inspired by The Who, written by Mike Jack Stoumbos
Most kids played baseball or swung on monkey bars or gambled away their bubble gum money on a game of jacks. Davy counted steps.
One-two-three-four-five to his bedroom door; nine-ten-eleven-twelve more down the hall; stop at seventeen for the bowl of apples on the counter to his left, then another eight straight through both the living room and entryway of the apartment where he could check the key rack to see if his uncle was out, below which sat the rolls of nickels—which he skipped today, knowing there were enough in his pocket already. His keys were on a line at his belt which was long enough to reach the lock, but not too long to feel ridiculous. Davy didn’t like to feel ridiculous.
The door shut behind him, Davy took a left and walked the twenty-two toward the stairwell, which had sixteen steps down to a concrete front porch, three across, then another five down to reach the front walk. Once he’d arrived at the sidewalk, he readied a telescoping cane. He whipped it into its full form and swept the three-foot radius before him to check for anything out of the ordinary. Assured that the walk was clean, Davy took two steps forward, turned a sharp ninety degrees to the right and resumed his count.
That he’d been counting them for five years running didn’t give him license to stop. That he’d memorized his uncle’s home, his front walk, and the next five blocks in any direction didn’t mean his fingers stopped tapping the cadence of his steps or his lips stopped forming the numbers. No sound came out though; no sound ever came out.
Five years ago, the local kids had found it strange. When a kid with sunglasses, a cane, and the sharpest crew-cut ever seen in the neighborhood neither makes nor responds to noise, it is something to whisper about. And once they really believed Davy couldn’t hear them, it was something to talk about, loudly, and to point to and ask their parents and their friends about. And soon it was something to show the folks visiting, those who didn’t live along Davy’s walk, school-chums who’d never seen Davy or anyone like him before.
And then one day, maybe three months after the peculiar kid had moved in, someone thought it would be a great idea to stand in front of him. Obviously, Davy knew the sidewalk, but what would he do if he were roadblocked by four snickering ten-year-olds who could move and reblock his path?
They started with one, and when Davy tapped the foot with his cane, he instinctively sidestepped and tried to proceed forward. And then he ran into the second, who muffled a guffaw behind cupped palms. Davy’s expression didn’t change. He turned a full ninety degrees to the right. He walked three steps so as to be clear of both boys, but encountered a third. He stopped to tap and when this figure didn’t budge, he checked the rest of his radius and discovered that the fourth had sidled up behind him.
Davy let the cane hang on the slack of its wrist strap, and his hands went to his pockets so swiftly that the other kids took a step back—not having ever seen or been confronted by a switchblade, they’d heard stories about the bad parts of Chicago. But they relaxed when he withdrew a pen and a small pad of paper. He quickly printed something and held it up for the others to see.
They hadn’t planned for this kind of response; they probably hadn’t planned for any response, but Davy’s triggered a unanimous desire to abandon their prank and to get out of the way. They drew back either side of the sidewalk, and before Davy went through, he wrote one more note on the pad, ripped off the page and pressed it into the chest of the boy to his immediate right.
It wasn’t until Davy had passed by that they inspected the note and found only
Years later, Davy still marked that spot; it had been at step sixty-three on the block after his own. The one who’d planned it, whose house was just across the street, was named Curtis, and Curtis had shown the ten-year-old decency to round up the other kids in the neighborhood and to make Davy a somewhat-belated welcome-to-the-neighborhood-slash-sorry-we-picked-on-you gift basket. However, Curtis had also had the kind of ten-year-old common sense to include among the gum and candy a few baseball cards and a note of apology, neither of which could be easily perceived by Davy.
Davy’s uncle had translated them into letters Davy understood, and explained to him who the characters on the cards were. The Brooks Robinson card, the newest of the bunch, had a smooth, glossy kind of texture that Davy liked to feel against the pads of his fingers. From that day, he carried it in his pocket wherever he went.