Three teens take individual journey and discover that they may be the beginning of the end of our culture.
Barnes and Noble
As children, Lenny’s and Saline’s parents brought them to Southern California to escape the nightmares. But after their parents die in a horrible car accident, their adoption by longtime family friend, Busek, proves nightmarish in its own right. Busek is abusive to his son, Dustin, and does very little to hold the young family together. The trio of kids become friends and grow up as a family. Outwardly, they are unruffled by life’s events, yet as teens the emotional aftermath of Saline and Lenny’s parents’ deaths lingers and eventually catapults Lenny and Saline on individual journeys back to their old hometown.
Saline journeys with a small church group which has regular excursions to her old hometown in Lowery, Washington. She discovers the group is protecting a powerful secret that will change her life.
Lenny, on the other hand, becomes stranded in King City. There, he meets someone who unexpectedly and unknowingly guides him to a place in Washington where something might be waiting for him. Impulsively, he makes his way there and discovers that the simple world he has been living in is vastly different from what he could have ever imagined
Meanwhile, Dustin remains in Southern California and meets a group of youth who stumble upon the city's plan to replace the local library with a jail. In the process of this discovery they learn of one of the largest secrets society has ever kept, a secret waiting for them underground, in blackness.
When the Future Is The Past
Dad stood in front of the car, staring at their two story house. With his Mariners cap covering a balding spot on the top of his head, he gently stroked his nicely trimmed beard and moustache.
Ten year old Saline and nine year old Lenny sat in the backseat.
Saline leaned forward to get a better look at her mother. “What’s he doing standing there?”
“He’s saying goodbye. Time to put those nightmares behind us.”
The kids had forgotten about the nightmares they had years ago. They had them for months. This is what was weird: now that the nightmares had returned, they had to move back to California in hope of “a better economic situation” so Dad said.
Dad smacked his hands together, walked around to the driver side door and got in the car.
As Dad entered, Lenny’s face twisted in contemplation. “What if the dreams are real?” Lenny said.
Everyone in the car froze.
Dad turned and looked at Lenny. “Monsters aren’t real.” He took a long look at Mom as she handed him the keys. “Are you okay?” Dad said.
Looking straight ahead, Mom mumbled, “No.”
Dad gazed at Mom again. She did not make eye contact with him as he inserted the key into the ignition. “Here we go,” he said.
And they were off to California.
Over a thousand miles sounded pretty far. Their yellow Pinto never seemed so small. Lenny and Saline had an issue with space in the vehicle. Neither of them could stretch out. If they wanted to lay down or extend their legs, they couldn’t. There was either too much air or not enough air coming in through the windows, and Dad’s music was that of the incomparable Barry Manilow. Dad kept looking back at them and saying, “What, you don’t like the Manilow? You don’t like the...Manilow?”
“Okay guys,” Mom said. “Look out the window and say bye to Washington. These are Washington trees. These are Washington roads. Forget about any Washington schools.”
“Sally, don’t do that.” Dad gave Mom a look like she had been chewing with her mouth open. “You don’t have to be all passive aggressive.” He raised his voice in a gleeful manner. “Now tell me you don’t like the Manilow.” Then he turned up the radio.
They went to sleep, and when they woke their mother was saying, “See, these are Oregon trees and Oregon roads. Can you guys tell the difference?”
Staring out the window, Lenny saw nothing but green trees and gray road covered in water. “Oregon is wetter,” he said.
“I think it actually rains more in Washington. Right now it’s very wet though.” Mom braced herself on the dashboard, her long dark hair shifting to the front of her shoulders. “Charles, be careful. Slow down a little.”
“Nah, I’m just going to find a tree and hydroplane into it carelessly because, you know, Oregon roads are different from Washington roads.”
Lenny leaned forward in his seat. “Are you guys getting a divorce?”
Sally, their mother, turned around to get a better look at her son, the dried snot in his nose, the honesty in his brown eyes. “What do you mean, honey?”
“You guys always fight. What if we get put in a foster home?”
She shook her head. “No, we’re not going to leave you. No.” Sally glanced at her husband who kept his eyes on the road. She turned back to face Lenny. “Now where would we go?”
“This is your positive thinking,” Charles, their father, said.
“I am driving. You keep complaining.”
“I don’t think so. Actually, I haven’t been.”
“In your own passive aggressive way. You don’t think they pick that up.”
“Honey,” Sally told Lenny while taking a breath, “things are going to be okay. We’re going to figure this out and we’ll take it from there.”
Lenny started quietly crying, gazing out the window at the sky and the wet Oregon road. Saline grabbed his hand and squeezed.
When they arrived in Los Angeles they were disappointed. Graffiti. Traffic. Smog. Dad promised they didn’t want to see Hollywood. “Disgusting,” he said. “Sodom,” he said.
Lenny rolled up his window to block out the noise. “Why are we moving here? We should go somewhere else.”
“Somewhere pretty,” Saline added.
Mom tilted her head at their dad. “Yeah, why’d we move here, Charles?”
“You know why? We agreed to this.” Dad stared at her, biting his bottom lip. “It’s not all my idea.”
“I’m not asking why we moved. I’m asking why here?”
“To save money. It’s all temporary. If you’re down, you have to get back on your feet. We’re going to get on our feet.”
Saline leaned forward and tapped Mom on the shoulder. “Where are we going to live?”
Charles started, “I have a friend—”
“Define friend,” Sally finished.
“A really good friend of mine. His place.”
Lenny said, “A really, really good friend?”
“My bestest friend.”
“Don’t talk to him like he’s stupid,” Sally said. “He’s not stupid.”
“Busek’s a good person. He tries as hard as anybody.”
Sally’s face scrunched up. “Oh, please. You want to talk about being positive. Let’s talk about positive. More like gullible.”
“If you really believe he tried very hard.”
“You don’t have to like him for him to be trying hard.”
“Just drop it.”
“What do you mean drop it?” Charles asked.
Sally folded her arms and leaned on the passenger side door.
“Sally. Sally? Sally.”
Mom and Dad didn’t speak till they got to San Pedro, the place of their new home.
Saline appreciated San Pedro much more than Los Angeles. There were schools and a lot less cars. She liked all the hills and how there seemed to be a park close to everywhere. Nothing like Washington but better than Los Angeles.
Charles pulled into the steep driveway of a canary yellow house.
“Does he own it?” Sally asked, her plucked and shaped eyebrows furrowing.
“Completely,” Charles said.
A somewhat tall, yet dumpy man exited the house as Charles cut off the engine. Standing on the porch, the man applauded the sight of them. He had on a dingy white t-shirt and was clean shaven.
They all exited the car, stretching their arms and legs.
“Busek,” Charles said to the man. “Thank you to God for having us.”
“Right on,” Busek replied. The two men embraced on the wood porch.
Sally said hello to Busek from her side of the car and asked if his son, Dustin, was around.
“Dustin. He’s definitely here.” Busek lifted his voice. “Dustin, come say hello to Aunt Sally and Uncle Charles.”
Dustin exited the house, not wearing shoes, socks or a shirt, just shorts. He glanced at everyone. “Hi.”
Sally’s eyes widened. “Dustin, look how much you’ve grown.”
Dustin rolled his eyes. “You’re aunt who?”
Busek squeezed Dustin tightly by the shoulder. “Well, see if they want to play or do whatever you kids do.”
“You guys want to play?” Dustin half-heartedly asked Saline and Lenny.
Saline shrugged and headed towards Dustin. Lenny followed.
“I’m going to get dressed. Meet me on the side yard,” Dustin told them.
Lenny and Saline slowly walked around to the dirt walkway on the side of the house where a pomegranate tree grew. They stood there for a little while. Lenny reached up to pick a pomegranate. Saline took a few steps towards the tree as well.
When Dustin emerged the house from the side door, they quickly stopped extending for the fruit and followed him to the backyard. It did not have nearly the size of their yard in Washington. Although a patch of grass made it look kind of pretty, it went only about twenty feet out and dropped off about four feet. After this four foot drop, it was all dry dirt. A high chain-link back fence stopped the yard.
Lenny and Saline followed Dustin through a hole in the fence, crawling under it as if escaping prison.
Dustin brushed himself off. His jeans, stained, his shirt with holes in it. “This is where the fun is.”
“Is it?” Saline asked.
“Not all the time. Sometimes.”
They strolled out to the middle of this area. Behind them was Dustin’s backyard. Adjacent to his backyard were adjoining backyards to all the houses that went down the hill of Oliver Street. About twenty or thirty feet in front of them and up a small hill lined with palm trees were back driveways to apartments. The area was really more of an enormous alley, made up of palm trees, broken concrete, waist high weeds, sunflowers, and rodents. Lenny and Saline followed Dustin down the middle of it, deeper into it.
Yanking a weed from the ground Saline asked Dustin, “Have you always lived here?”
“The house? Na-ah. San Pedro, yeah. I think I lived somewhere else. I don’t remember. I was too small to remember it.”
“Do you like it?”
Lenny picked up a large stick. “Where’s your mom?”
“She left a long time ago, before I even met her.”
“Are you sad?”
“Because my mom?” Dustin frowned while lifting a long sturdy stick of his own from the dirt. As they walked, he smacked the nature around him with it. “My mom doesn’t make me sad. Would you miss your mom if you never met her? So I’m not sad.”
The soil was moist in some places and dry in others. The farther they went the more difficult the journey became. The trail became thinner and the weeds and bushes had grown substantially larger.
Eventually they exited out an opening in another chain link fence and out into a small, relatively quiet road. Under Dustin’s leadership, they walked down this road and found a bridge under Gaffey Street, the main street in town. Where they were, underneath the bridge, the street ended. Past them, weeds grew off into the sound of cars passing and a clear California sky. Aside from the graffiti, huge chunks of broken concrete and rocks littered the area. Dirt and weeds filtered out anything that might have been pretty. The faint smell of urine turned their noses.
“So you guys are going to be living with us for a while?” Dustin asked. They had to focus when they spoke so not to be distracted by the passing traffic above.
“Mom said we have to save some money.” Saline squatted on a large displaced piece of bridge.
Dustin remained standing. “What about the bad dreams? You were so scared, you had to move.” He tossed a dirt rock.
Saline let herself sneeze, and then said, “We didn’t move because of that. We have to get back on our feet,” she said, repeating her father’s words.
“Our house isn’t that big,” Dustin said.
Lenny sat and then stood, nervously patting the dirt off his bottom. “Our old house was big with a really big backyard and the pond froze in the winter and we had a really big deck that we played basketball on.”
“And now you have a small backyard, and you’re going to share a room with me so I hope your parents don’t save money for too long because it’s better to have your own house.”
“You’re mean,” Saline said grabbing her brother’s hand. She hurriedly started pulling him up the large hill towards their new home. Dustin patiently trailed behind them. Once they got within visual distance of the house, Dustin picked up the pace. They all saw his dad waiting for them on the porch. Dustin stomped passed Saline and Lenny with purpose. Lenny and Saline picked up their pace to match his.
Busek blocked the doorway to the house so Dustin couldn’t get in, although Dustin wasn’t trying to get in. “Where’ve you been for so long? All of you.” Busek stared down at Dustin. “I thought you were in the backyard. That’s where you went. Then you’re gone for who knows how long, not even considering what someone might think.”
Busek turned his attention to Saline and Lenny who were now hanging their heads. “This isn’t Washington. You can’t just wander off, thinking things are fine. Nobody knew where you were. Let me tell you something. Just last week, a young man was killed no more than two blocks away. They wrote his name on a wall in blood, just because he was in the wrong neighborhood. He did nothing wrong. Understand?” He paused and made eye contact with Lenny and Saline. Then he turned to Dustin. “Look at me.”
Dustin lifted his head, his lips curling in defiance. He took a deep breath and held it.
“Look at me,” Busek said. “They were giving us a message: Don’t fuck with us. Okay?”
Busek had cursed, which shocked Lenny and Saline. An adult never spoke to them with strong language like this.
Busek stepped to the side and nodded his head towards the front door. Lenny and Saline made their way through. Dustin hesitated before deciding to follow. When he got to the top of the porch, Busek slapped him across his face. Before Dustin could fully react to the hit, Busek quickly pushed him in the chest with one hand. So quick was the push that it resembled more of an open-handed punch. Dustin stumbled backwards and fell, landing on his back. He promptly jumped to his feet.
“Always tell me where you’re going,” Busek said, placing his hands in his pockets.
Dustin’s lips were still bent in anger, as his chest heaved.
Saline and Lenny looked past Busek and in shock stared at Dustin, until finally Dustin walked passed Busek and into the living room with them.
Charles and Sally got a view of this scene from the kitchen. Sally with her palms on her forehead, in awe; Charles heading Dustin’s direction.
No matter how much time past that summer, the house never smelled, sounded, or felt like home. Not really. Although the living room had some length, this house would not be mistaken for large. After entering, a person could walk all the way through the living room on their way to the kitchen. On the opposite side of the living room wall, the sewing room sat basically untouched since Dustin’s mother left. Sitting motionless for years, her equipment still used up the space. Now Charles and Sally shared this area with what might as well have been an antique sewing machine and a wood table. Without a bed, they slept on the floor in layers of blankets. The sewing room had its own bathroom. In the sewing room, next to the bathroom was Busek’s bedroom. At the back of the house the boys bunked in a bedroom with thin walls, so privacy remained an issue.
Saline did not share her room, but did share a wall to the boys’ room.
She stared at their door, looking to converse with them about starting school. She knocked on the door.
Dustin opened it. “You’re not allowed in.”
“I don’t want to come in.”
“Then why are you knocking?”
“Tell Lenny to come out here.”
Lenny arrived at the door, opening it more so he could fit through. “I can’t find my shoes,” Lenny said.
“I didn’t take them. Let’s walk to the school tomorrow and see what it’s like,” Saline suggested. Bandini Elementary could be sprinted to from where they lived, if one were in good enough shape.
“Nobody’s there,” he said.
“Just to look.”
“We see it all the time.”
Saline smacked her lips together in disappointment.
He sighed, “Maybe. Have you had any more of those dreams?”
Lenny searched around her room. She had cleaned it, not because she was neat but because today when Mom asked her to clean it, she did. Everything was in place, even her shoes. “I still can’t find my shoes,” he said.
“I haven’t had any.”
“You didn’t have that dream last night?”
“If I did I don’t remember.”
“Then maybe it’s working?”
She put her hands on her hips. “I still think it’s weird for us to have the same dream.”
“Why’s that weird?”
“I don’t know.”
Saline said, “I’m going outside.”
Saline went out front. A boy her age, Dirty Larry, hung his legs from the wall separating their place and his yard next door.
“Hey, Larry.” She pushed herself up on the wall, setting herself on it next to him. As usual, Dirty Larry had on a dirty shirt and some dirty socks. He spent a lot of time throwing stuff and breaking stuff and sometimes burning stuff. All of these activities kept him dirty.
He leapt off the wall. “You going to my school when we start tomorrow?”
“I think so.”
“You’re in the fourth grade like me. You’re going to have fuuuuunnn. You have to stay away from bullies. You’re going to have fuuuuuunnn.”
“Yeah. You’ll understand when you get there.”
“I know what a bully is,” Saline said.
“You haven’t seen one. There’s a couple.”
“You know bullies?”
“Dustin used to be a bully. You’ll be okay.”
When she got done with her short conversation with Dirty Larry, Saline marched to the boys’ room to ask Dustin about these bullies.
“Don’t worry about bullies,” Dustin said, standing near the edge of his bed. “Bullies are bullies only when they’re bullying for that little while. Not a big deal.”
Hearing Dustin’s explanation satisfied her somehow. He already went to school there and he used to be a bully, so he should know.
From there they separated and got ready for tomorrow. Lenny took a pair of pants out of his clothes trunk under their bunk and set them on the floor under the window sill. He then took out a blue shirt and examined it, making sure it fit the criteria for wearing on the first day of school. Saline had done a similar thing with her clothes.
Lenny and Saline loved to dress up. It reminded them of going to church, somewhere they hadn’t gone since arriving in San Pedro.
Dustin, on the other hand, didn’t care. “You guys have all your new clothes. I don’t even like new clothes. My old ones are good enough. My dad won’t buy them anyway.”
Saline paced to the other end of the room. “Are the teachers happy people?”
Dustin leaned on the window sill, trying not to kick Lenny’s clothes. “When the teachers talk, they pretend like they’re happy. They say this stuff to you that you don’t really want to hear.”
“What do you mean?” Lenny asked.
“It’s fake nice stuff. Like if you do something good, that’s not even really good, they’ll tell you it’s really good just so you’ll keep doing it.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Lenny said.
“It’s fake,” Dustin replied.
Saline eyed Lenny for a response as she made her way back across the room.
“Like what do they say?” Lenny asked.
Dustin answered, “Like, I’ll be walking in the hallway—and you have to walk in the hallway—so they’ll see me and say, good job, Dustin. I was going to keep walking anyway. Stuff like that.”
“That’s nothing,” Lenny said.
“Yeah, and don’t get your name on the board, and if you do, don’t get a check.”
Lenny furrowed his brows, as he dug in his trunk. “How do you get your name on the board?”
“A teacher puts it there,” Dustin said.
“Because they got you in trouble. In some places, if you feel like running, they might put your name on the board. If you talk, they put your name on the board. If you raise your hand and say the wrong thing, they put your name on the board. If you’re late from recess, they put your name on the board.”
Lenny squinted. “My old teacher never put my name on the board.”
“Don’t start now. If you have your name on the board, you might not even get recess. You’ll have to watch everybody play while you sit on the red line.”
“I’ve gotta pee,” Saline told them. On the way to the bathroom, she didn’t see the adults, but heard them talking in the living room. She couldn’t make out what they were saying, still it sounded important.
Saline exited the bathroom and was, therefore, on the other side of the living room wall, actually in the sewing room. Torn between going back and flushing the toilet and secretly listening to her parents and Busek, she stood on the other side of the divider wall. Mom wouldn’t think it was polite to eavesdrop.
“You know why you’re broke?” Saline heard Busek say. “You spend too much money on things you don’t need, on things that nobody needs. They don’t need new pants. They don’t need new shoes. I don’t even think they always need an education. To tell you honestly, I’m sure nobody needs the education they’re offering. All this will be ending soon anyway. I wouldn’t worry about their education.”
There was a blank spot right here where nobody said anything.
Mom said, “You’re always talking about the end of the world.”
“How would you like to explain what happened to them?” Busek said.
Again, nobody said anything for a moment.
Busek continued, “It actually happened, no matter how far you move away. Your kids remember too, if you let them.” Busek went on to say, “That’s why your kids aren’t adjusted. They have needless stuff in their head trying to block out the real problem. That’s all I’m saying.”
Her mother was right there to defend them. “Is that all you’re saying? Well if that’s it then I won’t be offended.”
“Save me the sarcasm,” Busek said, flatly.
“If you want to talk about maladjusted, look at your kid.”
“He’s a freak. You want to talk socially inept? Does he look you in the eye when you talk to him? Not me? How ‘bout you Charles? Ever talk to the little bastard?”
Busek said, “Oh, a bastard? A bastard, is he?”
“That’s how you treat him,” her mother said. “You can’t slap a kid like you do and think he’s adjusted.”
“Sally,” Busek said lowering his voice, “if your kids aren’t adjusted it doesn’t mean Dustin isn’t, and if you don’t like him it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong.”
“Really? What’s right with him? What do other people say about your perfect kid? How ‘bout his teachers?”
“First off we were talking about your kids. I’m saying that Saline and Lenny are going to have a hard time in school because they don’t know how to be there. Why don’t you fully acknowledge what’s going on? They’re not…attuned. Dustin’s adjusted. He knows how to be there. You don’t have to believe me. You’ll see in the next few weeks.”
Saline inched along the wall towards the room, for the conversation had become silent.
Her dad broke the silence. “They’ll be fine. If not at first, then eventually. There’s no real reason to think too much into it. They haven’t been to school here before. Fact. They’ll have to figure things out. Fact. Maybe…they have some things that need to be addressed. There’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t think. I see your point. I just think it’s moot and that’s it.”
Her mother was still upset though. “No, that’s not what Boobsek is saying at all.”
“What am I saying, Sally, since you can apparently say it better than I can.”
“You’re trying to say—”
“You’re trying to say that we raised them wrong. You’re trying to say they’re dumber for having lived in a small town. That’s what you’re trying to say.”
Once again a long silence. Saline decided to stop inching and hurry and tiptoe back to the boys. Walking away, she heard Busek saying, “I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just that...”
Saline entered the bedroom, upset.
Lenny noticed the odd look on her face. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.” She broke down sniffling, wiping tears from her eyes.
Dustin took a long look at her. “Tomorrow’s going to suck for someone in here.”
“Why?” Lenny said.
“If you’re going to cry before you actually get there, then you’re going to get made fun of when you do get there.”
“It’s not that bad,” Lenny said trying to console his sister. “It’s not that bad.”
Waiting for the lunch line to be let into the cafeteria confused her a bit. She understood having a line, waiting, not so much. After a while, she realized they had to wait there until everybody followed directions.
“No one’s going in until it’s straight and quiet,” is what she heard.
Finally the line crept forward. Everyone seemed to follow the rules. Grabbing the food reminded her of eating at a buffet. You could grab whatever you wanted to eat as it came up. A hamburger with a ketchup packet on the side and a fruit cup. She got the chocolate milk and a salad.
Kids all around her yelled as she ate. The cafeteria staff didn’t hesitate to raise their voices in order to keep the room quiet. The kids went about their business anyway, being loud.
After eating, she followed a few who had also finished eating, out to the playground. She had no friends and didn’t understand what she was supposed to do.
On the playground, kids were everywhere, playing basketball, dancing near the ball shed, playing tetherball and handball.
Saline really wanted to play handball.
When she got to the handball court, she stood in line observing what the rules were at this school. She’d be out if she hit the ball the wrong way, too high on the wall or below the red line near the bottom. She wouldn’t mind if she got out. She didn’t want the embarrassment of losing so she almost stepped out of line, but didn’t. Had to start somewhere.
As kids in front of her lost, the line shortened and reformed behind her, until finally she stood at the front of the line, nervous. One girl beat everybody, so now Saline wouldn’t feel so bad about losing to her. The competitor against the girl who kept winning apparently did waterfalls which weren’t allowed, so she got out, and now it was Saline’s turn.
The other girl served the ball against the wall and Saline pounded the ball into the ground with her fist and against the wall. They continued this until finally, the other girl couldn’t return the serve.
She was out.
Instead of getting out, the girl said, “Do over.”
“Nah, ah,” a girl from the line said, “you’re out. You always do that. You’re out.”
“It’s no fair. She hit it all high.”
Then others chimed in. “You’re out.”
“Yes, you are out!” several of them said.
It seemed okay for Saline to say what everyone else had been saying. “You’re out!”
For that, the girl who lost, she slapped Saline across the face.
“Ooooooo,” everyone moaned.
Out of nowhere Dustin arrived, quickly slapping the little girl hard across her face. The little girl started crying. Someone blew a whistle. A playground supervisor rushed over and started asking Dustin questions in a mean way. “Why did you slap her?”
“Because she slapped her,” Dustin pointed to Saline.
“What does that have to do with you? If she did something wrong, you come tell us.”
“You guys never do anything.”
“Dustin, you can’t make the rules. You’ll be getting a yellow slip for this. Now go have a seat on the red line. That girl has nothing to do with you.”
“That’s my sister,” he said.
“That’s your sister?” the playground supervisor said.
Dustin hesitated. “That’s my sister.”
Saline eyed Dustin intently as he pouted all the way to the red line.
Death in the Family
Today, for a little while, the kids watched Dustin work in the backyard, “making it look like a yard” so Busek said. For one thing, the grass had to be cut. Secondly, fertilizer needed to be laid down to make the grass grow in the dry part of the backyard. Dustin had to get all of this started. Lenny and Saline didn’t need to help. Sally made sure of this. After a while, instead of working, Lenny and Saline went off with Dirty Larry into the area behind their house, if for no other reason, to watch Dirty Larry do Dirty Larry stuff.
Somebody had pushed an abandoned car into the area. It lay derelict, not down towards Gaffey but in the other direction, towards Bandini Street School.
“Wasn’t me,” said Dirty Larry.
The old Plymouth had faded paint, some rusted spots, and two flat tires. Outside of that it looked perfectly fine to most anyone observing. Larry didn’t think so. Apparently the windshield needed smashing. He found an eight foot long metal pipe and walked with Saline and Lenny back to the car where he began pummeling the windshield. The size and weight of the pipe made this task difficult. That and the fact that the windshield wouldn’t break.
Breathing heavy, Larry asked Lenny for help. “It’s not as easy as it looks.”
Lenny thought about it for a second. “I’ll be in the back.”
Saline bit her lip. “Lenny.”
“Real quick,” he responded.
Larry, with dirt from the pipe sitting atop his head and with his knees ashy with dust and his shirt covered in muck, offered the back end of the pipe to Lenny. Larry grabbed the front end, and together they ran the pipe towards the windshield, as if attacking castle walls. When they came within striking distance they attempted plunging the pipe into the windshield. They didn’t even scrape it, though they did get a good laugh.
When they were ready to attack it again, Saline joined in, holding the pipe between them. All of them rushed the castle walls, carrying on their shoulders the huge piece of rusty pipe that they could barely fit their third and fourth grade hands around. This time, when the pipe hit the windshield, it bounced off with a thud.
Hunched over and exhausted, Larry leaned on his knees. “They just break in the movies.”
“Let’s try one more time,” Lenny suggested.
Saline stared at the palms of her hands as if they were growing right before her eyes. “My hands hurt.”
As the boys discussed a better way to plow the pipe into the windshield, Dustin walked down the small hill to where they were.
Lenny smiled when he saw Dustin. “They let you out,” he yelled to him.
“They went to the store,” Dustin said, taking a good look at the car and then at the pipe Lenny held straight up and down. “Let me try.”
Excited by Dustin’s enthusiasm, they all grabbed the pipe. Lenny stood in front, Saline after Lenny, followed by Dirty Larry and Dustin. With the pipe, they all ran toward the car as fast as they could, yelling as if going into battle. Once again the pipe bounced off the windshield.
“Fuck,” Dustin said.
“I know,” added Larry. “It’s tough.”
“I don’t think they break,” Lenny said. “Has anyone ever even seen a broken windshield?”
Dustin responded, “I have.”
“Right now.” Then he took the pipe, hoisted it above his head, stepped back a few steps and swung it as if it were a huge baseball bat, down on the windshield.
The windshield cracked.
Larry got inspired. “One more time!”
They all grabbed the pipe, holding it above their shoulders and ran with everything they had towards the car. Finally, the entire windshield collapsed under their will. They cheered and high fived each other.
“Lenny! Saline! What are you doing?” Charles yelled this from the top of the small hill. “Oh my god, what are you doing?”
Busek appeared, gazing on with a straight face.
Dustin kicked the dirt. “Fuck.”
Grounded, the three were made to stay at home that night instead of going to the movies like the adults had planned. The adults still went to the show. If the kids needed anything they were to go next door to Larry’s house. Mrs. Tinsley would pop in, in a few minutes and do the babysitting thing. Until then she was still available next door. Usually they didn’t need babysitting. In light of today’s events they had one.
“I didn’t want to go to any movie anyway,” Dustin said. “I’ll see it later.”
“You’re lucky your dad didn’t hit you,” Lenny said.
“He won’t hit me; he’ll beat me. And I don’t care.”
Lenny sat on the living room couch, frustrated.
Saline sulked next to him. “There’s no way we’re going to be grounded for a month.”
Lenny repetitively patted the couch.
“What’s wrong?” she said to him.
“It’s not boring,” Dustin said. “It’s hungry. It’s your turn, Saline.” He referred to cooking dinner. According to Busek, whenever they were alone they were supposed to make their own meals. Recently that idea got pushed up a notch, in that the kids took turns making dinner for everyone.
Saline said, “Let’s wait for Mrs. Tinsley.”
“Why? It’s your turn, not hers,” Dustin said.
Apprehensively agreeing, she made her way into the kitchen. On the counter was a tall cup of water. She lifted it to make space for the pot for the macaroni and cheese.
In the kitchen with her, Dustin asked her to hand the cup to him. “I boiled that water.”
She handed it to him. “For what?”
“See if it tastes better. I just have to wait a minute.”
Saline proceeded in making the macaroni and cheese right out of the box. She boiled the water and dumped in the noodles. After she cooked the noodles, all the while stirring them so they didn’t stick together, she drained the water from the pot by putting them in a strainer. Next she placed the noodles back in the pot where she dumped a packet of powdered “cheese”. She then added a half a block of butter and some milk to the noodles and “cheese” and stirred. “It’s ready!”
Saline served the food for each of them, and they ate it in front of the television.
A few moments later, Mrs. Tinsley knocked. She let herself in the front door, slowly, almost suspiciously, as if she were actually sneaking in. “Don’t get scared. It’s me guys. How are things?” She had on her house slippers and a bright pink bathrobe with a beige trim. One roller in the bangs of her hair.
“Good,” Saline said.
“Good? Good. I see you’re eating. Listen I’m going to take care of some stuff. If you need me I’ll be next door. You guys know my number?”
“Yeah,” Saline said, not sure where to find Mrs. Tinsley’s number.
“Okay. I’ll see you guys later.”
They finished their macaroni.
Every so often Dustin checked to see if the water tasted different if he heated it for longer periods of time.
Saline asked him, “Why are you doing that?”
“Does it matter?”
“I don’t know. Why are you doing it?”
“Dad tells me I should learn to clean water because sometime soon we might not even have running water. You guys aren’t discipline enough to do it. I have his bloodline…so I’m just practicing. I bet if I heated it at warm instead of hot then it could still get clean. I’ll know if it’s clean water by how it tastes.”
“Can you tell?” she asked.
“So far, I can’t tell, no matter how many cups I drink.”
Hours later, Lenny went to the door and gazed out the window. “They’re not coming home.”
Dustin didn’t respond.
Saline shook her head.
A little while later, Lenny found his way to Mrs. Tinsley’s place, because where were their parents? At her door Mrs. Tinsley told him, “I’m sorry. I have no idea where they are. Here, give me a minute and I’ll come right on over, okay. Are you guys okay?”
“Yes, Mrs. Tinsley.”
“Good. Good. I’ll be right on over.”
A few hours later the kids still wondered where their parents were. They heard the front door open. Busek entered the house with Mrs. Tinsley and not their parents.
Saline quickly asked, “Where’s Mom and Dad?”
Neither of the adults answered.
“Where’s Mom and Dad?” Lenny said. He turned to look at Mrs. Tinsley who stood nearly motionless in her robe and slippers.
Busek closed his eyes and held his hand out like a crossing guard. “Now, stop. Hold on. Now, just listen.” He put his other hand over his eyes, as if hiding something, though really shielding nothing except the expression on his face.
“They’re not here,” Mrs. Tinsley said.
Drinking all that warm water made Dustin need to urinate. He did an awkward jog in place, all the while not speaking. He continued his little jog, quickly moving his feet.
“Stay seated, young man,” Mrs. Tinsley said. “You too, Saline. Have a seat. Dustin, what’s going on with you?”
Dustin moved around quickly in a small circle. “Nothing.”
“Well.” Busek removed his hand from his face, revealing glossed over eyes.
“Kids,” Mrs. Tinsley began, “your parents were in a terrible car accident.” She glanced at Busek. “I don’t know what to say.” She looked back at the kids. “Understand?”
A hairspray commercial played on the television. Your hair could stay in place, no matter the weather. “It’s not good,” Mrs. Tinsley said, biting her bottom lip.
Dustin stood still and turned his head at the wall, staring at it, expressionless with pursed lips.
Saline gazed hard at Busek.
Mrs. Tinsley still bit her bottom lip, looking up at the ceiling in thought. “I don’t know how to do this, and I’m not going to. I thought I could,” she said, staring at Busek, “but I can’t do this for you.”
Busek, who had his eyes closed, opened them wide and scanned Mrs. Tinsley and the kids.
“I’m not going to,” Mrs. Tinsley said again. When she took a long glance at the kids in the room, her mouth opened and sincerity spilled out. “Your parents died in that car accident. I’m sorry.” She whispered, “I’m so sorry.” She said it, clasping her hands together, as if attempting to keep them from shaking.
Saline ran over to Busek, opened her mouth and screamed, “You did this!”
He bent over to say something to her. Before he could say anything she slapped him. Out of reflex, he slapped her back so hard that she hunched over involuntarily, grabbing her face. Busek apologized to her, however, only in his head.
The whaling screams that erupted from Saline sent Mrs. Tinsley to her knees and by Saline’s side, petting her shoulders. When Saline began convulsing in tears, Mrs. Tinsley turned and left, emotionally defeated.
Lenny chomped down on his teeth.
Not being able to hold it any longer, Dustin pissed his pants.