A Backward GlanceChapter 1
So you wanna know some more stuff from when I was a kid? OK.
When I was fifteen, the social workers took me away from the family I was living with, 'cause they burned down the house we were living in. And it looked like maybe at least some of 'em might be going to jail. And I went to the other side of town to live…….Chapter 1
It was a big house. Two story. Brick. White trim, white doors, with fancy things over the front door. Rose bushes all along the front, and patches of flowers other places. A big green lawn and a cute little fence around the whole thing. Shit. I knew right away what I was gonna find inside.
The guy was outside, digging up a piece of his lawn. He stopped what he was doing as soon as we got inside the gate, and started wiping his hands off on his handkerchief.
I tried to guess what he did for a living. He looked like an ordinary guy---but expensive clothes. He was wearing a white shirt and a pair of nice trousers to do his digging in. Not much hair left on top, maybe about the same age as Beckmann, maybe a little younger. A little taller than me.
I didn't figure he was a banker; do-gooders were never bankers. Not a preacher, although he looked stupid enough to be one. Not a schoolteacher, they knew better. I guessed he was an accountant. Or maybe a hardware store owner.
He turned out to be a chiropractor. Jeez.
I stopped to look up at the top of the house, and Krause gave me a shove. One a' these days, I was gonna have to give him a shove back, with my fist. And if he shoved me one more time, it might be today. He knew it, too, when I turned around and looked at him. Backed up a step.
"Get on up there," he said, but he didn't touch me again.
The fella came up to us, and said, "Hello, I'm Dr. Corwin," and he held out his hand to Krause, who shook it but didn't introduce himself. "Ummm," the doctor said. "I thought I was getting a child."
"Fine with me," I said, and I started back toward the car. Nobody wanted to live with do-gooders. They wouldn't leave you alone. Always poking their noses into everything.
"No, wait," he said. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean I didn't want you to stay, it's just that…..you're a bit older than I expected. Come in, come in."
I'd never been inside a house like this one before. Fancy. Big rooms, shiny wood floors, nice furniture; nothing shabby, you know? Fancy pictures on the walls, fancy stuff sitting around, but nothing real girly, except for some flowers here and there.
The geek wanted to feed us. Krause finally got the signature he needed, handed over the stuff that went with me, grabbed a sandwich, and took off.
Most of the families I'd lived with just kinda tossed all the papers down somewhere, and lost 'em. The geek sat down with me on the couch and started reading it all.
I eyed the sandwiches. There was a whole fucking plate of 'em, three kinds, and a dish with pickles and stuff like that for 'em. I took one. Held it for a minute. No response from the geek, so I ate it. Thought about trying for another one. He said, "Have another one," without looking up. So I did.
He stood up, said, "Can you manage the plate with the sandwiches, and your bags, too?" And walked off. Out of the room. After a minute he came back. "I'm sorry," he said, "bring all that, and I'll show you your room."
So I grabbed my bag, and the food, and I followed him.
When we got upstairs, and into one of the rooms, he took the plate and set it on a desk, I guess it was.
I looked around. "I thought you were gonna show me my room."
"This is it," he said. "I know it looks bare, but we thought you'd like to decorate it your own way."
"You're shitting me." It was huge. Compared to the places I'd been living in, anyway. There was a huge bed, 2 chests of drawers, a great big desk and two chairs. And a rug. And space left over.
"You getting somebody else, too?"
Then I thought maybe I'd underestimated him. "OK…..who's the double bed for?"
He didn't answer right away. Here it comes, I thought. The pitch.
"Well…." He scratched his head on top where it was bare. "It's for you. Who else would it be for?"
Good question. "And who else?"
"Nobody else." His forehead was all wrinkled up like he was thinking hard.
Uh-huh. I'm gonna just wait and see about that.
"I'll, uh, I'll just go read through these a little better, and you go ahead and get settled. And eat some more if you want."
He shut the door when he left. I listened for the click of the lock, but didn't hear it. First thing I did, I got my pocket knife outta my inside pocket. And started working on the locks. Might as well get some things straight right off the bat. Find out if I was gonna have a problem.
I had the lock off the door to the hall when he came back, and I was working on the closet door.
"What are you doing?"
He didn't sound mad so much as just confused, so I did him a favor and told him how it was gonna be.
"Ain't nobody gonna lock me in anywhere. I'm just making sure, is all."
"Why would I want to?"
"Don't gimme any a' that 'as long as you behave' shit, either. You ain't gonna do it. If I'da let them lock me up at the last place I was at, I'da burned to death." OK, I exaggerated a little; I had to go out the window anyway, so it wouldn'ta made a difference.
He thought about that for a minute. "Well then……I imagine that's a good idea, to take the locks completely off. Then there can't be any accidents. I should have thought of that."
What a load a' shit. "Yeah, right."
"Well……while you're doing that, maybe we could talk a little bit."
He sat down on the chair in front of the desk and reached for a sandwich. He glanced at my face just as he was about to take a bite. Stopped. "Ummm…..did you want this one specifically?"
I wanted all of 'em. I was counting on those sandwiches for my supper tonight. I never figured he'd come back in and get 'em.
He put it back on the tray. "I can get something else. Don't worry about it. If you're still hungry, we could go down to the kitchen……."
"What'd you wanna talk about?" I went back to work on the closet lock.
"I just thought maybe we could get to know each other a little bit. You don't know me, I don't know you. Probably there are things you'd like to find out, and I have some questions about some of the information on the report here……"
I nodded and pulled the latch mechanism out of the door, laid it on the floor.
"Do you have some questions you'd like to ask?"
I shrugged. "You want these locks?"
"Ummmm, yes, I think so."
"So you can put 'em back in for the next kid."
He didn't say anything for a minute. "Maybe we'll just put them in the trash," he said slowly. "I don't think we need to lock anybody in the closet."
I shrugged again. His locks. Do whatever he wanted with 'em.
"Did some of the other families you've stayed with lock you in your room?"
"Couple. Why?" I dumped the clothes in my suitcase in one of the drawers in the dresser.
"Is that bag the only one you've got?"
"Do you see another one?"
"Wendell…..you're going to have to give me a break, here. I've never done this before."
Man, this guy was green. What a geek. Probably regret it later, but I decided to give him that break.
"OK, this is the way it works. If I don't like it here, I'm gonna run away. You know? If I run away, and I don't come back, or they can't find me, they stop paying you." I looked around at the room. "Now, I don't know why you're doin' this, I'm guessing it ain't for the money, but that's why most people do it. So most of 'em don't want me to run away. See? The last place I ran away from, they just didn't tell anybody I was gone. Worked out for both of us. For a while."
"Where do you stay? After you run away."
I couldn't help it, I had to laugh. "Like I'm gonna tell you?" I laughed some more. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Entertaining, maybe.
After a minute, he laughed a little, too. "OK, I guess that wasn't a smart question. Have another sandwich."
I picked up a couple. Different kinds.
He looked down again at the papers in his hand. "It says here that your mother has passed away, but your father is still living. Whereabouts unknown. Has anyone tried to find him? I mean, seriously looked."
"Yeah. They looked for him."
"And he hasn't been in touch with you at all?"
"Strange." He shook his head. "Do you think if he knew your mother was gone, he would come back for you?"
"Oh, he knows."
"Are you sure? Because it seems to me-"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
I picked up a couple more sandwiches.
"You seem very hungry," he said.
"Did you have lunch?"
"Nah. Krause always has some stuff he wants to do instead."
"What kind of stuff?"
I shrugged. "I dunno. Stuff." Actually I did know, but if I got Krause into trouble, he'd pay me back the next time.
"How would you like to go out to eat? My wife's out of town for a few more days, and I'm not crazy about cooking. There's a little Italian place a short way from here that's pretty good."
Man, this guy was something. I almost felt sorry for him. I suppose he thought we'd get to be buddies. Or something. Might as well humor him. I could do with a big plate of spaghetti.
I tried to remember what restaurants were in this part of town. I didn't come up here very often.
"Uhhh, you talking about Fiorenza's?"
"Yes, do you know it?"
"Yeah. And they ain't gonna let me in the front door. Hell, they won't let me in the back door."
"What do you mean?"
"There's some restaurants that'll give you what they got left over after they close up. If they're just gonna throw it away anyway. But Fiorenza's never does. They chase us away."
I looked at him. "Look, is there some reason you're asking all these questions?"
He blushed. "I guess I'm just curious. I'm sorry…….We could still go out somewhere to eat, even if it's not Fiorenza's."
"Nah, look, you go ahead. I got plenty of sandwiches here. I'll just get some sack time, you know?"
He hesitated. Well, shit, what was I saying?
"Oh, yeah, you don't wanna leave me here by myself. Well, I dunno….you know, just tell me what you want me to do---"
"What do you mean, I don't want to leave you here by yourself? Why don't I?"
This guy asks more questions than anybody I ever met. "I might steal something from you while you're gone. You know?" I turned back the covers on the bed. It smelled good. Not sure what it smelled like, not flowers or any girlie shit like that, just…..good. The sheets were pure white. A blue fuzzy blanket folded up on the top, I guess in case it got cold. And three pillows. OK, that was a dead giveaway right there.
"If I get this bed to myself, why's there three---"
He wasn't listening to me. "Would you?" he asked.
"Would you steal something from me?"
I was gonna tell him, yeah, sure, I'm a delinquent, that's what we all do; but he was serious. So I thought about it a minute. On the one hand, he had plenty of money. If I took something, he'd never miss it. On the other hand, I might wanna stay a few days and eat as much as I could get my hands on. "Nah, I guess not. Not tonight, anyway."
He smiled and nodded. "Thank you for being honest."
"I could be lying."
He laughed. Turned around and went out of my room. Didn't even shut the door behind him.
If I was a hard case, he'd be in real trouble. 'Course, I guess if I was a hard case, I wouldn't be here. In a chiropractor's house.