The Tin Idol

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The Tin Idol

Burt forced baby-fat hands into his tight yellow shorts. He struggled for a moment then, pulled out two pieces of squashed purple gum.
“Do you think he’ll come out today?” he asked.
Lewis nodded taking the gum.
As they munched on the gobs in their mouths, they watched for M. Yarn, the man known only by the name on the mailbox he visited once a week. This was the day the crooked man emerged from his leaning shanty sided in ‘Pet Milk’ signs. The boys watched and waited. He was the scariest man in their world.
Yarn’s was the only shack in a park of worn-out immobile homes. At the end of the lot, near the woods, Miss Molly lived directly across from Yarn. She was the oldest person that they knew. Bent with age, she resembled a giant letter “C”. Her trailer was certainly one of the first ever made. The powder blue sides had faded to a dull cataract gray, some of the aluminum skirting around the bottom had fallen off. It was under there that the boys had their secret hiding place.
From the side facing the woods, the boys could climb under so no one could see them. Grass didn’t grow in the dampness under the trailer. In the soft soil, they’d scoot and wriggle around on their stomachs, past the rattling pipes and through the dust.
On the far side of the trailer, they laid on their chests where they could see the entire court. This is where Lewis and Burt always met, the only time they would see each other in the trailer court.
Burt was four years younger and three inches shorter that Lewis, two things that he reminded Burt of whenever they were together. He was still a little on the young-pudgy side. His immature body usually matched his wit. He still had faith that there was something worth seeing around every corner and had yet to embrace a general indifference towards others. At the age of nine years old, he wore a cape and told some that he could fly. He would tell Lewis that the special powers if gave him could make him run faster than anyone else. Lewis would stare at him and then look away. A whole bedspread-cape could shift him into high gear.
“My mom said that we were going to move soon.”
Lewis looked at Burt; he chewed his gum like it was attacking him, “Is this like the move last year?”
Burt scooted up a bit to get a better view of the trailer court. His cape spun around his neck and now looked like a bib. “We were going to move but my mom didn’t like the look of the neighborhood.”
Burt and Lewis scanned the neighborhood where no one dare move into intentionally.
“She said that we’re going to have to wait until we find exactly what her want.”
Above, Miss Molly moved from the kitchen table to the sink and ran some water for her tea. A drop landed on the bridge of Lewis’ nose.
“Yeah,” wiping his face.
Yarn’s shack shuttered a bit either from wind or will. Lewis leaned close to Burt and whispered in a voice use only by people in church. “The lady that owns the Laundromat told my mom that Yarns limps because of the war. They said it could have been fixed, but he was too suborned to let them do it.” Lewis knew this was a fact because the lady at the Laundromat ended every story with, “And that’s the God’s truth.”
Burt forced his gum to a clump against his front teeth. “Watch this, a bubble.” His cheeks swelled and turned pink. With a pop the gum flew from his mouth and rolled across the dirt. Lewis snorted and then covered his mouth to hide the noise.
Burt picked up the gob, blew on it uselessly and then chomped on it with a crunch. “I blew one yesterday.” Just then Lewis’ eyes widened.
Old yarn pushed open his crooked door. He just stood there looking at the trailer park. But, he didn’t take a step; he just leaned on the door jam and searched with lumbering eyes.
“What’s he doing?” Burt asked, tugging on Lewis’ shirt.
A trailer across the way parted curtains. Then, so did a few others down the drive. Window shades were flapping all around the park like they were waving in a plane for landing. They all wanted to catch a glimpse of the odd little man from the shack.
Slowly, Yarn peeled himself from the doorframe and shuffled to the gravel drive that linked all of the homes. His face was hollow and he held his armpit like he was trying to keep in a stink. Yarn opened his mailbox and looked inside. He crouched there for a moment, and then popped up like he needed air. He went down again and looked inside for the longest time, until he lurched back like he’d been hit with a bat. Yarn staggered away from the box and into the middle of the lane. He dropped to one knee, and then landed with his cheek against the pebbles. The curtains around the park fell still.
Burt screamed. They could hear Miss Molly hop like a mouse had shot under her chair. Yarn turned his head so that he looked directly as the boys. He thrust out his hand and slapped the dirt with his palm. He did it two more times and moved his lips making words that only the stones beside him could here. Both boys screamed.
Burt backed up as fast as he could, his rear bouncing off the pipes as he passed. His cape caught one of the lines and pulled at his neck. A shot of water hit his face. Burt screamed again.
“He’s got me!” Burt shot from the trailer and headed to his immobile home. Lewis didn’t run. He didn’t move, just watched. Yarn’s fingers dug the dirt. He looked right at Lewis and then turned the other way.
No one rushed from their trailers. Curtains didn’t part.
Shortly, a stranger walking past the end of the drive stopped. He hurried to Yarn’s side. Then another arrived; soon there was a crowd. None of them lived in the court. Eventually, two men in green loaded Yarn into a big white van with red stripes.
After Yarn was gone, Lewis still didn’t move. He starred at the spot where Yarn fell and the mailbox, door open in a great yawn. He stayed there for some time, close to night. Lewis would have stayed there if Mr. Sift wasn’t looking for his cat.
“Here Snow Pea,” he called into the darkness.
Lewis tried to melt away. Sift rattled a stick under Miss Molly’s trailer. It poked Lewis in the head.
“Get out here!”
Sift jabbed a few more times then moved further down the way. Lewis slipped from beneath the trailer and worked his was around the court. Mr. Sift patrolled up and down the drive with the stick over his shoulder. He’d turn on his heal and then march the other way. Snow Pea continued to elude him. Lewis found his feet. He shot past Sift and ran the length of the park, vaulted his porch steps and slammed the meal screen behind him. Mom wouldn’t be home until well after dark.
The mercury vapor lights buzzed along the lane, their reflected light filling Lewis’ living room with a soft glow. He was streaked with mud from his neck to his knees. Pulling off his shorts, he ran a little water in the kitchen sink and sloshed them around. Lewis settled into a kitchen chair and rocked his head from side to side behind the tiny holes in the laced kitchen curtains blending the tiny dots together making a clear picture for him to see. Every person in the court rested behind their sectioned metal walls.
When Lewis sat up in the bed next morning, the sun was rising in the sky and Mom was already gone. He rolled off the sofa, pulling the plaid from the grooves in his back.
In the kitchen, the plastic floral print chair where his mom always sat was pulled out. On the table, there was a dried round stain. Lewis remembered in the night waking for a moment to see Mom staring into her bowl, slowly stirring, half asleep, eating nothing. He poured himself some cereal, placing the bowl in the middle of the ring left by hers. Concentrating hard, he imagined what she thought. The only thing he discovered was that his cereal got soggy.
Through the frosted glass louvers in the front door, he could hear the Sifts in their trailer next door. They were big people with big voices. Even with the windows shut, he could hear them through the thin walls.
Maeve Sift’s high pitched voice cut through the weak walls first. “I hear Mr. Yarn is in the hospital. What a terrible thing that happened to him. Boy! Don’t make me smack you this early in the morning.”
Lewis was sure that Mr. Sift was sitting in his underwear, nodding his head like his neck was broken, not hearing a word his wife said. Snow Pea hissed loud enough to hear.
“The neighbors say that he was just going for the mail,” knowing fully that she was one of the neighbors. “Just goes to show you that God can shake you anytime he wants. Look over there, his mailbox is still open. Someone should go close that for him. It’s the neighborly thing to do.”
It may have been the neighborly thing to do, but it was Mrs. Sift’s nose and her need to put it were it somewhere that took her to the shanty at the end of the lane.
“I think I’ll go shut that for him. It’s the neighborly thing to do. Boy! Put that down! Come with me before you need a slap.”
Cranking the louvered window in the door, Lewis could see Yarn’s shack. Burt and his mother stood facing Miss Molly’s trailer. A man covered the openings under it with thick pieces of plywood. Burt’s cape was an apron today. His mother twisted the back of it into a tight knot, facing him towards the trailer. Burt and his mother watched for a moment longer and then headed back to their trailer. Lewis didn’t imagine that they’d be playing together anytime soon. Mrs. Sift and her cherry-headed boy passed them on the way, just nodding and saying nothing. Each mother had a hand on their boys’ head, steering their course. The boys made faces at each other anyway. Lewis had left the window when Maeve Sift started yelling.
“Oh sweet Jesus! Oh, sweet Jesus!”
Back at the window, Lewis saw Mrs. Sift jumping up and sown, her big belly bouncing. The cherry-headed kid held onto her leg and rode it like a pogo stick.
“Jesus, Marvin! Come out here!”
A moment later, Mr. Sift poked his head out the door with this trousers half on. His undershirt didn’t comely cover his stomach.
“What’s the matter mother? What did the boy do?”
‘Sweet Jesus’ was all that she would say, pointing at Yarn’s mailbox. Marvin Sift shuffled down the drive in his wife’s slippers he’d found near the door.
Maeve pointed inside the box.
Mr. Sift’s irritation grew. “Is all this over a bug again?”
She shook her head no and pointed. The cherry-headed kid held onto her leg for dear life. Marvin settled himself in front of the mailbox, hunched over and turned one eye to the inside.
Lewis waited for the slap that ended the bug’s life.
“Good lord mother,” he looked again, “I think that it’s a blessing.”
“I’ve got to tell everyone,” Maeve said.
She shook the cherry-headed kid loose and ran to a trailer across the way. She stamped her feet in place on the stoop and beat on the door. When it opened, she shouted at the little man inside, “The Lord’s shown his face, come and see.” Maeve rushed around the trailer park, randomly picking trailers; she’d eventually hit everyone’s home. When she knocked on Lewis’ door, he didn’t answer.
Soon each of the neighbors took a turn at Yarn’s mailbox. Each would remark, “My Lord,” or “It looks just like him.” Lewis watched them all from the window, each of them sticking their faces in the opening of the tin box.
By evening, the whole trailer court, minus Lewis, had taken a turn at the mailbox. Some returned more than once to look. Never once did one person leave before another had arrived. They respected each other’s space reverently. That night, before he went to sleep, Lewis peeked outside again. Someone had placed two candles on top of the mailbox.
He didn’t hear Mom come home that night. His face was buried in the cushions of the couch. Lewis felt her hand on his neck in the morning as she left. One of her fingernails was jagged and lightly dragged across his skin. He didn’t rollover.
At first, the visits to the mailbox were only from the trailer dwellers and the mailman. No one could be sure who let out the news, but the coming week brought all types of people. The curtains around the park were flapping like signal flags. They all watched business men and pregnant women holding children take their turn at the box. With all the attention, no one thought of the rumpled man in rumpled flannel whose yard and mail service they’d interrupted.
By the end of the week, long icicles of colorful wax had grown from the candles lit in homage to the inside of the tin box. Marvin Sift appointed himself the official daytime greeter and minister at the end of the lane. He dragged an old lawn chair out of his shed and held vigil at the site of the recent pilgrimages. Lewis was amazed that Sift wasn’t charging admission. The cherry-headed kid beat on the side of Yarn’s shack with a Golden Book without it raising the voices of his disapproving parents. Marvin stood to greet a man that Lewis thought had died years ago. He must have just moved away.
Lewis pulled away from the window as the crowd continued to grow throughout the day. He crouched against the dark paneling of the trailer walls until the sky grew darker than the window shades. The voices were gone and the moon rose and set. In the time before dawn, Lewis stood barefoot in front of the tin box. His toes made fists in the dirt and his teeth ground so hard that it made them warm.
Lewis centered his closed eyes in front of the opening. Slowly he opened his eyes to find nothing inside. The glow of the mercury lights cast just an enough light to barely see inside. He let out the breath that he’s been holding. His hand shook slightly as it hovered just short of reaching in.
The mailbox sat quietly, door open; its mouth frozen in a silent unending scream. Lewis’ fists crashed into the top of the box warping its sides. It broke loose from the post and landed in the dirt. He stomped the tin into the pebbles with his bare feet. He picked it up and slammed it to the ground again. When Lewis was exhausted and all of the box’s shape was gone; all of the colored wax was broken, there was nothing left but a post. Lewis went home. He imagined the entire court watching. But, the only flapping of curtains was from the wind.
Mom was leaving as Lewis came through the door. They said little. She kissed him on the forehead and said goodbye.
As Lewis settled onto the rough ridges of the couch, the park started to move. There wasn’t just one neighbor that came out, but all of them in one rehearsed moment.
They circled the empty post like a wagon train. Some women covered their mouths. The men stood quietly and glance left to right, not sure how to act. Even the cherry-headed kid was standing still for once. Slowly, without a word, each of them stepped from Yarn’s newly worn yard, back into the lane. They stepped back once more and then disappeared back into their immobile homes. Later the mailman paused at the post with a colored paper in hand. He stopped, moved to the next mailbox in the lane and stuffed the same folded flier inside.

Created: Dec 23, 2010


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