Authors: Jerry Spinelli
Tags: #Children/Young Adult Trade
Maniac went over. "Grayson." He shook the old man. "Grayson?" He took the old man's hand. It was cold.
He didn't run to the Superintendent's office. He didn't run to the nearest house. He knew.
He held the cold, limp hand that had thrown the pitch that had struck out Willie Mays, that had betrayed the old man's stoic ways by giving him a squeeze. He began talking to the old man, about places he had been on the road, about places the two of them might have gone to, about everything.
Then he began to read aloud. He read aloud all the books the old man had learned to read, and he finished with the old man's favorite, Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel.
When he looked out the window, it was night. He dragged his chest protectors alongside the old man's mat and lay down, and only then, when he closed his eyes, did he cry.
The funeral, such as it was, took place on the third day of the New Year. Maniac had at last gone to tell someone, the zookeeper, and from then on he pretty much stayed out of the way.
Grayson came to the cemetery in a wooden box. The pallbearers were unknown to Maniac. They were members of the town's trash-collecting corps, and as they huffed and bent to lay the box over the hole, they smelled vaguely of pine and rotten fruit.
Maniac was the only mourner. He had thought the park Superintendent might show. Or the attendant at the Y locker room. Or maybe the lady who ran the park food stand in summer. None was there. Only Maniac and the man from the funeral home and the six pallbearers and two men off to the side, smoking cigarettes and leaning on a little hole-digging tractor that made Maniac think of something. He smiled inwardly: Hey, Grayson, look --- Mike Mulligan's steam shovel had a baby! High above, a silver plane crossed the sky, silent as a spider.
A voice startled Maniac. "When's he comin'?" It was one of the pallbearers.
The man from the funeral home pushed down the top of his black leather glove to expose his watch. "Should be here now. Should've been here five minutes ago."
"How long we gotta wait?"
The funeral man shrugged. All but one of the pallbearers lit up cigarettes.
Maniac wished he hadn't come. This event had nothing to do with the man who once lived in the body in the wooden box.
"I'm freezing my cochongas off," a pallbearer announced.
"Me, too," said another.
"Hey, y'know" --- called one of the gravediggers --- "we ain't waitin' all day to fill in that hole."
Everyone looked to the man in the long black coat. He looked again at his watch. "Traffic, probably."
The minister, thought Maniac. That's who we're waiting for.
A pallbearer walked over to the funeral man. "We hauled the stiff here, ain't that enough? They only give us an hour."
Another pallbearer chimed in, "Let's go get some doughnuts."
"Hot coffee, baby."
Loud clanks --- a gravedigger was striking the baby steam shovel with a spade.
The funeral man sighed. He pulled out his own cigarette, lit it from the glowing tip of the pallbearer's. "Give it two more minutes. Then we'll see."
Maniac waited for one of those minutes, searching the horizon for signs of a minister. Whatever was going to happen at the end of the next minute, he didn't want to see it. So he ran. "Hey, kid!" they called. "Yo, kid!" But he was running... running...
*¤* nihua *¤*
*¤* nihua *¤*
January of that year was too cold and dry for snow. It was a month of frozen hardness, of ice.
Maniac drifted from hour to hour, day to day, alone with his memories, a stunned and solitary wanderer. He ate only to keep from starving, warmed his body only enough to keep it from freezing to death, ran only because there was no reason to stop.
Even if the Superintendent had allowed it, he could not have brought himself to stay at the band shell. He returned only long enough to pick up a few things: a blanket, some nonperishable food, the glove, and as many books as he could squeeze into the old black satchel that had hauled Grayson's belongings around the Minor Leagues. Before he left for good, he got some paint and angrily brushed over the 101 on the door.
During the days, he ran, usually a slow jog. But sometimes he would suddenly sprint, furious ten- or twenty-second bursts, as though trying to leave himself behind. Sometimes he walked. He crossed and recrossed the river. He wandered in all directions through all the surrounding communities and townships, Bridgeport, Conshohocken, East Norriton, West Norriton, Jeffersonville, Plymouth, Worcester.
Whenever he crossed the bridge over the Schuylkill, he turned his eyes so as not to see the nearby P&W trestle. Even so, in his mind's eye he saw the red and yellow trolley careening from the high track, plunging to the water, killing his parents over and over. After a while he stopped crossing the bridge.
Other than that, he went wherever there was room to go forward --- along roads and alleys and railroad tracks, across fields and cemeteries and golf courses. From high above, a tracing of his routes would have looked as hopelessly tangled as Cobbles Knot.
By nightfall he was back in Two Mills. He would retrieve the satchel from wherever he had stashed it and find a place to endure the night. A few times he revisited the buffalo pen, where he covered himself with a second blanket of straw. Other times his overnight quarters might be an abandoned car, an empty garage, a basement stairwell.
When his original supply of food ran out, he fed himself at the zoo or at the soup kitchen down at the Salvation Army. He did odd jobs for housewives, ran errands for shopkeepers. He would not beg.
One day he found himself among monuments and cannon and rolling hills. He was in Valley Forge. Here the Continental Army had suffered through a winter of their own, and the vast, stark, frozen desolation itself seemed a more proper monument than statues and stones. The only buildings here were tiny log-and-mortar cabins, replicas of the army's shelters. Maniac could feel the ache swelling outward from his breast and filling the enormous, bounding spaces.
He returned to town for the satchel and put himself up in one of the cabins. It was scarcely bigger than a large doghouse. The floor was dirt. There was a doorway, but no door.
Several saltines fell from the blanket. He threw them outside. Let the birds have them. He wrapped himself in the blanket and lay down. He lay there all night and all the next day. Dreams pursued memories, courted and danced and coupled with them and they became one, and the gaunt, beseeching phantoms that called to him had the rag-wrapped feet of Washington's regulars and the faces of his mother and father and Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan and the Beales and Earl Grayson. In that bedeviled army there would be no more recruits. No one else would orphan him.
The second evening came and went. Maniac never stirred. Knowing it would not be fast or easy, and wanting, deserving nothing less, grimly, patiently, he waited for death.
*¤* nihua *¤*
It was during the second night in the cabin that he heard the little voices. They were not soldiers' voices.
"I'm goin' in this one."
"No, that one. That one's bigger."
"I'm tired. I'm stopping."
"You stupid meatball, it's right there. Another two seconds."
"Great, you beef jerky, stay. I'm going to that one. Good-night."
Silence; then: "Hold on! I'm coming!"
That was all. The ghostly soldiers returned, their haunted eyes seeking warmth, food, life.
There was no morning, only daylight in the doorway. He pushed himself up, dragged himself outside into the blinding light. The saltines lay in the brown, frozen grass. The next cabin was nearby.
January slipped an icy finger under his collar and down his back. He pulled the blanket tighter about himself, but it was too late. The finger had touched the last warm coal in his hearth, and his body, fanning the ember, shook itself violently.
He walked to the next cabin, looked inside, and saw a body huddled in the corner. An eye opened, stared at him. Then, in succession, three more eyes opened. The body divided and became two. Two little boys.
"Get a load of this meatball," said the one with a front tooth missing. "He walks around with a blanket on. Hey, meatball, why'nt you bring your mattress along, too?"
"And your pillow, too!" screeched the other.
Then Missing Tooth whipped off his woolen cap and smacked Screecher in the face. Screecher retaliated, and Maniac had to step back while a two-kid tornado swirled around the cabin. When they finished, they rolled onto their backs, shook their legs at the ceiling, and laughed as long as they had fought. The volume coming from Screecher was incredible, as though a microphone were embedded in his throat.
Finally Missing Tooth rediscovered the stranger standing in the doorway. "Hey, meatball, you running away too?"
"No, not really," Maniac replied.
"Well, we are!" went Screecher.
"Where are you going?" Maniac asked.
The answer came from both: "Mexico!"
Maniac bit back a grin. When they stood, he saw they couldn't have been more than four feet tall or eight years old. "Well," he said, "it's good and warm down there, but it's pretty far, you know."
"Yeah, we know," growled Missing Tooth. "You think we're meatballs like you?" He grabbed a supermarket bag in the corner, opened it. "Look."
It was filled with candy, cupcakes, pies, even a pack of butterscotch Krimpets. Maniac's stomach rasped against itself. He remembered how thirsty he was. "Where'd you get all this?"
"We stold it!" Screecher blurted.
The other smacked him with his cap. "Shut up, Piper, you stupid sausage. You don't go telling people you stold stuff."
Piper returned the cap slap. "You shut up, Russell I didn't tell him where we stold it."
This time the fight was over in less than a minute. But it started up again when Maniac asked where they were from, and Piper said, "Two Mills," and Russell said, "Shut up! He might be a cop!" and bopped him good.
When they settled down, they stared at him warily. Piper snickered. "He ain't no cop. He's a kid."
"Yeah?" sneered Russell. "That's how much you know. They got cops that look like kids. That's how they catch kids."
They stared at him some more. They moved in cautiously, one on either side. They opened his blanket. They patted him all over. "What're we doing this for?" Piper wanted to know.
"We're feelin' for a gun," Russell explained.
After the patting, they backed off. "So," said Russell, "you ain't a cop?"
"Not me," said Maniac. He moved in from the doorway. "I'm" --- and with only a moment's pause, the story came to him --- "a pizza delivery boy. We have a contest every week, and you two were chosen for a free pizza."
The two gaped at each other. "We were?"
"Yep. A large."
"Where is it?" demanded Russell, glancing around.
"At Cobbles Corner. You have twenty-four hours to claim your prize."
He waited while they bickered over what to do. Valley Forge was a good five or six miles from Two Mills. These kids might not have made it to Mexico, but they had come a long way and stayed out overnight, and someone somewhere must be worried sick about them. And he had a feeling they weren't kidding about stealing the food.
He figured he'd better help them make up their minds. "You know," he said, "you're taking the long way to Mexico. If you come back to Two Mills with me, I'll show you a shortcut."
That did it. Soon the three of them were trekking past the Washington Memorial Chapel, Russell and Piper with their bag, Maniac with his satchel.
It was early afternoon when they walked into Cobbles Corner at Hector and Birch. Maniac produced his certificate for conquering Cobbles Knot, and twenty minutes later the young runaways were attacking a large pizza with pepperoni. Maniac confined himself to three glasses of water and half a dozen Krimpets.
The boys agreed with Maniac that they ought to stay the night in their own house before setting out for Mexico in the morning. They were barely a block from Cobbles when Maniac heard a familiar voice. Bellowing and barreling down the street was the fearsome fastballer, king of the Cobras, Big John McNab himself, and he was roaring mad.
Maniac might have taken off, but he found himself clung to and clutched by the two little urchins. They huddled behind him like babies on a possum's back as Giant John came red-faced and huffing up to them. "Where you been?" he yelled.
As Maniac considered what to say, the urchins peeped from behind him: "We wasn't noplace, John. We was right here. With this here kid. And he ain't no cop neither. We checked him out."
For the first time Giant John looked straight at Maniac. A smile crossed his face. "Well, well, the frog man." The smile vanished. "So what're you doing with my little brothers?"
*¤* nihua *¤*
It took a while for everything to get straightened out.
First, Giant John had to be convinced that Maniac was not kidnapping his brothers. Then the brothers had to do some more trembling and clinging while John finished lambasting them for running away, which apparently they did about every other week.
Then, when the brothers found out that their pizza person was none other than the famous Maniac Magee, the very same one who had blasted their big brother's fastballs to smithereens and finished him off with a home-run frog, well, it took a good five minutes of rolling on the sidewalk to get all the laughing out of their systems.
Which, of course, got Giant John more than a little steamed.