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Authors: Jerry Spinelli

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BOOK: Maniac Magee
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Mars Bar glared. "Gimme it."

Maniac shook his head.

Mars Bar reached for it. Maniac pulled it away.

They moved in on him now. They backed him up. Some high-schoolers were playing basketball up the street, but they weren't noticing. And there wasn't a broom-swinging lady in sight. Maniac felt a hard flatness against his back. Suddenly his world was very small and very simple: a brick wall behind him, a row of scowling faces in front of him. He clutched the book with both hands. The faces were closing in. A voice called: "That you, Jeffrey?"

The faces parted. At the curb was a girl on a bike --- Amanda! She hoisted the bike to the sidewalk and walked it over. She looked at the book, at the torn page. "Who ripped my book?"

Mars Bar pointed at Maniac. "He did."

Amanda knew better. "You ripped my book."

Mars Bar's eyes went big as headlights. "I did not!"

"You did. You lie."

"I didn't!"

"You did!" She let the bike fall to Maniac. She grabbed the book and started kicking Mars Bar in his beloved sneakers. "I got a little brother and a little sister that crayon all over my books, and I got a dog that eats them and poops on them and that's just inside my own family, and I'm not --- gonna have nobody --- else messin' - with my books! You under-stand?"

By then Mars Bar was hauling on up the street past the basketball players, who were rolling on the asphalt with laughter.

Amanda took the torn page from Maniac. To her, it was the broken wing of a bird, a pet out in the rain. She turned misty eyes to Maniac. "It's one of my favorite pages."

Maniac smiled. "We can fix it."

The way he said it, she believed. "Want to come to my house?" she said.

"Sure," he said.

 

*¤* nihua *¤*

 

 

Chapter 12

 

When they walked in, Amanda's mother was busy with her usual tools: a yellow plastic bucket and a sponge. She was scrubbing purple crayon off the TV screen.

"Mom," said Amanda, "this is Jeffrey---" She whispered, "What's your last name?"

He whispered, "Magee."

She said, "Magee."

Mrs. Beale held up a hand, said, "Hold it," and went on scrubbing. When she finally finished, she straightened up, turned, and said, "Now, what?"

"Mom, this is Jeffrey Magee. You know."

Amanda was hardly finished when Maniac zipped across the room and stuck out his hand. "Nice to meet you, Mrs.... Mrs...."

"Beale."

"Mrs. Beale."

They shook hands. Mrs. Beale smiled. "So you're the book boy." She started nodding. "Manda came home one day --- 'Mom, there's a boy I loaned one of my books out to!' 'Loaned a book? You?' 'Mom, he practically made me. He really likes books. I met him on---"

"Mo-om!" Amanda screeched. "I never said all that!"

Mrs. Beale nodded solemnly --- "No, of course you didn't" --- and gave Maniac a huge wink, which made Amanda screech louder, until something crashed in the kitchen: Mrs. Beale ran. Amanda and Maniac ran.

The scene in the kitchen stopped them cold: one little girl, eyes wide, standing on a countertop; one little boy, eyes wide, standing just below her on a chair; one shattered glass jar and some stringy pale-colored glop on the floor; one growing cloud of sauerkraut fumes.

The girl was Hester, age four; the boy was Lester, age three. In less than five minutes, while Mrs. Beale and Amanda cleaned up the floor, Hester and Lester and their dog Bow Wow were in the backyard wrestling and tickling and jumping and just generally going wild with their new buddy --- and victim --- Maniac Magee.

Maniac was still there when Mr. Beale came home from his Saturday shift at the tire factory.

He was there for dinner, when Hester and Lester pushed their chairs alongside his.

He was there to help Amanda mend her torn book.

He was there watching TV afterward, with Hester riding one knee, Lester the other.

He was there when Hester and Lester came screaming down the stairs with a book, Amanda screaming even louder after them, the kids shoving the book and themselves onto Maniac's lap, Amanda finally calming down because they didn't want to crayon the book, they only wanted Maniac to read. And so he read Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile to Hester and Lester and, even though they pretended not to listen, to Amanda and Mr. and Mrs. Beale.

And he was there when Hester and Lester were herded upstairs to bed, and Mrs. Beale said, "Don't you think it's about time you're heading home, Jeffrey? Your parents'll be wondering."

So Maniac, wanting to say something but not knowing how, got into the car for Mr. Beale to drive him home. And then he made his mistake. He waited for only two or three blocks to go by before saying to Mr. Beale, "This is it."

Mr. Beale stopped, but he didn't let Maniac out of the car. He looked at him funny. Mr. Beale knew what his passenger apparently didn't: East End was East End and West End was West End, and the house this white lad was pointing to was filled with black people, just like every other house on up to Hector Street.

Mr. Beale pointed this out to Maniac. Maniac's lip started to quiver, and right there, with the car idling in the middle of the street, Maniac told him that he didn't really have a home, unless you counted the deer shed at the zoo.

Mr. Beale made a U-turn right there and headed back. Only Mrs. Beale was still downstairs when they walked into the house. She listened to no more than ten seconds' worth of Mr. Beale's explanation before saying to Maniac, "You're staying here."

Not long after, Maniac was lying in Amanda's bed, Amanda having been carried over to Hester and Lester's room, where she often slept anyway.

Before Maniac could go to sleep, however, there was something he had to do. He flipped off the covers and went downstairs. Before the puzzled faces of Mr. and Mrs. Beale, he opened the front door and looked at the three cast-iron digits nailed to the door frame: seven two eight. He kept staring at them, smiling. Then he closed the door, said a cheerful "Goodnight," and went back to bed.

Maniac Magee finally had an address.

 

*¤* nihua *¤*

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Amanda was happy to give up her room to Maniac. It gave her an excuse to sleep with Hester and Lester every night. Most of the time during the day the little ones drove her crazy; she couldn't stand to be in the same hemisphere with them. But at night, the best thing was to have them snuggled up on both sides of her. It made no sense, but that's how it was.

Mr. Beale divided the little ones' room into two sections with a panel of plywood, and Amanda moved her stuff into the back part. Except for her suitcase of books --- that stayed in her old room, with Maniac.

The way Maniac fit in, you would have thought he as born there.

He played with the little ones and read them stories and taught them things. He took Bow Wow out for runs and he did the dishes without anybody asking. (Which made Amanda feel guilty, so she started to dry.)

He carried out the trash, mowed the grass, cleaned up his own spills, turned out lights, put the cap back on the toothpaste tube, flushed the toilet, and --- Mrs. Beale called it "the miracle on Sycamore Street" --- he kept his room neat.

Every morning Mrs. Beale looked into it. No socks on the floor, no drawers open, no messed-up bed. That was the most amazing thing, the bed. It looked as if it hadn't even been slept in. Which, she soon found out, was the case.

Late one night she opened the door and found Maniac sleeping on the floor. She lugged him onto the bed, but by the next night he was back on the floor. Maniac just couldn't stand being too comfortable. Lying on a mattress gave him a weird feeling of slowly rising on a scoop of mashed potatoes.

He was that way with chairs too. If he had a choice, he usually sat on the floor.

Other strange things happened in the house.

Such as: the yellow bucket and sponge spent more time gathering dust in the cellar and less time in Mrs. Beale's hands. Because, with Maniac around, Hester and Lester lost their interest in crayoning everything in sight. And therefore, sometimes for fifteen minutes in a row, Mrs. Beale was seen doing something she hadn't done since the little ones were born: nothing.

Such as: Amanda started leaving her suitcase of books home.

Such as: everybody's fingertips started to heal. Because Maniac took over the endless; thankless job of untying Hester and Lester's sneaker knots.

Such as: Hester and Lester started to enjoy taking a bath. Which was the solution to a very huge problem in the Beale household.

Once upon a time, Hester and Lester loved to get a bath --- as long as Amanda got one with them. It was a little crowded, especially when the little ones added their boats and floating dinosaurs, but it was fun and warm and yelpy and soapy.

Then came the day when Amanda entered fourth grade, and she decided she was getting too old to tub it with her little brother and sister. They begged her and begged her, but she wouldn't get in. They tried to storm the bathroom when she was in there, but she locked the door on them.

And so the little ones went on strike. They placed their hands on Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile and swore they would never take another bath until Amanda joined them.

And even though they couldn't stop their much larger mother from lifting them up and plunking them into the water, they could refuse to touch the soap or washcloth. They could make her do it. And they could sit there all stiff with their chins down in their chests and their arms folded tightly and their legs clamped together. And if their mother wanted to wash their armpits, she would have to get a crowbar and pry their arms up, because they sure as heck were not going to move.

That's the way it was for a long time, until Maniac arrived.

On that first Sunday, as soon as the little ones found out that their new pal had slept over, they mobbed him: "Jeffrey! Jeffrey! Get a bath with us! Will ya?"

Maniac replied, "Sure, okay," not thinking much about it. After all, it was still before breakfast.

But the little ones never let up, and at exactly 9:15 A.M., the three of them got into the tub. By the time they got out, it was too late to go to church and almost lunchtime.

From then on, the baths usually took place at night. Sometimes Mrs. Beale would poke her head in and stare: one little black girl, one little black boy, one medium white boy. And she would smile and wag her head and sigh: "Never saw such a tub."

 

The time she heard Hester and Lester yelling for help, though, she was downstairs. She came running. "What's the matter?"

The little ones pointed. "Look!"

She looked. Maniac was covered with blotches --- round, red blotches, all shiny from the bath water. They looked something like little pepperonis.

They took him to the doctor. The doctor took a look and said it wasn't chicken pox and it wasn't measles. He said it might be an allergy. He asked what the boy had had for dinner.

Mrs. Beale answered. "Pizza."

"Well!" The doctor chuckled. "Can't be that. Can you imagine a youngster getting sick on pizza?"

Everybody laughed.

"Besides," said the doctor, "this would have shown up on him since he was little, most likely, every time he came near a pizza." He turned to Maniac, still chuckling. "You have eaten pizza before, haven't you?"

Maniac got a funny expression on his face. He looked around. Everybody was staring at him. The silence grew longer, eyes grew wider...

And that's how they found out that Maniac Magee was allergic to pizza.

 

*¤* nihua *¤*

 

 

Chapter 14

 

Maniac loved his new life.

He loved his new sneakers, the ones Mrs. Beale bought for him.

He loved the new quietness of his footsteps as he trotted Bow Wow through the early morning streets.

He loved the early morning. The "before-the-workingpeople time," he called it. When even those who went to work the earliest were still sleeping behind their second-story shades. When it seemed as if the whole world had been created just before he woke up on his bedroom floor --- the red brick rows of houses, even the windows resting from faces, the cool, silent sidewalks and streets. So quiet you could hear the water running far below the sewer grates while the sun shinnied up the rainspouts.

He loved the silence and solitude.

But he also loved the noise, which came later in the day.

He loved the sound of pancake batter hissing on the griddle.

He loved the noise of the church they went to on Sunday mornings, a church called Bethany --- when the minister would thump on the pulpit and the peopie would call out "Amen" and the choir would swing this way and swing that way and would sing "Hallelujah!" to the people and the people would sing "Hallelujah!" right back to the choir, and everyone just got happier and happier, and it all made him want to do more than run. So one day he just jumped himself up onto the pew bench and threw his arms to the sky and shouted at the top of his lungs: "Hallelujah! Amen!" And this time nobody looked funny at the crazy kid yelling by himself. Then two members of his own family, Hester and Lester, jumped onto the bench with him and shouted away: "Hallelujah! A-men!" And everybody laughed and clapped and sang.

He loved the Fourth of July block party, when the whole East End converged for a day and night of games and music and grilled chicken and ribs and sweet-potato pie and dancing until the last firecracker, and then some.

Maniac loved the colors of the East End, the people colors.

For the life of him, he couldn't figure why these East Enders called themselves black. He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him, was real black.

He especially loved the warm brown of Mrs. Beale's thumb, as it appeared from under the creamy white icing that she allowed him to lick away when she was frosting his favorite cake.

BOOK: Maniac Magee
6.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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