Skip Pulaska and I rode the streetcar to the alley between Johnson’s Town Restaurant and LaFever’s Fine Food Emporium. It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and we were hoping to get a free day- old doughnut at the bakery before Ms. Brubaker gave them all away.
Skip hopped off while the car was still moving and caught the bad look of Henry Riley as he pulled the trolley to a stop. He shook his fist at Skip’s back and yelled, “You’re gonna get yourself hurt, Kid. Fall under them wheels and let’s see how smart you are then!” I waited until Henry was fully stopped and stepped off politely while Skip snickered at me from the curb.
“Aww…have to wait for the little ol’ lady,” Skip jeered, and Henry threw him his filthiest look as the air brakes released with a shussssshhh. Henry was muttering “Dumb kids” as he dinged the bell and pulled off.
The sky was bright blue over the pitched roof of the Free United Methodist Church, and I watched the skies for a minute before Skip elbowed me. “C’mon, Rube,” he laughed. “Man! Bring you into town and you look just like the hick you are.” He sauntered to the alley and I followed.
Garbage lay in matted clumps and piles here and there, and the smell of old onions and cooked garlic hung heavy in the air between the buildings.
“Double pee-yew!” Skip hollered. “If people’d come this way and get a whiff of that, they’d never go in that greasy spoon.” He turned and waited for me to catch up with him. “I went to the Bijou last night, Terrence, my boy,” he informed me proudly.
“Yepperoni. And I took that Preston girl.” He strutted like a peacock and I had to smile. Everyone knew she went with anybody, but Skip had to make it sound like a real date.
“No kiddin’,” I supplied. I was Skip’s partner in his life-play and knew my part well.
“Yepperoni,” he repeated. I was more impressed that he had money to go to the movies at all.
“What’d you see?”
“Aw, that goofball ‘Wonderful Life’ movie, but I let Rosalie pick it anyhow.” He threw an empty can against the wall of the Emporium.
“Was it good?”
“Who was watchin,” he snickered.
“Right,” I grunted. It was the bane of my existence that I was perpetually more naïve than Skip…he knew it and rubbed my nose in it whenever he could.
“Hey!” he stopped suddenly. “Rosalie told me she goes to your church or somethin’.” He looked me over like this news made me into a creature he’d never met before.
“Yeah? So what?”
“So…she said you’re in a Christmas play tonight.” His face took on a sneer and I knew I was in for it.
“What of it?” I shrugged and started walking toward the back door of the Emporium’s bakery.
“Who’re you playin’…baby Jesus?” he laughed. I shrugged again and pulled the door open. Mrs. Brubaker handed us each two double-glazed, and we went back out to the alley with our hands and mouths stuffed with sticky sugary dough.
Skip wiped his mouth with his jacket sleeve and went right back to the Christmas play topic. “I’m thinkin’ I might come and root you on,” he mumbled around the doughnut.
I nodded but didn’t want to encourage him too much. No telling what a delinquent like him would do to me once he saw me robed and be-decked with purple satin head scarves! I was playing the part of a wiseman, and Skip would never let me live it down if he saw that.
“What’re you doin’ goin’ to church anyway, Man? There ain’t nothin’ to that stuff…Santa and all that junk is make-believe anyway.” He spit for emphasis and kept on walking.
Something came over me and self-preservation fled. “It’s real, all right,” I muttered to the back of his head. He stopped suddenly and turned to me with his mouth open in exaggerated surprise.
“What’d you say, Noodle-head?”
“It’s real. Jesus is real. That’s all”
He looked me over and for once I didn’t flinch from his stare down. He finally dropped his eyes first in concession and then shrugged. “Sure. Whatever, Man.”
He walked on and I followed. He looked back at me again and said nonchalantly, “Like I said, Rube, I’m gonna come root you on. OK?”
“Whatever, Skip, “I answered with a smile.
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