Still on Herring Cove Road
Hickory. Dickory, Death
© 2014 by Michael Kroft
© 2014 by Michael Kroft
Saturday Morning, March 19, 1977
With his elbows resting on the kitchen’s green melamine table and his fists stretching the front page of the Chronicle Herald newspaper almost to its tearing point, he stared at the three words. He couldn’t seem to pull his eyes from the headline that screamed out so loud that he didn’t need the his reading glasses resting halfway down his long, hawkish nose. He didn’t want to, but he had to read the narrow columns below.
Just as he was forcing his reluctant eyes down to the left column, a child’s voice flew down the hall and smacked the old man on both ears. “Avriel Allen Rosen!” With the child’s footsteps following close behind, Avriel, or Av to the Dixons and Mr. Rosen to everyone else, quickly flipped the paper onto the table, headline down, and tried to force his mind from that morning’s news.
A bowl-cut blond ten-year-old in dark blue pajamas entered the kitchen with an exaggerated scowl on his face. Standing in front of the old man, he shot up his hands to show the four twelve-inch, fuzzy-bearded action figures wearing long, colorful dresses. “Av, do you see anything wrong with these? Huh, do you?”
The old man replied with a straight face, “Good morning to you too, Dewey. They look fine to me, but they would be prettier if they were clean shaven and let their hair grow out.”
With an orange tabby coming out from beneath the table and stretching its legs before rubbing up against the boy’s shins, Dewey smiled and said, “Hi, Sam,” and then looked again at Avriel and switched back to his scolding tone. “You snuck into my room and put them in dresses!”
"You are welcome. It was not an easy task to get my tailor to make those. He asked too many questions and gave too many strange looks. I did try a set of Barbie doll clothes, but they were too tight, too provocative. And when I returned them with the excuse that they were too small, I got a strange look from the salesman too, almost like the one you are giving me now.”
“You said we stopped the pranks! I surrendered the time you sent me to school. Remember that Saturday...or was it a Sunday?”
“Well, we said that we would both ceasefire,” corrected Avriel, cracking a quick smile that had become much more frequent since first meeting the boy nine months before. “But I broke it. The soldiers are more realistic now. They look as if they are putting on a play. During the war, we did that once or twice. There were not any women to play the female roles, so some of the chaps had to wear crude dresses.”
Dewey lowered his arms and huffed in defeat. “Weren’t any, not were not any!”
Avriel took a sip of his black coffee. “Right, got it. Weren’t any for were not any. Now, what would you like for breakfast: cereal, bacon and eggs, porridge, or corned beef and cabbage?”
“Ha, ha,” Dewey sarcastically laughed to the question that he had been asked the same way many times before. “Cereal...Puffed Wheat, I guess.” Then he spun around and barked as he stomped back down the hall toward his bedroom, “I’m going to change them all back, right now!”
“Ok, but put their dresses away neatly. We don’t want them wrinkled when they decide to act out Little Women.” With Dewey huffing loud enough for him to hear, he added, “And do not forget to wash your hands and face,” and received another huff from the boy.
“It’s don’t not do not! You talk like Spock, a British Spock! I’m going to get you back, you know!” Dewey yelled from his bedroom,
Avriel smiled again, and then dropped it when his eyes returned to the paper.
As the two ate their cereal, Avriel asked, “So, what would you like to do today? I was thinking of visiting Ruthy...Mrs. Rosen, and then afterwards, we could take a trip downtown.”
“Cool. Can we see the movie Freaky Friday? Everyone’s talking about it at school. It’s supposed to be really, really funny.”
“So, what’s in the paper?” asked Dewey through a semi-full mouth. “You keep looking over at it. It’s gotta be something interesting, right? So what is it?”
“It’s got to, not gotta, and, yes, there’s a story...a story about...about rezoning to allow the construction of several office towers in Fairview. I feel that if they do that, they should also rename the area Poorview.”
Dewey nodded his head, accepting the old man’s explanation of a previous day’s story to replace the current one.
Around seven, as the sun was setting, the front door of the small bungalow opened and a young woman with long, blonde hair and an opened long wool coat over a red one-piece outfit, which looked like a cross between a straight dress and a smock, entered the bungalow. “Hi, guys,” she called out melancholically as she dropped a plastic grocery bag containing a pair of flat shoes at the door. She took her coat off and hung it in the narrow closet.
“Hi, Mommy!” Dewey shouted from behind the closed bathroom door down the hall.
Avriel laid his novel down on the coffee table. “Hi, Lisa,” he said as he raised his tall, thin frame from the sofa and joined the young mother at the entrance. “How was your day?”
Lisa pulled off her winter boots. “Uh...it was...it was the same as every Saturday –nonstop from noon to five. Sorry to take so long. The errands took much longer than I thought.”
“It is no problem. It is never a problem.”
“Av, I don’t know what we’d do without you,” she said, hugging her friend, who instinctively stiffened up, but only slightly compared to the first time she had hugged him. Then, he had stiffened up like a full body sculpture. She released the old man. “What a day. I feel so dirty. I’ve got to take a shower.”
“Dewey is bathing with his G.I. Joes. He will probably be there for another fifteen minutes. Come, I have your supper warming in the oven.”
“It’s he’ll for he will,” Dewey shouted again from behind the closed bathroom door and followed it up with a giggle.
As the two walked into the kitchen, Lisa asked, “Don’t his contraction corrections annoy you?”
“Not at all. He only gets on that kick when I’m at my worst. This morning I dressed his dolls in dresses.”
Dewey shouted, “Action figures! Dolls are for girls!”
“Right, action figures,” Avriel said louder than necessary so the boy would not have to struggle to hear him.
“Barbie dresses? They fit them?” asked Lisa.
Avriel shook his head. “No.”
“Oh...ok. Did he retaliate yet?”
As if on cue, Sam walked into the kitchen sporting a baby-blue, buttoned up infant sweater with its attached hood hanging over much of his small head.
Lisa laughed a short laugh. “Oh, I see.” She picked up the purring cat. “It must have taken him a while to find his old baby clothes. If anything, he’s persistent. And look at Sam. He’s so easygoing. He wears it without a care.”
“Well, he wiggled out of the baby pants almost right away.”
Lisa laughed again. “But you left the sweater on?”
“Sure. He did not seem to mind...and it is winter for another few days.”
With the cat pushing his semi-covered head up against her chin, Lisa asked, “What did you two do today?”
“We made a visit to Ruthy’s and afterwards went downtown to see the movie Freaky Friday,” Avriel said as he put on an oven mitten and opened the stove. “It is chicken casserole, overcooked chicken casserole. I was afraid that I might undercook it.”
“I’m sure it’s good. Right now, I will eat anything.”
As Avriel placed the dish in front of the young mother and warned her that it was hot, Lisa unbuttoned the tiny sweater and relieved Sam of it.
Joining her at the table, Avriel handed Lisa the cutlery and then took in a deep breath. “If you have not heard, I should tell you. There...there has been another one.”
Lisa gently placed Sam onto the floor. “Another what?” she asked, picking up the fork and forcing it into a piece of tough chicken.
Avriel’s voice lowered. “Yesterday...another child...further down Herring Cove Road. This time just past the Spryfield Mall.”
Lisa froze as her eyes widened.
Dewey had stopped playing with his two scuba diving G.I. Joes and was putting in some effort to eavesdrop on the adults’ conversation. He had heard his mother ask, “Again?” but couldn’t make out much of what Avriel said. For sure, it was something about the day before, but the boy was not certain if someone’s dog was dead; a child had buried something dead or a dog had dug up something dead. Whatever it was, he was certain that something was dead. Not being able to make out anything more he returned to playing with his action figures.