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"The Whale in Blue Tennis Shoes"
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Copyright ©1998

Circus Man
The year's 1966 and I'm in the 8th grade. For the first time, my cousin Rick comes over to my house to stay the day. He's never been over before. Since his mother and father are so stingy with their money, Rick has never had a good Christmas, thus has few toys; so, when it comes time for him to play with mine, he commences to stab them with the needle of my compass.

"Stab, Stab, Stab!" the point lunges into the plastic.

"Hey, cut it out...," I wrestle with him to try and pry the plastic man from his hands, but he's heavier than I, and won't relent. Finally, furious, I storm to the closet jamming my arm into the stiff white plastic sleeve of my huge maroon Varsity jacket.

"Where you going?" his face has suddenly gone innocent.

I ignore him, staring at the wall, and stamp with my boots out the door. I sense that he's following me, but my mind blanks t the sound of his plea of words. It being spring, thick mud ejects with resounding plops with each footfall as I hear a young voice cut through the cool spring air to my left, "Who's that?" It's my neighbor, Tim. " Who's that?" He waves his arm, pointing at Rick as if he were an inanimate object.

Before I can utter a word, Rick yells back to him a wiseass comment, "Queen of Sheeba!" I'd smile if I weren't so furious at him.

When he starts following me down the driveway, I abruptly swing to face him, anger flashing from both eyes, "What? ...are you going to follow me around like a little puppy?" My voice suddenly goes sing-song as I mock him, tipping my head side to side just for emphasis. The minute it's said, I regret having spoken it.

Even though Rick has been cruel to me many times before, the pained expression on his face makes my heart break. Fury dissipates and my arms hang limp with resignation at my sides, "You want to come to the brook with me?" His nervous face relaxes and his body tilts back and forth like he's stuck in the mud. He's glad that I've reconsidered my exclusionist stance, I squint my eyes to see his face, "Last time I was down there something really cool happened..." I pause for the effect, looking away from his face for a moment to increase the suspense. The red-winged blackbirds are very glad that spring has come as they squawk among the brush. I look back at his face to see if the suspense worked.

"Well, what happened?"

I smile a sly smile, "Had one foot on one side of the brook and the other spread across and on the other when all of a sudden this big black shape swims between my legs,"His eyes go round. "Boy, did I ever jump."

The suspense is tearing him apart. He might burst at any moment, "So, what was it?"

I see that my ploy is working, "It must have been that long!" I spread my arms as wide as I can, "Including the tail."

His eyes screw up and he tilts his head to the sides from the pain of the frustration, "Was it a suckerfish?" The brook is almost upon us now.

"River rat!" the words explode from my mouth.

He's impressed. He has a swamp right behind his own house and knows that a muskrat can be very ornery if it's cornered. "No foolin'?"

I just give a little nod with the satisfied smile.

"Yep, swam right between my legs." I repeat, for added emphasis of the dire aspect of the thing.

"Cool. You think we might see a river rat?"

I just shrug my shoulders with mystery in my eyes, "Never know what yuh might find at the brook," I say, "Scared me so much I nearly fell in the water."

"The Brook", my favorite secret hiding place, is always my most frequented spot. We clamber down the rough rock wall, balancing on treacherously toggling stones and hear the dull echo as our feet clump the sides of the culvert. We hobble, hunched over, through the tight damp tube and once we've obtained the most dark central portion, sit with our asses on one side and our feet propped against the other as icy black spring runoff surges beneath our legs as we talk. Another red winged blackbird, disturbed from her task of building her nest scolds us from the nearby chokecherry bushes.

The water being so high, it's uncomfortable to stay in this position too long, so we soon seek other diversions. We climb back out, searching the roadside for discarded beverage cans which we pile on the West side of the road. After selecting appropriately sized stones, we toss the cans into the swirling torrent and watch as the swirling current sucks them into the tunnel.

"Quick..." We race to the other side, and hear the hollow clank of metal against echoing cement as we await their expulsion. "There's one!" rocks whing, splashing with great uproar around the bobbing objects, crunching when they connect and I give out a hoot when one finally sinks from a particularly brutal concerted effort of bombardment.

When we suddenly notice that the shadow of the tree is turning red, and it is extending nearly to the tracks, we realize that it's time to start heading home. Ma will have supper prepared for when Dad comes home from Tenny Fuel Company. He always gets here at 5:25 right on the nose. The oil from the oil trucks always embeds deeply in his rough finger grooves from the grit of truck grease.

After supper, we retire to my room, closing the door quietly so Ma won't hear what we're doing. "Want to see some nudie pictures I drew?" I really don't think he'll say no. I open the closet door, reaching into the hidden cubbyhole over the door and pull out my sketchbook. This is a special treat as I never show my drawings to anyone. In fact, almost nobody on the planet knows that I draw. When I was in elementary school all classmates knew, but now that I've moved on to Junior High School, nobody cares. I start sketching some nudes, as I always do, and he's impressed.

"Can you draw a blue whale?"

I rip off, revealing a new page and start sketching. When he sees the jagged teeth, he giggles. Next, I draw in legs.

"What's that?" he wonders.

"His legs, of course!" I finish by drawing in sneakers. We poke at each other, laughing, chanting in rhyme, "The WHAle in Blue TeNNis Shoes." and end the day rolling around on the floor holding our stomachs, laughing.