The Yellow Man
by Philip Ivory
Table of Contents|
parts1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
It was the last day of school. Finally, Allan was allowed to go over to Sherri’s house again. He hoped they would do the Picadoos in her room, but instead they went to the pond. There was a new sign there: “No Swimming.”
“They’ll take that away and put a new one when they clean out the pond,” said Sherri.
A new bench had been put in and that’s where they sat. He told her what Jeff Morton had said to him at school.
“You need to say something,” she said. “You can’t just be invisible, like you’re a nothing. You’re as big as him, anyway.”
“I’m not a nothing,” he said.
“Well then, don’t act like one.”
Sherri was right. He was as big as Jeff. But he had never fought anyone or hurt anyone. The thought of hurting Jeff, instead of saying something to him, crossed his mind. He turned the thought over, felt it. Yes, maybe he could do that. If he wasn’t afraid.
He looked at Sherri. She always seemed to have courage. But now she just looked sad.
“What happened to Constantine?”
“He died,” Sherri said. “His kidneys got bad. They put him to sleep at the vet. It was sad. I cried every night for a week.”
“Put him to sleep?”
There was a cold look in her eye. “Yes, you know what that means. Don’t you know what that means? That means they gave him something, a shot, so he would go to sleep and never wake up, and not feel pain anymore.”
“Yes, he died!”
“Where did they bury him?”
“They cremated him.” She sighed. “They burned up the body so it’s only ashes left. My mom sent the ashes to our cousins in California. They are going to spread them on the ocean. Constantine loved the ocean the one time we were there.”
“That’s too bad.”
“What’s too bad?” she said.
“If you buried him, you could still talk to him. When you bury a dead person or animal, they can still move sometimes. They can even talk.”
“No, they can’t,” said Sherri.
“Yes, they can.”
“No, they can’t!”
“Yes, they can. I know.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Sherri yelled. She was crying now. “Constantine’s gone forever. I won’t see him until I get to heaven. So shut up about that!”
“But I’m telling you...”
“Shut up! Shut up!”
A long silence. A dragonfly zoomed by, but otherwise the pond and surrounding woods were silent.
Sherri looked away from him as she spoke. “I don’t want to be your friend anymore, Allan.”
“At our age, I’m supposed to be friends with girls, and you’re supposed to be friends with boys. That’s how it is. Don’t you see that?”
“But who cares about that? We can do what we want.”
“Anyway, you’re weird.” Her face looked mean now. She didn’t look like Sherri at all. Like someone older and meaner. “You barely talk to the other kids.”
He looked downward, scowled. “Well, so what? Maybe I don’t want to, anyway.”
“I don’t want to be your only friend. It’s too much. Anyway, I’m skipping fourth grade. I won’t be at our school next year. They’re moving me ahead, and I’m going right to the middle school for fifth grade.”
He looked at her. “No, you can’t do that!” His voice sounded pleading and angry at the same time.
“That’s what’s happening,” she said. She got up and started walking away.
“What about what you said before?”
She turned and looked at him as if she were looking at a bug on the street.
“What are you talking about?”
“What you said before. About how we might get married.”
Now the look on her face was less like disgust, more like pity.
“That was just kids’ talk, Allan. And the way you are, unless you change, you’re not going to marry anyone.” She paused and anger burned in her cheeks. “Not me, anyway!”
She walked away. He sat there trying to understand. How could she not want to be his friend? How could they not be in the same grade next year? These things couldn’t be true.
Allan waited a few minutes, and then followed back to her house. Sherri’s mom gave him chocolate milk to drink in the kitchen. But Sherri had gone to her room and didn’t come out. He could hear her crying.
A year had gone by. Allan kept to himself mostly at school. Jeff Morton had moved away and so didn’t bother Allan again. That was good. But Allan hadn’t seen Sherri seen since that day at the pond.
Not long after they were in the new house, Allan’s dad had started a new joke that he would do at the breakfast table when all four of them were there.
“Looks like we have a new neighbor. Millie.”
He tapped his finger on a small notice with a photo near the back of the newspaper. She gave him a warning look. She had told him this wasn’t funny the first two times he did it, but he just laughed and did it anyway.
“Arthur Theodore Lansing, 56, of Edgewicke Drive,” he said, reading. “After a long illness. Survived by his wife, Constance, three children, Ted, Shane, and Jennifer. Six grandchildren. Think of that, kids, six grandchildren!”
“Is it someone who died again?” said Melanie. “I don’t like it.”
Allan leaned in and looked at the photo.
“It isn’t good fun for the kids, Jim,” said Allan’s mom.
“Services to be held at Massi Funeral home Sunday at noon, followed by interment...”
“Yes, we get it dear.”
“Just want to keep an eye on who’s who in the neighborhood, dear,” he said in a jolly tone of voice. He looked at Allan. “He was the manager down at the Hobby Shop. You’ve been in there a few times, haven’t you, Allan?”
Allan nodded over his cereal. Yes, he remembered Mr. Lansing.
He had been a nice man. When Allan would buy plastic car models to cement together, Mr. Lansing would look at the paint recommendations on the back of the box and help Allan pick out the right colors by the code numbers, instead of Allan just guessing by eye.
The coolest part of the store was the giant slot car racing track. It was at least twice as high as Allan. But there were cool kids, older than Allan, who were usually playing it after school and on Saturdays. Allan always wanted to try but to play alongside them was too scary. What if he was really bad at the controls and the other kids laughed? Or what if his car flew off the track and hit another kid’s car?
One day, about two months before hearing that Mr. Lansing died, Allan was in the art section, looking at colored pencil sets and drawing tablets. Mr. Lansing came from around the corner and beckoned him to follow.
The track was empty. Mr. Lansing had set up a car for him, called “The Tornado.”
“Must be a game at school, why it’s so quiet here,” said Mr. Lansing. “Isn’t she a beauty? Best car on the track.”
“Go on, take her for a run. Hey, don’t worry, son, it’s a free test drive. No charge.”
Allan played alone on the track for 20 minutes. It was one of the best times of his life, watching the car dive and spin as it took the curves of the giant figure eight track. For those moments, he forgot all the sadness in him.
Allan finished and thanked Mr. Lansing.
“No problem, son. But I’ll have to charge you regular track time next time. Only 75 cents for a half hour. Bring some friends. You got a friend, haven’t you?”
Allan said yes. It wasn’t really a lie. It was only a few months until school started, and he would see her there, and they would be friends again.
The day after his father read the obituary about Mr. Lansing, Allan was sitting downstairs in the rec room. He had hardly gone down there at all since they had moved into the house. His dad had been disappointed since Allan had shown so little interest in the room. But Allan thought it was dark and weird down there. And there was no one to play foosball with.
This time was different. He was intentionally thinking about what usually scared him. Because he had asked himself: So if it’s true people don’t stay dead, or they act like they’re not dead, or whatever it is... does that have to be scary? What if they are a good person like Mr. Lansing? Maybe it could be a good thing after all.
He focused his eyes on the wall behind the furnace. It was the one closest to the cemetery. If bodies could just swim through the dirt, they could come right up to that wall.
His vision got kind of blurry. The middle of the wall seemed to get far away, like you were looking at it through a telescope. Or down a well. Then he forgot how long he’d been looking at it; maybe a few minutes. Or maybe an hour. But now the wall looked normal again.
He felt disappointed. He had thought something would happen.
That’s when he realized Mr. Lansing was sitting beside him.
“He’s crazy. He must be going 100 mile per hour,” said Allan’s mom. She was carrying groceries in from the garage, with Allan helping her. An ugly green car with white skulls and orange flames painted on the hood had just thundered past their house and up the hill. Allan looked in wonder at the cloud of snaking black smoke that hovered over the road.
“I should talk to his mother,” she said.
The boy driving was Reece Wyatt. Allan’s mom knew Reece’s mom and talked to her sometimes at the library, where Reece’s mom worked. Reece had dropped out of school and spent all his day smoking... something. Allan could not tell what the word was because Allan’s mom had mouthed it to his father. Reece would get up in the afternoons and drag race the car around the town streets.
“He’s sure to hurt somebody,” Allan’s mom had said.
She never did talk to Reece’s mom. Two weeks later, over breakfast, Allan’s dad was pointing at another notice in the back of the paper.
“This is just sad,” said Allan’s dad. “Never thought I’d be more sad to see a new addition to the neighborhood.”
Allan’s mom shook her head and could barely eat her eggs. “A terrible waste,” she agreed.
“What happened?” said Melanie, but Allan’s mom gave her husband a look, and he didn’t say anything more about it. Allan, however, leaned over and looked at the notice with Reece’s picture. At least no one else had been hurt. Reece’s car had hit a tree on South Street and turned over at 1 AM the night before last. He’d died in the ambulance. He had been 17.
It was a bit of a shock. It was the first time Allan had heard of someone close to his age dying.
Copyright © 2016 by Philip Ivory