you, did you?”

“No,” I said, “you’re not like that. But still, I want to say, ‘Thanks.’”

“No,” he said, “I’m not like that, but my sister is. When they came to the door she just turned and pointed at me.”

We stood looking at each other. Then I said, “How long ‘til you can go out?”

“Christmas.”

“Christmas?”

“Yeah.”

* * *

I heard sirens. I went over like everyone else. In front of Jerry Hanna’s house there was an ambulance and a police car and a crowd of people. Then a regular car pulled up and two men in suits got out and went into the house. I spotted Albert on the other side of the crowd. I went over.

“Albert.”

“Wade Ricky.”

“What happened?”

“Jerry Hanna stabbed his sister in the back with a knife.”

“What?”

“Jerry Hanna stabbed his sister in the back with a knife.”

“How do you know?”

Albert looked at me.

“I mean, who told you?” I said.

“Billy Port’s mom went in and so did that lady from across the street, what’s her name, Whittle? Whittle came out and blabbed it.”

“Jeez.”

Two men in white uniforms came out the front door with a gurney. Amy was on the gurney. Her mother was beside her. There was a bottle with liquid with a tube. The tube was stuck in Amy’s arm. Amy was looking up, but it didn’t look like she was looking at anything. They got her in the ambulance and her mother got in and then the ambulance drove away, the siren on.

“This is just like in the movies,” Albert said.

Nothing happened after that, just the neighbors standing around and gossiping. People started going home. Albert went home. I went to the sidewalk and leaned against the mailbox. Some kids were still on the lawn. They were horsing around. Jerry Hanna’s father drove up and parked his pickup in the driveway and went into the house. It was daylight savings time. The sun was setting.

Billy Port’s mom came out of the house and walked home. Two policemen in uniforms came out and got in their car and drove away. A little after that Jerry Hanna and the two men in suits and Jerry’s father came out of the house. Jerry Hanna wasn’t in handcuffs or anything, but one of the men in a suit had his hand around Jerry’s upper arm. I straightened. Jerry looked at me. I brought my hand up to wave, but my hand stopped. Jerry Hanna and his father and one of the men in a suit got in the back seat, Jerry between his father and the man in a suit. The car drove away. I lowered my hand.

* * *

I heard that Amy had come home. I saw her once walking with Darlene Hastings, but Amy looked different. She wasn’t walking straight and she didn’t seem to have any bounce.

A ‘For Sale’ sign went up on the Hannas’ lawn. Finally, just before Halloween, I walked up to the front door and knocked. I was hoping for Mrs. Hanna, but it was Amy who answered the door.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” Amy said. Amy had light brown freckles over her cheeks and nose. I hadn’t noticed those before.

“I was wondering when Jerry’s coming home?”

“Jerry’s in an ‘institution.’ There’s something wrong with Jerry.”

“‘An institution?’”

“Yes.”

I shifted my weight. Amy was looking at me. I glanced over my shoulder toward the sign on the lawn and said, “You’re going to move?”

“Yes.”

“Where are you going?”

“Santa Ana. My dad got a job down there.”

“Oh.”

I didn’t know what to do or what to say, so I said, “How are you?”

Amy cocked her head and looked at me. Then she said, “I have to do these breathing exercises.”

“I guess it hurt pretty bad.”

“Yes. It did.”

I looked down at my tennis shoes. I looked up.

“Well,” I said, “when you see Jerry, tell him I said hello.”

Amy nodded.

“I’m Wade Ricky.”

“I know.”

* * *

At Christmastime I walked to the mailbox and dropped a handful of cards in. It was dark and it was cool. I let go of the mailbox door and it swung shut. I turned and looked at the house where the Hannas used to live. There was a tree in the window lit up with colored lights. I stood as if waiting. I stood remembering.

 

Michael Onofrey grew up in Los Angeles, but now lives in Japan, where he teaches English as a Second Language. His fiction has appeared in Alimentum, Bryant Literary Review, Cold-Drill, Oyez Review, and The William and Mary Review, as well as in other literary journals and magazines.