Putting all his strength into it, Javier pedaled faster as the cold November wind blew in his face. Plastic cards clipped to the spokes made a constant rat-a-tat-tat. Around the corner was his destination. Braking to a stop, Javier hopped off his ratty old bike - a single speed, once red and black now faded to a mottled pinkish and grey, that had once belonged to his cousin Mark – and leaned it against the wall. Placing hands against the plate-glass he pressed his nose to the cold surface and drank in the sight. In the window, illuminated, shining like a beacon to safe haven in the soft glow of the strung lantern above …, the fancy lettered sign saying “MOST OF THE BEST, SOME OF THE REST” there it was. Shining silver with blue retractable wings; three actual rubber wheels on metal legs that folded up into compartments; red cylinder at the front with the yellow and orange ASTROMAN logo; tail fin rising majestically from the back complete with movable flaps and Jupiter Force Team insignia; three conical ports jutted out the back. A battery powered engine blew warm air out the ports so it would roll on a smooth surface. An Astroman Supersonic Space Shuttle. So close, so awesome, so … Cool! If only he had the money. If only Dad hadn’t got laid off last year. If only… Sighing, the warmth of Javier’s breath misted the cold glass. Absently a finger doodled in the damp cloudiness thus created.
A bell jangled behind the counter as Javier opened the door. Mr. Peterson looked up from where he had been dusting a shelf. Noting the identity of his customer he smiled and returned to his cleaning. Raising one hand in a quick wave at the shopkeeper, Javier moved over to the display window. Wow, it’s so awesome, he thought. Reaching out a suddenly clammy palm he caressed the nosecone. Noting the price tag he swallowed the lump in his throat. $52.00 in huge black letters that filled the universe. More money than he would see this whole year. It was a veritable fortune. Even if he mowed five lawns this week the money would have to go to pay the electric bill or help with the rent on their run down two bedroom house. Fifty-two dollars: groceries for Mom, Dad, him and Aunt Tina. Dad, why did you have to get hurt? IT’S NOT FAIR!
Bell chimes announced another person entering the store. Looking up Javier saw a heavyset older man of at least forty in a fur lined jacket hanging open over a silken shirt. Grey pants were creased with those hard lines that meant lots of starch and his shoes actually gleamed. Here was the type of man who definitely had not been laid off from a job at the paper factory. A man whose kid would get an Astroman Supersonic Space Shuttle for his birthday. Javier lowered his head and left the store, brushing past Mr. Silk Shirt without meeting his eyes.
Retrieving his bike from where it languished, Javier mounted it and rode off dispiritedly. Strands of coal black hair tickled his ears, aggravating their tingling numbness. Shivering, he rubbed a lightly callused hand – hardened already from the manual labor he underwent in trying to find odd jobs to help the family – against the lobes causing a slight pain. Gripping the handlebars tightly he pumped his legs – long for his 5’5” frame but with muscular calves built up from the constant riding and running common to an active boy – harder to generate body heat. Home was five blocks away and Aunt Tina would be drinking her afternoon tea and waiting for him to arrive. Mom would be serving pie at the diner on Fifth and hoping for better tips from the old men who came in for late lunches. Hope Aunt Tina won’t need help to the bathroom today.
“There he is again,” said the man in the brown car. “Every day it’s the same thing. He wants that toy so bad he can taste it. It’s a different world at that age.”
“That it is,” said the man in the passenger seat. “Your entire future depends on something as silly as a toy. Simpler times I suppose, but not necessarily easier. It hurts to want something that badly and know you can’t have it.”
Nodding agreement, the first man rubbed a hand across a forehead made longer by a retreating widow’s peak. Staring thoughtfully out the grimy windshield he watched until the bike turned the corner two blocks down. Sighing he gingerly climbed from the vehicle, ignoring the twinge of pain that shot up from his left knee. One more week. “Pick me up in two hours Mitch.” Checking for traffic he crossed to Peterson’s Store.
One more week till my birthday, thought Javier as he pedaled home. At least I’ll have cake and ice cream. Maybe Bobby can even spend the night.
At the chime Mr. Peterson looked up from where he had just replaced a sweater on the now dust free shelf. Placing one hand in the small of his back the tall shopkeeper stretched, trying to relieve the knot of pain that seemed to have moved in for the duration. Nodding towards the back corner he said “Afternoon. Broom’s over there. Don’t forget to mop out the back room tonight.”
After an eternity the final bell rang and Javier grabbed his book bag. Weaving his way through the throng he made his way rapidly out to the bike cage.
“Hey Javier, what’s up?”
Glancing over his shoulder he saw Tom Carey leaning against the chain link. Tom was wearing a shiny red and black zip up jacket with a gold lightning bolt embossed on the chest. Javier remembered seeing that jacket in the Sears book priced at $75.95. “What’s up Tom?”
“Guess what my old man gave me for my birthday?”
A premonition flickered across Javier’s mind. He knew what the boy was going to say. Closing his eyes tightly for just a second he took a calming breath. “What was it?”
“An Astroman Supersonic Space Shuttle. Bet you don’t got one,” he said, his eyes sweeping up and down scornfully to take in Javier’s ripped jeans, ratty old tennis shoes and cheap hoodie.
Clenching teeth over a suddenly taut jaw Javier said “That’s great. And, no, I don’t have one.” The rat-a-tat-tat of the cards in his spokes soon covered the ringing laughter that followed his retreat. I will get that shuttle. I WILL!
Walking up to the cracking brick faced doorway of the 19th century building which housed Peterson’s, Javier shook his head to clear away the remnant echoing tones of Tom’s laughter. With a sigh of exasperated longing he pulled open the door and stepped onto the dazzlingly waxed terrazzo floor, just in time remembering to first scrape the dirt from his worn brown Adidas’. Mom was always getting on him about wiping his shoes. Javier’s eyes swept over the cherry-stained wooden shelves lining the brick walls, taking in the board games and toys neatly stacked there. He couldn’t help but smile as he spotted a set of Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots like he had gotten last year. Yeah, Tom, I’ll knock your block off.
“Hello Javier. How are you today?”
“Fine Mr. Peterson,” the boy said. Pushing the jacket hood back from his head he walked over to the display window. There it was. Tom Carey gets one. Why not me?
“Tomorrow’s the big day isn’t it?”
“Huh? What?” said Javier, his reverie interrupted. Turning he met the grinning shopkeepers bemused gaze. Mr. Peterson’s hazel eyes were warm as they met the boys in a direct way, unlike most adults who just looked through kids. Javier had always thought that, unlike some old men whose wrinkled faces made them kind of scary looking, Mr. Peterson’s lined face was actually kind of interesting. It had what Dad would call ‘character.’ There were laugh lines around his thin lips and the crows feet around his eyes actually seemed to be friendly crinkles. An errant breeze, a lost remnant which had missed escaping through the recently closed door, caused Mr. Peterson’s full head of mostly grey hair to flutter slightly. Javier had once heard his dad mention that he wished he could have kept a full head of hair to such an age.
“Your birthday. It’s tomorrow, right?”
“Oh yeah. Yes sir, it is.”
“I hope you get something really awesome.”
“Thank you sir.” Turning back, heart in his throat, Javier didn’t notice the bemused smile on Mr. Peterson’s weathered face as he went to assist a customer.
When Javier’s bicycle turned the corner out of sight the man in the brown car once again walked across the street.
“Good afternoon Mr. Remalno,” the store owner greeted his temporary employee. “Last day for this I guess.”
“Yep. By the way, I sure appreciate you giving me some extra work here.”
“No problem. He’s a good boy, you know.”
“Yes he is. The best.”
Silvery eyebrows lifted in query Mr. Peterson asked, “Is that a new coat? I haven’t seen you wear it before.”
Looking down at the brand new winter coat he wore Mr. Remalno ran an absent hand over the woolen smoothness, enjoying the slight crackle of static electricity that raised the hairs on his forearm. “Yes, actually. It was a present from my brother-in-law. Just got it today. The scarf too.”
“They’re very nice. The brown is a good color for you.”
“Thank you.” Mr. Remalno picked up the broom and began sweeping the floor, ignoring the twinges in his injured left leg.
After a quick dinner of mac and cheese and hot dogs Javier decided to return to Peterson’s. Mom wouldn’t know he had delayed his math homework for just an hour; besides, he would probably be back before she even got there. Aunt Tina, sipping on Chamomile and watching the Soap Opera channel, merely said “Be back in an hour” as the door closed behind him. “Okay Aunt Tina,” he threw back over his shoulder as he jumped from the step.
Heart beating a tattoo on his chest, Javier once more approached the display. The glass was sparkling in the setting sun and an errant beam of light speared Javier’s eyes causing him to blink rapidly. Mr. Peterson must have just cleaned the window.
Tomorrow was his 12th birthday and HIS ASTROMAN SUPERSONIC SPACE SHUTTLE was here. Walking up to the window he pressed his face to the cold smoothness. Wait! Something’s wrong. Where is it!? His shuttle was gone. Wiping away the cloud where his breath had fogged the window, Javier peered inside. Mr. Peterson was at the counter about to wrap something for a customer. It was his shuttle! Stunned, Javier watched disbelievingly as Mr. Peterson taped the box closed and wrapped it in red crepe. As the boy watched a card was taped onto the box and a blue ribbon tied around it. My Astroman Supersonic Space Shuttle! Javier's throat clenched as a fist circled his heart and squeezed. Angrily he jerked his frame away from the storefront. Grabbing his bike he pulled it around the corner of the store fighting the urge to simultaneously cry and hit something. That’s my shuttle. He can’t have it!
Javier ducked back out of sight when the man came out of the store, the box cradled in his arms. The customer was bundled up with a scarf covering the bottom of his face. Fleetingly the distraught boy noticed that both the scarf and long coat appeared brand new. Rich snob! My dad could use a new jacket like that instead of that ratty old one he wears all the time. It’s just not fair! Not stopping to think, Javier jumped on his bike.
Riding up next to the man Javier skidded his bike and, pretending to lose control, laid it down on the sidewalk right at the stranger’s feet. Stumbling, the Shuttle Stealer fell against the wall. Quick as a fox Javier grabbed the present, jumped on his bicycle, and took off.
Mr. Peterson, seeing Mr. Remalno lying on the sidewalk, rushed out. The man who had swept his floors for two weeks to earn that shuttle wasn’t moving and blood trickled down his forehead. He didn’t appear to be breathing.
I can’t believe I did that, thought Javier. Holy crap it’s mine. How do I explain it? Should I take it back? But.., Oh man! Pulling breathlessly into his yard he dropped the bike on the ground, once again forgetting his Dad's admonition to always use the kickstand. Darting his head left and right he checked to see if anybody was watching. Next door old Mrs. Turner was watering her brown grass. As usual she was still wearing her ratty pink house coat and tattered bunny slippers. Avoiding eye contact, Javier turned to glance at his own front window. A red pleated curtain blocked his view of the interior of the fading beige house. An errant thought of his Dad telling him he was going to have to help him paint this summer flitted across his mind. Please let Aunt Tina be busy... Tucking the box under his arm he wiped his suddenly clammy hand on his torn jeans and opened the front door. The slight warp in the frame caused by too much humidity and too little maintenance caused a creak to be emitted. Pausing he listened for any response. Good, Aunt Tina's in the bedroom. Thankful for his luck he darted into his bedroom and plopped onto the sloppily made twin sized bed.
For a moment he just stared at the box perched on his lap, heart pounding. Finally, after about thirty seconds of working up his nerve, Javier removed the card. He opened the envelope. HAPPY BIRTHDAY was on the front of the card over a picture of a rocketship. Opening the card he scanned it quickly, then, disbelievingly, once again more slowly. ‘Happy 12th birthday Javier. May you get all you deserve. Love Dad’ was printed in recognizable handwriting. A synapse misfired causing a nervous tic to twitch under his suddenly misty eyes. His rapid pulse beat a staccato rhythm in his neck. Startled, he gave a guilty jump at the discordant jangle of the telephone.
“Javier, it’s your Uncle Mitch,” came Aunt Tina’s smoke raspy voice. “There’s been an accident. It’s your dad. He’s … he’s dead.”
Rocking back on his heels, his mind spinning in a whirl of torment Javier lifted his head and let loose a primal scream. The present for which Javier Remalno had yearned so long slid forgotten to the floor to land in a broken heap at his feet.
About the Creator
Andrew McDonald is a 911 dispatcher of 30 yrs with a B.S. in Math (1985). He served as an Army officer 1985 to 1992, honorably exiting a captain. Check out his novels “Punishment and Good Deeds” and “The Killing Keys” at Amazon kindle.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
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The story invoked strong personal emotions
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Writing reflected the title & theme