“That’s pretty stupid, nef,” said Clyde.
“I don’t think so,” I said, looking him in the eye.
“You’re wrong,” he said dismissing me.
“Yeah, well, maybe you are,” I shouted at his back.
He was walking away shaking his head.
“What’s all the yelling in here?” It was my grandmother. She had walked out of the kitchen to see what I was yelling about.
“It’s nothing, mom. Just Rickey being stupid again’” Clyde said to her.
“Am not!” I shouted again.
“Alright, Rickey. No need to yell. Do you want to tell me what it’s all about?”
“Nome,” I said while looking down and dragging my toes to and fro on the hardwood floor.
“Clyde?” She looked at him.
“He wants to give the school library a gift.” Clyde looked at me like I was an escaped loon.
“Yes’m. He wants to buy a Christmas gift for the library. Dumb, huh?”
“Well, I never heard of such,” she said looking at me. “Whatever for?”
“I like the library. I wanna get it a present. I just wanna.” I was still looking at the floor.
“Sounds a little foolish to me too,” she said. “It’s his money, Clyde. Let him be.” She returned to the kitchen shaking her head just like Clyde. It must have been in the genes.
Clyde was watching me when he started making circles with his finger next to his ear. He crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue angling it to the left.
“What a Bozo,” he said, then, he left the room.
“Well, I don’t think so,” I said to myself quietly.
The day carried on. It was Friday so my mother would be picking me up soon. She had promised we would go to Edwards this weekend to shop for Christmas presents. I had my allowance and some I’d saved in my piggy bank all year. My mind was made up on all the presents I would buy. I just needed to pick out the right book for my last gift on the list.
Clyde came in slamming the screen door. I looked up from my comic book to see him making circles again next to his ear.
“You still gonna buy a present for the school library?”
“Yeah and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” I returned to my comic book.
“I got crazies for relatives.” I heard him whispering to himself as he passed by
I made a raspberry noise in his direction with my tongue. It was then I heard the screen door open on the front porch. My mother was here. I tossed the comic book into the pile on the couch and ran to her. She took me in with open arms giving me a week’s worth of hugs.
“Momma! I’m so glad to see you. When do we go shopping?”
“Can’t we go now?” I practically yelled it.
She hugged me again. “First thing tomorrow. Right now we have to get your things together so we can get ourselves home.”
She walked into the kitchen.
“Hello, mother.” I heard her say. I ran into the bedroom to get my stuff.
“Did you tell your mother what you are going to do?” It was Clyde sitting on the bed.
“No. Not yet.”
“Boy is she going to think you’re one dumb bunny,” he said. He began to laugh.
“Will not,” I yelled back to him.
My mother poked her head into the room.
“What’s all the yelling?” she asked.
“It’s your son. He’s being a ninny,” said Clyde. He started to tell her then shook his head. “I’ll let him tell you. It’s too crazy coming from me.”
“Is something wrong, Rickey,” she asked me.
“No ma’am,” I shot back giving Clyde the evil eye. His finger was making circular motions for the third time today.
“Get your stuff, then. I have to get dinner started.”
I got my clothes and books together. We said goodbye and walked out to the car. I looked back to see Clyde cross-eyed making finger circles next to his ear. I stuck my tongue out at him.
Dad was not home when we got there. I went to my room to put my stuff up and mom settled into cooking. Friday evening dragged on simply because I wanted to get started on my Christmas shopping list.
“Wakey, wakey, rise and shine,” I heard in a half dream. “Come on, sweetheart, up and adam.”
It was Saturday!
“Yes ma’am!” I yelled. I jumped out of bed. My feet hit the cold linoleum floor. I jumped, ran into the bathroom. I splashed my face with cold water and brushed my teeth faster than mom could say breakfast is ready.
“You put your shirt on inside out,” said mom as I plonked myself into my seat in front of two boiled eggs in Santa and Mrs. Claus egg cups. Beside them lay two rows of bread and butter soldiers. Mom had buttered two slices of bread and cut them into strips just large enough to fit into the soupy yellow center of each soft boiled egg. Dad had always called these bits soldiers.
I pulled off my shirt and put it back on right side out this time.
“Go ahead, eat your breakfast,” she said smiling down on me.
“He had a rough week so he wants to sleep in.” Dad always worked eight hours and more every day. He put in so much overtime all the time that his employers always put him on salary in the end so they wouldn’t have to shell out overtime. Dad wasn’t concerned. He just wanted the job done right. It ended up with him always sleeping in on the weekends.
“You and I will go this morning. Perhaps, in the afternoon your daddy will take us out again. But I know you have things you want to get. As soon as you’ve finished your breakfast we’ll go.” She left me to my soldier dipping.
When the soldiers were gone I forced my spoon around the shell scooping the remaining white out. This I popped into my mouth and happily chewed up quickly.
“I’m ready!” I shouted.
“Shhh!” My mother had her finger at her lips letting me know I should keep the noise down. “Mustn’t wake your dad.” She smiled and helped me with my coat.
On the drive into town I tried to figure what book to get for the library. My mother interrupted my mental quest.
“Do you have your list? And your money?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am. It ain’t very long.”
“Don’t say ain’t, dear. You sure you have enough money?”
“I think so, mom. I counted out ten dollars when I knifed my piggy bank.” On TV kids took a hammer to their piggy banks but I could never destroy mine. A knife and a keen eye in the slot would bring the quarters and dimes sliding out without harm to my porcelain pig. It had been with me for about three years, ever since first grade when I started receiving an allowance. My folks always watched me drop a part of it into my rotund pig listening for the clang against the bottom.
“Are we going to Edward’s?” I asked.
“I thought we might go to the other end of town to Silver’s and Woolworth’s. Maybe dad will take us to Edward’s either tonight or sometime before Christmas.” She stared out the windshield watching for the turn to King Street.
We parked a block or two from the shops. I closed my door. She took my hand and we walked past the Riviera Theater. I looked at the coming attraction windows.
“Mom! Robin Hood! Robin Hood’s coming!” I shouted. The poster showed Errol Flynn pulling his bow taut, the arrow aimed at me. “Can we come see it?”
“We’ll see,” she said continuing to walk.
My head filled with fantasies of the Merry Men and Sherwood when mom turned into Silver’s. She knew everyone there because she had worked behind one of the counters years before. While she caught up with all the gossip I wandered around the old store. The floor boards were worn from all the foot traffic that had walked over them all the years before. Some of them squeaked as I trod on them. I took my eyes off the unpolished floors and began searching the counters.
And there it was. My search was over before it began.
TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD. The cover shown Tarzan with his bow drawn back, arrow ready to fly. Behind him was a bridge leading to the City of Gold. The cover was magnificent in bright shining color.
I reached for it. It was just beyond my fingers. On tiptoes I hefted myself onto the counter. My fingers just touched the glossy slick surface.
Startled, I fell on my butt. Dust clouded up around me.
“What do you think you are doing?” the floor walker was standing over me. Dust from my butt slam to the floor was settling on cuffs over unpolished shoes. I looked up from those shoes along a frumpy faded blue suit into the eyes of a decidedly grumpy man.
“I…I… I was trying to reach that book.” He looked from me to the shelf beyond my reach.
“You can’t lean on the shelves like that. They can’t take the weight of chubby boys like you. Don’t let me catch you doing that again. Understood?”
“Yes sir.” He turned and walked off.
“You could have gotten the book for me,” I muttered to myself. I watched him walk to the front of the store and when he wasn’t looking I leaned on the counter and jumped. My left hand pushed up from the counter as my feet left the floor. I tapped the book with my right hand in the split second I was mid jump. It toppled to the counter top. My feet hit the floor with a bang shaking dust up and onto my shoes. I ducked below the counter.
Rising slowly I looked to the front of the store. He was up front talking to one of the girls behind a counter. I grabbed the book which was now within my grasp. The cover was slick. The pages were heavy and the color of cream lined with words of ink. There were illustrations on several pages I noticed as I flipped through it. This was it. Perfect.
I scraped my feet along the floor as I searched for my mother. The sound of my shuffling feet made me happy.
“Pick up your feet, boy!” It was the same man in the bad suit.
I looked up at him holding my book tight.
“And just how did you get that book, shorty?” Gravity took hold of the loose skin of his face as he looked down at me. He looked similar to a hound dog, so much so that I began to snicker to myself.
His mouth opened but before he could begin to speak my mother put her hand on my shoulder.
“Can I help you,” she said.
“Uh, no ma’am. I was just telling this boy…”
“This boy is my son. Just what can he have done for you to talk like that to him?”
“Well, uh, he was climbing on the counter and…”
“If you had simply reached for the book he wanted it could have been avoided.” She was very stern.
The man wilted within his wilted suit.
“Uh, yes. I suppose you are right. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to my son.”
“Uh, yes ma’am. Rightly so. I’m so sorry little boy. I should have helped you. There’s no excuse.”
“Can we go now, momma?” I asked turning to her.
“I think so, sweetheart.” She turned taking my hand. We walked to the front of the store. I paid for my book. I looked back. He was staring at us. I made circular motions with my finger next to my ear and stuck out my tongue. I’m thankful my mother didn’t see it. She was too busy leading me out onto the sidewalk.
The rest of the items on my list I found in Woolworth’s. They were easy. The difficult gift I held fast to my side trying to keep Tarzan from letting his arrow fly.
On the ride home my mother kept looking at me.
“Who did you buy the book for? It was the highest priced item you bought today.”
“It’s my gift for the library.” My smile spread across my face.
“For the library?” she asked. “Your school library?” The pitch of her voice grew higher.
“Yes’m.” There was pride in my answer.
“Sweetheart, people don’t give Christmas presents to a library.”
“Why not?” I couldn’t believe my mother would say that.
“Christmas presents are for people, not things.”
“The library isn’t a thing. It’s full of books. Books are friends. I want to give to my friends.”
“That’s not really…”
“What, momma? Can’t I give presents like I want to?”
“But Rickey… Well, it’s your money I guess.”
“But Rickey… Well, it’s your money I guess.”
I smiled. Yes, it was my money and I didn’t care who thought I was crazy. I’m giving this Christmas gift to the library, I thought to myself as we turned into the driveway. The old gray house sat there as we parked beside it.
I wrapped the Tarzan book in festive Christmas paper the next day. On Monday I’d give it to the library. After I tied the bow I slipped it into my book sack. My smile grew broader with each passing moment.
That morning at school I walked along the breezeway between the old school and the new units built more recently. Across the sandy playground I saw some kids on the monkey bars next to the see-saws. My eyes traveled over them onto the newest brick building at the end of the covered walkway. I took a left into the hallway lined with cinder blocks that had been painted a light gray. Coats hung on the hooks lining the hallway. My class was the last room on the right. I went in and slammed my book bag onto my seat. I opened it to be certain my brightly wrapped package was still there. My smile said yes. Today was Library day. The class would be given a chance to pick a book from our one room library. It was a small cozy room with shelves on every wall lined with books to which my present would soon be added.
The teacher came into the room. I dropped my bag at the side of my desk and sat down.
“Good morning, class,” said the teacher. “Please answer the roll call.”
Class began as it always began, with roll call. This was followed by the Bible reading and the pledge to the flag after which we sat down.
“Alright children pull out your English books.” The teacher was in control until about eleven. It was around then that we were squirming in our seats.
“Put away your books. It’s time for our library visit.” Our teacher closed her book. “Don’t forget to return your books from last week if you have finished them.”
The rustling of book bags filled the air. I reached into mine and pulled out my book and my package wrapped in Christmas paper with a red bow squashed onto the top.
“What’s that?” the girl behind me asked.
“It’s my present for the library,” I said my smile showing teeth.
“That’s dumb,” she said. “Nobody gives presents to libraries.”
“Well, I do!” I said frowning at her.
“That’s dumb,” I heard her say under her breath.
We stood and walked single file out the door, down the hall and into the library which was on the left two doors down.
I slipped out of line to take up the last position. When I turned into the doorway there she was. My heart skipped a beat. She was a brunette. She was beautiful and young with a smile that could melt snow. She looked up at me and that smile made my knees buckle.
“Hello, Rickey. Do you have a book to return to me this week?” Her voice was music floating into my ears. Her deep blue eyes became my world until my teacher tapped my shoulder.
“Rickey, are you alright?” She leaned over me looking squarely into my face. Her hand settled on my brow. “No, no fever.”
“I’m fine, Mrs. Riecke,” I said.
“I hope so,” was her response.
But I was no longer concerned with her concern. I dived back into those two pools of deep blue. I walked forward with my hand outstretched.
“What’s this? A gift for me?” she asked her smile encircling me.
“Uh, no. It’s a gift for the library. I, uh, wanted to give the library a Christmas present,” I stuttered.
“That’s highly unusual but I will say thank you for the library.” Her eyes smiled at me.
Behind me I heard whispers, “ …sittin’ in a tree, K I S S I N G…”
My cheeks flamed red. The librarian smiled at me. She nodded causing her chestnut brown hair to slip across her right eye.
I turned and ran back to the classroom.