Authors: Jerry Spinelli
Tags: #Children/Young Adult Trade
They walked in silence past the silo-shaped cage of the broken-winged golden eagle.
Mars Bar swallowed hard. His voice was hoarse. "I knew you wasn't scared."
Maniac sniffed. "I don't remember much. Next thing I knew, I was somewhere on Swede Street."
"Somebody come down the East End like you did, all by hisself, a fishbelly, get all up in my face" --- he rippled a stick along the deer-pen fence --- "I knew scared wasn't it."
"So," said Maniac, "what happened?"
Mars Bar laughed, wagged his head. "Happened? Man, I still don't believe it." He rippled the fence. "That little honky, he looks at me all his crybaby face and says okay, can I go out and get his brother? I look 'around, like, is somebody else here? I says to him, `Who you talkin' to? Me?' I'm just pullin' his chain, only he don't know it. 'Cause I'm ticked a little, y'know, 'cause there he was hollerin' for you up the street, and there I am standing right alongside the damn stupid white potata, understand what I'm sayin'?"
Maniac nodded, and out of the darkness came the strangest sound --- a kind of amplified gulp.
Mars Bar jumped. "What's that?"
"Emu," said Maniac. "There."
Behind the nearest fence loomed a tall, thin neck topped by a small head. "E-what?"
"E-mu. Second-largest bird in the world, after the ostrich. They're from Australia."
"I don't remember studyin' about no emu. You buddies with all these dudes?"
"No, just the buffalo. So, go ahead, what happened?"
"What happened" --- Mars Bar snorted --- "what happened was, I went out and rescued the dumb fish. Like to get myself kilt."
Maniac touched Mars Bar's arm. "He's okay?"
Mars Bar snickered. "Yeah, he's okay, but that ain't the main part. The main part is, how he was all grabbin' on to me comin' off them tracks. Shakin'. Shiverin'. Huggin'. Like he wanted to climb inside me. I was afraid" --- he shook his head, giggled - "afraid the fishbelly was gonna kiss me."
They laughed. Maniac tried to picture it, the two of them, making their way across the trestle, tie by tie, arms wrapped around each other.
"And even that ain't the mainest part," said Mars Bat, his voice rising in wonder. "Even when we got off, the midget wouldn't let me go. 'We're off it,' I says to him. 'You're rescued.' But all he does is grab me harder, like he's a octopus or somethin'. Off the platform, down the steps, out to the street --- he's still doin' it. I couldn't pry him off nohow."
"So," said Maniac, "what did you do?"
"Wha'd I do? I took him home."
Maniac stopped dead. "What?"
Mars Bar shrugged. "I figured, let my mom pry him off me. 'Course, the other one had to come too. But I made him leave them muddy sneakers outside." He put his nose to a fence. "What's in there? I don't see nothin'."
"Prairie Dog Town. They're' underground. So, what then?"
"So, my mother took over. She pried the one off me, and soon's she does, he jumps right onto her, like a octopus. I go to pull him off and she gets all mad at me and says let him go, let him go. She gets the wet one dried off. Takes off his clothes and puts my old stuff on him. Stuff she been savin' case I get a little brother someday. But I won't, 'cause my mom can't have no babies no more. And I ain't even come to the craziest part yet."
"They didn't wanna go home. They stayed all day. My mother babyin' 'em, feedin"em. I tell her not to, she swats me away. Sometimes my mom ain't got no sense. She makes me play games with them. Monopoly and stuff. Finally my father drives them home. It's after dark. They're getting out the car, and know what they say to me --- I'm in the car too --- " He wagged his head. "They ask me to come in and play that game-a theirs. Rebels. They, like, beg me. They say, 'Come on --- pleeeeese --- if you play with us, we'll let you be white.' You believe that?"
Maniac chuckled. "I believe it."
They walked on.
"I had to ask you something. Now I gotta tell you, something."
"You smell like a buffalo."
Ears of a hundred different shapes prickled at the long, loud laughter of the boys.
"Magee?" Mars Bar said, after a spell.
"My mother wants to ask you something, too."
"Yeah. Like I told her about you, y'know. Actually, she already heard about you."
"She wants to know, like, uh, why don't you come to our house?"
Maniac turned, stared directly at Mars Bar. Mars Bar looked away. He said nothing more.
They walked on, silent among the crickets and fireflies.
Having made a full circle of the zoo, they were back at the pen of the American bison. Maniac said, "I can't."
"Why not?" said Mars Bar. "My house not good enough? My mother?"
Maniac struggled for words. "I didn't say I didn't want to. It's just... I don't know... things happen... I can't..."
"Look, man," Mars Bar snapped, "ain't nobody sayin' come live with us. All we sayin' --- all she sayin' --- is, you wanna come for a little, you know visit? You want to? Well, come on, you can. That's all. Don't go makin' no big thing, man. Ain't no big thing."
Maniac shuddered. He turned his eyes to the sky beyond the flickering fireflies to the stars. If there were answers, they were as far away as the constellations. "I gotta go," he said, and before Mars Bau could react, he was over the fence and hurrying foi the lean-to.
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The teeth of the buffalo clamped firmly upon his ear and lifted his head up from the straw, up from sleep.
Mars Bar was right! They DO eat people!
The buffalo did more than bring great pain to his ear. It spoke to him.
"Ain't you nice... ain't you nice..."
But the voice of the buffalo was the voice of Amanda Beale, and its teeth were her fingers pulling and wrenching his poor ear till he was sitting upright.
"See that," she snapped, and scrambled his brains with a smack to the head. He'd rather she pulled his ear. "There you go, making me say ain't. I have not said that word all year long, and now you go making me soooo mad." She snatched a handful of straw and flung it at him.
"I'm sorry," he said. He wondered if he would have better luck sleeping in the emu pen. "Can I ask a question?"
"Make it quick," she growled.
"Except for making you say ain't, what is it I'm saying I'm sorry for?"
"What?" she screeched. She was standing above him, hands on hips. He didn't need the light of day to feel the look on her face. "You're sorry for a whole mess of things, boy. You're sorry because you didn't accept Snickers's invitation to his house. And you're sorry because he came throwing a ball up against my bedroom window and waking me up and telling me I had to get up out of my bed and sneak out of my house in the middle of the night and come out here and do something about all this. That is why you are sorry, boy."
Maniac yawned. "Snickers?"
"That's what I'm changing his name to. How bad can you act if everybody's calling you" --- she said it loud --- "Snickers?"
A voice came rasping from the fence. "Shut up, girl."
Maniac howled with laughter. It struck him that it had been a long time since he had reared back like this, so he just let the laughter carry on as long as it wanted.
When he finally settled down, Amanda said, "Okay, let's go."
"Huh?" said Maniac.
"Mine. Yours. Ours. Come on, I'm sleepy."
Oh, no. Maniac opened his mouth to speak, to protest, to explain --- but there was too much. A hundred nights would not be long enough to explain, to make her understand. So he simply said, "I can't," and lay back down.
In an instant he was bolt upright again, yanked by a hand he couldn't believe belonged to a girl. "Don't tell me can't. I didn't come all the way out here in my nightshirt and my slippers and climb that fence and almost kill myself so I could hear you tell me can't!" She was yelling. Several pens away, Prairie Dog Town stirred. Heads popped into the moonlight. "You got it all wrong, buster. You ain't got --- ouuu, see" --- she kicked him --- "you do not have a choice. I am not asking you. I'm telling you. You are coming home with me, and you are going to sleep in my room, which is going to be your room --- and I don't care if you sleep on the floor or the windowsill or what --- but you are going to sleep there and not here. And you are going to sleep there tonight and tomorrow night and the night after that and the night after that and every night, except maybe once in a while if you decide to sleep over at Snickers's house, if he ever asks you again. This is not your home! Now move!"
She jerked him to his feet. Applause and a brief whistle came from the fence.
Amanda led him by the hand across the muddy, lumpy earth. "Boost me," she commanded at the fence. He boosted her. Mars Bar helped her down from the other side. Maniac hesitated, then climbed over himself.
They walked through the zoo and down the boulevard, the three of them, Amanda and Mars Bar/ Snickers and Maniac, Amanda grumbling all the way: "...You're more trouble outside the house than in it... Now I'm gonna have to throw these slippers away. There's probably buffalo poop all over them... And you better not come within ten feet of me, boy, till you get a bath..."
Maniac said nothing. He was quite content to let Amanda do the talking, for he knew that behind her grumbling was all that he had ever wanted. He knew that finally, truly, at long last, someone was calling him home.
scanned and fully proofed by:
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About the Author:
Having had a house full of children (six, to be exact), Jerry has wealth of real-life characters and situations to draw upon. His novels are recognized by young readers as among that special breed that are at once both funny and true. Among them,
SPACE STATION SEVENTH GRADE, WHO PUT THAT HAIR IN MY TOOTHBRUSH?
have established reputations as books that are passed from reader to reader.
Jerry lives with his wife Eileen, who is also a writer, and two of their sons, Sean and Ben, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
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