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Steady Ender by René Houtrides

 

René Houtrides’s work has appeared in the Georgia Review, Mississippi Review, New Ohio Review, Crack the Spine, and other publications. “Knife, Barn, My Harvey” was included in Georgia Review’s Spring 2011 retrospective of finest short stories from the past 25 years. “Workers in Trees” was in the best Crack the Spine stories of 2013. She received awards from the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and New York Press Association. Her essays aired on WAMC Public Radio. Her play Calamity Jane was produced in Manhattan. She is on the faculty of Juilliard’s drama division.
 

Rosemarie Ippolito is a steady ender. That’s somebody who don’t know how to jump rope but can turn the rope so that the kids who know how to jump rope can jump. Ro Ro—everybody calls her Ro Ro—is a steady ender because she’s retarded. But she can read some words and she knows how to count her change at the store. She can’t jump rope, though. And she can hardly throw a ball or play any of that kind of game. 

She’s nice.

Ro Ro don’t go to school. Lucky her. She’s too old to have to go to school. If you counted how old Ro Ro is, she’d be a grownup even older than my big brother, and he’s married.

But Ro Ro likes to hang around with the kids even though she’s old. When my big brother was a kid, Ro Ro played with him and his friends. Then she played with my big sister and her friends. Next, when my big sister and her friends went to high school and got jobs, Ro Ro started to play with me and my friends. Today, me and my friends are me and Honey Girl and Veronica. And Ro Ro.

Veronica and Ro Ro are turning the rope, and Honey Girl is busy jumping, when here comes beautiful Gloria.

Gloria is Ro Ro’s sister. Gloria is younger than Ro Ro, but she’s always watching out for Ro Ro. Anyhow, here’s Gloria and she’s wearing a gold necklace and gold bracelets and nail polish the color of a red apple and a tight skirt with a slit up the side and high heels the same red like her nail polish. Gloria comes over and gives Ro Ro a kiss.

Probably, Gloria is on her way over to where she works in that beauty parlor on Grand Street. And standing right next to Gloria is her boyfriend, Zeke. He don’t work. He just hangs around all day drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes at the Mi Italia Social Club on Mulberry Street. He’s a member. You’re not supposed to go in there, where the club is, unless you’re a member, or unless you’re a kid playing outside on the sidewalk and one of the guys in the club snaps his fingers to get your attention and then tells you to go to the corner and buy him a pack of cigarettes. You get to keep the change.

Ro Ro is smiling at Gloria, and Gloria is smiling at Ro Ro. Zeke’s smiling, too. Then Gloria and Zeke say goodbye to Ro Ro, and Zeke pats the top of Ro Ro’s head, which is kind of flat, and her hair is gray, because she’s still old, even though she don’t know it.

After Gloria and Zeke leave, it’s my turn to jump, and I’m jumping rope, when all of a sudden Ro Ro stops being steady ender. She stops turning the rope and says something, but real quiet, so nobody hears exactly what she’s saying. 

So Honey Girl says to Ro Ro, “What?”

“I wanna jump,” says Ro Ro.

Every once in a while, Ro Ro forgets that she can’t jump rope. Like now. Ro Ro’s been a steady ender all morning, but now she wants to take a turn jumping just like the rest of us. Honey Girl and me and Veronica, we all say “sure,” and Veronica takes Ro Ro’s end of the jump rope. That way, Veronica and Honey Girl can be the turners.

When she’s not doing something like being a steady ender, Ro Ro usually keeps her hands behind her back. So I reach around Ro Ro and get a hold of her fat soft hands and together we walk into the middle of the jump rope. Now Ro Ro is standing in the jumping-rope spot and smiling at me. She smiles most of the time. Her mouth, when she smiles, don’t go up at the ends (like most people’s mouths do), it goes down instead. But, if you know Ro Ro, like everybody in the neighborhood does, you can still tell that she’s smiling, no matter which way her mouth goes.

Me and Ro Ro, we’re standing waiting for Honey Girl and Veronica to turn the rope. Ro Ro’s eyes are kind of like slits, and one eye, her left eye, aims at her big nose. She wears eyeglasses that are thick, like the “bottoms of Coca-Cola bottles” Honey Girl once said, but not to Ro Ro’s face, ’cause that woulda hurt Ro Ro’s feelings.

But I’m holding Ro Ro’s hands and looking at her. She has little ears. And she has an extra-big tongue inside her mouth, if you ask me. What else? Oh, yeah, she’s chubby, and her neck is as wide as her head, and her chin is jiggly, and the skin part of it stretches down toward near where her dress buttons start. The other thing that’s jiggly about Ro Ro is her right leg; she’s always making her knee shake, nervous-y. Ro Ro wears old-lady shoes—like mothers wear. 

That’s what Ro Ro looks like when me and her are waiting, right where the jump rope touches the sidewalk.

Honey Girl and Veronica, they know exactly what to do. They swing the jump rope over me and Ro Ro’s heads, and when the rope hits the sidewalk, right near Ro Ro’s old lady shoes, we all wait for Ro Ro to jump. She don’t really jump. She just kinda lifts up one foot and then the other, with a little hop. And then Honey Girl and Veronica swing the rope over our heads again. They do that a bunch of times, so that Ro Ro don’t get cheated out of having a full turn at jump rope. After she gets her full turn jumping rope, Ro Ro goes back to being a steady ender, and I get a do-over on account of Ro Ro stopped being a steady ender right in the middle of when I was jumping.

Next is Veronica’s turn. But she only jumps a few jumps before she stops and lets the rope hit her foot and she says, “There’s my cousin George.” She says it about this teenager who’s walking toward us. I never seen him before. He’s got a crew cut. When he gets to where me and Honey Girl and Veronica and Ro Ro are, he crosses his arms so that his right hand is under his left armpit and his left hand is under his right armpit. He’s got muscles and he’s got hair on his forearms. I can see his forearms real good because he ain’t got a shirt on; he’s just wearing the kind of undershirt that’s got no sleeves. One side of his jaw keeps moving, like he’s chewing gum. But he ain’t chewing gum.

“Hi, George,” says Veronica.

George don’t say hi. He just keeps nodding. Small nods. And he looks around at the buildings across the street and at all of us. He looks at Ro Ro like all he notices is that she’s retarded.

“Is your dad home?” he asks Veronica.

“No, he don’t get home until after work.”

“How about Aunt Luisa?” (He means Veronica’s mother.)

“She’s at the butcher shop, buying food. And after that, she’s gotta go to the vegetable store and other places. But I got a key if you wanna go into my house and wait,” says Veronica. She reaches around her neck and pulls out a string that’s got her apartment key on it.

“No, it’s okay,” says Veronica’s cousin. “I’ll wait here with you guys.”

He goes and sits sideways on my stoop. He’s wearing dungarees. He’s got one leg bent on a step and his other leg bent on a lower step. He’s still chewing without chewing gum. Maybe he’s eating the inside of his mouth.

“Your turn,” Veronica says to me.

I get ready. Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. The rope hits the sidewalk. I rock back and forth so that I can time when I jump in. If I jump in at the wrong second and tangle the rope, I’m out, and it’s somebody else’s turn to jump.

Soon’s I jump in, Honey Girl and Veronica start singing. Ro Ro sings, too. She knows this song:

My mother, your mother
Live across the way
Two Fifteen East Broadway
Every time they have a fight
This is what they say
“Lady, lady, turn around
Lady, lady, touch the ground
Lady, lady, tie your shoe
Lady, lady, 25 skidoo.”

I’m supposed to do what the song says. I have to turn around in the middle of jumping. And I gotta touch the ground with at least one hand while I’m jumping. Next, I have to pretend I’m tying my shoe, but really all’s I gotta do is touch my shoelace. When they say, “25 skidoo,” that’s when I’m supposed to jump out.

I do all that. After I jump out, Honey Girl jumps in.

My mother, your mother
Live across the way
Two Fifteen East Broadway

The song ain’t about anybody’s real mother. But 215 East Broadway is real. It’s around the corner.

Honey Girl lives on East Broadway—not at 215, at 73— and pretty soon it’s time for her to go home. That’s the end of jump rope, because it’s Honey Girl’s jump rope, and she takes it with her when she leaves.

Veronica’s cousin is still on the stoop. He’s dropping his head back like he’s maybe sleeping, but I think he ain’t.

Me and Veronica check our pockets for how much money we got. We got enough to share a cherry icicle. Icicles are easy to share because they come in two parts that are frozen attached to each other, and there’s two sticks for holding onto. All you gotta do is crack the two parts along the line in the middle.

When me and Veronica go to the candy store, Ro Ro comes with us. Me and Veronica buy the icicle, and Ro Ro buys a Good Humor ice cream. Ro Ro’s always got money ’cause Zeke gives her at least a dollar every day so Ro Ro can buy herself whatever candy or ice cream she wants. Wow. You can’t beat that.

Veronica cracks the cherry icicle on the rail at the front of my stoop. Two halves, exactly.

“You want some?” Veronica says to her cousin.

He just shakes his head no.

Me and Veronica sit on my stoop. Before Ro Ro sits down, she takes a handkerchief with pink and yellow flowers on it out of her pocket and she puts it on the step and sits on the handkerchief so she don’t get her dress dirty.

Ro Ro ain’t sitting on the handkerchief that she uses for church. That’s a different handkerchief. Her church handkerchief is white and has lace on the border, and Ro Ro puts it on her head whenever she goes to mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Ro Ro goes to church all the time. She likes it.

A big piece of cold icicle breaks off in my mouth. I gotta make extra space in my mouth to keep the icicle from touching. But, outside of my mouth, it’s a hot day, and I gotta be careful that the part of the icicle that’s not in my mouth don’t melt and fall on the steps.

Veronica’s cousin stares at me. He’s got a big smirk all over his face.

Ro Ro eats her ice cream very neat, like always.

After me and Veronica finish our cherry icicle, and Ro Ro finishes her ice cream, we all sit around for a while doing nothing.

Finally Veronica says to me, “Wanna play hide-and-seek?”

“Yeah,” I say.

Veronica don’t ask Ro Ro about playing hide-and-seek. Ro Ro can’t count by fives, which you gotta do to play hide-and-seek. And she never thinks of a good place to hide. She’s not so good at finding people either.

But then I remember about the last time when me and Honey Girl and Veronica played hide-and-seek.

“I’ll play only if you don’t cheat. You cheated last time,” I say to Veronica.

“I didn’t cheat,” says Veronica.

“Did so. When it was your turn, you didn’t hide anywheres on the block where me and Honey Girl could find you. You went and took the subway to Queens to visit your grandma.”

“Nobody said it was against the rules to go on the subway.”

“No fair. How’s somebody supposed to find you in Queens?”

“There wasn’t no rule about the subway.”

“Well, I’m making a rule now. The hider has to hide somewheres on the block. Not around the corner or no other block, either. Just this block.”

“Okay,” says Veronica. “Just this block.”

“You have to promise to hide just on this block, too,” I say to Veronica’s cousin.

“What are you nuts?” he says. “I’m not playing hide-and-seek. That’s a kids’ game.”

I turn to Veronica and say, “We can’t play hide-and-seek with just the two of us.”

Veronica’s cousin points at Ro Ro and says, “What about her?”

“Ro Ro only plays some games,” says Veronica.

Veronica’s cousin almost laughs and he says, “Ro Ro? Her name is Ro Ro?”

“Short for Rosemarie,” I say.

“Hi, Ro Ro,” says Veronica’s cousin.

Ro Ro smiles and says, “Hi.”

“Hide-and-seek’s no good if there’s only one hider,” I say.

“It’s okay if you only play a couple of times,” says Veronica’s cousin.

Me and Veronica look at him.

“Just play twice,” says Veronica’s cousin. “One time one of you is the hider and the next time the other one’s the hider. And then you play some other game.”

I’m not so sure about that. But Veronica says, “Yeah, let’s just play two times.”

Me and Veronica do “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” to see who gets to hide first. I win.

“You’re it,” I tell Veronica.

Veronica goes over to the chain link fence in front of the empty lot next to my building. She puts her arm up against the fence and sticks her face on her arm and closes her eyes and counts, “Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty.”

I know the best place to hide. I run up my stoop stairs, past Veronica’s cousin and Ro Ro and into my building and down to the back of the long hallway on the ground floor. At the end of the hallway there’s a door that goes to the backyards. The janitor’s the only one who’s supposed to use that door. But I know he don’t lock it almost all the time. After the dark hallway, the sun on the backyard landing is real bright. I run down the metal stairs and into the backyard of my building. There’s no fences between the backyards. I can go anywheres on the block. I turn left at the bottom of the stairs. I can see Veronica, with her face up against the fence. She’s not peeking. I head through the empty lot. It leads to the back of the convent that’s attached to Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Church is around the corner. So it’s against the rules to hide there. But the back of the convent is in the empty lot near my building. That ain’t against the rules.

My shoes run over mashed empty cans and newspapers and stuff. Some of the cats that live in the lot see me coming and they run and hide under a sofa that somebody threw out last year. It’s an old smelly sofa with lot of holes in it. I can hear Veronica, “Seventy-five, eighty, eighty-five.” She has to count to a hundred. I got enough time. I run past a coffee pot and some beer bottles and I jump over that broken window that’s on the ground. Good thing I know that window’s there, otherwise I might step on it and get cut. Ooh, there’s a baseball mitt in the dirt; it wasn’t there last time I was in the lot. That mitt looks pretty good, like somebody didn’t really mean to throw it out. After I’m done playing hide-and-seek, I’ll come back and get that mitt. But not now. Now I’m headed for that piece of a table that’s leaning up against the back wall of the convent.

Just when I’m sneaking behind the table, I hear Veronica shout, “Ready or not, here I come.”

From behind the table, I can see up toward my building. All the laundry hanging on the lines. There’s Mr. Paskacek’s underwear. He lives on the second floor. There’s my mom’s blue dress hanging on our laundry line right next to my new cowboy shirt that I only wore one time so far. It’s the same kind of shirt like Roy Rogers wears.

Real careful, I peek out. Veronica’s looking around to see if she can tell which way I ran to hide.

I wonder if Veronica’s cousin will give her a hint that I ran into my own building. I can’t see him from where I’m hiding. I can’t see Ro Ro neither. But Ro Ro knows that you’re not supposed to tell where somebody’s hiding.

No, Veronica’s cousin don’t tell. I know that because I see Veronica go to look for me across the street. She checks near the garbage cans in front of the grocery store and then she looks for me behind a parked car. She looks some other places, too. As long as she’s across the street, I can’t tag home base, because Veronica could run to home base faster than me from where I am. Veronica spends an extra extra extra long time looking for me across the street, where I’m not. Finally, she runs toward Market Street. Maybe she thinks I’m hiding in that space underneath where the Chinese guy who fixes bicycles keeps extra bicycle pieces. That’s a good place to hide, but not as good as where I am.

As soon as Veronica leaves, it’s my chance to get to home base. I don’t go back through my building though. I run straight across the lot to where I know there’s a shortcut, a place where somebody cut a hole in the chain link fence. I scrape my hand getting through the fence—not so much that I have to go get my mom to put mercurochrome on it—and I touch home base and yell, “Olee olee in free!” Anybody who’s hiding can come out now and can’t be tagged, because I freed them all. I yell it even though nobody but me’s hiding.

I suck on my hand where I scraped it. I don’t see Veronica anywhere. She’s probably in one of the buildings, looking for me.

Funny thing is, I don’t see Ro Ro neither. Or Veronica’s cousin. Nobody’s on the stoop. If Ro Ro went home, I woulda seen her pass the empty lot. And Veronica’s cousin woulda had to go the same way if he decided to go to Veronica’s house.

There’s Veronica. Now I see her way down at the end of the block. She must of heard me shout olee olee in free. I’m a loud yeller.

I look the other way from where Veronica is and I look across the street too, but I still don’t see Ro Ro. Then I get this feeling like I should look in the hallway of my building. So I do. Nobody’s by the mailboxes, so I keep walking down the hallway. Instead of going out the back door—like when I went to hide—I tiptoe up the stairs to the first landing. Sure enough, Ro Ro’s there and so’s Veronica’s cousin.

Ro Ro has her back leaning against the hallway wall where there’s a high-up window that faces the empty lot. She has her hands behind her back, like usual. Veronica’s cousin is standing in front of Ro Ro and he’s touching her where he ain’t supposed to, even though Ro Ro has her clothes on.

All of a sudden, I can’t breathe. So I duck down on the stairs where I am, like I’m Roy Rogers on TV when he don’t want some cattle rustler or somebody like that to see him. Veronica’s cousin don’t know I can see him, but I can see him good. I’m glad he can’t see me though. That’s for sure. Veronica’s cousin—him and his teenage hairy arms. He’s bigger than me. So I’m just ducked down, except I’m not even wearing my Roy Rogers shirt. Inside my chest is all shaky, like Ro Ro’s leg when she’s jiggling it. Like Ro Ro’s leg got inside my chest by mistake and is making me breathe funny. I start thinking that maybe I should just go back out onto my stoop and wait for Veronica. That’s what I’m figuring. Or something. I dunno. Yeah, I should go find Veronica, that’s what. George ain’t my cousin; he’s Veronica’s cousin. But just when I turn around to go back down to my stoop, I get a look at Ro Ro’s face. She’s staring at me. She can see me. I can’t tell if she’s mad or sad or anything. Except except I dunno. I dunno. She ain’t smiling. She’s just staring at me, except for that left eye of hers, which is pointed, like always, at her nose.

So I’m seeing Ro Ro staring at me, and that makes me not go back out onto my stoop. Instead I pretend I’m Roy Rogers for real and I stand up from where I’m hiding and I say, “Hey, cut it out!” So now Veronica’s cousin knows I see him.

Veronica’s cousin looks at me and he says, “Shut up and mind your own business.”

When he looks at me, I can feel in my belly how scary he is and I wanna run. But then I remember that Gloria ain’t around. Zeke neither. And Veronica’s cousin’s hand is still on Ro Ro, where it ain’t supposed to be. So, even though I’m not wearing my Roy Rogers shirt, I take a step closer to Veronica’s cousin and I say, “Cut it out,” again. I don’t sound normal, on account of how I can’t breathe. Veronica’s cousin comes on over to me and he puts his face right near mine. From how close his face is to me I can bet for sure that he shaves. He sticks one of his hands onto my shoulder and he squeezes my shoulder so it hurts. I can see the hair on his forearm real close now. It’s like grown-up hair. I don’t want to look at his hairy forearm any more. I can smell his armpits.

“Hey, girlie,” he says to me. “I told you to mind your own business.”

And then I hear Veronica’s voice behind me, saying, “George, you leave Ro Ro alone.”

Veronica must of come into my building after she seen me go in and then she must of seen her cousin touching Ro Ro.

“You shut up, too,” says Veronica’s cousin to Veronica. But almost right away he pushes past me and Veronica. He goes down a couple of steps and he turns around and says to Veronica, “Give me that key.”

Veronica takes her apartment-key string from around her neck. Her cousin grabs the string and then he goes down the stairs, kinda fast. I hear my building door slam after he goes out.

“He oughta have his head examined,” says Veronica.

Me and Veronica look at Ro Ro, who don’t say anything.

“Come on, Ro Ro,” I say.

Ro Ro takes my hand, and we walk back outside.

“I gotta go now. I gotta meet my sister she’s gonna buy me shoes,” says Ro Ro, soon’s we’re outside. And she goes.

Me and Veronica sit on the stoop some more.

“Do you think Ro Ro will tell?” says Veronica.

“Maybe,” I say.

“Jeez, I hope not,” says Veronica.

Me and Veronica don’t say nothing else for a while. Then Veronica pulls my sleeve.

“Don’t you tell Gloria and don’t tell Zeke,” says Veronica to me.

“I dunno,” I say.

“Pretty please,” says Veronica.

“I dunno.”

“Pretty please with sugar on top.”

“OK.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“Cross your heart and hope to die.”

“Cross my heart and hope to die.”

Once I’ve crossed my heart and hoped to die, I don’t wanna sit on the stoop any more with Veronica, so I say, “I gotta go home. My mom’s probably gonna call me soon anyhow.”

I leave Veronica sitting alone on the stoop—I guess she don’t wanna go to her house with only her cousin there—and I go upstairs. The minute I walk into the kitchen my mom takes one look at me and says, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I say.

“Do you hurt somewhere?” she says.

“No.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t fall down or anything?”

“No.”

I dunno know how my mom knows every time something bothers me. But I don’t tell her most times what it is and I don’t say anything about Ro Ro today. I promised Veronica. A promise is a promise. I don’t show my mom the scrape on my hand either. It’s a baby scrape. No big deal.

I turn on the television and watch American Bandstand. Right near the camera, a girl in a plaid skirt and crinolines does a real close slow dance with her boyfriend. He’s a teenager, like Veronica’s cousin, but not so mean.

Just then I remember the baseball mitt in the empty lot and I decide to go there and get it. So I go downstairs again. First, before I go out the back way to the empty lot, I check my stoop. Nobody’s sitting there.  

And uh oh, here comes Gloria. She’s walking fast down the block and she’s got a hold of Ro Ro’s hand.

Gloria gets up to where I am and she says, “Where’s Veronica?”

“She must of gone home,” I say.

On top of when I’m saying how Veronica must of gone home, Ro Ro smiles at me and says, “Hi.” 

“Hi, Ro Ro,” I say back.

Then Gloria says to Ro Ro, “Go upstairs and wait for me. I’ll be right there. Okay?”

“Okay,” says Ro Ro, and she steps into the gutter so she can cross the street toward where her apartment building is.

Ro Ro says, “Bye” to me before she goes.

“Is Veronica’s buzzer still broken?” Gloria asks me.

“I dunno. I think so.”

“Then you come with me,” says Gloria.

Veronica’s building—that’s where we’re headed—is at the end of the block. I gotta walk fast to keep up with Gloria. Her bracelets are really making noise. And all I can think is uh oh, uh oh.

When we get to Veronica’s building, Gloria says, “Go up there and tell Veronica I wanna see her cousin.”

“What if he ain’t up there?”

“He’s up there. And if he ain’t up there, I’ll find him wherever he is.”

“He ain’t from the neighborhood,” I tell Gloria.

“You can say that again,” Gloria says. “Go up there and tell Veronica what I told you to tell her. And tell that cousin of hers he better come down here before I go up there. Tell Veronica to stay upstairs. This ain’t none of her business.”

So I go up the stairs, and Veronica’s cousin is there, and when I tell him that Gloria wants to see him, but not see Veronica, he says, “I ain’t scared of no lady.”

“You should be scared,” says Veronica.

“I don’t gotta go down there,” says Veronica’s cousin.

“George, you better,” says Veronica. “You’ll be sorry if Gloria comes up here.”

George just laughs at Veronica and then he shrugs and says, “OK. So what.”

Me, I go downstairs with George, and the first thing he does when he gets downstairs and sees Gloria is he whistles at her on account of how beautiful she is. He must be some kind of jerk, that cousin of Veronica’s.

“Whattaya wanna talk to me about?” George says.

Gloria don’t say. She just walks right up to him and she hauls off and hits him hard. Decks him. And he looks up from the sidewalk like he’s surprised that she could of hit him so hard. He’s got a dent near his eye, from where one of Gloria’s bracelets got him good; that dent’s bleeding. He’s also got a scared look on his face, like he’s finally figured out just how mad Gloria is.

Uh oh again, ’cause there’s a car coming up the street, and it’s Zeke’s car, all clean and polished, like he keeps it all the time. The car stops. I ain’t surprised. And out comes Zeke and one of his friends from the Mi Italia Social Club.

“I got your message,” Zeke says to Gloria. “This the fuckin’ twerp?”

Now Veronica’s cousin looks more scared than before. It figures. And he gets up off the sidewalk like he’s planning to run, but he don’t get the chance. Because he’s still kind of on his knees when Zeke’s friend grabs him and shoves him in the backseat of the car and gets into the backseat next to him and closes the door.

Zeke walks real slow, like he’s got all day, up to Gloria, and he says, “What happened?”

And Gloria whispers to Zeke, and Zeke nods. And after she’s done whispering, Gloria says, not whispering, “I’m gonna go up to the apartment, where Ro Ro is.” And before she goes she says to me, “Thank you.”

“I didn’t do anything,” I say.

But Gloria gives me a kiss, and I smell her perfume. It smells shiny like her bracelets. I can still smell it after she crosses the street. The smell is floating around me.

Zeke is still acting like there’s no place he’s got to rush to. He pats the top of my head, just the same way like he usually pats the top of Ro Ro’s head. It feels nice, the way Zeke pats my head. But what don’t feel nice is that from where I’m standing and Zeke’s patting my head, I can see Zeke’s car and Veronica’s cousin George through the car window. George’s face don’t look exactly the same as before, when me and Veronica and Honey Girl and Ro Ro were jumping rope. And I don’t mean the dent from where Gloria hit him. I mean his whole face. All of it.

When Zeke stops patting my head he gets in behind the wheel of his car, and he steers the car so it turns onto Market Street, and after that I can’t see the car. I could probably see it if I ran to the corner, but I bet Zeke wouldn’t like that, so I don’t do it.

Nobody’s around to play with. Maybe I could go to East Broadway in case Honey Girl wants to do something. Nah. Honey Girl’d say we should go ask if Veronica wants to do something. And Veronica’s upstairs and she ain’t gonna come down probably until tomorrow. So I walk back to my stoop and sit down and wait to see if any kids show up. Nobody does. Not even Ro Ro. She’s still upstairs with Gloria. I sit on my stoop for a long time; it feels like almost forever.

Then I remember there’s still time for me to go get that baseball mitt. Probably nobody else seen it except for me. So I go back through the hallway of my building and out the back door, like before, when we were playing hide-and-seek, what must of been hours ago, by now. And in the lot everything’s the same like before. The back of Immaculate Heart of Mary convent. The scrawny cats that live inside the old smelly sofa. The broken window. And there it is, the baseball mitt. Where it was before. I wonder how it got there. Who would leave an almost new mitt like that in the middle of the empty lot? I go to grab the baseball mitt, but before I grab it I notice that my hand, where I scraped it on the fence, still hurts a little. So I lick that scrape on my hand. And while I’m licking, I see Zeke’s car come back with only Zeke in it—not his friend and not Veronica’s cousin. Zeke gets out and he’s standing on the sidewalk in front of Ro Ro’s building. He takes out his handkerchief from the chest pocket of his jacket and he rubs the tip of one of his shoes. Like it’s real important for him to clean that shoe. His shoe is pointy. Sharp and pointy.

When I stop watching Zeke clean his pointy shoe, I look up at the clothesline attached to my building. My cowboy shirt is still there. But, funny thing, I don’t like that Roy Rogers shirt no more. It just looks like a stupid shirt a kid would wear.

Zeke’s car door is still open. He reaches in his car and takes out something, something white, and he puts that white thing in the garbage can that’s in front of my building. Then Zeke closes his car door and walks into Gloria and Ro Ro’s building.

When Zeke goes into the building, it’s like olee olee in free. Like now I can take that baseball mitt and go home. So I do. I pick up the mitt and I squeeze through the shortcut hole in the fence. Soon’s I’m through the fence, I hear Ro Ro’s voice. Ro Ro’s at the window of her apartment, five stories up. She’s yelling my name and waving at me. I wave back. Then Gloria comes to the window too and waves at me. And I wave back some more.

That’s when I know what looked different about Veronica’s cousin George when he was sitting in Zeke’s car, next to Zeke’s friend. What looked different is that all of a sudden George didn’t look like a teenager. He looked like some big old baby in a car next to a grownup.

I’m holding that baseball mitt, but now I don’t want it no more. Even though it’s almost brand new and all. So I throw the mitt over the fence and back into the empty lot.

I’m a good thrower. That mitt goes way high and when it falls down it lands near the smelly sofa.

So now I ain’t got that mitt. Who cares anyhow? And I’m standing in front of my building trying to figure whether to lift the garbage cover and peek at what Zeke threw away in there. But me, I’m from the neighborhood. I know I ain’t supposed to look in that garbage can.