Wednesday, March 24, 1999


Suddenly Billy knew the truth about his father.  He wasn't dead at all.  And there was no use waiting for the three of them to be reunited in heaven someday either.  His mother promised him that every time he cried at night for his father. Well, she was nothing but a liar; he knew that now, and he hated her for it. 

Just a few minutes before, Billy, seated on the bottom step of their porch and still innocent of the truth, was being lulled by the warmth of the summer sun.  Bees buzzed in the yellow and pink hollyhocks, and the cement was rough and hard under his little bottom.  He shifted his position a bit and lazily watched frenzied black flies swarm around the white ice cream on the sidewalk where it had dripped from his cone.  He wished there were room for him up on the porch on the green glider that squeaked softly as it rocked his mother and their neighbor Mrs. Delmonico to and fro. 

Mrs. Delmonico's voice droned around him.  "I always knew there was something fishy about that Mr. Bagley," he heard her say.

Billy remembered then that he hadn't seen Mr. Bagley from up the street for many days.  He wondered where he had gone.

"I had my suspicions all along," Mrs. Delmonico continued.  In fact, if you'll recall, I often told you that if Billy were my son, I'd not let him spend so much time with that old man.  You're just lucky it was that Wharton girl he molested and not Billy.  The dirty old buzzard!"

Billy saw his mother, her brow furrowed,  glance down at him. "Bertha, shush!" she said.

But Mrs. Delmonico went right on.  "When I think of the shock of it to decent people like us," she said, "in a respectable neighborhood such as ours!  To see a big white police car drive right up to the Bagley house and take him off to jail!  What a disgrace!"

Billy remembered another morning, over a year ago. A big white car had pulled right up to their house, too.  He had thought then that the red cross on the car stood for Jesus coming to take his father to heaven.  Now he knew it stood for the police who had come to take his father to jail.  

He got to his feet, causing the flies to scatter.  His head was light, and the sidewalk seemed to rise up to him in circles and back again.  With his bare toe,the big one on his right foot, he pressed an ant into a crack in the cement.

Step on a crack, break your mother's back.

With fixed stare, he watched the ant curl itself into a tiny ball.  Its bent and ruined legs moved frantically at first, then slower and slower, until finally all that remained was a motionless speck in the cement.