New Boy

Consider the child whose parents separated after too much of his father’s drinking. He and his brother arrived late at night to sleep on the floor of his aunt’s third floor apartment, whispering in the dark until finally falling asleep, wondering what had taken his mother so long.

In November, dropped into St. Michael’s third grade class with Sister Mary Agnes, he was a curiosity – the new boy. He felt cruel stares until recess when the other boys crushed him in a circle, as if hungry for his newness.

Where’d he come from, they wanted to know. “Where do you live? You gut brothers and sisters? What’s your father do? Why’d you move here? Are you gonna stay?””

As interrogating continued, the new boy’s gaze drifted beyond the parking lot playground, surveying tight ranks of triple-deckers crowding the sidewalks along Andrews Street, the cars parked leaving barely enough room for others to pass, gray or white buildings separated by thin, black, hot-topped alley-ways on each side. No grass. Above the gloomy, sliver of space between each house, round, wooden clothesline holders hung from the side porches, some loaded with laundry like ornaments on old circus tents.

The city was different – dark, its streets twisting like rivers through tangled buildings – the late morning sun still hidden behind a high horizon of houses.

I’m Red.” The tallest boy stretched his skinny arm directing the new boy’s gaze. “I live down there – the house with the green roof. See it?”

“I live next to ‘em,” said another.

“I’m on the second floor,” said Red. “My father works at Prince Spaghetti. Afta school, you wanna come over? Ralph is, and Eddie said he might.”

Before the new boy could answer, the spark of the school bell shattered the air, announcing a scurry inside – the gaggle of girls sliding through the door under the “GIRLS” sign – the boys through the “BOYS.” Getting acquainted was finished.

In such little time, it was as if they knew all about him. Or enough. But not everything – not what made him so different.

That would come soon enough – his father’s hidden farm with smells of manure and pigs, and the chickens, and cows and horses and the pack of excited dogs that swirled alongside the truck when it rolled through the barnyard before squeaking to a stop. About the empty farmhouse and falling-down barn, and the narrow, gravel road that pulled them deeper and deeper into the woods – the only houses miles apart, separated like planets. And about his pony, Tex.

Consider the child who’d been accepted, absorbed into the Lowell tribe, and feeling he might never be lonely again.



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