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Kid Brother.


When I came into the kitchen for breakfast, I could see Bobby through the open window, standing on the old porch with his back turned. I could see him standing quiet and absolutely still and waiting. I knew he was waiting and I looked away, to the sketch of the kitchen I'd drawn one day with Ma at the stove. She'd framed it and hung it above the radiator. It was her favorite of everything I'd ever drawn.

I could see the sun on the linoleum. The windows were open and the door was open and it was a good Saturday; it was between football weather and baseball weather, like it should be in September, and nobody was going to spoil it for me today. Bobby could stand on the porch until tomorrow for all I cared.

The bowl of breakfast food was there on the table. I poured milk over it and started eating fast.

"Ken," she said, and I could tell in her voice.

"No." I looked up. "I'm not taking him, Ma." I knew he could hear me and I wanted him to.

"He's your brother, Ken."

I pushed the bowl away. I didn't want cereal and I didn't want eggs. I didn't want any darn breakfast today. I saw him standing there on purpose. I knew him all right, the baby. He'd stand there, and pretty soon he'd turn, looking like he was going to cry, but this time he wasn't going, that's all.

This time it was just the club, just the Knights, and no nine-year-old baby was tagging along. We'd waited a month for today. Boys' House was the biggest in town, even bigger than the Y. Phil Leeds had read where every Saturday groups of kids came from different neighborhoods and were there all day. We could swim if we wanted, or play table tennis or pool, or be in the gym, or anything. We each had to bring a dime for lunch. Phil Leeds wrote the letter for the Knights. We waited, and finally Phil got the answer to come this Saturday, today. They sent a program, too, and it said Sid Glotter, the cartoonist on the News, who had the Chuckle-Chuck column, would be there to draw for us. He was extraM and from the day Phil got the letter I didn't go to sleep without thinking of it. I guess at least 20 times a day I counted the days.

"I know he's my brother," I said, and I was so mad I could have punched him then. "You know something, too," I told her. "You know when we started the Knights, we made up that everybody had to be 13 years old. You know that, Ma."

"Eat your cereal, Ken."

"I don't want any. Maybe I'm late now. Maybe all the Knights are over at the playground waiting. Phil Leeds got a brother too. Don't forget that, but does his brother always have to tag along?"

"Ken, you know how Bobby is," she said. She sat down next to me. "He's so shy," she said softly, "and he loves you so. Please take him, Ken."

I didn't answer. Take him on hikes, take him to the ball games, take him, take him, take him.

"Please," Ma said. She reached out and pushed my hair back from my eye, and I made up my mind.

"I won't," I said. "Not this time." I got up.

"All right, Ken," she said.

I just wanted to get out now. I wanted to be away from here so that I wouldn't have to see Ma.

She had one arm on the table and she reached over to the center. I saw the two dimes there. She picked up one dime and set it down by the cereal bowl. "Here is your lunch money, Ken."

I wasn't going to back down now. I picked up the dime. "Thanks, Ma," I said.

She said, "You'd better have a jacket, Ken."

I started across the kitchen to the back door. "I don't need a jacket. It's warm out," I said.

"It may turn cold later on today," she said.

I stopped at the sink. "I don't want a jacket!" I said, louder than I'd expected to. "I'm not a baby!"

She got up from the chair. "Kenneth," she said, and it was all she said as she walked out of the kitchen toward the bedroom. Behind me I heard Bobby move. All he had to do was say something. Just let him say anything to me now and he'd wish he wasn't my brother. I was waiting, holding the drainboard with my right hand, when I saw her coming out of the bedroom.

She walked toward me and she had pa's suede jacket that she'd fixed over to fit me after he died. She had it in her hands, holding it close against her. Her face was soft and her eyes were soft and she was smiling. I'd worn it once, to the last assembly in June, when the whole school was there and I got a letter for baseball and Ma was out in front watching me on the stage..

She held the jacket and laid it in my arms like it was gold.

"A mantle for my Knight," she said. "My gallant protector," she said. Right there, in the old kitchen, with the dishes piled in the sink, she made a curtsy and held her right hand for me to take and lift her up.

I took her hand and felt it soft in mine. I lifted her hand. She rose then, smiling at me, and she was my beautiful mother. I saw her smiling and I had to do it. I didn't want to and I couldn't stop myself. Holding the jacket, I ran to the table and got the other dime. When I turned to her again, I saw the wet in her eyes.

"Hey, Bobby," I said. He came running into the kitchen. "Get a jacket," I said. "Hurry up. We're late."

Bobby looked at me and he looked at Ma, as though he didn't believe it; as though this was a joke I was playing on him. But Ma nodded, and he dashed past us, into our bedroom. When he came back, he was wearing my blue Knights jacket. All the club had chipped in to buy a big square of canvas, and I'd cut it up into small circles and on each I'd painted a knight's head with an iron hood that I'd seen in a King Arthur book. I'd painted one patch for each guy in the club, and each guy's Ma had sewn it on the jacket.

"Take it off," I said.

He stood there quiet. I could see his hands, his thin hands with tiny blue veins showing. I could see his black hair, curly and mussed up, and his black eyes wide as he just watched me, saying nothing at all, until Ma said, "Let him, Ken. He's so proud of you."

I was in it now, I guess. I couldn't say anything now. I'd taken the other dime off the table and I couldn't be mad at her. "Come on," I said to Bobby, and waited while he kissed Ma. Then I kissed her and she said we could go out the front door today.

I crossed Cherokee Street, half running now, with Bobby two steps behind me, trying to keep up. Just so I wasn't late, that's all. Just so they hadn't started without me. Halfway down the block to Sioux Avenue, I saw them standing around home plate on the playground and leaning against the backstop. I slowed down.

Bobby caught up to me then, trotting along beside me to keep even, and I felt his hand in mine. I pulled my hand away, and after a minute I felt it again. I stopped and took his wrist and moved his arm off me.

"Can't you walk without holding someone? Do you have to hold me like you were crippled or something?"

He didn't answer.

"Don't be holding my hand," I said. "You understand?"

"Yes," he said, and he pushed his hands deep in his pockets, and then I heard Phil Leeds.

"Get a move on!" he yelled. "We ain't got all day!" Phil Leeds yelled, and I saw him atop the fence. I saw Zami Garlick coming toward the playground from Clinton Avenue off to my right, and I started running.

All the Knights were there. I got to the fence and turned for Bobby. I got a quick look at Phil, standing with his fists pushed against his hips, watching me.

I boosted Bobby over the fence. I got over and saw Zami Garlick coming through the gate beyond left field. I waved at the other Knights and yelled at Zami, and then, there at the backstop, Phil Leeds stopped me.

"What's the idea?" he asked, jerking his stumb at Bobby.

"It's all right, Phil; I've got his dime." I held out the money.

Phil waved at it. "What's money got to do with it?" He was wearing his Knights jacket, and I looked at the head I'd painted for him. I looked carefully at it--at the nose, the right eye, the left eye, the hood--and Phil said, "He ain't going."

I saw Bobby watching us, standing along along the third-base line. I saw him turn, starting to walk toward the gate, and I got Phil's arm. "I promised my Ma, Phil. Please, Phil, I didn't want him to come." Bobby was way beyond third base. "He'll go home to my Ma and he'll cry, and then I'll get it. Let him, Phil, and you know what? I've got some canvas left from what we bought, and I'll paint a knight on a horse and your Ma can sew it on your back for president."

He didn't say anything for a minute, and then he held out his hand.

"Give me the dimes," he said. "And keep him out of our way. We don't want any punks ruining today for us."

"Bobby!" I yelled for him, and waved my arms over my head. "Come on!" and saw him running toward us.

He ran funny, al ost like a girl, with his arms out wide. Phil Leeds got everybody together, collecting the dimes and knotting the money tight in his handkerchief while I walked out to meet Bobby.

"Now, listen," I said. "You're going. I told Phil Leeds you were coming with us and that's all there is to it. But stay out of our way. Don't be ruining it for us, you hear?"

"Yes," he said, in that soft low voice. He always talked like he was ashamed of something.

Mush Hanley started singing and we all followed in. Down by the railroad we passed the sausage factory, and Zami Garlick went around to the open doors and came back with six wieners he'd begged. He ran ahead, holding them up in one hand, until Phil Leeds caught him. Phil took them, got his knife, and cut them up, one piece for everybody.

Everybody was crowded around Phil, and he passed out the pieces. I got mine and waited until there was one piece left. The rest of the guys were up ahead, starting across the bridge leading to downtown. Bobby was behind me, waiting, and Phil Leeds looked at the piece of wiener in his hand.

"I forgot," he said.

He waited, holding the piece of wiener in his hand, grinning at me, and then he popped it in his mouth and ran up Sioux Avenue to the bridge.

I didn't even look around for Bobby. I began walking, and I knew what I wanted to do to Phil Leeds, all right. I didn't have to guess. Up against the wall and my arm under his chin. My elbow in his neck, and see how he'd like that. Make a fist slow and get my arm back slow, grinning at him. Just let him see the fist and and wait for it, and then take my arm from his neck and spit right on his shoes and leave him.

And felt Bobby's hand touching mine.

"Get your hand away!" I said, real loud. "Baby! You're nothing but a baby. Why don't you cry?" But he didn't. "Why don't you run home to Mamma and cry to her and tell her how mean I am?" But he stood watching me. "Here," and I held out the piece of wiener. "Take it," I said. "Take it, baby." But he just put his hands behind his back and stood there, and I threw it at him.

Now, all at once, I didn't care what he did; whether he went home or stayed right here the rest of the day or whatever. He wasn't ruining it for me, that's all, and I started up the bridge.

But I remembered Ma, saw her in the kitchen holding pa's jacket for me, and I was responsible. Once, after pa died, she told me to sit in his chair for supper. She told me that was my new chair and that I was the man for her and Bobby. She told me I had to take care of them, and how could I sit there tonight if I left him here?

I waved my hand for him to hurry. When he reached me, I put him on the old Boy Scout pace--50 steps running and 50 walking.

We caught up with the Knights at the stop light on Third Street. Phil Leeds made us wait until the light changed to red.

He made us wait on the other side, getting everybody in marching order, two in a row. He picked Zami Garlick to lead with him. I knew that was on purpose, against me.

He put me with Bobby at the very end, and that was on purpose and I made up to myself he'd never get no knight on horseback from me. He could have his club. They could all go jump.

Then we were only two blocks from Boys' House. Phil and Zami started to trot. The cop on the Sibley Street stopped traffic for us. We crossed over and went up the marble steps and we were in the lobby.

It was just beautiful. It was just the most wonderful place I ever saw. They had pictures on the wall right in the lobby--signed pictures--Babe Ruth and Gene Tunney and Joe DiMaggio and everybody. You could name anybody and his picture was on the wall.

I saw the auditorium on the right, and straight ahead, far down the hall from the lobby, I could see the gym, and I guess being here was the best thing a guy could hope for. I saw Phil Leeds giving the letter he'd gotten to a man who wore a white sweater.

The man shook hands with Phil and he walked around to shake hands with all of us. His name was Mr. Nye. He said he would be with us all afternoon, and how about lunch?

Off to our right was a checkroom, and we all gave the man behind the counter our jackets. Then Mr. Nye took us downstairs, past a big room with tennis tables and pool tables, and into a cafeteria.

I guess it was the best lunch or even supper I ever had. There were beans and hot dogs and rolls and potato salad and root beer and pop and cake.

Mr. Nye got a tray for himself and one for Bobby, and they were the first to start down the counter. Bobby couldn't reach above it to get his food, and Mr. Nye just filled his tray until he could hardly carry it.

They were first at the table. I was in line with my tray and I got next to Phil Leeds. I grinned at him and said, "I guess this is the best day the Knights will ever have, huh, Phil?" but he just looked at me and started up the counter. I knew him, all right. He had to be the head of everything, and he'd figured on sitting with Mr. Nye. I got up next to Zami Garlick and we went down the counter together, but when we got to the table, Phil Leeds yelled to Zami and pointed to an empty chair he'd been saving.

All around the cafeteria were other groups of guys, and sitting with each of them a man about as old as Mr. Nye. I guess there must have been more than a hundred kids there.

After lunch everybody wanted to go swimming, but Mr. Nye said we had to wait awhile. We played table tennis and some of the guys played pool.

It seemed like ten years before Mr. Nye took us down to the pool. We each had a locker and Bobby undressed with me. Nobody wore swimming trunks. Mr. Nye met us in the shower room beside the pool and said everybody had to soap himself down.

I'll bet that pool was a long as our playgrounds. It was all green marble and the water looked almost green and almost blue. Mr. Nye came over and said I'd have to watch out for Bobby. I took him down to the shallow end, but he didn't want to go in.

"Don't you want to swim?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"You're afraid," I said.

He didn't answer.

"What'd you get undressed for and come out here for?"

He just looked at me.

"Be afraid then," I said, "but don't bother me. I'm going swimming." I went up to the deep end and dove in. I swam around for a while and then reached out for the gutter than ran under the edge of the pool and held on. Bobby was standing there.

"Come on in," I said. Phil Leeds climbed out of the pool about ten feet from Bobby.

"I'll watch you," I said. "What are you afraid of?"

"Don't want to swim," Bobby said. I saw Phil coming up, against the wall, so Bobby couldn't see him.

Phil winked at me. "I'll pull you in," I told Bobby, but he backed away from the edge, his face full of fear. I saw Phil, his finger to his lips, winking at me again. I guess I wanted him friends with me more than anything. I said to Bobby, "Come here." He didn't move. "Come here, baby," I said, "I'm not going to hurt you." And he took one step and then another, setting his feet down slowly and carefully like he was walking across Colorado Street just after the tar truck had gone through.

"Here," I said, smiling, as Phil Leeds jumped out from behind him and grabbed Bobby and shoved hard.

I hear Phil laughing and I hear Bobby scream once, real high and real loud, the most terrible sound I'd ever heard, as he went into the water, falling on his side.

He went down and I didn't see him. He was down for a long time. I couldn't see him and I was afraid and I thought of Ma, and then he came up. I grabbed him and he was choking, his mouth full of water and his face red and his arms moving in the air. But I had him and got him over to the edge and pushed him up on the side.

Mr. Nye was holding Phil with one arm. "Come up here," he said to me.

I got out of the pool. Bobby was sitting up on the wet marbleM and then Mr. Nye said, "We don't think much of tricks like that here, fellows," and he looked at Phil LeedS, picking him up high and throwing him out into the pool. He turned to me. "I could throw you in, too, you know, but it wouldn't help, would it? Bobby told me at lunch that you always took care of him. You take good care of him, don't you?" he said, and he left us there.

I took Bobby back to the locker room. I made him sit on the bench and rest. I guess there was no use trying to save today any more. He'd fixed today for me, all right, but I didn't care any more. It was like I'd expected it with him along. I just wanted to get dressed and go home.

"Didn't mean to scream, Ken," Bobby said.

I was pulling on my socks. "It doesn't make any difference," I said.

"You're mad at me," he said.

"I'm not mad."

"Yes, you are," he said. "Didn't mean it."

I had my shoes on. "Can you get dressed?" I asked.

He nodded and reached for his socks. "Don't have to pay any attention to me, Ken. I'll go home now."

"We're going home now."

He looked up, and I saw sure he would cry. "The drawing," he said. "You can't miss the drawing, Ken. The man from Chuckle-Chuck."

"I can miss it."

"But that's what you were waiting for," Bobby said. He was standing in his shoes and socks and shorts. He reached out to touch me, but I pulled away.

"I'm not going to see any drawings, that's all. I'm going home, that's all, and you're going with me, and now. You wanted to come, and now you're going." I reached into the locker for his shirt. "You get dressed, darn it." I could feel it hard to swallow and my eyes starting to burn. "Hurry up, darn it," I said over my shoulder.

The other Knights started to come into the locker room. I went back to Bobby and helped him get his clothes on. We were the first out of there. We got our jackets from the checkroom man. We were passing the trophy case when Mr. Nye stopped us.

"Where are you fellows going?" he asked.

"Home," I said. "We're going home."

"Now you don't want to do that." He rumpled Bobby's hair. "We've got Sid Glotter, the New cartoonist, waiting," and he pointed at the auditorium. "You, Ken. Bobby told me you're pretty good with a pencil yourself."

Bobby and his big mouth. "Not very good," I said.

"Well, you're staying," Mr. Nye said. He got between us. "Boys' House promised the Knights a full days show, and you two aren't going to make liars out of us," and he led us into the auditorium. It was marked off in sections with a poster for each group. There was a sign with Knights written on it, and Mr. Nye took us to it. It was halfway back from the auditorium stage, near the windows. He told us to sit down. "Ken, I've got to get the other Knights," he said. "I don't want you to go home." Then he smiled and stuck out his hand. "If you tell me you'll stay, I know you will," and I had to take Mr. Nye's hand; you know that.

He left us and the auditorium started to fill. The other neighborhoods came in quick, and pretty soon Mush Hanley and Indian Gantman, of the Knights, came. Zami Garlick and Phil Leeds came, and they sat in the row in front of us, right in front of us. Mr. Nye and the other men were walking up and down the aisles. In a few minutes the auditorium was full. Everybody sat down but Mr. Nye, who went up on the stage and behind the curtain.

Then he came out and everybody was quiet. He said we didn't want to see him and he was going to introduce Sid Glotter, and the curtain opened.

I saw the easel and I could feel my heart starting to pound. I saw the big square folio of white paper, and then Sid Glotter came out on the stage. I saw the charcoal pencils in his left hand and I started to clap. Everybody started clapping, and Sid Glotter grinned at us. He was half turned to the easel, and while we were clapping he drew an apple. First an apple with a stem and everything. Then he had his back to us for a minute, and suddenly he stepped away. The apple was gone, but there was a round-faced girl's head, and she wore a tam; the stem was the tip of the tam.

Everybody was clapping and whistling. Sid Glotter smiled and tore the sheet off. He drew a lamppost. Then he turned his back, and when he stepped clear it was a tall, thin, drunken man, like in the comedies. Then he turned his back, and when we saw the easel again the drunk was standing against a new lamppost.

Bobby was laughing. I saw Mush Hanley bent over, he was laughing so hard. I saw Mr. Nye standing in one corner of the stage, his arms folded, and laughing. I guess I would have given anything to draw like that.

Sid Glotter was drawing again, on a fresh sheet, but all of a sudden I didn't see him at all. All of a sudden it was me up there, and it was like I had my eyes closed and making a dream. It was like before I went to sleep, there in the dark, when I saw myself a big painter with famous ladies sitting for me; when I saw myself in New York and Paris, drawing, and I would come back to town and Ma would have her own house that I bought, and they would ask me to paint the mayor and the governor ... and I felt Bobby's elbow in my ribs and heard him. "Listen, Ken, listen," he whispered.

"...and any of you fellows who want to try it are welcome," Sid Glotter said, as he held out the charcoal pencils.

"Ken," Bobby said, but I grabbed his arm and squeezed it.

"Shut up," I whispered, and my heart was going. "Shut up, shut up," but Bobby's face was almost white, his eyes big and wide, and he was shaking, he was so excited.

I saw Mr. Nye walk out from the corner of the stage. I prayed he wouldn't say anything or do anything, but he just looked in our direction.

Phil Leeds turned around and watched me, daring me.

"Anybody at all," Sid Glotter said, waiting, and I knew I wouldn't move. I knew I'd sit still, and later--tonight and tomorrow and for a long time--I'd see myself up there, with Sid Glotter standing away from the easel and watching me, and all of them watching me. I knew I'd be sorry and I wanted to do it more than anything I'd ever wanted in my life, and I felt Bobby pull his arm free.

I felt him moving in the chair, and then he was standing up and his arm was up and my heart was pounding so hard that it hurt. I said, "Bobby, don't," but he didn't turn, and I put my head down.

I heard him say, "My brother--"

And I couldn't swallow.

Bobby said, "He's the best--"

Any my stomach was sick. I felt myself sick and my chest tight and my heart so loud everybody could hear it, and Mr. Nye was calling for me. Bobby was standing up, looking at me and smiling, and Phil Leeds turned real slow to watch me, and I got up.

I didn't care what happened, he wasn't going to watch me sit there. I wasn't afraid of any Phil Leeds.

Bobby pushed back so I could pass, and next to him Indian Gantman pushed back. I got out of the row and started down the aisle, and I knew--I knew I couldn't draw. I knew I'd just stand there paralyzed, but I walked to the stage and up the steps, past Mr. Nye and over to Sid Glotter and the easel.

I'd never had such an easel, or seen such an easel or such big squares of paper. Sid Glotter bowed and turned me to the auditorium. I couldn't look out at them. I couldn't. I just couldn't.

But he gave me the pencils. I felt the pencils in my hand as he led me to the easel. Maybe it was the feel of the pencils. Maybe it was the blank white paper. But all of a sudden I took a pencil from the bunch in my left hand.

My heart was pounding and my throat was dry, but now I didn't see anything but the white paper, and I had a trick of my own that nobody had ever seen, not even Ma. I drew a five. And stepped away to let them see the five. And stepped back like Sid Glotter had done. I made a wheel of the bottom of the five and a seat of the straight top of it. I drew another wheel, working fast, not thinking, but feeling it in my arm and in my hands, and knowing I could do it. In a minute, when I stepped clear, there was a bicycle on the white paper and my brother Bobby riding it.

I heard them clapping. I heard them whistling and stamping their feet. I heard Mr. Nye clapping and Sid Glotter clapping, and above it all, from far back in the auditorium, I heard Bobby yelling my name.

After that it was easy. After that my heart stopped and my stomach stopped and I could swallow. I dreew a baseball pitcher and I drew a halfback carrying the ball, his knees high and his arm out. I drew two fighters in the ring, and Sid Glotter took that drawing. He told them int he auditorium it was for his column, and my name would be over it.

I guess I would have stayed there all day and all night if they'd let me, but Mr. Nye said Sid Glotter was busy and had to get back to the News.

Sid Glotter put his arm around me and we went to the foot of the stage and they clapped for both of us. They clapped all the time we were on the stage. I rolled up all my drawings except the fighters, making a tight tube out of them, and Sid Glotter said for me to go down the steps first, ahead of him.

The Knights grabbed me in the lobby. They slapped my back, and Indian Gantman rubbed my hair. Zami Garlick rolled up his sleeve and asked me to tattoo his arm, and then Phil Leeds was standing in front of me.

He said, "We showed 'em, didn't we, Ken? They know who the Knights are, don't they?"

And I didn't say anything.

Phil Leeds had his knuckles against his hips, and he said, "That one of the halfback carrying the ball, that's the one I want. Right in my room. I'll hang it in my room," and he reached out for the tube, but I stepped away.

I saw Bobby standing alone on the edge of the circle of Knights. He was standing and watching me, and I walked over to him. I shoved the tube under his arm, and I turned to Phil.

"You'll have to ask my manager," I told Phil. "These are Bobby's, and he's the boss of the drawings," I said, and I took his hand in mine. "Aren't you, Bob?" I asked.

He didn't say anything. He just watched me, smiling and holding my hand tight.
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Title Annotation:fiction
Author:Katkov, Norman
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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