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Wait 'Til Your Father Gets Home

Ruth Z. Deming

Aaron laughed as he walked home, clapping the dust off his hands. His parents would never find out what had happened. Pauly certainly wouldn’t tell. For one thing, he was hearing impaired. And neither would Jimmy, who was a champion crook, whose parents both worked and had no idea what their three children did all day long.

The three of them walked home from Abraham Lincoln Junior High in a lousy neighborhood in Philadelphia. Aaron had been to his grandmother’s house in ritzy Huntingdon Valley, so he figured his family was poor, and he vowed to live in a beautiful house some day. And buy himself a dog.

They stopped off at their fort down by the crick. None of the other kids had invaded it yet. They hid it pretty well. It was under a huge willow tree, whose leaves dipped to the ground. They built it with lumber – people threw chunks of wood in the crick - and sticks, which were plentiful around the crick, and then built a fortifying wall with more wood.

Stooping down, the boys entered the fort. They set their lunch pails and book bags on the scrap of red carpet that served as their floor.

Jimmy led the pledge. “One for all and all for one. This we say ´til day is done.” They slapped each other´s hands.

“Anyone got any lunch left?” asked Aaron.

“You’re always hungry,” said Pauly, who could read lips. He opened his lunch box, revealing half an egg salad sandwich on white bread. Aaron licked his lips and looked up at Pauly.

“Go ahead,” said his friend.

A click came as Jimmy opened up his lunch box with a picture of Roy Rogers and Trigger on it. Aaron peeked in.

“Are you kidding me?” he said. “Oreos?”

Onto the red scrap of carpet, he put the egg salad sandwich and Oreos.

“Anyone want any?” he asked, as he pulled the sandwich out of the baggie and began chewing. Silence. At age 11, he was missing a front tooth, where the “jackass,” as he and his parents called Jack Sakowski punched him in the face, calling him a “Kike.”

That was the last time Sakowski said that word. Aaron got him down on the ground and kept banging the bigot’s head against the sidewalk. He would’ve killed him if Sakowski’s friends hadn’t pulled him off.

“All right,” said Jimmy, who had corkscrew blond curls and was popular with the girls, unlike Pauly or Aaron, “Here’s the plan.”

The boys had been talking about this for weeks, if not months. They needed new furnishings for their fort and knew just where to get them. It would be a bit risky, of course, but that’s what would make it fun. And dangerous!

They’d all go home for supper. Pauly looked at his huge watch and showed it to the others. Four-forty-five. It shone in the little window the boys had made by removing a small piece of wood. They agreed to meet here at 10 o’clock. Each one would sneak out of the house.

Aaron’s family ate at exactly six o’clock. After finishing his egg salad sandwich and Oreos he headed home. Outside his row house on Franklin Street, he joined in a basketball game. The basketball frame stood on the side of the road, the players giving way to passing motorists.

Allan, a tall black boy, passed the ball to Aaron. “Go, little man,” said Allan. Aaron was skinny and small, but he caught the ball, feinted to a couple of boys, then fooled them all by running up to the net, getting a clear shot, and scoring a basket.

They played some more until Aaron heard the unmistakable sounds of Ma.

“Aaron, your dinner’s hot! Get in the house right now or I’ll throw it in the trash,” said his mother in her high-pitched voice.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said out loud. “She always says that, but really won’t.”

His favorite. Meat loaf with gravy on top, mashed potatoes, and those awful canned peas. Otherwise, no dessert.

After dinner, they sat in the living room. TV watching was forbidden on school nights. Aaron and his two older sisters, Melanie and Shari, played Monopoly on the faded living room carpet. After that, it was Clue.

“You’re always clueless,” Melanie said to Aaron. She was a big tease and Aaron yanked on one of her braids.

Finally it was bed time. Aaron feigned a huge yawn. As the only boy in the family he had his own bedroom.

He put his pajama top over his school clothes, waiting for his parents to kiss him good night.

“Good night, son,” said Pop. “See you in the morning.”

Aaron moved aside his black curls, as Pop kissed him on the forehead.

Then Mom came in. “Did you do all your homework?” she asked him.

“Sure, Mom. Wasn’t much.”

His clock glowed in the dark. He heard it ticking along with the sounds of spring outside. The wind in the trees on the street. The faraway sound of the gurgling crick with its croaking of bull frogs, calling their mates. He loved looking in the deep waters and finding minnows near the surface and insects hovering on the skin of the pond. Dragonflies were his favorite. They were so beautiful, like a bug version of a butterfly.

When next he viewed the clock it was 10 o’clock exactly.

He threw his pajama top under the quilt, tiptoed down the stairs, and then went out into the dark night, carrying his black Chucks sneakers, which he slipped on over his white socks.

A fuzzy moon lit up the street, and he stared up at the planets and the stars. During library visits he checked out books about astronomy, like Stars for Sam. He wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up.

Reaching the fort, he heard voices inside.

“Thought you weren’t gonna come,” said Jimmy.

“You know better,” said Aaron. “Ready?”

The three friends walked for twenty minutes, staying in the shadows. They didn’t want to get picked up by the cops.

They heard the elevated train coming. Ka-chink Ka-chink Ka-chink! Five cars. Where were all these people going at ten at night?

Below the tracks were abandoned train cars, dozens of them. All rusty now, with locks on them. They sat sad and lonely on the high green grass.

“Deploy!” ordered Jimmy, whose father had served in the Korean War, as had Aaron’s dad. Pauly’s dad was also deaf so he never got the chance. Pauly and his friends made up for it, though, playing with their tin soldiers and blowing up pretend buildings with his dad’s lighter.

Each boy chose a different box car and began to get to work. Their dads had workshops, so each brought wire clippers, screwdrivers, and a host of other tools.

They worked quickly.

“Ouch!” cried Pauly, in that strange frog-like voice of his. He’d hurt his thumb and held it up.

After a few minutes, Jimmy and then Aaron opened up the locks on their cars.

The three boys hoisted themselves up into Jimmy’s car. They shone their flashlight all around. It didn’t look promising. Then they saw something glinting in the corner and walked over. One huge box, about half the size of a refrigerator, had a dozen numbers on the box, followed by the words, “RCA transistor radios.”

“Holy cow!” cried Aaron and Jimmy both. They pried the box open with the screwdriver, doing so from the side, then reached inside and pulled out one plastic bag after another filled with the radios.

“Five enough?” asked Jimmy.

The others agreed.

They began to laugh.

Suddenly there was a noise outside.

“What ya doing?” yelled the sharp voice of a man, poking his head out of one of the box cars. A gray cat also peeked out.

“He’s just a homeless man,” said Aaron. “Don’t pay no attention to him.”

Then they scrambled into the other car they’d opened.

“Holy moly!” said Jimmy. “This I don’t believe. This would be great for our fort.”

From end to end, the train was filled with color television sets, all wrapped up in plastic.

Each of them tried to pick up a television.

“Mighty heavy,” whispered Pauly.

“Oh, I can get it easy,” said Aaron. He lifted it up, grunting as he did so.

One was all they needed for the fort.

Paying no mind to the homeless man, they walked away with their cache, Aaron struggling with the TV.

“Wait a sec,” he said. “We ain’t got electricity in the fort. How we gonna plug it in?”

“Shoot!” said Jimmy.

They all laughed.

Aaron put it down and they walked onward.

The Philadelphia Police Department had a fleet of red police cars. Aaron’s dad told him the red color terrorized him but at least you saw them coming. The boys heard the ground crunching as they carried their booty home. Sure enough, it was one of those red cars, with its huge light beaming their way.

“Hide!” croaked Pauly.

It was too late.

Two cops got out of the red police car.

“Halt!” they ordered the boys. “Let’s see what you got,” said Officer O’Brien, as the name badge read on his black suit. The rim on his black cap shone under the moon.

The boys said nothing and held out their loot.

“You’re lucky we’re in a good mood tonight,” said O’Brien. “Put down the stolen goods and go home to your parents.”

They put down the radios.

“If we catch you here again, we’ll lock you up.”

They all nodded and raced on home.

Aaron took his shoes off outside on the mat that read “Welcome Home!” and unlocked the door.

An unfortunate sight awaited him. It was his father, dressed in his blue-striped pajamas.

“Where the heck ya been, Aaron? I thought you’d run away. Hush, your mom doesn’t know about this.”

“Aaah, me and Jimmy and Pauly went to the fort. Wanted to see what the world looked like in the dark.

His dad gave him a light smack on the rear as Aaron, exhausted, with bits of grass on his pants and filthy hands, walked slowly up the stairs. He could barely wash the grime off his hands and then fell into bed, clothes still on. He chuckled softly as he looked at the hockey posters on his walls and then fell into a blissful sleep.

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