Mr. Gedrick and Me, страница 1
For Sierra. May your journey lead you home.
Can I Get a Hello?
A Detour and a Strange Encounter
Help? What Kind of Help?
Timbuktu and a Kangaroo
Mr. Gedrick of Swoghollow
Something Impossible Happens in the Kitchen
Mr. Gedrick’s Room
Bacon and Baseball Stats
The Perfect Place for a Project
A Disturbance in the Force
Bob Takes a Hike
Under and Around the House
Bob’s New Habitat
Weedwacking and Yard Gnomes
The Chicago Chain Saw Disaster
A Dream of Days Past
Darrow Family Magic
The Plan Revealed
The Return of Huxley Harvold
Goodbye, Mr. Gedrick
The Community Arts Center
About the Author
About the Publisher
CAN I GET A HELLO?
My name’s Stanley. Stanley Darrow.
Lifting weights was my new thing. Curling five-pound dumbbells was no problem, I’d done that plenty of times. But I couldn’t lift the bar on the old bench press in the garage. I knew this because I’d tried once already and it got stuck on my chest. The only way I could get out from under the crazy thing was to slide off the bench and land on the garage floor. I kicked the bench hard enough to make my toe hurt. Note to self: don’t weight lift wearing flip-flops.
But it was summer, and I always wore flip-flops in the summer. I was thinking about all this, wishing my dad were still here to spot me, when I walked into the kitchen searching for some help.
“I’m going out into the garage to lift weights,” I told Mom. I did a couple of arm stretches and waited for her to respond, but she didn’t say anything. I looked around the kitchen, piled with dirty dishes, and tried to get her attention one more time.
“There’s a very good chance I will die out there,” I said.
I could see on her face that she noticed I existed. It’s like she thought she heard the sound of a voice, but it registered in her busy brain like a woodpecker banging on the refrigerator door.
“That’s nice, honey. Have a good time. Oh, and feed Bob while you’re out there.”
I rolled my eyes and gave it one last shot.
“I’m riding my bike to the store so I can buy ten pounds of candy. And I’m not wearing my helmet.”
“Okay, have fun,” Mom said. My mom—her name is Elsa—leaned forward, typing something into her laptop with one hand while holding a pencil in the other. Her blond hair fell forward on her face, her small shoulders curving toward the screen. She rested her elbows on the table.
Ever since Dad died and summer vacation showed up, Mom worked from home instead of her big office in downtown Chicago. She’s an architect. Her boss, Huxley Harvold, had recently handed her a gigantic project and she had fallen behind on it. I guess I didn’t really blame her for ignoring me. She had a lot going on. It was Dad who had clipped the lawn and kept out the weeds. It was Dad who had taken care of the stuff around the house, including me and my brother and sister. Now Mom had to do all that stuff by herself. Her cell phone rang and she groaned before tapping the screen. I decided I better load up on water before heading out for all that candy, so I got a glass and turned on the tap.
“No, no, not to worry, Mr. Harvold. It’s all coming along beautifully. The community arts center will be a showpiece, just like you asked.”
Mom was out of her chair now, pacing back and forth nervously.
I imagined Huxley Harvold sitting in his office with a big, fat smile on his face. He probably had his feet up on the desk while he pressured Mom to hurry up and get all this work done. I’d been to his office before. The guy’s got a very large, heavy-looking desk—it’s like a slab of pavement on four legs. He’s a little demanding, Huxley.
“Well, no, I don’t have anything I can show you yet,” Mom said. “But it’s really starting to take shape.”
Pause pause pause.
“I’ll keep at it. Thank you for checking in, Mr. Harvold. Bye for now.”
Mom hung up the phone and stared at a big, blank piece of paper sitting on the kitchen table.
“This community arts center is going to kill me,” she said.
I could tell she wanted to cry, because the paper was blank and the house was a mess and she missed my dad. Before, she could come home from work, enjoy a nice dinner Dad had made, and then have the energy to help out with things like lifting weights.
She started tapping her pencil on the side of her head, a habit she had when she felt nervous or upset.
I walked down the hallway on the shaggy carpet and peeked into a bedroom. My brother, Fergus, was lying on his bed eating potato chips and watching something on a laptop. I could tell by the sound that it was some kind of baseball highlights reel. Fergus was wearing a White Sox cap, pulled down low to cover half of his face. Also, did I mention my brother is super athletic and very tall, everything I’m not?
“What do you want, dork?” my brother said.
“Good morning to you, too,” I replied. I punched the air, warming up my arms for the big lift I was planning.
“Mom says you’re supposed to feed Bob and help me do bench presses,” I said.
“I doubt that,” Fergus answered. He tapped on some keys and looked up. “Are you going to stand there all day? I’m kind of busy here.”
Another video started playing and Fergus went back to ignoring me. There was a Nerf football on the floor, halfway hidden under a pile of clothes.
“Why are you entering my room?” Fergus said as I stepped forward and reached down into the glob of clothing.
“This is my football,” I said as I picked it up. “Wanna play?”
I threw the ball right at Fergus’s head and he caught it without even looking up.
“Man, you are really good at catching stuff,” I said.
“Beat it,” Fergus replied. His eyes stayed glued to the computer as he threw the football over my head, and it went sailing out the door into the hallway.
I took off running for the ball, but by the time I found it and came back, the door was closed.
“No problem,” I yelled. “I’ll just play catch with myself, because that’s loads of fun.”
I spiked the football on the carpet and did an end-zone dance I’d been working on, but there was no one to see me do it. Five more steps down the hallway and I was standing in front of my sister’s room. I knocked and she didn’t answer, so I knocked again.
“I know you’re in there. I can hear you thinking.”
“Enter at your own risk,” my sister, Amelia, said. Her voice sounded far away.
Amelia’s answer was code for I’m in the middle of drawing and if you come in here I will throw my pencil at you. If it hits you in the eye, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I decided it would be safer to leave the door shut and just yell at her.
“Mom says you’re supposed to feed Bob and help me do bench presses!”
There was a long pause and then I heard a huffing sound drift under the door. It swung open and there stood my sister—twelve years old with long blond hair and big eyes just like Mom’s. Amelia looked like a smaller version of my mom, right down to the pencil she held in her hand, tapping it against her head.
“If you’re l
My house was all on one floor, so I would only fall about three inches. It sounded fun.
“Yeah, let’s do that!” I said. I tried to run to her window, but she was blocking my way.
Amelia looked down at me because she’s taller than I am. She pointed her pencil in my face like a magician’s wand.
“Abracadabra!” she said.
I stared at her like an idiot.
“This is the part where you disappear,” Amelia said. “That’s how the trick works.”
“A magic show, cool! How does it work? Can you cut me in half or turn me into a goat?”
Amelia’s expression didn’t change, but the pencil got a little closer to my face. I figured I better change tactics.
“Hey, I can help you with your art project,” I said, peering into the room and seeing her drawing pad. “I help you, you help me. It’s a win-win.”
“You remember what happened last time you helped me on an art project?” Amelia asked. “You kept smudging the paper with your fingers and breaking all my pencils. I had to start all over.”
“Yeah, but I’ve been practicing. I can really draw now. I’m a regular Van Gobble.”
Amelia shut the door in my face.
“It’s Van Gogh,” she yelled from behind the door.
I shoved my hands in my pockets and didn’t move. What a bunch of selfish dweebs my brother and sister were. How was I supposed to turn my noodle arms into serious guns if no one would help me? It was impossible! So I decided to take Mom up on her offer to buy ten pounds of candy instead.
But first I had to feed Bob.
A DETOUR AND A STRANGE ENCOUNTER
Bob is green, he’s got big eyes, and he’s got a horn sticking out of his head. He’s a lizard. Bob is not one of those giant ones that looks like it might eat your fingers off. He fits in the palm of my hand.
“I don’t suppose you could lift that bar off my chest if I’m pinned under it, could you?”
“I didn’t think so.”
I opened a cardboard box that had crickets inside and one of them jumped out.
“It’s your lucky day,” I said to the escaping cricket. Then I had second thoughts. “Unless you get run over by a car.”
Another one jumped out, and Bob watched it sail by and hit the floor in the garage with a plink. That was how it usually went when I fed Bob. I always lost a couple of crickets before I could get ahold of one and drop it into Bob’s cage. The two crickets that escaped the jaws of death hopped away and I tossed a third one into the cage. Bob’s eyes narrowed and he moved one of his legs in super slow motion, turning toward the cricket. It could take five seconds or five hours for Bob to eat his lunch, so I snapped on my bike helmet. There’s no sense risking a head injury that might limit my candy intake down the road.
I always think about my dad when I ride my bike through the neighborhood. The two of us used to go on a lot of rides together, but they were never just rides.
“Ready?” my dad would say when we were out of the driveway.
“Born ready!” I would yell, and he’d start pedaling faster.
Then my dad would lead me on a winding pathway through the park. He’d jump off his bike and leap through the chains on the swing set, then get back on his bike and ride over to the slide. Up the slide my dad would go, flying down and getting on his bike again, heading for the monkey bars.
“Is that the fastest you can go?” I would say as I reached the monkey bars first and started swinging.
“Hey, how’d you pass me? That’s impossible!” my dad would say.
And on and on it would go, through a long and twisty course we’d created over a whole summer. I didn’t win every time, but it was always close. And afterward, we never failed to get ice cream.
I thought about those days as I rode toward the store, and somewhere along the way, I took a wrong turn. I don’t even remember doing it. I cried a little and the wind made the tears run along the side of my face until I wiped them away. After a while I arrived someplace I wasn’t expecting to go, and it wasn’t to get ten pounds of candy.
There was a metal fence all painted black that ran along the sidewalk, and behind that, headstones. They were in lots of different shapes. Some of them had square tops, some were rounded, some had fancy curves. There were big ones and small ones, old ones weathered by rain and wind, and others that looked like they’d only been there for a few weeks. I rode my bike through the entrance and stayed on the wide path. No one was around but me and the trees and the headstones. The wind blew through the leaves and made a sound like rain hitting pavement.
When I came to a big elm tree I turned the corner and saw the bench I like to sit on, the one that has a good view of where they buried my dad. It’s a really nice spot. There are lots of trees and green grass between all the headstones. I stopped short and rolled my bike back so I was hidden behind the elm tree.
Someone was sitting on my bench. It wasn’t technically my bench, but it still bothered me that someone was sitting there. I could only see the person from behind as he stared into the cemetery. He was wearing a fancy green jacket that looked like pool table felt. A bright white collar peeked out from the edge of the jacket.
“Who is this guy?” I wondered out loud. “And why is he sitting on my bench?”
A leaf started falling from a tree overhead, drifting down toward the man in the green jacket. I wished it was bird poop instead and that it would land right on his green-pool-table-felt shoulder. When the leaf was a few feet over his head, the man jumped up and stood in front of the bench. With the speed of a ninja he took something from his pocket that looked like a silver pen, but then he pulled his arms apart and the pen extended until it was about four feet long. I’m not making this up—he caught the leaf on the end of the pointer while the leaf was falling through the air. He tossed the leaf into the air, caught it on the end of the pointer again, and flipped it over his head. Then he danced with the leaf, keeping it aloft as it rolled around in the air, falling and rising and falling again. Another leaf fell from the tree, and then another, and as they reached him he stabbed each one like the pointer was a fencing sword.
As he did these things I saw that the man was wearing a vest, a white shirt, and a red tie. I couldn’t make out his face from where I stood, but I could see he had dark hair. He removed the leaves, retracted the pointer, and put the pointer back in his coat pocket. And then he walked away.
“That was weird,” I said.
I decided to turn around and go home.
HELP? WHAT KIND OF HELP?
When I got home, Mom was in the kitchen arguing with my sister.
“Why can’t Fergus do it? He’s so lazy,” Amelia said. She was throwing her arms around in the air, which is something she does when she gets excited or angry.
“Because it’s not his turn to do the laundry. It’s your turn,” Mom said. “Also, you should spend less time in your room. It’s beautiful outside. Draw on the patio or in the yard.”
“Why don’t you go outside and draw in the backyard?” Amelia asked sarcastically.
Lately my sister was having a hard time thinking before she said something rotten. I think it’s a girl thing, but I could be wrong about that. Either way, I wanted to see who would win the fight, so I leaned against the wall and pretended I was watching a movie.
Mom closed her eyes and counted slowly. She’d been trying to calm down more since moving her office from a swanky downtown building to the kitchen table.
“That’s it, Mom, go to your quiet place,” I said.
“Zip it, Stanley!” Amelia said. Her arms flailed in my direction.
“I have work to do,” Mom said when she opened her eyes. “I need all these things—my laptop and my calculator and this big table and all this blank paper.”
“It doesn’t matter where I sit, Mom!” Amelia shouted. I could tell she was about t
Fergus walked into the kitchen with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his shorts. “When’s lunch?”
“Fergus, not now,” Mom said with the flat tone of plywood.
Fergus looked back and forth between Mom and Amelia. He realized he’d stepped right into the middle of a cage match in progress, but that wasn’t going to stop my brother on the never-ending quest for food. “Are you thinking ten minutes, twenty? Because I have baseball practice later and I really need to eat so my energy level is up.”
Fergus mimed like he was swinging a baseball bat and watching a ball soar over a fence.
“Hey, I’ll make you a sandwich,” I said, springing forward onto my toes. “I love making sandwiches.”
“Stanley, you are not making your brother’s lunch,” Mom scolded. “He’s not four years old. He can make his own sandwich.”
“Who am I to deprive poor Stanley of practicing his culinary skills?” Fergus argued. “Of course he can make my sandwich.”
“Fergus!” Mom yelled. She closed her eyes and started counting again. When her eyes opened up a few seconds later, I was at the refrigerator getting out the mayo and the lunch meat.
“Can you get a ride to practice?” Mom asked. “I’m way behind on this project.”
Fergus looked at the blank paper.
“Looks like progress to me.”
“Ha ha,” Mom said.
“I’m going to my room,” Amelia yelled. She stormed out and I counted to three on my own. That’s usually how long it takes for her door to slam shut. One, two, three—BAM!
Fergus kicked the floor. “So about that lunch?”
Mom looked like her head was going to explode, but she answered in a very quiet voice. “The refrigerator is right there. Make a sandwich.”
“Already on it!” I said. “Triple-decker Stanley special, coming right up.”
“It’s cool,” Fergus said. “I’ll get a ride. No big deal.”
Fergus sulked back to his room. My big brother wasn’t so much angry as sad. He probably couldn’t imagine this being the new norm around the house, but maybe it was. Dad had been gone for six months—time to get used to it.