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Sweet September up in the Boone — twenty past last bell on the first day of school and a pumpkin-colored school bus tools down Boone Street laying middle schoolers along the porch-couch weed-lot crapboard houses of West Central: the Twilight Zone, Felony Flats, the West Centy. At the second-to-last stop KJ and crew come off the bus slinging backpacks as they head straight to the corner — spot they haunted all summer — barely out the sighing bus doors when shirts come off, ribs, guts, pecs, clavicles jutting beneath beige-black-white casings, All the above, as Studio says — boys hitting the chain-link kitty-corner from the Family Suprette, where they sag-scrape-low-hang-lean, all of them eyeing the only girl gets off at their stop, name they can’t remember, inky-haired lovely seventh-grade Rah-something — who won’t even look their way — until KJ sighs a single word: Damn.



Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

Then Rah-something turns the corner and four heads swing the other way in sync, like birds on a clothesline — KJ saying, Doug B, why your backpack look like My Little Ponies — Doug B’s lame comeback, You should see my dick, which might be funny except he always comes back about his dick, so Studio is ready with, Your dick? Thought that was a belly button.

Nah. All chill up in the Boone.

Summer still, says A-Sym — so called because of his one droopy eye, scar, crooked smile.

Should cancel school when the bump hit eighty.

That’s some sensible shit.

Cars go by — sleds and rides, buckets, trucks and bikes, minivans of parents picking up kids from Holmes, grade school where this crew met — these Holmes homes narrating traffic like they did all summer: I’d drive that and Imagine if your moms look like her and Put some wheels on that sled, yo and Why all Priuses look so constipated? Nah man, all chill up here in the Boone.

Across the street, old gray brocade curtains part and a head eases out, like an elephant being born: a silver-haired white man squinting over bifocals, watching the boys on the corner, grimy storm-glass window making it seem like he’s mouthed the words Well, I’ll be goddamned.

On the other side of glass and curtains: a dark living room, midcentury American (first time around), and tall, craggy Leonard Darvin pulls away from the window, repeating to himself for emphasis, breaking off each word. I. Will. Be. God. Damned. He thought for sure that when school started those kids would leave that corner, but no, here they are again. Are you kidding me? Leonard rants among relics — bookshelves bloated with dusty hardcovers, a blue sectional, two clamshell club chairs, console TV, hi-fi. All summer he watched those wastrels gather on that corner and loiter, their very existence an affront to the careful steps of his own life: Korea, G.I. Bill, junior college, marriage and kids, Squires circle counselor in the Knights of Columbus, copydesk at the afternoon newspaper, then city-desk reporter when the morning paper ate the afternoon, then back to the copydesk, and before he knew it, a buyout retirement and part-time job as a reference librarian, full retirement and full grandparenthood, all of it an easy glide until last year. There’s nothing in life he likes less than self-pity and yet he can’t seem to stop: a what-was-it-all-about refrain plays in his head. When Marjorie died he stopped going to mass, stopped fishing, stopped opening curtains, stopped doing everything he loved except the garden. And even that he gave up this summer. Maybe that’s what he hates about those boys on the corner, that they’ve somehow skipped to an ending they haven’t earned. That they seem born with the knowledge he’s only now discovered, that it’s rigged, for nothing, that we’re all just standing on corners, waiting for dirt —

No, Leonard says aloud. Bullshit. He can’t recall a single moment that he spent with the lack of initiative those boys across the street show every day, just . . . standing there. But it’s not the laziness that gets him, or that they’ll sometimes mess with traffic, or that they might be drug dealers or their single mothers might get food stamps, if Michael is correct, or any of that right-wing, phony, up-by-his-bootstraps bullshit that Leonard’s eldest spouts (Don’t forget who paid for those bootstraps, Michael). Leonard is not the sort of jackass who sees kids on a corner and worries about neighborhood property values the way his daughters do. (Oh, he sees the girls calculating their small inheritance.) No, it’s the sheer waste of time, of health, of potential. That’s what offends him. Grim determination has kept Leonard living in West Central for fifty years, through boom and bust, and bust and bust and bust, rumors of gentrification becoming stale jokes, his brothers in Seattle and Portland tripling their money while his home’s value remained as flat as the land it sat on. He was resolute through regular bouts of vandalism and theft, junk cars parked in front of his house, neighbors going the rental route with single-coat-paint remodels — through it all, Leonard held tight. For fifty years, he engaged the neighborhood kids, shot baskets with them, asked after their families and homework, hired them to rake leaves or help with his big garden. Last spring, he even tried hiring one of those corner kids, Timothy, but the boy just stopped showing up, disappeared off the corner (Probably in juvie, Michael said), and that’s when Leonard was done with them, done with all of it, done trying, done caring. For the first time his depressed neighborhood depresses him: those saggy-pants shirtless boys, that corner.

Don’t go looking for trouble, his daughter Emily said during one of his rants about the kids on the corner. If they’re harassing you, call the cops. Middle daughter Saundra, who yells as if her father lived at the end of a wind tunnel, saw it as an opportunity to move things along, Dad, maybe it’s time to think about assisted living! But the harshest reaction came from Michael, whose every solution comes from talk radio, who squinted out the window and said, At least two of them look white, as if that had something to do with it. One day Michael showed up with a small black box with two chrome latches and said, Look what I got for you, Dad, opening it slowly, for your protection, like some sacred relic.

Christ, Michael.

It’s just a .22. In case those gangbangers give you trouble.

Back when he was a reporter Leonard covered a house fire in this neighborhood, in what, ’70, ’71? Woman fell asleep with a lit cigarette and Foom!, up went her house. Leonard was finishing a night cop shift and caught it on the scanner, roused a lazy shooter and they met at the scene, fire crew pushed back by the heat, Leonard’s photog snapping away, flames framing the back of this stone-faced woman with a blanket wrapped around her. That’s when, from this raging house fire, a little kid walked out, four years old, just strolled right out of the inferno and up the sidewalk in scorched pajamas and smoking hair, easy as if he was coming to catch the school bus, and a firefighter scooped the kid and only then did the mother begin to howl and weep, two other kids dead as coal, but her four-year-old walking out calm as Jesus, and nobody had seen anything like it, a miracle for sure, but at mass that Sunday, Leonard had to fight to keep his praying mind from asking, If You could do that, why not have all three kids walk out? — wrong wrong wrong, he scolded himself, but too late, like a first crack in a foundation. Every night for a month after that he stood over his kids’ beds and prayed for their safety, and vowed to love them so much it would hurt, and he did, and it did, and he’s proud of them, and quietly proud of himself for putting four through college into good, decent lives (two teachers, a radiology tech, and Michael in sales), and he’d have put the fifth through college too, if not for that druggie boyfriend, and yes, he loves his kids and he loves his kids’ kids and if he’s around that long he will love his kids’ kids’ kids — but really, his son’s solution to some shirtless, saggy-pants teenage boys hanging across the street is to bring him a gun?

No, he loves his children as much as on those nights he stood praying above their beds, but sometimes he suspects they might be the ripest assholes in the whole wide world.

Leonard slides into the bedroom, where he’s finished boxing up Marjorie’s clothes. A year, that’s what everyone advised. So he waited. A year next week. Michael and his wife want to have everyone over for dinner, to what, commemorate. What he’d give to miss that dinner. Leonard has written marjorie on the boxes of clothes, as if they could belong to someone else. The girls picked over most of her things during the past year, magpies. The rest of her stuff takes up just four boxes, one less than he bought. Perhaps he should fill the extra box with his own clothes, which hang in the closet, work shirts and Sansabelt slacks, twill pants and Sunday jackets, hats, belts, ties.

On the stand next to Marjorie’s side of the bed are pictures of the grandkids and a frame with a small stained-glass Jesus: divine mercy, it says on the bottom. Sunlight used to glow in little Jesus’ robes in the mornings. Marjorie seemed to sense something in Leonard after the miracle of the house fire — of course she did — quitting the Knights of Columbus, quoting Graham Greene (the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God). You need to trust your faith, Marjorie used to say. But what if you were my faith? Where does that irrational anger come from: that she left him, that it was indecent, even cruel of her to go first? He can’t imagine driving those boxes to Goodwill. marjorie, the boxes say, and he will leave his Marjorie among the used clothes and couches and he will drive to dinner at Michael’s, all those children and grandchildren, strangers really, watching him. And then he’ll begin a second year without her. Christ God.

On a shelf in the half-empty closet, above his clothes, sits Michael’s shiny black gun box; the latches gleam at him like unblinking eyes. He feels like his kids are trying to tell him something he isn’t hearing, something drastic: Those gangbangers . . . looking for trouble . . . maybe it’s time. The latches of the gun box glitter in agreement. He covered such things as a reporter, of course; he has seen the spatter. In the mouth is the best way to do it.

Out on the corner the boys pool their money and send Doug B to the Suprette for Skittles and Red Bulls. Traffic from the elementary school dying now, cars dwindling until eventually a lone Subaru turns onto Boone and boredom pulls KJ off the fence. He rubs his ass above his pants and pimp-limps into Boone Street, almost to the divided yellow — so the short-haired lady in her sporty wagon got to go around, all the way into the other lane, the three on the fence hooting her along, Go on ’round now, sister and Don’t be late meeting your girl up at the REI.

Subaru Lady throws a harsh sideways at KJ — Damn, he says — but she goes on around because what’s she gonna do, stop and yell at some rocked-out kid in the street, line of white-drawered ass above his jeans? Nah, cars never stop, might sometimes honk, but never stop, always go on ’round, drivers quickly doing the math — jacked by some rangy-looking brown kid — stupid experiment in profiling that KJ runs over and over as if looking to disprove the only thing he knows for sure.

You gonna get run over one of these times, Doug B says.

Yeah, man, why you always do that? asks A-Sym.

Studio knows why KJ does his stupid-ass street stroll, same reason he crosses Boone wherever and whenever he wants, but Studio would never say it aloud, go all school-counselor bullshit on them — this being the one thing Kelvin James can control, not his shit-bird stepdad or his lazy mom or the Russian dudes who always want to fight him or the substation cop who has convinced herself that KJ is some kind of banger, middle-school kingpin (You slinging today, chief?) — nah, just this fence, this crew, this corner.

The fourth kid, little Doug B, several pounds of wit and wisdom below the other three, makes no such mental observations, just watches KJ and thinks, Dude, how you get your chest like that? Doug B all crazy in love with KJ, and maybe that makes him gay but who knows, who really cares with Doug B. Dude might just be too boring to be gay, Studio said, which is why they tagged him Doug B, a name that upset him greatly (My last name’s Weller and anyway, what other Doug you know?). But right now Doug B could care less about his lame tag or whether the others think he’s gay or boring or both — his only concern is how it is he can do fifty push-ups a day, just like KJ advised, and still have a chest like a Boone Street pothole.

Seriously, Doug B says, how you do your chest like that, K? You finally break down and buy that P90?

KJ shakes his head. It’s called P90X, Doug. And nah man, I ain’t bought that shit, I just watch the commercials. It’s common sense. Go after different muscle groups, triangulate ’em, keep ’em guessing. That’s all P90X is.

Studio has a thought: Hey — you think P90X its Muslim name?

It was the book Studio chose from the honors English summer reading list, The Autobiography of Malcolm X; he gave it to KJ to read and KJ passed it on to A-Sym.

Yeah, KJ says, maybe it was P90 Little till it put on a bow tie and join the Nation.

P90 Brian my slave name, bitch. I’m P90X now.

Laughter breaks and rolls like a wave coming ashore. Even Doug B is laughing — although the others suspect, correctly, that he doesn’t get it.

P90 Brian, A-Sym repeats, through snorts.

Yeah, says Doug B —

Then something catches their eyes up the street. KJ squints. That Blight? And sure enough, riding up on a new mountain bike, skidding sideways to a stop, all braces and big grin, it’s Blight.

No way! Look who up in the Boone today!

Blight! Where you been, man?

You steal that bike, Blight?

Nah, I found it in the folds of your girlfriend’s ass.

When Timothy first crashed the Boone, KJ called him Red Hedge, then Whack — tall, skinny red-fro’d beige-and-bones living up in that lady-wasn’t-even-his-mom’s crap-nasty-smelling house — and KJ and the boys would be scrapin’ and Timothy would walk by on his way to the Suprette for some cereal for the little random kids in that smelly house and they would tease him, Where you goin’, Red Hedge? Or What up, Whack? — Timothy smiling right off at the nicknames. Then Studio had him last fall in seventh-grade honors math at Glover Middle and he told KJ, Man, that dude is fun-NEE, only kind of intelligence that matters on the corner, and one day in the winter Timothy stopped at the fence and suggested they change his tag from Whack (white/black) to Blight (black/white). And like that, Blight was in.

But then there was a shit show at his house, right at the end of school, cops coming in after Blight got knocked around by the-dude-crashing-with-the-lady-ain’t-even-Blight’s-mother, prompting KJ to say what they all knew, Man, we all ghetto, but that shit Blight livin’ in? That’s just wrong.

After the cops came Child Protective Services — the butterflies, KJ calls them, master of free association that he is (social workers/social butterflies/butterflies). He’s had his own experience with the butterflies, couple of reports, two home visits, one short stretch of foster care. But even the butterflies recognize real shit when they see it, and they yanked Blight out of that house and threw him in with fosters. Now here he is three months later and Timothy looks great — real haircut, tight reddish curls just coming in, taller and thicker, arms and chest filling out. Court-ordered, Medicaid-paid, rubber-banded orthodontic grill.

Blight, Doug B says, man, you all tall and shit.

And A-Sym: How you like it up in the Sac?

It became their thing this summer, saying up in the — mostly to fuck with the substation cop, who likes it when they talk like characters from The Wire — Hey, po-po! We be up in the Boone las’ night and we seen some raw shit go down, yo — the others trying to keep a straight face as KJ goes full street on the suggestible substation cop — Yo, that Russian crew hang at Broadway Foods, they all up in the rock now, slingin’ that shit.

This up-in-the thing, it’s so crazy catchy they can’t help themselves, and now everything is up in the — all of them up in the Boone, Studio up in the honors, A-Sym up in the dojo where his uncle takes him for karate, Doug B up in the special ed (Doug B: I ain’t in special ed, I work with a learning specialist is all), KJ trying to get up in the pussy with that freshman girl lives over on Sinto.

And Blight? He all up in the Sac now, and he hears it right away, likes the sound of it, knows intuitively they will say up in the until they all know to say something else. As for Sacajawea Middle School, on South Hill, where his foster parents live, he’s not sure what to say. He shrugs. Nah, it’s good. I mean, it’s fine.

What about the girls? I hear they smokin’.

They all right. You know, I already had most of ’em. And half the moms. Working my way through the teachers now.

They come off the fence again, Blight’s lips parting over his braces of that juggy rim of his.

You kill me, Blight.

You got to hook us up, man, get us all up in that South Hill ass.

Not me, Studio says. Them Sac girls so stuck up you need a Sherpa to talk to ’em.

Blight and KJ bust up again, A-Sym and Doug B, too, although they don’t know what a Sherpa is.

Sherpa, Doug B says.

So how them fosters treatin’ you, Blight?

Nah, like I said, it’s good, man.

You look like you eatin’.

The lady, she love that food channel, always trying shit out. Hummus and capers and shit.

The fuck’s a caper? Like a crime?

Nah, it’s just, like, a little olive. But without a hole.

So rich people get the whole olive and in the hood we get the shit with holes?

Blight laughs. Nah man, a caper’s tiny, like a BB. And my foster parents ain’t rich.

How many in the house?

Six. All boys. They all pretty cool. The lady can’t have kids so they started takin’ ’em in. Nah, I miss this, you know, but it’s okay. And it is okay — the oldest boy might be a creeper, always getting too close to him, but the kid might just be lonesome too, Timothy can’t tell. Anyway, it’s calm: none of the edge he felt living down here. And yet, at the same time, he misses . . . what? Something? Everything?

KJ nods. He knows what that is, missing shit you shouldn’t. Did a month with the fosters when his stepdad beat on his mom two years ago. It’s a pleasant suck, but it ain’t home. I feel ya, B.

Much as they missed Blight over the summer, they were all glad he got out. Kid got a shit deal: real mom sketches off with some Air Force dude when Blight’s little, real dad moves in with that pale lady-wasn’t-even-his-mother, then the dad goes on a bug-eyed tweak, ends up in jail for stealing air-conditioning units for the copper, leaving Blight in a house with no blood, stuck babysitting random kids, Rebecca’s three-by-three — three kids by three dads, plus Blight. In fact, that’s what Blight’s doing back here. With school starting he was thinking about the oldest boy after him, Bowen. So he rode his bike past the house for the first time since June, hoping to catch those kids-ain’t-his-siblings walking home from school, but the curtains were closed on the house and Timothy isn’t supposed to stop — not that the lady-ain’t-his-mom, Rebecca, is so terrible — he liked her most of the time, until she’d get depressed, then the curtains would stay closed and the house would go to shit and he’d end up getting the kids ready for school himself, making all the meals while she bugged off on oxy or crystal or booze, whatever the new guy was using — and a few times she even made Timothy . . . what would you call it, cuddle? Is that even the right word? That’s what freaked the social workers out the most, even though Timothy told them it was okay, she didn’t want sex or nothing (to his shame, he kind of did), just someone to hang onto, and he didn’t blame her for it — she’s only ten years older than him — but he wishes he could’ve taken Rebecca’s kids with him when he left, especially Bowen, who’s eight and who was handed the baton in the shit relay when Timothy left, stuck taking care of the others (But that’s just your guilt talking, his counselor said, what she calls Timothy’s got-out guilt).

That’s who Blight hopes to see today — Bowen and the other two randoms — his little white-boy/black-boy/white-girl ain’t-his-brothers-and-sister.

You all seen Bowen around today? Blight asks.

Nah, man. KJ turns to the others. Any of you see little man walk home from school today?

I seen him a few days ago over at Broadway Foods, Doug B offers. Seemed good.

Timothy pictures Bowen digging in cushions for quarters to buy the large mac-and-cheese, just like he used to do.

He must’ve already gone past, Blight, Studio says. Sorry, man.

Timothy nods. Studio is the guy he really misses, dude even smarter than Timothy, or quicker anyway, a genius if he had to guess. He thinks about a phrase he read once, native intelligence — Studio’s dad being a quarter Kalispel or something, though not enough to register Studio or get that casino money. Anyway, he doesn’t think that’s what native intelligence is supposed to mean. While Blight likes all the guys — A-Sym with his good-natured, crazy-ass crooked face; big scary-sweet time-bomb KJ; even dull Doug B — Studio is the guy Timothy wishes could come to Sac to take the honors classes with him, like they did at Glover.

Hang here, KJ says, maybe the lady-ain’t-your-mom will send Bow to the store again.

Blight feels for the phone in his pocket — he should really check in with his foster mom, but he doesn’t want them to see he’s got his own phone, seems shitty somehow — Nah, I should get going.

Why’n’t you just go on up to the house? Doug B asks.

Dude, KJ says — Doug B so stupid sometimes — and it all gets heavy on the corner for a minute.

Blight shrugs. I can’t have no contact with Rebecca unless I’m with my guardian ad litem.

Even heavier now, the other guys wondering what exactly went on with that lady — it’s quiet, but the others can tell when Studio is building to something.

Be a good stage name, he says finally, Guardian Ad Litem. Court-appointed rapper.

Laughter peals again.

Rollin’ in my Toyota Tercel / makin’ sure them kids be well.

KJ doubles over again and Blight covers his braced teeth — laughing so hard as Studio goes off — Yo bad moms, check your frustration / I’m just here to watch visitation — and oh man, they’re laughing, so easy up in the Boone, sweet, sweet September, seventy-seven still on the bump on the first day of school, 2006 — and damn if this ain’t the best place, no other place and time —

 — and that’s when they catch movement across the street — that buggy old guy, Leonard, whose wife died last year, old gray stork Leonard coming out his front door, carrying something. They all look up, and Timothy smiles at him. He did yard work for Leonard last spring, nice old guy always brought him sandwiches and Dr Peppers while he weeded, which is how Timothy first got a taste for Dr Pepper, working in old Leonard’s garden. But something’s off, something is wrong. Leonard doesn’t seem to recognize him now.

Gentlemen, Leonard says, his gray hair crazy-wire as he strolls across the street with a box, I have something for you —

The old man angles across the street and sets the box on the curb. He smiles at them, little tufts of white hair coming out his ears, big bug-eye glasses, question-mark spine.

And here they are, six of the 9,000 people who live up in the Boone, in Felony Flats, Misdemeanor Meadow, West Central, the West Centy, on a natural peninsula carved by the curling Spokane River, which makes a loose U around the neighborhood and frames it to the south, to the west, to the north, while on the east, Monroe Street’s cop shop, courthouse, and jail form a rough gate, so it’s the one neighborhood you can’t escape — and if you believe the cops and real estate agents, this might be the worst strip in the city, maybe in the whole state — but you know what, fuck ’em, it’s also the most alive when it’s warm like this, everybody on the street, all that bagged-beer chronic drama playing out on porches and sidewalks, outdoor couches and strip-weaved lawn chairs, in weedy lots and parks and out front of Vietnamese grocers, on corners like this one —

 — where a lonesome old widower reaches down in the cardboard box he brought out of his house and five boys lean forward a little —

 — to see the old man come up with a handful of belts.

I have gifts!

He holds out belts like a preacher at one of those snake churches, a nest of black and brown. All summer I watched you gentlemen struggle with your trousers and I thought, What kind of country is this, where smart young men can’t even afford belts? We can send satellites into space, shrink a computer to the size of a billfold, but we can’t keep a young fella’s pants up?

His grin is playful, almost like theirs, as he holds out an old-man belt for each of them. No man should have to go around with his underwear out for the world to see.

The boys cock their heads in a dude’s-fuckin’-with-us way, Doug B tugging at his khakis.

And look, I brought shirts too! Leonard kicks over the box and they spill out: shirts! Stripes and whites and patterns and that baby blue of fat guys in cubicles: must be ten old-guy dress shirts in here.

No one should go without a shirt in America, Leonard says. There are two things you need to know to make your way in this world. Education is the great equalizer. And clothes make the man. He reaches down and grabs a shirt with a pattern that looks like old wallpaper. He holds the snake’s nest of belts and this shirt out for the biggest kid, clearly the leader.

And sure enough, KJ comes fast off the fence, chooses a belt carefully, woven brown leather. He pulls his jeans up over his white undershorts, tugs the belt through the loops. He takes a shirt too, the most ridiculous one, a swirly curly pattern, big-ass Seventies collar, and puts it on. It strains his chest and arms, but he manages to button it all the way to the top. I should tuck this shit in, huh? And he tucks it and yanks his pants up over his hips to his navel, cinches that brown leather belt around the rumpled waistband of the pants, and turns to his crew. They’re laughing their asses off, KJ looking like a substitute teacher, and now they’re all grabbing for belts and hoisting pants and tucking shirts and maybe tomorrow, Studio thinks, when they dress like this at school, this will catch on, and within weeks it will seep up to the high schools and onto the Web and onto streets everywhere, or maybe they’re already doing it in Queens or Compton or Quebec and in a month every kid will know that this is now cool, cinching and tucking and buttoning — old-man style — Urban Outfitters and American Apparel picking up on it just as the substation cop sends out a memo that this gang is now wearing Sansabelt slacks and that gang crushed fedoras, but that’s all in the future because for now it’s still a sweet September day on a slow corner up in the Boone —

 — where a laughing KJ and crew have followed Leonard across the street and into his house, front door wide open, A-Sym pulling curtains — Let a little light in, old dude — sun busting on dusty wall-to-wall, and into the bedroom, where Leonard has taken all his clothes out of the closet and spread them out on the bed, KJ and crew chugging Dr Peppers and going through Leonard’s whole wardrobe, Check it out and Look at this — Take it all, Leonard saying, anything you want, cabbie hats and loafers, the old man standing in the doorway smiling, but wistful, and that’s when Blight breaks off from the pile of clothes and sidles up to the old man: Do you even remember me, Leonard?

He looks over at the boy, and maybe he was thrown by his height — but yes, the light-brown skin, the big eyes, the reddish fro (but tighter now, the kid so much taller) — can this be the young man he had work in his garden last spring? He gave that kid books and cans of soda, and they talked about school. He was in honors classes, English and U.S. history and algebra, and Leonard told him to suck as much out of that school as the cheap bastards would give, and yeah, yeah, it IS him — Timothy? Leonard asks — kid’s grin going off with a flash of new braces, and it IS him, here, now, looking not just older but like he’s crossed over into some other territory, it IS him, and Leonard realizes that he was hurt by the kid disappearing like that, hurt by everyone good leaving at once. By God, Timothy! How are you?

Good. I got moved into foster care. I’m up at Sac now.

Ah, that’s a good school. You going on to Ferris or LC?

Ferris prolly.

Takin’ honors classes still. College-prep stuff?

Yes, sir.

That’s good. Outstanding. Keep that up. Out of the gardening business, though?

Timothy shrugs.

And before he really considers what he’s saying, that it commits him to tomorrow and after, Leonard offers something he hadn’t planned: I could still use someone to clear the beds. Rake leaves. Trim the hedges.

I could come on Saturdays if you want.

A stone in his throat. Goddamn. Leonard had a whole farewell speech planned for these corner wastrels, commencement address, goodbye, benediction, about how it’s short, life, how you’re young and you know everything, but really you don’t know shit until you’re too old to do anything about the shit you finally know, and just when you get comfortable it bleeds away from you, all that you worked for, THAT’S why you can’t waste a day of it, not a single goddamned day, gentlemen — because one day, before you know it: Foom!

Is it okay if I bring my little brother? Timothy asks. He imagines having Bowen meet him here on Saturdays, letting him have the money they make, good way to start easing Bow out of that house.

Leonard is staring at the shiny black gun box in the closet. Hmm? he says to Timothy; did the kid say something about having a brother come? Oh, of course, yes, he says, bring anyone you want.

KJ and crew are completely decked out now, crisp and buttoned, caps jaunty, belts tight. But Timothy is looking past them, to one of the boxes marked marjorie. Leonard’s eyes follow: a little glass Jesus sits on top of the clothes in the box. Christ God, the appalling mercy. The corner boys laugh and model for each other as Timothy helps Leonard hang the rest of his clothes back up in the closet.

’s story “Thief” appeared in the March 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine. He lives with his family in Spokane.

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March 2012

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