My Friday Story A Day in May story is and will be in the world of Mitch Franklin, narrator of my paranormal suspense A DEAD GUY AT THE SUMMERHOUSE, which is set in 1968. The bad part about being old enough that, in writing something set during your own youth, the time setting is technically “historical” is that … well, that you’re old enough that, in writing something set during your own youth, your time setting is technically “historical.” The good part is that your own youthful memories come in handy and you don’t have to ask, “Do kids still do this today?”
Better Than Ice Cream
by Marian Allen
The weather can be like anything in June in Southern Indiana, but that day was scorching hot. All us kids at the Refuge – the Faelin Municiple Children’s Refuge – wanted to go to the pool, but it was closed for repairs.
We weren’t the only kids who wanted the pool, of course, but it was hot, and hot kids are cranky until they get too hot to bother, and the neighborhood kids tended to take out their crankiness on us.
I was feeling pretty cranky, myself. I’m Mitch Franklin. Maybe I should say Mitch Franklin is the name I had been given after they found me in an alley not long after I was born, but I guess it’s who I am by this time.
I was eight years old in 1958, and pretty damned tired of being an orphan. You’d think being one since I was a baby would get me used to it, but I kept seeing other kids come into the Refuge and be adopted or get taken in by relatives or go back to their folks when things got better at home. Nobody knew who my folks or relatives were, but why didn’t anybody ever adopt me?
I thought maybe it was because I was dark, and all the kids who got adopted were light, so I had some hope until Mrs. Brandt, the director and house mother, caught me scrubbing my hands and arms with bleach and stopped me.
But this hot June day I was thinking about somebody besides myself for a change. The new kid, a yellow-haired boy a year younger than I was who looked just like Dennis the Menace, was running around making noise like it wasn’t two million degrees hot. He’d pull his shirt up to hide his head, then pull it down and shriek, “Wee-hawk! It’s Friday the 13th!” He was pretending to be Churchy, that goofy turtle in the Pogo comic strip.
A couple of the neighborhood boys were eyeing him from one of them’s porch in a way I didn’t like.
There were six of us at the Refuge just then, with me being the only long-timer, and the four besides Churchy … Dennis … What was his real name? … Oh, yeah, Carl something. Well, the four besides Carl and me were laughing at him and trying the game themselves, drawing more attention from the restless natives.
I’m not saying the kids with their own homes and families were bad or mean, they just knew we were different from them and didn’t have dads or moms or big brothers and sisters around, so they didn’t see any consequences to pushing us around if they felt like it. Mrs. Brandt would always stand up for us, but that wasn’t the same; they didn’t even consider it, and, up until that day, neither did I.
Up until that day, I would have just gone somewhere safe and congratulated myself when somebody else got into trouble instead of me. That day, I thought I ought to go tell Mrs. Brandt. Then I thought, What can she do? She can make Carl and everybody calm down and stop attracting attention, but it’s too late for that. I knew we were on those kids’ radar now; if we didn’t get off it, we’d have to go inside and stay there until the weather broke.
I grabbed arm of the girl just going past me and said, “Bad idea. Those big kids are about to come over and get ugly.”
“They’re already ugly,” she said, but I held onto her until she gave them another look. “I’m getting Josie.” Josie was her roommate. She culled Josie out of the crowd of turtles and they went to the back corner of the parking lot to play hopscotch.
That left us four boys: me, Carl, little pipsqueak Bobby, and Joseph, who usually had his nose in a comic but chose this day of all days to get some fresh air and sunshine.
The neighborhood boys had come off their porch and were standing in a line on the sidewalk. One of them trotted off and brought back other boys. There were eight of them. I knew there weren’t eight of them in the neighborhood; there must have been friends or relatives visiting some of them, or maybe they brought in a bus.
They started across the street, each of them checking both ways for cars, like good little children.
Was it too late to get Mrs. Brandt? Maybe she had a gun.
That made me think about the news, about the kids who were dark like me getting yelled at and spit on on the way into school, and the men with guns keeping them safe, and the water cannon I’d seen breaking up riots.
We had a hose!
Mrs. Brandt had used it to water her flower border just that morning, and it was still hooked up to the outside faucet, curled up like a friendly snake right by the building.
I grabbed it, holding the sprayer thing like a pistol, and turned the faucet on full blast.
The neighbors were on our property and had everybody’s attention but Carl’s. He was still being a goofy turtle.
I pointed the sprayer and pulled trigger.
Science was never my strongest subject, and it hadn’t entered my head that spraying the aggressors would also spray my fellow Refugees, but, of course, it did. Fortunately, it wasn’t quite a water cannon, but it was strong enough to hit everybody, and hit them good. It might have hurt somebody if I’d had the sense to check the setting on the sprayer. As it was, it was set to Mist, not Jet. The mist drifted back and coated me with delicious chill.
A chorus of Hey!s rose from all the boys. A duet of the same came from Josie and her roommate as they ran to see what was happening. They ran into the mist, whooping and laughing.
Then everybody was whooping and laughing, dancing around in the cold mist, running out of it and into it again. I moved it around, making the crowd chase it, turning it into a kind of keep-away contest that everybody won.
It seemed to go on a long time, but it probably wasn’t more than five minutes before Mrs. Brandt came out and tapped me on the shoulder.
I heard her voice in my head, telling me Don’t waste water. I let go of the trigger. The other kids protested until they saw Mrs. Brandt standing next to me, mist droplets spangling her hair. Everybody locked in place in silence, like a game of Frozen Statues.
Mrs. Brandt said, “Everybody come around to the back into the shade. Does ice cream and Kool-Ade sound good?”
I curled the hose back up and turned off the water while everybody else went to the back and Mrs. Brandt went back into the building to get the “goodies.”
When I joined them, I didn’t know whether to go on in and put myself in my room for punishment, or whether to slip onto one of the picnic benches and hope she wouldn’t notice me.
She saw me standing there, and came over still holding the ice cream scoop.
“There was going to be a fight,” I said. “I’m sorry I wasted water.”
She put an arm around my shoulder. “But you fixed it. Now everything’s happy and everybody’s friendly. What a good, smart boy you are!” She gave me a shoulder-hug, the kind the guys don’t make fun of you for getting. “Grab yourself a seat and I’ll get you some ice cream.”
Better than ice cream. Even on a scorching hot Friday the 13th, better than ice cream.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: Friday the 13th, Little Rock integration