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29: Outward path



The places I hide in
Holes I escape down
What other defence can I use
Against such an oppressive foe
When threatening shadow looms
Where does the rabbit go

Into the safety of brambles

Shall I cower in thickets
Or be caught in the open
Stay under cover of thorns
Or be torn defying the hawk
Pathways lie waiting ahead
Pick up your feet and walk


Sea, stretching out to exult with Horizon about the bright summer day, looked skyward and waved to the couple sitting there topping the east arm of Bay. The almost retired lawyer and the tentative ex-gambler had gone up there because David had told Rose that the surroundings high up made a difference to his mindset for flute playing which changed not only the choice of music but also the colour and body of the sound.

     Rose had now become a welcome and discriminating audience. From the time of her first unexpectedly knowledgeable request for his music, David had found her to be truly interested in the subject he loved so well.

     Now she was willing to discuss the statement of a difference, both in set and sound, between his playing high up with Sky and Cloud or low down with Beach and Tree. She did, however, ask for a sample so that she might judge for herself.

     Up they went so that he could illustrate his point.

     The music he chose to play here, high up, David told her, made for a grander presentation to be sent out over the far reaching scene, if a flute could ever be thought able to aspire to that category. Sometimes with wild Wind adding to the tension and excitement it became even more exhilarating because, in his opinion, Wind, Sky and Tide were not willing to subject themselves to being held back when they joined in. Here he could let himself go with them.

     Beach, Tree and soft Breeze were more intimate and enfolding, usually bringing out gentler, more tender things. Thoughtful, touching and closer to inner feelings. Exuberant still, sometimes, but in a manner satisfyingly soothing, putting him at rest and at one with his surroundings. There he could be at peace with them and himself for awhile.

     Rose, listening to a piece and considering these explanations, agreed, remembering her own feelings, released by the rush of Waterfall, or the act of running into Wind and Rain, arms outstretched and hair flying. Tide also could bring out this active participation when she contested playfully against the force of white water thrown against her as it surged up Beach while she stood, swayed but unretreating, at water’s edge, or plunged into crashing Wave to join in their laughter or stormy, chaotic turmoil. This gave her release from tension and allowed her to be on friendly equal terms with surroundings.

     Quiet walks on calm sunny days, peaceful sojourns at Grandfather’s place, the first bloomings of broom and other flowers. Butterflies and the zoom of Hummingbird wings. Evenings of quiet familiar sounds, Loon’s call, watching Star come out, Moon treading water. This gave her strength and a feeling of permanence, continuity and contentment with her home.

     The two shared their feelings high up above Bay.

     The climb to their seat with its spectacular view was not an easy one, but once it had been reached they both felt it had been worth the effort. Here they could oversee the water below, look back on the green land which was Shalisa, and far out across Sea to their right where a hazy grey line indicated the first landfall David would make on his return journey home.

     While that sight was pleasing to the eye as he considered it, the far grey line reminded him that he’d been away from home almost two weeks now, and that some things back there in the city needed attending to.

     He’d accomplished a lot of attending to at Shalisa Creek Bay. LEGER DE MAIN’s new old windows had been installed relatively quickly with so many willing helpers. The interior plaster had been repaired and covered with white paint. The little spire room was on its way to becoming itself again, inviting his music once more and, finest of all to David’s mind, a new entrance door now smiled on those who entered the barge.

     That last item had been built by Fitz, and he and Heron had decorated it together. The man’s work was of graceful and traditional scrolls, while Heron had chosen anything bright and beautiful which took his fancy, including flowers, fish, birds and shells. The combination of styles was striking.

     David was hugely pleased with the barge’s new entrance facelift, and everyone agreed that Heron’s free-minded carving was becoming something worth encouraging. There were plans for the rest of the vacant doorways to be closed in, at least the ones which led to the outside, before colder wet weather would inevitably arrive, however far away it might seem in this warmth of summer. Heron was now thoughtfully turning over ideas for the next door and sharing them with Fitz.

     Sitting atop Cliff with Wind rustling the dry grass tufts among the rocks, and Sun turning Sea into a moving display of light and shadow, David knew it was almost time to go back across that stretch of water, once more to deal with more demanding work.

     The slight sigh he let out was caught by Rose.

     “Home time?” she asked, knowing what had come to his mind.

     “Yuh. Business waits only so long, and people. This place always gets me and it’s hard to leave but, you have Grandfather here and I have Grandmother there and I, unfortunately, am not a Shalisa leader with a beautiful bay given to my charge. I have to go back to the land of money-grubbers and pretend to like it. When I started out I was all for it. Lots of people do get a kick out of it. How come I don’t anymore? It’s always the project I have fun with.

     “Like the barge. For awhile, when I was doing that, I sort of forgot problems and just enjoyed it, and when it was finished it was great to get income by sitting out here sometimes, away from it all, while the rest of my business got run from a distance. I admit I was in gambler’s paradise, being able to deck the cards whenever I felt like it—mostly sitting as a monitor on my part unless a big ego insisted on taking me on. Members liked that. It gave them a chance to play after their limit was hit. I used to come back here in the off season just for the fun of having it all to myself—barge, bay, peace and quiet. It wasn’t the money that came from it so much as the pleasure. If I’d had to, I might even have done it just for my keep. I was really happy for a couple of years. Now things are kind of getting to me.”

     “You sound like you’re getting tired of it all,” she told him, surprised.

     “Burned out at thirty—yuh—could be—or—I think it’s this place of yours. It draws me in like a magician’s spell. It’s turning me into a bay druggie. The more I get of it the more I want.”

     “It didn’t get me back here that way,” confessed Rose. “It was more like, ‘you’d better do this before you can’t look yourself in the mirror in the mornings’—but you’re right. There does seem to be something here more than that, now that I’ve come. I’m finding I’m a lot more laid back than I used to be. Maybe you’re running yourself too hard. I figure that’s what I was doing.”

     “Could be,” considered David. “I flew back and forth a lot with the casino during the busy season—more than I wanted to, and having the whole thing trashed didn’t improve my outlook any either. I guess I am juggling a lot of oranges and apples up in the air right now. I’ve kind of cornered myself for awhile. I’ve thought of cutting back—but on what? I couldn’t just dump the guys at the yard—don’t want to anyway. I have too much fun there. The tourist plane route thing will work itself out with the weather I hope. Lots of business paperwork around. Maybe the sailing club could go—and then there’s Gram and her world I help with. There’s her garden, bridge, the symphony association, all of which she tries to turn into money for her causes. No way would I slice that.

     “When I get back, usually the first thing I do at the marina after I’ve tied up TJUTELA is call her, and she says—’I’ll make tea and you can tell me all about it when you get here.’ Then we’ll sit there and eat sandwiches and cake and sip madeira and slide quietly back to a feeling of what quieter days must have been like, when people were glad to see each other after they’d been apart for awhile. They had time to sit and ask each other how they were and what they’d been doing, and talk about gardens and music. We do that and it makes me feel good to be back again—at least for awhile.”

     “I think you two must get along very well together,” Rose told him with a smile. “You’re fortunate to have someone like that.”

     “It’s a nice fifty-fifty arrangement,” he agreed. “I keep the house in mechanical shape for her and she keeps it in a wonderland space for me. The best thing that ever happened to me was the day I moved in with Gram. Up to that point—seems I felt I was in some sort of morass I’d been born into which kept dragging me down, and my own behaviour just made it worse. I guess you know how lucky you were to grow up here away from it all.”

     “I wish I’d realised it a little sooner,” she replied. “I didn’t value it the way I should have. I don’t know what made you leave home, but it’s taken me all this time to understand that I left in anger.”

     “You did? Me too, except I understood only too well the day my father and I agreed to disagree permanently. Yeah—we were both pretty angry. That’s mostly what I had with him—anger. It’s still there, but I’ve walked away so far now it doesn’t get to me much anymore. He seems to still need it.”

     Looking across at the horizon to which he’d soon be returning, he absently fingered his old silver flute, the instrument which had unintentionally triggered his departure from what in his mind had become the quicksands of his family home.

- - -

Anthony Godwin sat at his desk getting angrier by the minute, the music of a flute filling his ears, his concentration disrupted more by his anger than by the sound.

     “David! Will you shut that racket up for a bit? I’m trying to do something important down here and I can’t concentrate with that row going on.”

     There was a thump sounding like the stamp of a foot accompanied by a ‘Geeze!’ and Mozart ceased, then his son’s voice came down.

     “It’s not a racket, it’s music, and I’m trying to do something important up here.”

     “You can practise later. I have to earn the money around this place. All you do is suck it up.”

     “Oh yeah—I get lots of that since you cut me off.”

     “You spend too much on those damned scores—and that new flute you bought wasn’t exactly a give away either. You’d think the bloody thing was made of gold, the price you paid for it. Other people live here besides you.”

     “Yeah—and one of them yells a lot.”

     Anthony pushed himself away from his desk and strode to the bottom of the stairs.

     “Well get down here so he won’t have to, and we can carry on a civilised conversation.”

     “You don’t know what that word means.”

     ”Get down here!”

     There was a silence and then the boy appeared at the top of the stairs, sat on the bannister sideways and slid down the curve of it, jumping off in front of his father with a cheeky grin.

     “Okay—what?!

     “I’ve had just about enough of your lip.”

     “And I’ve had just about enough of your interruptions just when I’m getting a reading perfected,” retorted the youthful musician.

     The two glowered silently at each other as the old ongoing antagonism arose between them.

     “Now I’ll tell you this just once,” began the father, trying to hold his exasperation in check. “Either I get some peace and quiet around here when I’m busy, or I’m taking those tin whistles of yours and all that expensive paper you’ve got up there and throwing it out, and you can find another career more suited to a son of mine.”

     “You’d like me to be a manipulator and user like you?”

     The insult was one too many. Years of abrasive encounters between the two had taken its toll. Now, like a cable stressed beyond its tensile limit, the uneasy truce between the two finally snapped with a violent, shredding parting.

     Anthony Godwin reached out, seized his son by the front of his shirt and began shaking him violently.

     ”You insolent little pansy!!”

     For a moment the boy stiffened, prepared to retaliate, until the impact of what was happening shafted into him.

     This was his father attacking him.

     He went slack holding his arms out from his sides, unresisting, until the man stopped with a jerk and threw the boy back hard onto the newel post. The two grappled with their eyes, the son leaning back a little against the polished wood, feeling the pain from his contact with it beginning between his shoulder blades, the father furious and out of control enough to want his son responding in kind, until David straightened, shaking his shirt back into place with his shoulders, saying with deep feeling,

     “If we’re going to start beating on each other I can’t live here anymore.”

     “Don’t threaten me with that. Look at you. You don’t even have enough guts to defend yourself.”

     Shocked, his son, certainly able to defend himself but unwilling to take up the challenge his father hurled at him, backed away, turned and ran up the stairs two at a time as the man’s voice followed his retreat.

     “I’m not taking any more of your crap! I don’t need it.”

     Getting no answer Anthony turned to start for his office again, when Danielle Godwin, having heard the exchange, but not sure of what had happened, came into the hall.

     “Must you always be arguing with each other?”

     “I need a rest from that constant, intolerable noise,” her husband told her, beginning to turn his anger toward her.

     “You know it’s important to him,” his wife remonstrated. “The competition’s coming up. He wants to do well.”

     “Maybe he could think of something else to do well at—damned smart-assed little flower.”

     ”Tony!”

     “Well he walks around looking like one with all that bloody fluff of hair.”

     “You gave him his hair.”

     “And you gave him the curls.”

     “You don’t like my curls?” came the question, escalating the exchange into a confrontation.

     “Come on Danielle! On a woman they’re beautiful. He’s not supposed to be one. Can’t he look like a man if he is one?”

     “What should he do? Shave his head to please you? Maybe if you’d stop telling him to cut it he might—of his own accord. He just does it to defy you, that’s all.”

     “You think I don’t know that?”

     “He’s entitled to his own choices.”

     “Not while he’s living here and I’m paying the bills.”

     “Stop acting like a household dictator and try to catch up with the times,” was his wife’s indignant response.

     “Danielle, I’m sick and tired and fed up with ducking my head every time I hear someone asking in that tone of voice—’Oh, is that your son?’ He can behave himself like the other three.”

     “You know very well he’s not like them.”

     “I certainly do and I wish to hell I didn’t.”

     Down the stairs and into this altercation tramped their son, controversial curls bouncing, backpack over his shoulder, old flute case lashed firmly to it, and a look of determined purpose on his young face.

     “Now where are you going?” asked his mother anxiously.

     “Somewhere away from him,” came the reply.

     His father looked at him, gave a scornful laugh as he stood blocking the boy’s way at the bottom of the stairs, and told him sarcastically,

     “When you get hungry, dinner’s at the usual time.”

     “Excuse me,” said the boy, pushing past his father without looking at him as though he were beneath notice, and headed for the door.

     “And don’t take your car.”

     There was no answer as David opened the front door and heard his father say to his mother,

     “So help me, if he slams that door he’s for it!”

     With his hand on the door handle David turned around.

     “I wouldn’t give you another opportunity,” he stated, stepped out, turned back and said, “I’ll phone you, Mother,” and then very slowly and with quiet finality, closed the door behind him almost soundlessly.

     The man thought he had won a point. The woman heard the almost inaudible sound of the closing latch clang like an alarm. She went quickly to the door, opened it and called,

     “David—don’t do this!”

     For answer, she saw her son reach into his jeans pocket, bring out his ring of keys to house and car and toss them over his shoulder. They jingled onto the driveway as the boy marched away without looking back.

     Danielle turned into the house again with sudden concern reaching into her.

     “Tony—tell him to come back.”

     “Don’t worry about it. A week at his grandmother’s will do us all good.”

     “What if he doesn’t go there?” she asked, voicing a fear which was settling on her with frightening conviction.

     “Where else do you think that lily would go?”

     “Stop calling him that. He’s just a boy—and he’s too young to be out on his own.”

     “He’s just turned sixteen. He should know better than to make a row like this. All I ask is a little peace and quiet and all I get is trouble from him. He’s always doing some outlandish thing that I have to apologise and excuse him for. I won’t have my sons behaving that way.”

     Having justified himself in his mind and, he hoped, in his wife’s, Anthony Godwin went back to his work in quiet, if not in peace.

     Fear held Danielle. She went up to David’s room. His new flute lay across a pile of sheet music on the bed, deliberately set out that way. His old portfolio of music was gone as well as his old flute.

     <My son—where are you going? Why have we driven you away?>

     She picked up the flute and the music, went down the stairs and into her husband’s office.

     “Take them back and get your damned money since it’s more important to you than our son,” she told him, throwing them on his desk. “He won’t be using them.”

- - -

The hand-printed sign read ‘Ditchwatcher wanted 4 eve shift’.

     The sight of it brought a slight smile to the teenager’s face, not only because it offered work but because of the first ‘word’. He was hungry. He hadn’t slept the night before. Having taken a bus into the heart of the city, he’d sat in malls and shopping centres until they had closed. Walking the streets after that, a man had approached him with an offer. Stunned, the boy had said quickly “I’m not for sale,” and had turned away, leaving at a rapid pace, restraining himself from running.

     He had walked until daylight came, not caring where he was or where he was headed, his thoughts far into himself, walking because he had nowhere to lie down and fear kept him going. Daylight had made him feel safe enough to sleep on the grass in a park, like someone enjoying the sun, his backpack beneath his head as a pillow, lulled by the sound of the sea hitting the nearby beach.

     When he awoke he walked aimlessly along the sand, watching a sailboat putting out for the horizon. The sight gave him another injury as it came to him that the little sailboat he had built himself, which had given him so much freedom and pleasure as he’d jousted in friendly contests with wind and sea, was now not his to sail.

     Sitting on a bench by the shore staring at the tide washing in, he considered his future. He’d had plenty of time to reflect on his precipitate departure from home as he’d coursed the unfamiliar streets. In the space of a few hours he had learned what it was to be homeless, hungry, alone, penniless and powerless. He wanted to continue along this hard path he had set his mind to. All he needed was the courage to proceed, but he pondered his situation.

     Hunger has a way of eroding the most determined will.

     He began to go over his options. He could go back, take a chance, try to hold his temper—it was such a temptingly comfortable thing to do. He wondered if he could manage another degrading and submissive return. There had been so many of them from his grandmother’s house in the past. Then he thought of his own limitations and knew he was not proof against his father’s verbal assaults. He finally concluded that his presence at home would sooner or later cause a confrontation more violent than the one which had sent him to sit here on this park bench, hurt, disturbed and miserable, physically and mentally.

     <Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I’ve been the insolent kid he says I am—a useless, flute playing aggravation in his life—sucking up his money and lipping him back. Art and Freddie and Howie aren’t like that. He doesn’t yell at them that way.>

     He sat there on the park bench grappling with emerging reality, feeling with deep conviction that to go back and remain at home would be to destroy the family.

     <I won’t do that to Mom and the others. It’ll be a happier place without me. Eventually Mom will accept my leaving because she loves Dad. The best I can do is just keep in touch.>

     He determined never to go back home. He chose instead to become an outcast, finally terminating his young lifetime of constant conflict.

     The idea of seeking shelter at a friend’s house was rejected immediately.

     <That would be admitting defeat publicly. Besides, Dad will arrive, humiliate me in front of everyone there, and drag me home again. I could go to Li’s but—that would just get him involved in all this. He doesn’t deserve that. I can’t go to Gram’s. I’ve caused her enough family fights already.

     <I have to do this on my own. I’ll go back to school tomorrow and get a shower and clean up, then split again. I need money but I’ll be damned if I’ll touch my bank account—it’s his and I’m not going to ‘suck up’ any more of it. I have to get a job somehow. I have to eat and I have to find a place to stay. The streets are too dicey—and cold. If it starts raining I’m in trouble.>

     He finally decided he needed a cup of coffee and a burger. He’d gone without dinner the evening before, and now all day without anything except a cup of coffee from a take-out. He’d been in such haste to leave that he hadn’t even thought of money until he had realised, as he’d paid for the coffee, that he didn’t have much in his wallet, and his pockets held only a little change. Considering his finances, he downsized the burger to a bowl of soup—if his cash would go that far—otherwise a muffin.

- - -

The restaurant he now stood before offered him both food and a job.

     A sign painted on the window in fading, surprisingly well-executed work told him that this establishment was ‘Yevy’s Café’. The old doorway was leaning off square a little, and the door slouched, as though tired from having hung around for so many years, being slammed and kicked and pushed. Still, it was open to those who did the abuse, offering a hopeful invitation to enter the very marginal establishment it protected when it was closed late in the evening.

     David hesitated a moment as the door showed him a resigned face, with cracking, many-layered coats of badly applied paint, like a not too successful old actor who has been given too many banal bit parts in later life, but has taken them anyway because there is nothing else to look forward to.

     Regarding this not very promising, dejected player now waiting for him to stop hesitating and take a step into his own young life, David decided he didn’t give a damn if the thing fell down on him as he entered. He was tired, hungry, cold and dispirited. He needed somewhere warm to sit down and think.

     He went in.

     Against the back wall, leaning on a table in the same attitude the door had presented, slouched a, balding, hawk-faced man with a cigarette in his mouth. He glanced at David, twitched his cigarette between his lips, but didn’t get up as the youth went to the dirt and grease-fogged window and took out the cardboard sign, then walked up the room to where the man sat.

     “You need help?” he asked.

     A pair of indignant, sharp dark eyes ran over him before the man said,

     “What! I look sick or sumpin’?”

     “No—I mean this sign,” was the startled directing of attention.

     “Oh—yeah—’at’s what it says. You got hands?” was the next question.

     “Yes—but—what do you need them for?” asked the boy, still having enough spirit left to be able to see a joke. “Digging ditches or washing dishes?”

     The joke didn’t take. The man was obviously unaware of his unique spelling.

     “You see any holes in my floor here?”

     “No.”

     “So what you t’ink I serve my food on—ditches?”

     “Well it says ditch watcher,” the boy replied with a little laugh.

     “Wadda you? Smart ass?”

     David had heard that expression too many times already in his life. He got ready to leave, feeling there was no possibility of his wanting to work here even as penniless and hungry as he was.

     “Wadda you? Illiterate?” he flung back, uncaring now, and tossing the piece of cardboard on the table.

     “Yeah. So what’s it to ya? You got a problem wit’ ’at? You wanna job or no?”

     The answer brought the boy up short. He took a more observant look at this prospective employer and came to the immediate conclusion that he actually might be deficient in the reading and writing department. He changed his approach.

     “Yeah.”

     “Okay. You know how to wash dishes?”

     “Yeah.”

     The boy figured anyone would know how to put dishes in a dishwasher.

     “So get out back an’ wash.”

     David, still his own man, wasn’t about to take an order like that without doing some research first.

     “Hold on. How much?”

     “You don’t sound like much,” was the unencouraging reply. “You ain’t even a man—overgrowed baby what prob’ly don’t even shave yet. Waddaya expect? Basic an’ a meal on you shift.”

     “Do you pay by the day—cash?” persisted David, ignoring this disparaging assessment of his qualifications, desperate for some money in his pocket.

     “Damn useless drifters,” muttered the man to the wall, in resignation. “Like always. Grab it an’ go. Yeah, if you ain’t wrecked nuttin’ by end of day. Sure you know how? I don’t want none broke. Come outta you wages.”

     “Tell you what,” bargained David, “You give me something to eat right now so I have the strength to do the dishes and I’ll give you a free sample of what I can do.”

     At this proposal it became the proprietor’s turn to apply a closer scrutiny. The clothes were clean and reasonably new. The jacket was not cheap. He glanced at the expensive backpack with a black instrument case lashed to it, wondering if it really were an instrument or something less soothing. His eyes hung on a wealth of unruly fair hair, and for a moment he thought of an undercover on the premises, but this kid didn’t have the finesse, and he did see genuine hungry hope in the grey eyes.

     “Oh yeah. Smart ass for sure. Free nuttin’ if I pay for it wit’ food. Siddown here kid. I get you sumpin’.”

     David took him at his word, relief in his face, put his backpack down and sat, appetite at the ready.

     By the time the café operator had made up a sandwich to go with the bowl of soup and the bun he’d put in front of the boy that food was already gone.

     “Here.”

     “Thank you.”

     The provider sensed real sincerity in the two words, a couple he hadn’t heard for some time. He watched as the sandwich disappeared quickly, noticing that the boy had actually used a paper napkin properly and not just for mopping up spilled coffee.

     “Dunno. At rate you eat I don’t be gettin’ no bargain—swallow head. Have a cuppa an’ go wash.”

     David picked up the mug of coffee and walked out to the kitchen perusing the contents of the unclean place which smelled of old burnt grease and unemptied garbage, as he regarded a stack of pots and dishes by a grimy sink. He walked over to the dishwasher, and was about to open it when his new boss told him,

     “ ’At don’t work. Waddya t’ink I hire you for? You dishwasher.”

     “Oh.”

     He was going to have to pay for his meal by washing all that pile of food encrusted dishes and greasy utensils by hand. He gulped his coffee.

     “It figures,” he murmured. “Okay, where’s the soap?”

     “A’ready inna water.”

     David looked at the water in the sink—flat grey, looking rather like the bowl of soup he’d been served, with bits of food and vegetables and lots of grease floating on the top of it—except it was cold.

     “Sure there’s some in there?” he enquired with obvious doubt in his voice. “It needs some more.”

     “Waddaya need ’at for? Ain’t it enough I gotta pay for hot water?”

     “You ever change it?” David asked at last, startled and disgusted when he picked up an old grey dish mop and dropped it hastily as cockroaches objected vigorously, running in all directions on being discovered pilfering.

     “Yeah. Ever’ mornin’. Stuff cost money.”

     “It needs more soap and hot water,” stated his probationary employee putting down his coffee mug.

     “Wadda you? Some healt’ inspector or sumpin’? You wanna job or no? Udderwise you better get up some cash an’ getta hell outta here. Don’t need no snitchin’ creeps in here.”

     “Okay—don’t freak. I’m not one—and I’m no welcher.”

     David pushed up his sleeve, reached his hand down into the greasy water and opened the drain.

     “Hey—what you doin’?!” protested the restaurateur, who never emptied his dishwater until the end of the day.

     “Washing the dishes,” was the reply, full of definitely youthful self-assurance.

     The sink got rinsed out, then, drain closed and hot water tap on full, came the question,

     “You have any soda?”

     “What for?”

     “My stomach,” replied David, considering that he had just eaten food prepared in this unsanitary establishment.

     “Oh yeah. Sick kids all over. What you got? Aids? Hepatitis? Here.”

     David took the carton, tipped some into his hand and licked it off, then poured some into the water.

     “Need some salt,” he ordered next as he pushed up his other sleeve.

     “You gonna eat ’at or t’row it away too?” came the question as the surprised proprietor handed over the salt container out of curiosity to see what this weird kid who had walked into his place would do next.

     Pouring salt into the water, David reached for a container of vinegar which was standing nearby, took a small mouthful, sloshed it around in his mouth as a rinse before swallowing, choked a bit and then poured some of the vinegar into the water to join the salt and soda.

     “I don’t know how come you’re still operating,” came his opinion, “But maybe this’ll help keep your customers from getting food poisoning until you buy some detergent.”

     “Do what?!” asked the man in amazement. “You insultin’ me? Damn smart ass! Wash dishes an’ don’t waste no more o’ my stuff.”

     The boss got another surprise when the stack of dishes, pots, pans and utensils got cleaned up as quickly as the food had.

     “Hey,” he admitted, “You good. You done ’is before huh?”

     “Help my Gram all the time whenever I’m there.”

     He did help load the dishwasher sometimes, and rinsed off his midnight snack dishes at his grandmother’s house. He felt that was a pretty good reference.

     “You got a Gram? You lucky. I got nobody. Where you parents?”

     David hesitated. He didn’t want this man phoning home.

     “Okay. Nonna my business,” came the deductive reply as the employer drew his own conclusions. “You ole man t’rew you out. Watcha did? Knock up girls or steal his cash?”

     “Neither,” grinned David, his sense of humour kicking in again. “It was enough that I got born.”

     “Oh. L’il bastard huh? ’At’s okay. So’m I.”

     David didn’t correct the statement.

     <What does it matter? I’ve been made to feel like one anyway.>

     “So—do I get the job?”

     “You betcha like a royal flush.”

     “You play poker?” came the interested question.

     “Sure.”

     “Maybe we could have a game now and then.”

     “You a cheat too?” came the accusation. “I ain’t gettin’ took ’at way.”

     “No! I meant just for fun.”

     “Fun huh? That ain’t nuttin’ to do for fun.”

     “Sure it is.”

     “You get you clock cleaned ’at way wit’ me kid,” warned the old man.

     “Bet I could teach you a thing or two,” returned David with a confident smile.

     “Smart ass for sure an’ a smart mout’ too. Gamblin’ ain’t for kids. I won a lottery a couple times. First time I got ten bucks. Musta paid out a hunnert ’fore I got ’at. Next time wasn’t so bad. Hey, you gotta work here till midnight from seven—okay?”

     “Okay.”

     There came a hiatus in the conversation, then the café owner said,

     “I got the name Yevy.”

     “I’m David.”

     The big-knuckled, chapped, hard-worked hand took hold of the big, smooth unworked one.

     “Softie. You at school still?”

     “Uh—yeah.”

     “You lucky. I ain’t got no brains for ’at,” Yevy freely admitted. “Watcha grade at?”

     “Just finishing high school.”

     “You gonna do sumpin’ wit’ youself huh?” was the approving question.

     “Sort of.”

     “Don’t sort of. Do it. Watcha gonna do?”

     “Music.”

     “No!” Yevy actually began to smile. “You gonna toot a horn or bang keys?”

     David hesitated, then offered bravely,

     “Flute—actually.”

     “Sheesh!” There was something of disappointment in the word. “Damn shepherd boy. Shoulda knew by lookin’ atcha. I seen ’em pitchers of pretty boys tootin’ at girls in ribbons holdin’ sheep in ’em frilly aprons. You gonna push sheep? Don’t you push at me! I ain’t no sheep.”

     “I’m not a pretty boy!” David flung back indignantly, rebuffing the usual old categorisation of himself, “And I got pushed at enough to know not to do it to somebody else.”

     “Yeah?” Sympathy replaced scorn. “Well yellin’ at people don’t do no good anyway. Look at me. I done better out on my own. ’is my place. My business. No debt. I run it. Mine!

     David was surprised at the unexpected pride this man showed in his unprepossessing business establishment. Suddenly he wasn’t an old geezer leaning at a table in a greasy spoon café with a cigarette stuck between his lips. He stood taller and smiled as he patted the table. This grubby grey restaurant David wouldn’t even have gone near two days ago now took on a different colour. He saw rainbows in the man’s eyes.

     “You’ve done well Yevy,” he told his new boss, realising that for this man he had done well.

     “You work hard you do well too,” advised his employer. “At’s how to do it. No debt. Al’ays get cash whenever you can. Don’t tell nobody. I like music. I got a mandolin. You bring you flute? ’at it? We play togedder sometime. Where you stayin’?”

     “Haven’t found a place yet,” admitted David.

     “Just brick hittin’ now huh? Okay. I know a place. You go down t’ree corners from here—big ole yellow house. Got rooms for kids like you. Maybe you get lucky if he got one. Cheap. Nice guy.”

     “Oh?” asked David suspiciously, remembering his experience from the night before. “How come?”

     “Some damn do-goody. Been a street kid hisself. Get money from govamint I hear. Mus’ be smart to get ’at. Some of his kids come here to eat. You gonna stay an’ work out ’is shift for a sample?”

     “Sure. Got nothing else to do,” replied David, glad of a warm place to hang out for awhile.

     “Good. You go his place tonight. Better’n alleys. Don’t want no employee o’ mine sleepin’ in alleys wit’ garbage cans. Filt’y. Tell ’im I said. Tell ’im I pay you tomorrow so you can stay. Don’t worry. He check wit’ me by phone. My friend come in for coffee soon. You like him.”

     David wasn’t sure if he were being told to do that, or that he would. He waited to find out. Looking around at the worn old bare establishment he stood in, he wondered if anybody but Yevy’s friends ever came in here, but the amount of dishes he’d just cleaned up suggested otherwise.

     “You get lots of business in the daytime?”

     “Yeah. Lottsa workin’ guys aroun’ here. I try keepin’ prices down. All broke. Need to eat somewhere. What you do all day?”

     “Well—I’ve been going to school—studying and playing my flute.”

     “You don’t go runnin’ around wit’ ’em gangs?”

     “Geeze—no!”

     “Good. You keep away from ’em. I hafta give payola ’cause of ’em little bastards. Rip me off alla time afore.”

     Startled at this open confession of operating standards, David told him,

     “Yevy, those guys you pay protection to run the gangs.”

     “So who cares? Don’t get ripped off no more.”

     David pondered that piece of logic.

     “All it takes is money, huh? Better to give it to them than get held up.”

     “Yeah. Glad I got it.”

- - -

Finished with his sample shift, David started walking the three blocks to the old house Yevy had told him about, hands in pockets, hunched against the chilly evening. He got about halfway there when he became aware that the two people behind him who had been hanging around close to the café when he’d left had followed him and were closing the gap rapidly. His heartbeat accelerated. Pretending to stop and look in a shop window, he turned quickly and set his back against a wall as they came up, knowing that they had come for him.

     The two youths confronted him, one carrying a stick, the other bigger one with his right hand in his jacket pocket.

     “Hey fag, you got some stuff?”

     “No.”

     He watched them separate a little in front of him.

     “Turn out your pockets, dink.”

     David didn’t move.

     “Guess we’ll hafta do it for ya.”

     The one with the stick swung, David grabbed it, yanked the boy toward him and gave him a knee in the groin, quickly pushing him aside as his assailant made a gasping sound. The move brought him away from the wall and the other one came from behind. Suddenly his breathing was cut off by a big hand over his mouth and nose. Grasping the assailant’s wrist and armpit he threw him over his shoulder but, hampered by his backpack, the throw was not clean. The hand over his face raked him and he fell to one knee as the attacker went over and down. Hearing the cry as his opponent hit the cement he scrambled to his feet and ran. He didn’t stop to look back but ran and ran and ran until he reached the big yellow house, thundered up the stairs and pounded on the door.

     Once a place of gracious living, which had welcomed the elite of the town, the now dilapidated edifice, overtaken by commercial expansion and time, rattled to the sound of a desperate boy’s banging on its door. It was opened by a middle-aged burly man whom David thought must have been a wrestler or athlete of some sort once, he was so big and well-muscled. At that moment he realised his face was bleeding and he wiped the back of his hand across it.

     “Hi,” he gulped, breathing hard and glancing over his shoulder. “Yevy told me you had rooms for rent.”

     The man regarded him warily.

     “Yeah. You been fighting?”

     “Couple of guys just tried to mug me.”

     “You better come in,” was the reassuring decision.

     As he entered he heard the closing of locks and night bars behind him.

     “What are you doing wandering around this time of night anyway?”

     “I got the evening shift washing dishes for Yevy.”

     “Oh. You must be a stranger around here. Nobody wants that job. They always get the hell kicked out of them trying to get home. Come on into the kitchen and we’ll clean you up. I’m Denny.”

     “David,” returned David.

     The man marched him into the kitchen, took his backpack and set it on the counter.

     “Here, wash your face,” he was told as he was handed a facecloth, soap and towel.

     Watching the boy washing the blood from his face Denny said with concern,

     “You just missed getting knifed unless that cut in your backpack was there before.”

     David took the towel away from his face and saw the slit in his pack.

     “Geeze!” he exclaimed, as he unzipped the pack and looked inside. “It got my books and music too.”

     <Books and music?!>

     The man took a close look as the boy checked his belongings, taking a few things out of the backpack and then stuffing them back again. It wasn’t the usual collection he’d seen. No weapons or paraphernalia. A change of clean clothing and—books and music.

     “I don’t know where you’re from,” he told David, looking the boy over and noting the good clothing, “But around here I wouldn’t go out at night looking like that unless you’re asking for it.”

     The boy said nothing, still staring at the cut backpack and his violated possessions.

     “Okay. What brings you to the streets?”

     David blinked. He hadn’t thought of it that way. When he got no answer the man said,

     “So let me guess. You got into an argument at home. Right?”

     The boy nodded, wondering if the fact was written on his face.

     “How long have you been gone?”

     “Two days.”

     “They know where you are?”

     “No.”

     “Well, there’s a phone over there. You get on it and call home.”

     “I don’t think so,” David balked at this order.

     “That, or you’re out on the street again. I don’t mind runaways, but when you’ve got parents they have to know you’re safe. I don’t care if you tell them where you are or not. Just tell them you’re alive.”

     David thought of the two toughs he’d just met, and that the streets were probably full of them. He looked at his damaged backpack, then went reluctantly over to the phone.

     His father answered.

     “Let me speak to Mom. No—I won’t talk to you. No I’m not in jail—go tuh hell, you...!” was David’s abrupt termination of the call.

     He slammed the phone down.

     “Okay,” commented Denny. “At least they know you’re still on earth. Now, a couple of things. We get checked regularly by the cops, so if you’re on the run this is no place for you.”

     David considered whether he was on the run or not and realised that the man meant criminals.

     “The cops aren’t looking for me.”

     “Okay. Come on. Last room I’ve got is down here.”

     He was taken down to the basement, around the furnace and other appurtenances which comprise the workings of a large house, and shown into a clean, bare room, with a bed, an old plywood desk with a mirror unsilvering itself above it, a worn upholstered armchair, a battered bureau and a little formica-topped table with a chrome stool under it. There was a window high up at ground level, with a plain brown curtain pulled over it.

     “Do your own laundry and cleaning here—and you’d better clean. No cooking in the rooms. There’s a twelve o’clock curfew. Be in by then or you don’t get in.”

     “I work till twelve,” objected David.

     “Oh—okay. Make it half past then. I’ll clue you on the other rules tomorrow. There’s a community kitchen I’ll show you—it’s kind of late now. Bathroom’s up the stairs and to your right. Good?”

     “Yeah, thanks,” responded the boy, feeling the warmth of the place which the furnace provided and being glad of it. “Yevy said I should tell you he’ll pay me tomorrow so I can pay you.”

     “Okay David. I’ll check with him. Another thing—no drugs. I catch you at that and you’re out of here fast. Got it?”

     “I don’t do drugs,” replied David.

     “Okay—keep it that way.”

     After the man had left, David put his backpack down, unfastened his flute case, laid it on the top of the bureau and looked around at this small cell. He thought of his own room at home, bright and fresh and comfortable, full of his books and belongings. Freddie and Art and Howie would have done their homework without his input this evening. His shiny, new little four-by-four would be parked in the driveway—his sixteenth birthday present. His mother was there—and his father.

     <I can’t go back—I won’t!>

     Intending to lie down, he flipped off the ceiling light and found himself in total and complete darkness. A strange frightening feeling of being trapped and vulnerable came over him. He quickly switched the light back on again, went over, reached up and pulled the curtain to let light from the street lamp in. This action gave him a stark reminder of what situation he had landed himself in.

     There were bars across the window.

     This was no suburban area. Locks and bars were the normal practice here—fortifications to keep out the barbarians. He turned off the light again and laid down on the bed, staring at the window, lying there with his arms hugged around himself, beginning to feel scared and alone. His shoulder ached, both from his contact with the newel post and from the awkward throwing of his big assailant, which had wrenched it a little. His knee was bruised and his raw face burned.

     Too wide awake and disturbed, he got up and put the light back on again, took out a music score from his backpack, smoothed the gash in it together, sat down in the chair and began studying it with desperate intensity, until he finally fell asleep where he sat, the sustaining company of a great composer falling into his lap as he relaxed his hold.

- - -

When he showed up for his shift the next evening Yevy took a long look as he came in, got up from his usual place at the back table and told him,

     “I get you a tea bag.”

     “I’d rather have coffee if you don’t mind, Yevy.”

     “For you face you dummy!”

     “Oh. Is that good for it?”

     “Don’t you know nuttin’?!” asked Yevy, taking a cold teabag out of a teapot and slapping it against David’s bruised and abraded face. “What they get from you?”

     “Well—one of them got a sore back when I threw him over my shoulder and the other one is going to have a pretty disappointed girlfriend for a few days.”

     “Shouldn’a asked,” laughed his boss in surprise, “But—mebbe—you should cut you hair.”

     The boy gave him an angry look.

     “You gonna start that too? My ole man’s always yapping at me about it. I’m not going to cut my hair. Why should I?

     “It make you a target for creeps.”

     “Agh—well they better watch what they aim for,” came the reply.

     “You in tough part o’ town here. You get lot o’ trouble lookin’ like ’at.”

     “They’ll get it back double.”

     “Where you learn fightin’ like ’is?”

     “At school. My hair got me a lot of people to practise on.”

     “Tole ya. So why you don’t take it off?”

     “No!,” came the stubborn assertion. “It’s mine. I don’t tell those ball heads to grow theirs back, although it might improve the looks of some of them if they had something to hide their ugly faces behind. I can handle them.”

     “Mebbe you like fightin’,” accused Yevy. “I t’ought you a nice boy.”

     “I am a nice boy,” David replied, surprising himself with his self-approval.

     “Get youself killed.”

     “No great loss to humanity.”

     “You don’t like youself huh?”

     “Do so.”

     “Then what you wanna get killed for?”

     “Hey, you gotta go sometime. Who cares what gets you?” came the recklessly defiant reply.

     “You too young talkin’ like ’at,” admonished the man. “You got lottsa good time ahead. You better laugh a bit. I don’t like mad people.”

     “You mean—crazy—or angry?” asked David, overly sensitive to words.

     “Bot’.”

     “Well I’m not crazy—I’ll see what I can do about the other,” he acceded.

     “Hey, here come customer. Get coffee.”

     That evening no one assaulted him on his way from the café.