“It’s not fair! Just because Sally has the whooping cough, I’m grounded. It’s just not fair that I’m carroteened for ten days, or whatever that word is. It’s springtime- the time when a boy just has to play ball with the guys.”
Willy flops on his back on his bed and throws his pillow at his model rocket, sending it exploding in sixteen pieces across the dirty sock carpeted floor. A “ping” on the window could have been a piece of the rocket, but Willy isn’t sure. So he galumphs over the end of the blanket mountain and looks down through the leaves of the oak, to see his friend getting ready to throw another acorn at his window.
“Hey, Jake...I can’t play with you today,” he yelled, shaking his head. He tried to open the window, but with all the damp weather, it is swollen stuck.
Jake is wearing the after-school fashion of a red T-shirt, grubby denim jeans, and a baseball cap. He cups his hands around his bucktoothed mouth.
“I can’t hear you.” After shaking his head again, Willy wraps his hands around his throat, hacks a few times, and sashays back and forth.
Jake puckers his forehead and shrugs. He waves goodbye and runs off to the ballgame.
“Sauerkrauts! I hope they lose the game without me.” He kicked his skateboard. “Ouch!” Clutching his toes, he hops back to the bed. After counting all his baseball cards and digging the grit out of his belly button and trying to do five pushups and looking out the window 29 times, he sees Jake scuffing down the sidewalk.
Willy raps on the window. Holding his arms out to his sides, he lifts his eyebrows.
Jake hangs his head and arms and shakes his head. He flaps a piddly wave and trudges home.
Willy smiles to himself.
The hours and minutes of each day snail by. He dutiful completes the assignments sent by his teacher. School was usually an unavoidable torture, but Willy begins dreaming of diagramming sentences and finding the distance a speeding train will travel in a day. A spelling test starts looking like a triple banana split.
The best part of each day is the daily visit from Jake. On Monday, he traces out the letters with exaggerated strokes. C-H-A-R-L-I-E Then he hops on one foot and swings both clenched fists forward and backward in synchronized movements.
Tuesday was rainy, and Jake didn’t come.
On Wednesday, he pretends to write on his hand and fold something and hold it out. He traces the letters B-E-C-K-Y, then pretends to open something and be surprised. He tilts his head and flutters his eyelids. He finishes by sticking out his tongue at Willy.
Thursday, Jake is almost under the window when he freezes mid-step and turns his head toward a something. He hurries off to catch up with the ice cream truck.
On Friday, Willy sees Jake jogging by in his uniform and carrying his ball glove. Willy gently tosses and catches his ball while waiting for the outcome of the game.
Jake grins up at Willy.
Willy holds his arms out questioningly.
Jake points to himself. He swings an imaginary bat and looks way up. He then runs in a circle, ending with a series of jumps.
“No way! No fair! Sauerkrauts!”
Jake begins stomping and swinging his arms in circles. He spins to the left and then to the right. He flops on the grass and rolls over and over through Mom’s flower garden. With a few more wild gyrations, Jake zigzags down the sidewalk.
“Well you don’t have to get carried away with it!”
On Saturday, Willy feels like a pebble out of a slingshot. He grabs his glove and races down to the baseball field.
“Hey, coach! Where is everyone else?”
“Oh, I guess you didn’t hear. We have to postpone practices for a few days. Too many people are sick. You had whooping cough-“
“It wasn’t me! I had to be locked up, just to be sure.”
“Oh, anyway, Charlie broke his leg, and I just got a call that Jake stepped on a nest yellow jackets yesterday.”
Willy can’t believe it. He saunters over to the plate, pantomimes a few swings, watches a few imaginary balls go by and then lets it go. He gazes up into the imaginary stands as he gallops around the bases, waving at the crowds cheering for his grand slam.
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