A Deed to the Night © 2011
By R.S. Bailey
Tick, tick, tick.
Skinny Micky squirmed in his bed. Tickticktick. He opened his eyes but didn’t move his head.
He focused on the window across his room. Mulberry shadows loomed outside and swayed across the frame. A head zoomed in from the side. Reilly.
Skinny Micky got out of bed, pulled a sweatshirt over his head, stepped into his jeans and went to the window. He slid it up.
Reilly was a huge pumpkin grin. “Put your shoes on and let’s go.”
Skinny Micky pulled on his sneakers and climbed out the window. “Where to?”
“I got a place”
They hid in the night, slipped around pools of streetlight, in and out of shadows and left Canterbury, holding to the side of Joan through the apricots; headed single file along the drainage ditch past what had been watermelon but was clods now, a sprain waiting to happen. They stayed out of it.
The night was cool. The scent of the dirt, everyday for them, floated in the dark. The streetlights ended. They shifted to the middle of Joan, side by side. This was theirs, alone on Joan in the night. They headed down for Babel and the walnuts. They could see the grafted black canopies hovering over white English trunks that fought bugs and glowed like ghost pillars in moon shadows.
Headlights swung from Babel to Joan and came toward them. Back to single file. The headlights swerved and charged at them, the two-barrel carb wheezed as it sucked air and picked up speed.
“Get out of the way!” Reilly jumped over the drainage ditch into the clods.
Skinny Micky stood his ground. “They’re not going to hit us.”
Bright lights bore down. A wildly laughing ’53 flathead flashed by, a nice close shave as Skin leapt over the ditch, pursued by a screaming, “Fuck you, you son of a bitch!”
Skin might have had long skinny arms and small hands but and he could hit what he threw at. Before the screaming flathead could escape he
had lofted a fist sized clod, gouging the cheap paint job on the driver side door.
“That’s Tommy VanSickle, man. Run!”
Skin had two more clods up and ready. “He tried to kill us!”
The flathead shuddered to a screeching stop, revved and jammed backwards. Skin’s clod smashed into the wing window as it pulled opposite. Three clamoring greasy shadows, raging hair hats, barreled out and shot over the ditch.
Skin ran. Keep those knees up, keep those knees up! Reilly was ten steps ahead. Skin stopped and threw again, slamming the clod right in front of one of the hair hats who jumped, tumbled and got up hopping on one foot. He fell over again and tried to hop on no feet. He didn’t make it. The shadows merged and raised him up.
“You hit my car! I’m going to kill you, you asshole!”
A shadow charged again. Skin threw straight at him. The shadow ducked. Skin grabbed the ground for more ammo, crouching down like a large toad, he twisted and sidearmed one. It curved up, down, and in. The hair hat didn’t see it leave and never saw it coming as it smashed apart on his right ankle.
Skin hugged the ground. His voice scraped through the air with a rasp that chilled young Tommy’s soul. “I know where you live VanSickle! I’ll burn your fucking house down! You’re the dead man!”
Skin stood and lofted a rocky clod high and far, it crashed hard onto the flathead’s hood. Skin ran, disappearing as VanSickle’s howl of hate faded in the night.
Under the black canopy, behind the glowing pillars, Reilly and Skin watched through the walnuts as the sprained and limping shadows scratched their hair hats and gave up the chase.
“Who’s Tommy VanSickle?”
“Hard guy, sophomore, been kept back a year. He’s gonna kick our ass! He’s real trouble, man.”
They stayed in the walnuts and away from Babel. Reilly had smokes. He gave one to Skin, popped a Zippo, turned his back to Joan and lit up. They cupped their hands and hid the burning tips.
They were invisible to everything but the bats. Even the man in the moon couldn’t keep his eye on them. They were illusions blinking in and out of the mind’s eye, behind and between the glowing white pillars mottled under the canopy. They cut across to the end of Babel. The bats followed; gliding, swooping, and banking around them in a flurry of darkness. They reached the shadow of the big old walnut.
Reilly grabbed on, swung up and disappeared. Skin followed. They settled in about thirty feet up. They had a full field of view from
inside, through the canopy. They smoked. This is what it was all about, keeping the flame hidden; concealing the smoke in the cool dark.
The light at the end of Babel struggled alone to penetrate the dark but was denied and reduced to a cowled funnel of glow. Reilly and Skin were safe. They had a deed to the night. In the distance they heard the two barrel wheeze. The speeding flathead appeared from around the bend and began to slow.
“VanSickle.” Reilly spit a speck of tobacco from his lips.
The flathead coasted to a stop under the light. Three hard shadows emerged, hair hats sparkling with greasy diamonds. They glared down Babel. The bats descended from the cowl then shot up and out the light, the hair hats swung at them with helpless rage. One crouched down, picked up a rock and threw it straight up. He missed.
Reilly whispered, “VanSickle.”
The shadows peered out, into the cowl. One limped out of the pool of light. It wasn’t VanSickle. The bats dove again. Like shadow marionettes, they swung ragged arms and made for the flathead. The bats shot up out of the light. The flathead grumbled and fled into the cowl.
Reilly lit another smoke. “We gotta keep this shit quiet, man. He’ll figure we’ll be braggin’ about it and someone will tell him it was us.”
“What’s he do on Saturday nights?”
“What’s anybody do? Go to the Rec, then go get drunk up on Treasure Hill.
“Where’s he live?”
The pumpkin grin grew. “Don’t tell me what you’re thinking; I don’t wanna know, I wanna be surprised.”
They climbed out of the walnut, crossed Babel, cut through Concord grapes, back past the apricots, and onto Joan.
Skinny Micky came creeping back through his window and shed his sneakers as the sun rose. Sleep fell upon him quickly.
Michael slowly opened his eyes. It was light. His room was empty. A voice in a dream? He slipped back into the darkness and slow, sweet sleep.
“GODDAMN IT I TOLD YOU TO GET UP HOW DARE YOU GO BACK TO SLEEP WHEN I TELL YOU TO GET UP I WANT YOUR CHORES DONE NOW CLEAN THE BATHROOM THE KITCHEN THE LIVINGROOM AND THEN YOUR ROOM GET YOUR GODDAMNED ASS OUT
OF BED I SAID GET YOUR ASS OUT OF BED YOU LAZY SON OF A BITCH I WANT THIS HOUSE CLEANED NOW!”
It was Mother.
She and his step father were fighting regularly and she was eternally pissed off. Michael rose. Seven in the morning. He heard the shower upstairs. There was only a tub downstairs so he got dressed and started the CHORES! He hated that word.
He finished the bathroom and went for the kitchen. His stepsister came downstairs with wet hair, shoulders hunched, eyes down, mouth shut. She followed him into the kitchen. Michael started to clean the counters.
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING DON’T START IN THE KITCHEN UNTIL AFTER BREAKFAST YOU IDIOT HAVE YOU HAD BREAKFAST WELL FIX YOURSELF SOMETHING THEN GET THE KITCHEN CLEAN!”
Mim shot a quick glance at him then averted her eyes. She was trying like hell to avoid the rage. She had only been thrown into this mess the year before when her father had married his mother. She had been all excited to be part of a real family.
Mim inhaled her bowl of frosted flakes and beat it upstairs. Her father, Johnny, was asleep. He and his trio had a five night a week gig at the Bancroft, a three star hotel in Oakland. He rarely got home before two-thirty and she had to be especially quiet when she cleaned upstairs in order not to wake him. It slowed her down, delayed her escape to hide next door with her new friends.
She was ten and on her way into the sixth grade. Michael was thirteen and about to start the ninth. She was cute. They didn’t really get along but had an understanding.
He kept as far away from her as he could. He knew there was big trouble in them thar hills. His friends however had already started the countdown to when she’d be fair game. They were already asking him if they could go out with her when she got to ninth grade. It made no difference when he said “No.” They had already caught the scent of fresh meat.
Michael pushed the mop over the kitchen floor.
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING I WANT THAT FLOOR CLEAN START OVER AND USE A SCRUB BRUSH SCRUB IT GOOD AND THEN DRY IT WITH A TOWEL AFTER THAT WAX IT GET GOING AND DON’T FORGET TO RINSE THE TOWEL BEFORE YOU WASH IT!”
The doorbell rang. His mother got it; it was Reilly. What the hell was he doing up?
“I’m sorry Jimmy, Michael has to do his CHORES!, check back later on.” Sweetness and light.
The day ground on as Michael scrubbed the kitchen floor one and a half square feet at a time, then dried it with a towel the same way. He finished his CHORES! Called his mother to check everything and give him the OK to go. She determined to find something wrong and decided the clothes in his dresser were STUFFED IN THERE LIKE IT WAS THE HAMPER! She promptly ripped the drawers out and threw them across his room scattering everything over the floor and onto his bed.
“FOLD THOSE CLOTHES IF YOU CAN’T TAKE CARE OF YOUR CLOTHES YOU WON’T GET ANYMORE WE’LL SEE HOW YOU LIKE IT WHEN YOU START SCHOOL BAREASS NEXT WEEK!”
It wouldn’t have been the first time, or nearly. He felt like reminding her of his 2nd grade pictures where he had worn his best rags, literally; the one where his jeans had wide frayed holes in the knees and a wrinkled plaid shirt with no buttons on the sleeves. When Miss DeValley had asked why he wore pants with holes in them he told her, “All my pants have holes in them, we’re pooor.” His mother went to the parent teacher conference wearing a fashionable silk and wool suit from Magnin’s. She was humiliated after Miss DeValley offered to give her hand me down clothes so little Michael could dress more appropriately for school.
There had been hell to pay that day so Michael didn’t bring it up again. He had learned a few things through the years.
After he had repacked the dresser, folding everything exactly as instructed, she checked again. As a precaution, he had taken an old toothbrush and cleaned the molding around the base of the walls. She had sprung that one on him when he was nine.
That’s right and you guessed it, Michael had called the shot. After she checked the dresser, she ran her fingers over the molding. He managed not to smile when she racked focus onto the ridges of her fingerprints and found no dust, then shot a quick glance at him and caught his eyes gleaming.
“DON’T GET SMART MISTER!”
What a day. Night fell.
Michael went upstairs to shower. Upstairs, into the dark, where he disappeared and glommed a tube of lipstick from his mother’s dresser. After the shower he yawned and went to bed.
He was awake.
Skin slid through the window. Reilly struggled to keep his voice down, he was fighting the pumpkin. “Your old man was out here watering the lawn!”
“He says it doesn’t evaporate if you water at night.”
“That’s why your lawn’s got toadstools.”
They took a new route, skimming past pools of light, up Cape Cod, over the chain link, and down to the creek. They lit up in the dark.
During the day the creek was Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Kids, armed with ninety-nine cent bamboo fishing poles from the neighborhood market, fed chunks of baloney on cheap hooks to tiny bluegill, mountain trout, and a slew of crawdads. At night it was a glistening black ribbon through the valley. A freeway that ran under roads and connected subdivisions across open range.
They cut across the apricots, into the cowl, past Babel, under walnuts and through cherries. They were invisible again. The night welcomed them home.
They moved with silent feet, down the creek, over another chain link, and into a grid of pastel pasteboards. Reilly pointed at a baby blue with the ’53 flathead in front.
Sneaking and creeping, they hopped the fence and zeroed in on a window in the back corner. Reilly pointed.
Skin took the tube of lipstick from his pocket and without even a look inside drew burning flames, as red as Marilyn Monroe’s lips, on the window. The pumpkin grinned big as Skin wrote backwards amidst the flames.
“I Know Where You Live”
And they were gone; to the creek, across the cherries, under walnuts to Babel and the cowl of darkness. They took refuge in the big old walnut. Safe in the canopy of black, they lit up again.
Reilly pocketed the Zippo. “Where’d you say you lived before you moved here?”
Skin ran the litany. “Richmond; Brooklyn; Fairfax; Oakland; San Jose; San Francisco; San Jose again; San Francisco again; Anchorage, Alaska; Waterbury, Connecticut; Fairbanks, Alaska; Seattle; Richmond again; San Pablo; El Cerrito; here.”
“My mother’s family lived in Brownsville. Amboy Street.”
“How many schools you been to?”
“Eleven, one of them twice.”
A week later they were high school freshman, deprived of their access to the night on school days. Skin was called Mick and on the Sputnik, math and science fast track. Reilly was simply Jim and on his way to metal shop and vocational training. They got off the bus and walked through the parking lot trying to figure out where their homerooms were.
VanSickle was in the parking lot with the hair hats, keeping his back to his flathead, looking over his shoulder for some confidence. They were needling him for not getting revenge on somebody for screwing his paint job. The biggest was running off at the mouth, “I’da kicked his butt right there. Shoved them fuckin’ dirt clods up his ass and made him run. Then I woulda kicked his ass again until he started shittin’ mud, and made him apologize before makin’ him pay for a new paint job.” VanSickle overcompensated and picked a fight with the biggest freshman he could find.
Craig Dodge was another kid new to the area and couldn’t figure out why the hard guy was after him. When VanSickle threw his Sunday punch, it lightly bounced off Dodge’s jaw. Tommy gawked, hesitating for just a half second too long. Dodge put him in a headlock and proceeded to pound on his face with calculated abandon. VanSickle’s eyes quickly turned into large juicy, black plums.
“I give up! I give up!” Tomato seeds sputtered and oozed from his nose.
Dodge looked up and locked eyes with Mick. Mick instinctively jerked his head to the side, warning Dodge to get away. He dropped VanSickle and split. Two coaches and the Boy’s Dean appeared on the scene from nowhere and yoked VanSickle. He couldn’t rat out Dodge because he had no idea who he was. But he would’ve if he could’ve.
Mick and Jim smiled on the way up to B Building. Suddenly Terri, the sophomore girl next door, stepped between them, wrapping her arms around their shoulders.
“I’ve been telling everyone for years that Tommy VanSickle couldn’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag.” Terri popped a peck on each of their cheeks and split to the girl’s room for a smoke. “Welcome to Prescott Valley guys; see you on the bus.”
A gaggle of freshman girls watched the three of them with squawking eyes. A sophomore girl had just kissed those two freshman guys. In school! A wee, small aura glowed around Skin and Reilly. It was the first morning of high school; they had a deed to the night and used it to put down a deposit on the day.
They turned into D-Building head; a thick, gray cloud of smoke billowed out. A junior side of beef slammed two giant hooves into them, bulldogged them around and herded them out.
The fall was suddenly upon them and the days were getting shorter.
But soon the tule fog would be extending though walnuts, beyond pomegranates, past peaches, plums, and oranges; diffusing the light all ways. Soon Skin and Reilly would be able to light up and keep the flame hidden, even during the day.
A Deed to the Night © 2011