WHEN the ride was over, all the kids went to their parents and they all scuttled off like the rain was going to melt them or something. Not old Phoebe, though. Boy, she was smooth. She just strolled on over to the bench I was sitting on and plopped right down beside me.
"I'm ready," she said. "Are you sure? You can go again if you want." "No, it's okay." So we got up and left the way we came. As we turned our backs on the carrousel, it started playing "Sussex by the Sea." It's a good carrousel song, but I definitely like "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" better—even if they do play it all jazzy and weird. Anyway, we were soaked—me and Phoebe were—but we just kept walking. I started thinking about those bears back in the zoo. I bet even the polar bear couldn't hack the weather. He probably went in his cave just like the brown bear. I decided that I had better get Phoebe some place dry. Her cute, little blue coat was starting to absorb all the rain and she was just sopping wet. I am no medical professional but I knew that wasn't very healthy—especially for a little girl like Phoebe. I didn't feel too hot myself. My red hunting hat was drenched and clung to my head like an octopus, and my pants were making that sloshing noise every time I would move one of my legs in front of the other to take a step. That was getting annoying. It was almost as annoying as when Ackley used to pop his pimples all the time—but not quite. We hung out in the little urine-smelling tunnel until the rain let up a little. I didn't want to go home—I really didn't—but I knew I had to keep my word to Phoebe. After it quit raining so damn hard, we walked back to the museum where old Phoebe's bags were checked in. We raced up the steps. Probably not a smart thing to do with them being slippery and all, but we didn’t care. I hadn’t raced up steps with anybody for a long time. It brought back memories. Once we were inside we realized how much of a mess we were. We made puddles every time we stopped moving, and there were little rivers of water that connected the puddles. But I don’t just mean little puddles like if you spilled a small glass of water or something. I mean huge puddles. They were more like mini-lakes. Boy, just our luck. The janitor was in there when we went in and man was he giving us the evil eye. At least the old lady in the checkroom was nice. She gave us some towels to dry off with. That was really nice of her. She honestly looked like she felt sorry for us two drowned rats. You don’t get that much anymore. I mean, nobody is ever really sorry for anybody else these days. They either don’t give a damn or if they do show some sympathy for someone else’s situation it’s because they think they’ll get something out of it—the bastards. I made Phoebe go change into the dry clothes she had in her suitcase. I didn’t want her catching a cold, too. I said thanks to the old lady and went and waited on Phoebe to get dressed. When she came out, I about died. She had on this cute little red dress with these ruffles all along the bottom—you know what I mean—and then I looked at her feet and she was wearing the moccasins from Bloomingdale's. She always cracked me up like that. It made me think of how Pocahontas or some Indian chieftain would look like if they were taken to England or some civilized place like that. They’d be all extravagantly dressed and you’d look down and they’d be wearing moccasins. That cracked me up. "Come on Pocahontas, let’s go home." I picked up my old Whooton suitcase and carried it for her. I would have felt like a total bastard walking down the street next to a little girl that was carrying a suitcase almost as big as she was. She was right, though. It wasn't very heavy and I was glad, too. I wasn't feeling so hot. I decided it would be better for me to drop her off at our apartment house on my way to the station. That way she could stay warm and I could grab a change of clothes. I felt like crap. I didn’t know how cancer worked but I figured running around in the rain during the winter couldn’t help it any. I could just feel the sore in my mouth turning into cancer. Damn magazine. Then I thought how maybe I would be the first person ever to die of cancer and pneumonia at the same time. What a way to go. Anyway, me and Phoebe walked down Fifth Avenue till we got to 71st St. and crossed. I don’t know why I did it, but I did. I asked her if she wanted to hold my hand—like she was a little kid or something. I guess I was trying to make up for letting her walk on the opposite side of the street when we went to the zoo. It was a stupid thing to do, though. I shouldn’t have even asked. What a moron. I hate when I do moronish things like that without thinking about them first. "Naw, that's okay. I can handle it." When she said it she looked at me funny like she knew I knew I was being a moron. She’s smart like that, Phoebe is. It’s like she knows what your thinking half the time. I wasn't as lucky getting in as I had been the last time. Pete was running the elevator instead of the sort of stupid kid. So we took the steps. I was ready for the garbage pails that time. They sure did smell, though. On about the fifth floor—I think it was the fifth floor, I wasn’t exactly counting—I had to stop and catch my breath. All that smoking had really done a number on my lungs. Phoebe wasn’t even breathing hard, though. She’s in good shape for her age. I hope to God she never actually becomes a smoker—even thought she probably will. My mother is a smoking fiend. Once we got up to our floor, we came up with a plan. I didn’t really feel like seeing my mom and dad, yet, but if they were in there, it was no big deal. "I'll go in and see if they're there. I'll say I was at a friend's house or something," Phoebe said. It was like she was a secret agent carrying out her objective or something. I wish you could have seen her. You had to see her. I about died when she saluted me like a sergeant or something. She opened the door and disappeared. About five seconds later she popped her head back out. "All clear, sir." The maid must have had the day off because she wasn't there either. I went in and changed my clothes as fast as I could. I didn’t realize how cold I had been until I put on something dry. I was almost frozen solid. I sat there on Phoebe’s bed for about five minutes until I regained feeling in my arms and legs. "Hey Phoeb, I'm headin' down to the station to pick up my bags and stuff, alright. If Mom and Dad come home while I’m out, just act like I haven’t been home yet." "Okay." That's all she said was, "Okay." I knew she could handle it, especially because of how she covered for me when my parents had come home the last time. I headed down the back stairs again wondering if I should even go back home, but I knew I had to. I had given Phoeb my word and I wasn’t going to let her down—especially without saying goodbye. When I got outside, I strolled over to Madison Avenue and called a cab because I sure as hell wasn’t walking in the cold again. The driver was one of those Arab guys—or maybe he was from India, I’m not sure—who is always a cashier or something at those small, run down gas stations. Abu was his name, I think. I am not even sure. He was kind of hard to understand. He was nice enough, though. He waited on me to grab my stuff from the station, and then he took me back home. I gave him an extra fifty cents since the holidays were coming and all. I thought maybe he could by his wife a figurine of Shiva or something.