NOTE: The following story takes place before my trip to Playland in Rye, New York. After that time, I began to develop a little respect for Freddy, he of the monstrous incisors. I mixed up the logical sequence of the stories. Sorry. I will send a sternly worded letter to myself.
Before I knew it, I found myself staring at the Matakonis house.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Neither one of her obnoxious little brothers was outside. They would have made my visit a nightmare.
Stepping to the front door, I cupped my hand to my mouth and exhaled softly, checking for bad breath. Almost subconsciously, I turned my head to the left and right for a quick sniff. Convinced that the Hai Karate was still working, I pressed the doorbell.
Immediately, her dog started howling. Frantic scratching erupted from the other side of the door as Rebel announced to the world that the Matakonis’s had company. If I didn’t know any better, I would have been afraid for my life. But, I knew her border collie just wanted to say hello. Or sniff my butt.
The door cracked open and I beheld little Jimmy Matakonis. Regarding me with annoyed contempt, he wiped his nose on his pajama sleeve and sneered, “What?”
“Hi, I’m here to see-”
The door yanked open, bowling Jimmy over, who picked himself up without a word. Surprisingly, instead of being angry, he just seemed relieved to get back to his cereal and cartoons.
Gail stood in the doorway, smiling at me. Unlike her pajama-clad brother, she was fully dressed (and didn’t have boogers on her sleeve). For a fleeting instant, her face pinched and she crinkled her nose.
“Hi, uh, Gail. Just thought I’d come by to, uh, stay in touch.” Then, “Just like you asked in our yearbook. Ha ha.”
“Oh, sure. Come on in.”
I stepped through into her foyer and followed her into the kitchen. Over her shoulder, she asked, “So, how’s your summer been? Pretty busy?”
“You know, usual stuff, hanging around with the guys, seeing movies, fishing in a swamp, eating my father’s cinder dogs on the Fourth of July, almost getting killed by the Zowines...”
Her eyes widened in horror. “You were almost killed...?”
I waved my hand and laughed. “Well, not quite killed. Maimed, sure, but not killed. Besides, it was nothing a paper bag fulla slugs couldn’t cure.”
She gave me a funny look. “Whew! So, anything else?”
She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a pitcher of what looked like iced tea. I hoped it wasn’t that nasty instant stuff with lemon.
“Well, we went to Pennsylvania last week.”
“How was that?” She poured me a glass.
Inwardly gagging, I pleasantly said, “Well, the most exciting part was Gary throwing up on a Volkswagen out the back window at 70 miles an hour. Other than that...well, ok, it kinda sucked.”
She giggled. “Not much fun, huh? We’re going to New Hampshire in a couple weeks. Then, right after that, we start school.”
“Actually, uh, Gail, that’s one of the reasons I came today. I, uh...”
Before I could finish, Rebel was once more clawing at the door, trying his very best to figure out who was ringing the doorbell now.
Gail turned her head. “Hang on a second, Al.”
Beating Jimmy to the door, Gail pulled it open.
“Oh, hi, Fred.”
“Al Penwasser is here.”
I looked up to see Gail’s company.
My mouth dropped open as I beheld Freddy Dubyk standing before me. What in the world was he doing here?
He grinned at me, his two front teeth flashing like grotesque barber poles. Gosh, how much money did his parents waste at the orthodontist?
“So, Gail, you ready?”
She started to answer, but turned to me. “Al, Freddy’s parents have a boat and they’re taking us waterskiing.”
Hoping I didn’t betray my disappointment, I forced a smile.
“Do you want to come along?”
No doubt to the snaggle-toothed Dubyk’s relief, I answered, “No, thanks, I gotta do some work in the yard for my Dad.”
“You sure? No? Okay, then.”
I rose to go.
“What did you want to tell me, Al?”
I placed my hand on the doorknob. “Oh, I just wanted to say have a great time on vacation. And, I’ll see you at school this fall. Have a fun time, you guys.”
Before they could answer, I stepped onto the porch. As I pulled the door shut, I turned to see the grinning Freddy Dubyk. Jeez, he looked like a buck-toothed Jack-O-Lantern with skin problems.
The street leading to my house was still empty of life.
The only evidence that I wasn’t the only one left on Earth was a couple of squirrels. Ignoring the growing heat, they instinctively knew winter was coming and were doing their best to prepare for it. They busied themselves bustling to and fro across the street, gathering what they’d need when the weather turned cold. Basically, they were doing whatever it is that squirrels do:
Run their nuts off gathering nuts.
I scuffed my feet. So, she had a boyfriend. Nice going, Al.
For an instant, I was jealous of the chattering little “tree rats” (as designated by that renowned friend of nature, Mal Penwasser). They didn’t have a care in the world beyond finding food for the winter and staying out of the way whenever my father drove down the street.
Plus, since this wasn’t West Virginia, they didn’t even have to worry about ending up as somebody’s dinner.
People, on the other hand, had to deal with all sorts of things. Like impressing one another or avoiding being stuffed into a trash can by a bolt-chewing thug.
When I thought about Gail and the Gap-Toothed Goofball flopping along behind a speedboat on the Housatonic River, I deeply regretted my lost opportunities. If only I hadn’t been such a chuckle-headed clown while we were at school, maybe she’d be with me, instead of the dentally-challenged.
My head hurt.
“Hey, where ya been?”
I looked up. Spags, unsuccessfully twirling a basketball on his finger, lounged on my front porch.
“Well, that could be just about anywhere in this town.”
He flung the ball at me. “I’m bored. What do you say we go to the park and shoot around?”
I snatched the ball. “Sounds like a great idea.”
Even though I still felt a little blue, I knew that a little dose of Tom Spagnoula was just what the doctor ordered.
Heedless of any possible Zowine encounter, we headed to the park. Grabbing the ball, Spags abruptly stopped.
His eyes narrowed and his nose turned up.
“Hey, what’s that smell?”