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5 Under the Curb
Flood #5
October 1956
He was now all of 13.
He went to school, bagged groceries for Mister Baines, cleaned up the lot, bought and brought home the groceries and felt all around the man.
He stood next to Aunt Bell who sat on her stoop when weather permitted—not too sunny not to cold—and watched while Alvin played with the other children in Stoddard Alley.
“Israel,” she said, as night was falling and the streetlights took light and the kids kicked the can and ran, “you can play with the others. It’s okay. You just turned 13 yesterday.”
“Naw, Aunt Bell, I’m big. It wouldn’t look right. Besides, I never got no play time Downhome—it were all work. This here is a fine time.”
Just then a well-dressed man, a tall, barely more than tan, and perhaps even a dapper man, came walking up the way with a bit of swagger. That’s when Israel realized that Aunt Bell was dressed more colorfully than usual tonight. It was Friday night.
The man stopped before him, said, softly and too slick by half, “Good evening, Miss Bell,” and just as Israel was about to step up and demand this man’s intentions the tall, wide-shouldered fellow, damn near as big as his Daddy and with a confidence that seemed to come from some outsized place, “Extended his hand to Israel and soothed, “You must be Israel. Miss Bell was right—you’re a grown-ass man. Workin’ for Ole Baines, aye?”
“Yes, sir… and you?”
“Gets to the point!” the man said to Aunt Bell with a wry grin. “I like that, Young Man. My name is Larry. I work in rental properties. Now, I would like to spend some time with your Aunt if you don’t mind—this being our night and all.”
He was a bit confused and feeling rubbed the wrong way and the man knew t before he did and steered him well. “Israel, I see you’re watchin’ Alvin while he has his fun—with no school tomorrow and all. I see up the way on the corner the older boys are getting’ a game of quarters up. How about I stake you for a game while Miss Bell and I watch Alvin play and you go have yourself a good time. You’ve earned it.”
As Israel stammered for an answer the man named Larry filled his hand with quarters, five dollars’ worth he would bet and his Aunt Bell patted him on the hip and said, “Go on, Israel, have a good time. We’ll be right here.”
Israel walked up the way to the corner and stood while the older boys, 15 to 17 years old mostly, pitched quarters.
The eldest boy, tall and wiry and always cocking his head, a fella also named Jerry, tapped him on the shoulder and grinned, “Big Izz!” and he grinned back, had never thought he’d be in like this. As the game progressed and he learned it’s intricacies at the cost of a dozen quarters, he began to fit in, became good at it by emulating Jerry and making sure to control the flip of the quarter with his thumb, to get that flat landing and not to have your coin up and roll down the gutter into the storm drain which was always call for much teasing disdain.
As the night wore on, the kids stopped kicking the can and fewer porch lights stayed on, Alvin came tugging at his sleeve and said, “Larry and Mamma are having some house time. Can I play?”
Darrel, the worst player there then said, “You know, for little fellas who want a first stake, we have what is called The Well of Chumps,” pointing to the sewer grate. We lower your skinny ass in there and if the rats and the alligators and alley cats don’t get you, you get all the quarters that done fell in there—then you’re in.
Israel spoke up, “Naw, datz some shit. Here Alvin, you can have half ma quarters.”
The game went for an hour or more, until Alvin and Israel were all out of quarters and they headed back down to Aunt Bell’s door. There, Larry, like a magician who knew exactly how long his trick would take, was buttoning the top button on his fancy print shirt at the front door and winking at Israel as he entered, “Ma Man.”
Aunt Bell was bustling around in the kitchen like she had forgot to do something earlier and with her smiling wave at the man, Larry was out the door and down the street.
They stayed up and had some tea and listened to the radio and it occurred to Israel that Mister Baines would probably have a crow bar in the back of his store.
The next evening, at night fall, when Jerry and Darrel and the rest of the Stoddard Boys gathered to pitch quarters by the corner, Israel was pulling Alvin out of the storm drain and replacing the grate, leaning on Mister Baines’ crowbar while Alvin counted their stakes for the night. That talk about The Well of Chumps had turned out to be wishful thinking. Nobody had been down there for years to collect that change by the look of it. They had enough nickels alone to keep them in soda for a month.
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