The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez (14 page)

BOOK: The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez
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Return of the Hawk

I
t's late Wednesday afternoon, and the sun's beginning to slide behind two huge oak trees in our backyard. My grandfather and I are alone on the porch. He still looks tired and has a tendency to stare into the distance at something only he can see. It took us about five minutes to get him from the car to the porch. He and Crash sat for a while, then my father took Crash to play miniature golf, so my grandfather and I could be alone.

He has the plaid shawl around his shoulders and his hands folded on his lap, and we're watching a cardinal peck away at one of the bird feeders. Then a few squirrels come along, managing to climb the cast-iron pole. They hang upside down from the feeder, gorging themselves.

“They're not supposed to be able to do that, are they?” my grandfather says.

“No, Grandpa.” I leave him for a second and grab a can of lubricant Aldo bought. I chase the squirrels off the feeder, then spray the pole and rejoin my grandfather. We watch as the squirrels attempt to climb the bird feeder again, this time unable to grasp it, sliding onto shrubbery below. They try again with the same result.

“Good for them,” my grandfather says. “You ever eat a squirrel?”

“Can't say I have, Grandpa.”

“Better than you might think if cooked properly.”

“I wrote you a poem.”

“A poem?”

“Well, it's really a prose poem.”

“What's that?”

“It's hard to explain.”

“Then don't. I have enough trouble with simple things.”

And so I recite my poem for the very first time.

“Will you read it again?” he says. “I missed a few parts.”

And I do.

He smiles. “Never been the subject of a poem before, especially one written by an Alvarez.”

“You like it?”

He takes off his glasses, and when he rubs the bridge of his nose, I see a few tears, so I place my hands on his.

“It's my life, isn't it, some of the things that make a man?”

“It's what I see when I think of you.”

“It's pretty ac—” and he can't find the word.

“Accurate?”

He's about to reply but then points above. A hawk is circling, and I'm hoping it's not the same one Crash saw snatch a bird. Aldo said that when a hawk knows where to feed, it returns.

“Where'd Crash go?” my grandfather asks.

“Out with Dad.”

“Good. I have a feeling that bird has his eye on us.” When he says this, the hawk drops, resting on a thick oak branch, no more than fifty feet from the bird feeders. He's a beautiful creature, and crafty because he pretends to ignore us while sizing up his meal. Suddenly we hear the whoosh of his wings flapping, but instead of attacking the bird feeder, he rises up into the sky, circling a few times, then disappearing from sight.

“He won't be back,” my grandfather says.

“How do you know, Grandpa?”

“Because I told him to leave us alone. I'm not ready yet.”

“For what?”

He doesn't answer, but instead says, “Will you slide that poem into my pocket?”

“Sure, Grandpa,” I say, folding the poem and doing as he asks.

We sit quietly for a moment, then I read him excerpts from
The Devil's Dictionary
, which make him laugh.

“It's funny how people think, isn't it?”

“Yeah, Grandpa. Can I get you some hot cider?”

“Sure,” he says.

As I heat the cider in a small saucepan, he watches the birds peck at the feeders. Then he manages to reach inside his pocket for my poem. He can't read it, so he runs his hands slowly over the paper, removing his glasses again and wiping his eyes dry.

I think of the hawk, circling over another location by now, and I marvel at its cool detachment, though I'm also saddened for the creatures it preys upon.

And for now, I'm glad it's gone.

About the Author

PETER JOHNSON
grew up in Buffalo, New York, at a time when they had a good football team, which seems like fifty years ago. Similar to Benny Alvarez and his friends, Peter always loved words, knowing he was going to be a teacher or a professional baseball player. Also, being from a long line of Irish storytellers, he loved reading and telling tales, and when he realized that his stories changed every time he told them, and that he could get paid for this kind of lying, he decided to become a novelist. His first middle-grade novel,
The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini
, was named one of the Best Children's Books by
Kirkus Reviews
, and he's received many writing fellowships, most notably from the National Endowment for the Arts. You can find him at www.peterjohnsonya.com.

 

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Books by Peter Johnson

F
OR CHILDREN

The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini

 

F
OR TEENS

What Happened

Out of Eden

Loserville

Credits

Cover art © 2014 by Gilbert Ford

Cover design by Tom Forget

Copyright

The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez

Copyright © 2014 by Peter Johnson

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

www.harpercollinschildrens.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Johnson, Peter, date

    The life and times of Benny Alvarez / Peter Johnson. — First edition.

        pages    cm

    Summary: As his English teacher focuses on poetry during the month of October, Benny faces down the smartest girl at school while also navigating his friendships and a difficult family life after his grandfather's multiple strokes.

    ISBN 978-0-06-221596-3 (hardback)

    EPUB Edition MAY 2014 ISBN 9780062215987

    [1. Friendship—Fiction. 2. Poetry—Fiction. 3. Schools—Fiction. 4. Family life—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.J6356Li    2014

2013043072

[Fic]—dc23

CIP

AC

14  15  16  17  18    CG/RRDH    10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

FIRST EDITION

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BOOK: The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez
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