Monday . . .
Joe stood at the living room window and looked out. It was warm and comfortable inside his house, he knew. Outside, the November sun was dropping closer to the coastal mountains stretching the shadows longer, pointing them towards the coming night. Outside, the heat of day was quickly dissipating in the chilly ocean winds that were entering the Golden Gate and rushing along the bay lands south and east, pushing the air deep into the wind channels, and downward towards the Santa Clara Valley, past his neighborhood and house.
Joe could see that the green of summer leaves was graciously transforming into dull shades of brown, leaving only the promise of spring to come. The drying leaves rattled violently in the gusting wind, not yet ready for release.
“It’s time to go.” He said to his mother. She smiled back at him lovingly.
“You be careful.” She said without interrupting her cooking. Joe could smell dinner simmering in the kitchen.
“I’ll be right back.” He said, anxious for his dinner. He closed the door bravely behind him and stepped into the autumn wind. He shivered, then quickly zipped his jacket all the way up. Slowly he wheeled his bicycle out of the garage, imagining it to be some great war machine, and mounted the pedal as if it were the stirrup of a saddle.
He was anxious to be there on time, at the corner of Long Street and Warburton Avenue. 3 o’clock was the scheduled drop for the San Jose Evening Herald. The bright orange and black delivery van would soon drive up and quickly unload the wire bound bundles of daily newspaper.
“I knew it.” He was too late. The bundles were already there and he could see as he pedaled closer three young men already on their knees quickly folding their newspapers. They had to hurry before the frantic wind would blow the loose bundles of newspapers down the street.
“Hi.” Joe said shyly. He dismounted in a graceful slide and coasted to a stop.
“Hey Joe!” Richard said cheerfully. “I didn’t know you had this route.”
“Yeah, Nick moved to Sunnyvale. He said I could have this route.”
Joe was glad to find someone he knew. He knew Richard, the other two paperboy’s looked older, like they went to high school. Richard lived on the block next to his. He knew him since fourth grade. They were never friends though because they were never in the same classroom.
At the age of thirteen, Richard was a giant. He was tall with a bull like, solid frame. When he smiled showed a mouthful of teeth, it was a wide friendly smile. His hair was like thick yellow wool.
Joe untied his delivery bags from his bike rack and sat on one of his bundles. He reached into one of his bags and pulled out his wire cutters and cut the bundle free. He replaced the wire cutters and pulled out his supply of rubber bands.
“Hey Joe! Pretty good!” Richard seemed surprised that he knew how to do it.
“I used to help Nick remember? Last summer? You were just starting, and Nick’s cousin had route 26B.”
“That’s right.” Richard did seem to remember.
“And I used to help Bob Sims before he got too busy with high school.”
“That’s right.” Richard remembered. “He’s a junior now.”
The pile of folded newspapers grew around Joe’s knees. He noticed that his hands had grown black from the printer’s ink. The bundle was finished so he replaced the newspapers neatly into one side of his delivery bag. The other side was for the second bundle. He cut that open and continued folding.
“See you guys tomorrow.” One of the other boys said cheerfully. Maybe he would find out his name tomorrow. His route was several blocks away. Joe thought he was lucky because it was mostly apartment buildings and he had many subscribers.
“Nice bike!” Joe admired the shine and smoothness of the ride as he pedaled away.
“He had it special made. It’s got a special gear for when he carries a heavy load.” Richard explained. “I’m getting one like that too.”
The other paperboy got up. He slung the heavy bags over his bike rack.
“Just get a good bike rack.” He advised Joe. “That’s all you need.” He bounced his bike off the curb and pedaled down the street toward Warburton Avenue.
“That’s where I seen them!” Joe seemed surprised. “He is our paperboy!”
“I’m off.” Richard slung his paperbacks over his handlebars and began to pedal away. He seemed to be comfortable without a bike rack. Johnny remembered trying to carry his papers that way but it was too hard to steer.
The wind kicked up and made the folding of the paper is even more difficult. He had to try to keep the fragile papers from tearing despite his cold and stiffening fingers. His palms were becoming black, and his knuckles were becoming purple and blue.
The folding was completed, but before he could pack his papers he had to pack his rubber bands that were scattered on the ground. Then he had to pick up the wire and other scraps that may be lying on the ground.
Now he packed. He had to stuff all his papers into his delivery bags. He could not leave any of them behind. They would not be there if he were to return later. He stuffed the newspapers into his bag as tightly as he could. He sat on the bags to compress them even more until no more could fit in.
Joe stood up and stared at the situation. He had too many papers and no place to put them.
“How did they?” The others made their papers fit. “What am I doing different?” The last rays of the sun drifted behind the Coast Mountains. “Uh Oh! People are going to be coming home from work I need to get going.”
It did not matter. He had to get those newspapers on his bike somehow.
“Yeah!” He said proudly when the solution came to him. He let out a sigh of relief and lifted his heavy delivery bags to the side of his bike and then stuffed the remaining newspapers inside his jacket.
“This looks stupid.” He stared down at his bulging chest. “I’ll just start my deliveries on this street and I’ll be rid of them.”
He felt smart for having solved two problems so quickly. The feeling did not last, for he found a new problem. His bags were so heavy and were so stuffed with newspapers that he could not ride his bike.
A lump grew in his throat.” 212 deliveries to make. All on foot.”
He waddled his bike down the street and checked his address book for his first delivery. With this chest full of newspapers he at least was now protected from the cold.
Joe waited patiently for the bright orange delivery van to squeal to a stop. He had rushed home from school eager to get an earlier start. At home he changed his clothes rapidly and sped out of the garage with a running start. He mounted his bicycle like a Pony Express Rider. The driver of the van nodded and quickly threw the bundles to the curb. Joe was clearing his throat to speak when the driver waved then rudely sped off.
Richard rolled up quickly slammed his bike to the ground. He grabbed his two bundles and threw them toward the bike.
“Son of a bitch!” He cried.
“Who? Me?” Joe wanted to talk to him but thought it better not to speak it all. He just smiled and went about his folding.
“I’m going to kill him.” Richard muttered to himself as he folded his papers with a vicious energy.
Joe pretended not to hear.
“I’m going to eat his fucking liver right in front of his dying eyes!” Richard was on his knees facing away. His eyes and not seem to focus mechanically and he fiercely folded his papers.
Who is he talking to? Joe kept his distance and continued folding. His hands were sore and stiff from yesterday’s folding, yet he tried not to slow down.
“Joe is it?” One of the other delivery boys rode up, the one with the custom bike.
“I’m Mick.” He said warmly. “You go to Wilson don’t you?”
“Yes.” Joe answered. “I’m in seventh grade, just like Richard.” He nodded toward him.
“Oh!” Mick gave an understanding smile. “He’s in one of his moods. It’s his father. He gets like that for a while. Then he is all right again. You just leave him alone. It’ll be okay.”
Mick dragged his bundles closer to Johnny and started his folding.
“I used to go to Wilson.” Mick said. “But now I am a junior at Buchser.” He meant the new high school.
“You don’t live by here then?” Joe asked, relieved to be distracted from Richard’s angry mutterings.
“Will I look as grown-up as him when I’m a junior?” He thought but did not say out loud.
“I live up Los Padres, across the El Camino.” Mick’s pile of folded papers grew. Joe stared enviously at Mick’s high school ring. Being a junior seemed so far away to him.
The folding was completed. Joe’s hands were hurting but he was glad he could keep up with Mick. They both loaded their bags until the threads stretched.
Mick smiled warmly and rode off. “Nice talking to you Richard!” He pedaled smoothly toward his route.
Joe wanted to say something to Richard. But what? What could I say? He rode away silently. It was trouble enough keep his bicycle balanced.
The north wind cut into his raw, chapped face and knuckles. It rattled and shook the bicycle from its steady course. The glowing neon sign of the Supersonic Burgers shined like a beacon in the growing twilight dark.
Joe felt inside his pocket. The fifteen cents were still there. It was just enough to get a steaming order of French fries. He could have something warm inside him as he pedaled home. The various smells of dinner oozing from each home made him hunger to get to his own home. He was already tasting the fries as he pedaled closer to the Supersonic. He could smell the steaming fried potatoes. He imagined the welcome heat glowing in his face and warming his hands. He could taste the saltiness as he pedaled faster into the gravel driveway.
It happened too quickly. Johnny felt the pedals lock into place. He tried his brakes but his pedals were jammed in both directions. He heard his tires skidding and felt his weight being thrust forward, over the handlebars and then more toward the gravel of the Supersonic driveway. He heard the sound of his face landed first, then the sound of his bicycle crashing on top of him.
Joe remembered his first aid training from the Boy Scouts. He felt pain, but could not tell yet from where. He tested his fingers by wiggling them. Then he tried moving his arms.
“Now the toes.” Nothing broken he decided, so he pushed himself up and untangled his legs from his bike. He wanted to cry but there were people looking at him. He pretended that he wasn’t hurt and stood up and shook himself off.
Joe walked his bicycle into the light glow of the Supersonic. After checking himself and his bike, he found the problem. The wind whipped his empty delivery bag into the spokes and it had jammed between the rear sprocket and the chain.
“Great!” He mumbled through the swelling of his pitted bleeding face. He lifted the rear wheel and walked himself home limping, everything throbbing.
“¡Hay Dios!” His horrified mother shouted.
“What happened?” She frantically rushed to the bathroom and soaked a wash cloth.
“How did this happen?” She carefully cleaned his bleeding face.
“I fell off my bike and landed in some gravel.” Joe held back his urge to cry and forced the lump in his throat to disappear. He showed her the scratches on his shoulder and elbow in hand.
She looked down at the rip on his left knee and the blood stain that was spreading.
“Oh my! Daddy did you see your son?” Tears were in her eyes as she dragged her husband over to look.
Joe’s father took a long look and started to chuckle.
“It will do the boy good to suffer some pain. He will be all right. It’ll teach him a lesson about life and work.”
“I could do without any more lessons.” Joe said as he lifted his pant leg and showed his father is skinned and bleeding knee.
Thursdays were special. It was the day for shopping ads for the San Jose Evening Herald. Each newspaper was filled with coupons and advertisements and bargain specials. Thursday’s editions were even thicker than the Sunday papers. In fact they were worse. They were so thick they can only be folded in half.
“How am I going to fit those into my bags?” Joe did not ask, but complained. The left side of his face was swollen and stiffened by a rough scab. His shoulder and thighs as well were scraped. His knee was also skinned and swollen. This time he was wearing his delivery bags over her shoulders fearing to use his bike rack.
He stared, puzzling over how to handle today’s delivery. “I can only fold them in half. They’ll be too heavy to throw. They are too heavy to fit into my bags. I can’t leave a bundle here. Somebody will take it.”
He felt that lump drawing in his throat. The lump that showed them there was nothing he could do. It was a problem with no solution.
“How do the others do it?”
How do they do it? He had a plan. He always felt better when he came up with one. It was still early. The others had not arrived yet.
“I’ll ride to Trudy’s Drugstore and get a candy bar or two. Somebody should be here by then.” He mounted his bike and pedaled slowly away, wishing he was riding a horse for real.
He pulled to a stop in the back of the drugstore and hid behind a trash bin. He was just able to observe the bundles while he enjoyed his candy bars.
“An Indian would’ve done it this way.” A row of oleanders partially hid him from view. He sat on his bicycle and waited for something to happen.
It wasn’t long before his stomach tightened. A car pulled up to the drop site. Mick got out of the car and loaded the bundles into the trunk.
“That must be his mother driving him.” Mick jumped inside and the car drove quickly away.
The lump in his throat was coming back.” I wish my mama knew how to drive.”
Two boys on bicycles road up. “It’s that other guy and somebody new.” Together they stuffed their unfolded papers into their delivery bags. Their bikes wobbled as they slowly rode away.
“Who do I know that will help me?” It was too late for that anyways, too late to round up some help.
Richard wrote up to the drop site. He leaned his bicycle against the fence. He lifted one bundle and set it on top of the bike rack. He then strapped it to his frame. He cut the other bundle and placed half of his papers unfolded into each side of his delivery bags.
“I’ll have to do it that way.” He waited until Richard rode away. He was ready again for another long walk.
Joe was on his knees folding his papers. The pile was growing around him. Today’s date kept his attention November 15, 1963.
“Eight more days until my birthday. I’ll be a teenager.”
JFK will go to Dallas that day.” He read more of the article. “Seems like everything does is big news”
“I know.” Richard said pleasantly. “My dad said he is the greatest president there ever was.”
Joe was watching Richard. He was fast at rolling the newspapers and was trying to copy his style.
“Is he greater than Roosevelt?” Joe asked. He was no longer sure how to talk to Richard.
“He seems so pleasant today will I say something that’ll make you mad?”
“That’s what my dad says.” Richard was ready to load then take off.
Maybe my hands will get stronger the more I do this.
“I’ll bet that really hurt.” Richard pointing to the scab across Joe’s cheek and fore head.
“I bet you cried a lot.” Richard said.
“No, not really.” He shook his head to show he was telling the truth.
“I bet you cried all the way home. And your mommy fixed you up and made you go to bed.” He was using a teasing voice.
“I didn’t cry.” He said truthfully. He wanted to cry but he would never admit that. He did not like being teased about his mother, especially since that was pretty much but the way it really happened.
“I didn’t cry.” Joe repeated he was not sure if he wanted Richard for a friend.
Raindrops started dripping from the clouds and the wind began to whip stronger all around them.
“We better get going.” Richard said in a concerned manner. “Before the rain comes down for real.”
Joe raced the coming storm. He sped up the driveways and threw his papers to the front doors. He raced against the cold and the wet. Wet papers would be useless, and they would be heavy. His subscribers would complain and he would get into trouble.
Two more blocks to go. The rain splashed down from the sky in sheets of wetness. Everything was wet. Joe pedaled frantically to get his deliveries into a dry door stoop. He stuffed the remaining papers into his jacket to keep them dry and sped around the corner to his last street.
Home. The thought seem so warm to him. He turned the corner and saw the warm glow of the lights inside his house. His father started a fire in the fireplace. He could smell the smoke as he glided off his bike and coasted into the garage.
“¡Hay Dios!” His mother shouted when saw him. “Don’t come in here all wet! Get out of those clothes in the garage and take a hot bath!” She scooted the dripping boy back into the garage.
After he cleaned up and warmed up, Joe wrapped himself up in his blanket and snuggled in front of the fire. FiFi, the family dog was already there, toasting her belly and deep into sleep. Joe could smell the dog’s burnt hairs. He decided not to bother the dog but joined her and drifted into the sleepy warmth.
Santa Clara Valley was serviced on Saturdays by the morning paper only. This meant that Joe had the day off. He could do anything he wanted. He made plans for his day off. In the morning half sleep he could hear the rest the family shuffling about the house. He stayed in the warmth of his blankets developing his plans.
“Plan number one, sleep in late. Plan number two, watch the Three Stooges all morning. Plan number three is get up. Get up? Get up?”
“Get up!” Reality pierced his years. His father’s voice thundered. His father never repeated himself. His next move would be to rip the blankets off the bed and open the window to the cold.
“Plan four: forget about plan one, two, and three.” He got up disappointed to meet the day.
His day was well spoken for in advance. Saturday routines never changed. Eat breakfast was always first. The table was always set with a large variety of good things to eat. Joe found potatoes, frijoles, sausage, eggs, bread, tortillas, and leftovers from last night’s dinner. He served himself, eagerly sampling a lot of everything.
“Food.” He said. “My favorite dish!”
Catechism was next. His father drove him to the church for his weekly lessons on how to be a Catholic. Afterwards he had to walk home, rake the leaves, and clean the yard. Finally and most regrettably, he had to take a bath. The bad part was that taking a bath meant that the day was over and that he had to stay clean for church the next day.
Joe felt tired. It seemed like he had been walking forever. He did not like walking home from church, especially by himself. It was just too far. He had taken the long way along the bank of the creek. At least he could throw rocks into the muddy water and pretend they were gunshots.
He climbed over the fence that was supposed to keep people out of the creek. He had a block more to walk down Warburton Street. That gave him plenty of time to walk, jump, and scrape the mud off his shoes.
“Hey Patty! Catch the ball!” Richard threw Patrick a long pass.
“Run!” Richard shouted. Patty held the ball wondering what to do with it.
“Dog pile!” Seven kids jumped on the frightened boy.
Joe walked by. He was tired and relieved to be on his own street. He was home at last and he still had the yard work to do.
“Hey Joe! Come join us!” He did not wait for a second invite. He liked playing Slaughter Ball. Rule #1: who ever had the ball got slaughtered. Joe liked playing a game with only one rule.
They all crouched around the ball. Patty was ready to hike. Jeff and his little brother Mark crouched down and put on their mean faces. Richard was playing quarterback. Rail tightened his fist ready to pounce. Johnny Red ready.
A car drove by and the game was temporarily postponed.
“Hike!” Shouted Richard before the players could settle back in. The ball snapped. Richard immediately threw the ball to Joe. He had no time, the dog pile started immediately. Joe was smothered by a knee stuck in his face. He felt another knee crack into his back everyone else jumped on top.
Joe was trying to get up. He was drowning in giggles and laughter. Layer by layer they reassembled to set up for a new round.
He was almost up when he heard it, that irritating sound told him the game is over.
“Mommy!” Was the tearful shriek that came from Patty.
“Mommy!” He cried again and broke into a run towards his house two houses down from Joe.
“Why did you do it?” Richard angrily accused Joe.
“Why did you make him cry?” Richard pointed angrily at Patty running into his house.
“Hey! I was on the bottom.” Joe’s voice squeaked with guilt. “I didn’t even see what happened!”
“Who do you think you are?” Richard gave him an angry shove and pushed him to the ground.
“You think you’re some kind of punk?” Then kicked Joe in the stomach.
“I am going to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget!” Richard picked Joe up by his ears. His angry hateful face seemed the burst hatred. He shoved Joe back to the ground and picked him up and slammed him back down.
“Not so tough now. Are you?” Joe tried to get up but before he could, he felt a kick in his kidneys. Then he did not remember much after that, just the sound of Richard’s fists smashing into his eye. He felt helpless as Richard repeatedly kicked and beat him. He felt the shame of not even being able to defend himself. He caught glimpses of uncontrollable hatred in Richard’s red face as he hammered his fist down.
Joe looked up. It seemed suddenly very quiet. Richard was gone. He saw Jeff and Mike and the others gather around him.
“I’ll try not to cry.” He told himself.
His friends helped him get up. He was trying not to show the shame of being front of them.
“Thanks.” He said as he made his way to his house on his own strength. He felt the tears and the pain coming closer to his eyes the closer he reached his door. His hand touched his doorknob. He could hold back his tears no longer
“He will be all right. He just needs to stay still and rest.” Joe could hear Doc Riley tell his mother. He was in his bed too sore to move, too sore to want to. “He shouldn’t continue with his paper route for a while. He might have to give it up for now. He needs time to recover.”
“¡Hay Dios!” He heard his mother say, then he drifted into sleep.
“Got to find it! Got to find it!” Richard kept repeating to himself.
“Got to find it! Got to find it!” He was breathing heavily. He stepped into the garage. His eyes did not seem to focus.
“Got to find it! Got to find it!”
“Got to find!”
“Not here. Not here.” He was at his father’s workbench. He stared blankly at the tools hanging neatly on the wall. Each tool had its silhouette brightly painted in.
“Not here. Not here.”
He searched the cabinets that were against the wall.
“Not here.” He lifted each item carefully and replaced them exactly back in their original position.
“Not here. Got to find it.” Tears were dripping from his eyes. He was trying to hold back his desperate sobs.
He walked heavily to the other side of the garage.
“Move the ladder. Move the ladder.” He picked up the ladder to move it aside. The ladder. He remembered something. The ladder. The ladder. Slowly he lifted his eyes toward the rafters. A smile formed on his face. The ladder.
He moved it to the center of the garage set it up. He moved up the steps until his head surface above the level of the rafters.
“Found it!” He started chuckling to himself as he brought it down. It was wrapped inside a dusty towel. A samurai sword his father called it. He got it in the war, his father used to tell him.
“You can’t touch it, it will rust real easy.” His father used to say.
“Yes Dad.” Richard said to himself, holding it in his hands. “Yes Dad.”
Joe woke up to the bright morning light. Sunlight came in warmly through the curtains.
“Daylight?” He realized it must’ve been late. Late for a Sunday. His father liked to go to the mission for Mass. He liked going to confession there because the priests were Jesuits and did not make them say too many Hail Marys. That way you can go to confession and still have time for Communion.
Joe turned his head to listen better. The house was quiet. Everyone must have gone. He could hear the faucet dripping in the bathroom. He could even hear the motor of the refrigerator in the kitchen. He heard the watch next to his bed tick with regularly. A spoon clinked on a plate.
“My mother.” He said, then sank back into sleep.
Richard listened to the springs stretch as he pushed the garage door open. He walked down the driveway, his feet landing heavily.
“Mrs. Bridges.” He said dully as he walked across the street.
“Mrs. Bridges.” He walked up her driveway. His eyes were not focusing. He moved by instinct, clumsily toward her door.
“Got to find her.” He whispered.
He knocked on her door and waited patiently for her to answer.
“Richard.” She said warmly. A bright comforting smile greeted him.
“Come on in.” She was surprised to see him. She brushed her graying hair back and tightened her robe. “What can I do for you?”
“Hi.” He said. He tried to sound natural. Mrs. Bridges stepped aside closed the door behind them.
Richard smiled then he thrust the sword into her chest. He watched her shocked expression. He twisted the blade and watched the pain overcome her shock. Mrs. Bridges lifted her eyes to his.
“Richard.” Was all she could whisper. He stabbed her again and watch the life drain out of her eyes. She fell to the floor with a dull thud.
“Yes.” Richard smiled to himself as he poked at her lifeless body.
He stood over her and looked down and became motionless himself, a statue. Time became suspended. He stared upon her and felt the veins throbbing in his fore head and the air rushing in and out of his lungs.
“Yes.” He waited for signs of life to return to her.
Richard took the shovel from its hook and sneaked carefully out of the garage. He crept low, below the level of the neighbor’s fence. He was careful not to make any noise as he made his way to the backyard. He looked around.
“Yes.” He said. He felt that he was safe and no one else could see him there.
He chuckled as he began to dig. He readied the shovel and thrusted his foot down.
“Damn!” The point of the shovel chipped away a few grains of dirt. He jammed the shovel down again. Again it bounced back unable to penetrate the earth.
Richard returned to Mrs. Bridges, her lifeless face seemed to glare at him.
“I’ll fix you.” He said. He grabbed her arm and dragged her into the kitchen.
“I’ll fix you.” He repeated. He was talking louder now, unafraid of who might hear him. He lifted Mrs. Bridges to the kitchen table.
He gathered newspapers and laundry from the garage. He placed them under the table. He found a match started a fire.
“This will do it.” He chuckled and wiped the sweat from his fore head. He stopped at the stove and turned the burners on and blew out the flames.
“This will do it!” He laughed loudly as he left quickly out the front door.
Sleep. Slumber. Darkness. Floating. Safety. Ticking. Ticking. Ticking. Joe’s watch seem to be taking louder. The house was still silent. The angle of the sun entering the room had changed. It was cloudy outside. He could feel the coolness entering from his window. A siren screeched past his house. Then another. The drowsiness settled back in. Floating. Darkness. Slumber. Sleep.
“Hey Joe! Want to listen to the radio?” His brother set up the radio next to his bed. “You need another pillow?” His brother patted him on the head like a puppy and cheerfully left the room.
“That’s strange.” Joe tried to tear away from us drowsiness. “He never does anything nice for me.”
It was still daylight, but it would be dark soon. Joe could feel the cold and noticed the sounds of rain pelting the window.
“I’m glad I don’t have to deliver papers today.” He seemed relieved. “Who is delivering anyway?”
He noticed that his left arm was in a cast.
“I don’t remember that.”
He felt the bandages around his rib cage. “I don’t remember how that happened either.”
A warm comforting scent entered his nose. “Mom’s cooking dinner.”
A lot of cars are driving up and down the street.
“It’s not usually that busy.”
It grew dark and Joe slept.
The rain dropped down upon all Santa Clara Valley. It was a gentle rain, almost a mist. The waters from the streets and fields were filling the creeks to capacity. The chocolate colored liquid rushed down to the bay lands, away from the hills towards the tide.