ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Wanda's Tunnel," a story by Corey Smith

Every time I bounced or kicked a ball outside the complex up came Matt the neighborhood fat kid talking about hey Grace can I play? And my don’t your dog look pretty!  Only I didn’t care, because Mister John Friday is the prettiest weenie dog in the world, and Matt’s ugly as hell with his Kool-Aid stained mouth and his teeth cock-eyed every which direction, wringing his hands and pivoting back and forth waiting for my answer. I wouldn’t give it but only motioned for him to get where he needs so we can play basketball. And of course he didn’t shut his mouth but smiled bigger, pushed up his thick-as-hell-glasses, and got into position. He worked up a good sweat as he told me he got a copy of Peter Pan. “I got Peter Pan. We could watch it, Grace. We could watch it together!” He was happy as hell. He wore the same sweatshirt because his mama don’t always do laundry or buy him clothes so he’s always got on the same gray sweatshirt that he’s got to push the sleeves up on.  “We could watch it later on.” Peter Pan did sound fun, but we had other stuff come up that seemed more important.

So me and Matt got thick as hell and heard about Chris Johnson and his horrible sickness.  We were hop scotching in front of Matt’s apartment on his cracked sidewalks, and we heard Miss Donald say, “Chris Johnson can’t go outside on account of he’s deathly allergic to eitherthe air or the sun.” The grown-ups were only a few yards from us in the middle of the street. We pretended to play. The next morning we heard Miss Holloway telling Mister Morrison how she “didn’t think Chris Johnson would make it. If only they had money….”  And Mister Morrison hung his head at this and looked down at the street. I dropped my rock and stopped playing. Matt had heard it too. I asked Matt because he was, after all, ten and quarter and I was just freshly ten.

Chris Johnson seemed the same as the trees and the light poles and all the barking dogs in our neighborhood. What I mean to say is when a kid is always around riding his bike you don’t think about them too much.  He was just a kid. We knew he was poor as hell because Daddy told me his dad couldn’t hold a job and his momma is a cracked-head. Sometimes Matt’s mom would give them their dinner and that meant Matt would go to bed hungry.  Chris Johnson still treated us mean. At least he never talked to us. He would just ride by on his old beat-up bike and almost hit us as he went by. I hated him. Not because he was mean to me but mostly because Matt’s mom was so damn nice to him!

“It means he’s dying,” Matt explained. He pushed his glasses up and his eyes grew wide to show me he meant it. “It means that kid’s dying.” Matt’s face turned red, and I stopped breathing for a long while. We called him a kid but he was very much a teenager. He’d pop wheelies down our small-crappy-street talking about how I looked like a boy with all the dirt on my face. Yeah, I thought, and look at you Chris Johnson with your hair so dirty it won’t even blow in the wind, and freckles all over your body the like I never seen before. He was the skinniest kid I ever laid eyes on.  I down right hated the son-of-a-bitch, but I sort of, I don’t know, loved him or something when I found out he wouldn’t make it. I all of a sudden missed his rusty bike and his slack jaw and the way he told me I looked like a dirty boy. I felt like a boy anyhow.  It’s hard to explain.

The next day me and Matt took to playing this game where we raised enough money to save Chris Johnson. We pretended to be heroes, and we played right there on the sidewalks. Matt pretended he was Chris Johnson and gave a speech thanking me and him right there leaning up against the back of Mister Thompson’s Oldsmobile. “Thank-you,” he pushed up his glasses and rolled up his sleeves. “I’d like to come right out and thank God first off, and I would especially like to thank Matt and Grace for saving up all that money and letting me breathe outside and all. I can ride my bike too. Well, I’d just like to say that Matt and Grace are heroes. And I’d like to thank the Lord for them too.” But just as I started to clap I saw Miss Paterson’s big ass arm in the Oldsmobile’s side mirror. I knew we were in for it. I didn’t meet her eyes and somehow I just knew Matt was looking down at the same piece of street as me. I focused where a frog had died last year cooked to death by the heat.

“You committing blasphemy, mocking God and thanking him and clapping! Chris Johnson is sick. You hear me that boy’s sick. And praise be to God you two are out damning our streets.” I focused on her thick ankles and the hem of her bright red day dress. “What were you two doing? And don’t you two start your lyin’ I done heard part of it.” I wanted to look up and meet her eyes but she started blowing her nose on her cooking apron.

I looked down and focused on Matt’s crap gold corduroy shoes. He pivoted back and forth. He had a hole in his shoe. He didn’t have socks on. I said, “We were playing that we raised enough money so that Chris Johnson could come outside and ride his bike again. That’s all.”

“We didn’t mean nothing—”

“Let’s have enough of that or I’ll wear out both your little asses.” She bent down eye level with us and her breath smelled like chewing tobacco, and her eyes showed deep lines. “Chris Johnson is sick. You little punks aren’t, and you both aren’t thankful. This isn’t a game to be playing and you should both pray for forgiveness. You should say a prayer of thanks that you are able to be out here and breathing up God’s fresh air while Chris is shut up in that apartment. You shouldn’t be making fun. If I catch wind of this happening again you’ll wish I hadn’t. You both are too dumb to have anything to do with money or raising it.” She left us glued to the street. That’s when we decided to really raise the money and learned that we already had seven bucks between us from birthdays and such. Matt kept the money. We’d raise the rest with a lemonade stand. We aimed to show that nose blowin’ so-and-so we weren’t dumb. We aimed to save Chris Johnson.

The next morning Matt comes up in his sweatshirt and shorts, and I motioned for him to get into position for basketball before we set up our lemonade stand, but he only looked at me—scared like—pivoting back and forth. My dog John Friday started to fussing with soft yaps, so I smacked him. I pushed his stroller to and fro till he shut it. “Why you standing? Let’s play!” I said. And now I’m as frustrated as hell, huffing and puffing and crossing my arms. We didn’t have much time, see. We had money to raise.

“I’ve been to Wanda’s tunnel,” he said and wrung his hands.

“God dang! You know your mama’s just gonna beat the shit out of you.” My mama’s in a mean way herself, coming into my room screaming for no good reason, but Matt’s mama beats him but good. And he’s dumb as shit and tells on himself when he’s done bad.

“I lost my money in the tunnel. My mom allowed me two dollars—” he holds up two fingers to make positive I understand, “to get a muscle shirt for the weather. I must have dropped it.” He looked away from me. “I put it with the other money. I lost it all.” His eyes welled up.

 I get half a mind not to wait for his mama but to bust him myself. I let my ball drop and raised my hand like I aimed to, and all of a sudden he looked scared like he was going to cry. So I came to, and I realized I was about to have Matt boo-hooing and snottin’ and the whole nine in front of my apartment. I lowered my hand to show I wasn’t gonna, but he still hung his mouth wide and was probably holding his breath. I started thinking of kind words to say, but then the S.O.B really started crying. Even though he’s taller, I managed an arm around him and hurried him to the side of my complex where it’s mostly dirt and weeds.

“Stop it,” and I gave him a gentle slap but hard enough to let him know I meant it. “Stop it, or you’ll have a grown-up come out and tell both our mamas!” He wiped his tears the best he could, and I made him all sorts of promises to shut him up. I hate crying. “We’ll get our money. We’ll make a big donation for Chris Johnson.” Then I wanted to know:

“How far’d you get?”
          “Past the second.” We measured the tunnel by the gutters that let the sunlight in. No kid ever made it past the third one.
            “You went alone?”

He put his hands on his hips proudly and said, “I wanted to make the third gutter.” He bowed his chubby head.  “I wanted to be the first and only.”

We called it Wanda’s tunnel on account of Wanda had made it the farthest—nearly to the third gutter. I guess back then kids had a tough time making it to the second.  Wanda’s grown and gone but it’s still her tunnel. Both of us knew about Wanda and her story. We learned long ago that Wanda’s mom beat her. The tunnel was the only place she could hide from her mom’s beatings.

“I think Wanda’s my hero,” I told Matt on that third day. “She knew what she had to do, go into the tunnel and get away from that mom, and she just did it. She had courage.”

 I passed the ball to Matt, a bounce pass, but he caught it and held it. He didn’t speak. He pushed his glasses up.

“I’ve stood at the opening and felt it. Wanda’s courage is real,” Matt finally said.

I grabbed the ball. “I wished I had the courage, you know, to do something real like Wanda. She had the courage to go deep enough to hide. I heard Wanda had all the comforts in that tunnel. She had a chair and a bunch of comics and a slingshot in case someone bad showed up.”

Matt took the ball and gazed down our street. He then looked in the direction of Wanda’s tunnel. I could tell Matt was trying not to cry about our money, because his fat was a tremblin. I couldn’t stand it. I can’t stand to see people boo-hooing.  Then I got upset on account of him making me think about Chris Johnson and how he couldn’t ever ride his bike again, so I give him another slap. “Buck up, you baby!”  I can’t stand to see a ten year old cry, since I’m months younger and nothing makes me cry.

I grabbed Matt’s hand. Miss Paterson started banging her blankets outside of her window a few stories up at my apartment complex. We could only see her hands, but we knew it was her. I said, “Wipe your tears before Miss Paterson comes down and whips our asses.”  You don’t even need to belong to Miss Paterson, when she gets it in her mind to whip her some ass she just grabs a kid and whips herself some ass. Matt was still breathing hard and working his shoulders up and down. “I’m sorry. I’m—”

“Let’s get our money.” I rub his back.  I didn’t want to waste time with his I’m sorry business. So I said “Let’s get.” I started pushing Mister John Friday. I dug my pack of cigarettes out of the front of my overalls and lit one up. I’d been stealin’ cigarettes from my mama ever since the first day we heard about Chris Johnson. The whole situation of having to go into the tunnel stressed me good. I took a drag and held the cigarette low so Miss Paterson didn’t see me.

“And my you look cool,” Matt says like he might want one too, so I give him a look that tells him the answer to that question. He smiled too big and showed all his teeth. Some people can’t take a hint, so … I gave him one. “Thanks.” But he puts it in his pocket and pats it over and over. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Hurry up,” I snap, “I have a flashlight in my room. We’ll need a flashlight.”

By the time Matt gets his husky self up my fire-escape and into my apartment, I was already looking around for my flashlight.      

“I really love your room,” he says in his hoarse, out of breath voice. “Gosh, you must really be smart what with all these papers everywhere.” My daddy’s papers were everywhere, and I wouldn’t touch them on account of his being out of town. He’d want them just the way he left them. My daddy was always gone. Either he works a lot or he is good for nothing like I hear the neighborhood women say.  Matt pivoted back and forth and I knew he’s about to ask for something. He was looking at a picture on the wall I had painted of John Friday. I had painted it with magic markers I got from school. I picked up my slingshot from a pile of papers and tucked it in the front of my overalls. I nearly asked him what he wanted and to just have out with it. “I always see you with cold sodas,” said Matt.

“I only got a tea pot,” I tell him. “Chris Johnson might not make it! How could you think about soda?”

Matt pushed his glasses up and looked at the floor and softly kicked at some of the papers. He started a big stir-up without words about wanting a soda. And then he talked. “I guess … I don’t know … I just want one.”

Then, I put a finger over my lips. “Don’t talk. My mom’s in a mean way. The flashlight must be in the kitchen. I’ll snag a soda too if I feel good about my mom not waking up.” She was always sleeping. I slowly creaked open my door and tiptoed into the hallway holding Matt’s hand. If my mama explodes it’s better if I have Matt with me. She’d go easier. I mostly spend my time in my room and use the fire escape to come and go, so I hadn’t seen the hallway in some time. A bunch of my toys and soda cans lay everywhere like someone had fooled-up the place or a hog had been over. We had to be careful around the cans. The hallway is wood, and it’d be loud if we kicked one. Matt was doing his best to tiptoe, but his husky ass is all upper body and no feet when he tiptoes. He kept his arms out like it helped him balance and screwed his mouth just so, so it was even uglier than normal, and he tried to whisper but it came out in a normal volume.

“What flavor of—”

And with all the stir-up we heard banging coming from my mamma’s room at the end of the hall. We froze and looked at each other with our mouths open, and then I didn’t waste any time but tugged Matt’s hand to tell him to get a move on. The flashlight was in a mess of garbage near the end of the hall, so I ran like hell for it. I grabbed it fast and said, “Let’s go,” in a loud whisper. I took his hand. We hurried with flat feet back to my room, and I tossed an arm around Matt and guided him under my bed. We hid. Sure enough my mom came in slapping her big bare feet all over the place and making the most God awful noises with her mouth—more like growls than words. Now, Matt took to shivering and Mom was kicking my daddy’s papers all about the room. I got to rubbing Matt, gentle like, on his back. I didn’t want him to start up blubbering. Matt nuzzled close to me and closed his eyes and tightened his lips. His messy blonde hair plastered to his forehead with sweat making it as dark as mine. And finally, I don’t give a hell and I nuzzled back because I was scared too. Either he saw her or he didn’t, but I told him to look the other way because I didn’t want him to get scared. “Turn your head. I don’t want this keeping you up at night.” I just didn’t want him to see my mom that way.

I got to wishing my aunt Molly were there. When she’s over, I come out of my room, because my mom’s nicer when she’s there. Matt took to crossing himself with his index finger and nuzzled closer, if that were possible. My mom paced the floor like a restless dog. Finally, my mom flopped down on my Fisher Price picnic table. We only see her lap and her bottle of Mad-Dog 20/20. I was sweaty as hell. We waited till she got good and drunk to make our move. I don’t feel much like talking about it. But she’d take a drink and then howl at Mister John Friday. At least it seemed that way. We couldn’t see her face, but Mister John Friday put his tail between his little legs and whimpered. The whimpering seemed to put my mom in a meaner way with her shaking and howling. Matt squeezed me and Friday shrunk into the wall with his ears flat like wallpaper glued to his head. All three of us seemed to be sweating and shaking. Finally ... Thud. We knew she was done for, so me and Matt crawled out. The new air felt cold against my sweaty body. I shielded Matt’s eyes with my hand, so he wouldn’t look at her. I didn’t look either as we reached the fire-escape. Friday followed. I hoped Chris Johnson’s mom was different than my mamma with his being stuck in that apartment all day and night.

The flashlight was one of those that you have to slap around to work. It’s one that you got to use two hands on. Matt helped me load up the flashlight and Mr. John Friday in the stroller. Matt became cooler, because he didn’t mention my mama. And I waited for it.

Matt said, “I wasn’t that thirsty anyhow.” I could tell he was lying by the way he stared into space with his eyes wide as we walked in the direction of Wanda’s tunnel. He was thinking about the soda, and I thought it was cool that he lied about it. He keeps staring and walking and then, “If Chris Johnson can’t be free to drink whatever soda he wants then why should I.” Matt smiled.

To change the subject I asked, “What about your shirt? Your mamma will want to know why you didn’t buy a shirt. I suppose we should find a way to get you one.”  Then he got a confused, sad look about him. He looked at his shitty sweat shirt.

Matt said, “Our mom’s can’t tell us everything. One day we’ll be bosses of ourselves. We’ll want to do for ourselves. We don’t want to waste the money. If anything, I just want to prove Miss Paterson wrong. I want to show her we’re not just rotten kids and that we can make a difference.” He takes the cigarette from his pocket and places it between his lips. Friday’s stroller thumps along the sidewalk.

I look around. And speak of the devil….  Miss Paterson flapped her blankets again a few stories up, and I motioned for us to start towards the tunnel faster which was about a block away. Matt checked behind us after we had covered some ground and said, “I don’t feel right. Miss Patterson works me up good.” Only he wasn’t looking at Miss Paterson’s. She had gone inside. He looked at my place and at my open window. I knew he was thinking about my mom’s howling.

Mister John Friday started to fussing, so I slapped his head. Then I told Matt “You got to be smart and proper around grown-up’s.”  He looked toward the clear sky—confused like he was surprised that someone wouldn’t think him prim and proper already. The way his mouth hung open told me that he was embarrassed or maybe even ashamed. We walked along, Friday’s stroller humming. Friday looked about, and Matt jumped over every crack and sang the song that went along with that. He danced over all the tar strips in his fantastic chubby way. I realized I couldn’t just let Matt skip through life without knowing the ways, so I aimed to tell him.

“You want to know why your mama and Miss Paterson beat you?” and he stopped skipping, “Adults want you to act grown and proper. Don’t give them a chance to beat you up.” He screwed up his mouth and pushed his glasses up. I continued,” You have to use proper words … show them how smart and cute you can be.” Of course he showed his crooked ass teeth. But it was honest. He wanted to know what I had to say.

“I think I know what you’re talking about,” Matt said. But I could tell by his eyes that he didn’t know the first thing. So after thinking about what I just told him, he went back to skipping, clueless, and I went back to rubbing Friday’s head so he didn’t start up.

Matt said, “Wanda wrote her name around the third gutter. I thought it was just a rumor but I done seen it from a distance. I didn’t make it all the way to her name.” We walked.

“I knew it was no rumor. I heard about her name a long time ago.” I smiled.“I can’t wait to go that far.”

Then I told him how silly he is, and that everybody knows about Wanda. This pissed him off plenty, because he started walking heavy. “I know my brother told me about her too!”

We reached the tunnel. It was under a bridge where the creek had dried up. Everyone’s mama warned them not to mess around under the bridge and in the tunnel; because they were positive it would flood. The story went either a kid got hurt or didn’t make it out of the tunnel one time.  Kids usually don’t risk getting their asses beat save special times when the feeling hits them just so or, in this case, when they’re trying to save Chris Johnson. Plus, everyone knows that flood stuff’s for the birds. That some “kid got hurt” stuff’s a damned story. We know our mom’s aren’t right about anything, my mamma’s always drunk and Matt’s mom is always beating the holy hell out of him.  But still.... We both shook. Matt had been to the tunnel a few times and he still shook. This was my first and only time.  I turned Friday’s stroller backwards and backed him down the hill to the bridge, careful not to trip over the grass clumps. And so there the three of us stood at Wanda’s opening.  For the most part it looked like a black hole with touches of light here and there. Friday barked a real mean one that echoed down the tunnel. Matt wanted to know “What are we waiting for?”  And he went in.  He would have skipped if the height would have let him. He gets jumpy when he’s nervous. I buckled Friday good in his stroller in case he got a wild hair. I patted my slingshot. I pulled the straps tight and hurried to Matt with my feet splashing the dirty water, and it was smelly as hell in there like an old dirty bathroom. It was cold in the tunnel, and the thick air made it hard to breathe. The wheels of Friday’s stroller wanted to climb the walls as I pushed.

Matt clicked on the flashlight. “I could have dropped the money anywhere. We have to find that money!” The tunnel, with Matt’s wobbly handling of the flashlight, looked like a spook house. I was sweaty as hell—but the tunnel was cold. So Matt kept up with the light and the stroller kept making its echo and just to talk I said, “Where’d you drop it?”

Instead of answering, Matt bent down and looked for the money. I felt sad that he wouldn’t answer me. I felt smothered by the darkness. Friday started whimpering. I slapped him again. Then Matt answered, “Could be anywhere in here, I guess.” His voice echoed. I knew our time in the tunnel would be long. I could feel it. Then, as if to agree that we’d be there forever, Matt starts singing “Jimmy Crack Corn and I don’t care,” and his voice was horrible. It was better than focusing on the echo of Friday’s stroller—and every now and then his whimper. Matt’s song broke the eerie silence. We came upon the first gutter and the whish of the traffic grew louder. Soon we were under the first gutter and could see the manhole and breathe the fresh air and see the tires roll by.

Matt turned to me and smiled as large as you might imagine. “I don’t think it’s around here.” He annoyed me, because he was having fun.  Not that I don’t like having fun, but I wasn’t in the right mood.

I had a plan. If Matt stopped talking for too long, or I flat out felt I couldn’t breathe, I would shout about the water coming and get Matt all worked up, and we would run back toward the opening.

I looked back, and backwards started to look like forwards in the darkness. The flashlight showed all sorts of graffiti on the walls. Matt claimed we’d only been there for fifteen minutes, and I thought he was lying.

Then he screamed, “I found it. I found the money!” he shined the flashlight on it. He jumped up and down the best the tunnel would allow. The money lay in a puddle of water. He wrung the bills out. He put them in his pocket. He smiled hugely!  In all the stir-up Friday started barking his cute bark.  Matt screamed, “Praise the Lord! We can help Chris Johnson!” I was still too frightened to join in the celebration. I wanted to leave.

We were somewhere between the second and third gutter. I said, “Let’s turn back.” Matt told me we can’t quit now—that it’s not all about the money. And without waiting for an answer he started walking, so there I went pushing Friday. We didn’t say anything, and I tried to act cool like I’m not thinking about how far we’d come and how much farther we might have to go.

Matt flashed the light on the wall. We got closer to the letters, closer to Wanda’s name. Our feet splashed the tunnel water that seemed to deepen beneath our feet. The letters spelled Wanda. I could make out the W A N D A. I put my hand on the cold cement. I took a breath and tasted the mildewed air. It tasted bitter in the back of my throat. It was no longer a rumor. This wasn’t make-believe. Wanda’s tunnel was real.

Matt leaned against the side of the tunnel. He spoke soft like. “It looks lonely down here.”

I added, “Yeah, and where’s all the chairs and comic books everybody talks about.” I peeled some dried mud off Wanda’s name. Matt stood still and I circled him splashing the cold water that soaked through my shoes. “This isn’t what I imagined.”

“Hey,” said Matt. “A doll.” An old worn out doll hung from a cement tab on the side of the tunnel. “It’s hers,” said Matt.

I picked it up. It was old and dirty. It smelled rotten. “She must have got scared and left it. I bet she misses it.”

“Wanda wouldn’t get scared. It’s not tough to play with dolls,” Matt said and crossed his arms.

“I don’t know,” I said and straightened the doll’s dress. I placed the doll back on the tunnel’s wall, placing it as if she were waiting for Wanda.

Matt pointed at the doll. “Aren’t you going to take it.”

“It’s not mine.”

 Then Matt looked back at the tunnel’s entrance and said, “Wanda came so far.”  I wished he would’ve stopped talking about how far we were. I couldn’t breathe.

“Just stop talking about it,” I yelled and it echoed.  All of a sudden, with all the tunnel wind and knowing that Wanda had stood exactly in this spot, my skin started to crawl. I really couldn’t breathe. I grabbed my slingshot and a rock from my pocket.

I plain needed out of there! I said, “I hear the water! Pray to God! I hear it! The water is coming!” We started running as fast as we could which was hard with the curve of the tunnel. But we managed. The water underneath our feet grew deeper. I could hear a roar behind us. My lie was the truth! Or I was losing my mind with fear.  Matt’s flashlight danced wildly. So in all the stir-up we started crying and screaming. The roar got closer. Friday’s stroller turned on its side, so I dragged it behind me. Surprisingly, Friday was quiet in all this craziness. Then, Matt dropped the flashlight, and we didn’t stop for it. We were blind as hell. I dropped my slingshot too but I just ran faster.

I let fly and screamed, “Run faster!”  I didn’t have any pee, or I would have pee’d my pants. Matt ran ahead. With all the roaring, honestly, I don’t know if he did hear me. He may have answered me. We got out of the tunnel and hurried up the hill. It was hard to hurry for the big patches of grass and dirt clods, and dragging Friday’s stroller. Then it happened. Bam! The water came! It was powerful and white, spraying out of the tunnel. The creek filled. We didn’t talk. My heart stopped.  Matt screamed, and I backhanded Friday to stop his barking. “I lost the money!” Mat ran his hand through his hair. I slumped to the ground.

My heart stopped. Then, a few yards away in the water, I spotted it. I half ran and half slid down the hill to the water.  I screamed, “The money!”  The bills were floating every which way. We jumped in the water and managed to grab every bill. The money was drenched, so I undid the front of my overalls to dry it. Matt kneeled down next to me to help. We didn’t talk for a long while. I said, “We were lucky we saved the money. No one would have believed that we did something so important.” We gazed at the water in the creek. Clutching the wet bills I said, “Our mammas were right about the tunnel.” I shivered.

Matt, shaking his head, said “I know it. I know it.”

I stood. “At least they will treat us better after they see what we’re going to do for Chris Johnson.” I held up a soaked bill. Matt smiled. He pointed to my stomach where my slingshot used to be. “Are you sad about what you lost in the tunnel?” I said, “I’m not.”

We decided to split the bills up so we could each give Chris Johnson’s mamma some money. I imagined Chris Johnson riding his bicycle and his smiling face.  As we walked quickly on the sidewalk to Chris’s, Matt started jumping over the cracks again. Friday’s stroller hummed along. We reached Chris’s apartment and climbed all five steps to the door. I knocked.

Missus Johnson and Miss Patterson came to the door. We held up our money. I said, “This is for Chris.”  Matt said, “So he can come out to play again.”

Miss Patterson smirked. “Where’d you brats get this money from? Did you thieve it? Why are you both all wet?”

Our mouths hung. I said, “It’s our money. We saved it. We lost the money in Wanda’s tunnel but we got it back. There was water down there.” Matt’s face was red. “We aren’t playing. This is real money.”

“We don’t want to be bothered.” Missus Johnson’s eyes were bright red from crying. She shook her head and walked away.

Miss Patterson looked after Missus Johnson as she left. Miss Paterson clutched the door and said, “You’ve upset Missus Johnson. Look what you’ve done.”  Matt was first. I could feel the whish of her hand through the air before she cracked Matt’s ass. I was next. I gasped, but we both refused to cry. She pushed us down the steps and slammed the door.

Matt, trying not to cry, said, “It’s not fair that some people are born moms, and they get the right to treat us how ever they want.” He frowned, pushed up his glasses, and we began to walk across the street.

Friday started to whining and barking. I stopped.  I bent down and unbuckled him. I kissed him and rocked him back and forth. Friday licked my face. I looked at Matt and said, “We’ll buy you that shirt. We’ll buy you new shoes with the rest of the money.”  I closed my eyes and heard my mom yelling and the real sound of an ambulance siren off in the distance.  A chill came over me. I looked at Mister John Friday, and thought about Chris Johnson. I knew Chris Johnson wouldn’t call me a boy anymore. I couldn’t stop the tears or the disappointment. The lump in my throat choked me.
Matt didn’t bother jumping over the cracks on the sidewalk.

 I swallowed hard and said, “We can’t help Chris Johnson.”

Corey Smith holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University where he taught English for four years. He currently teaches High School English. This is his first appearance in Offcourse.

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