Authors: Virginia Hamilton
The Planet of Junior Brown
FOR LEIGH AND JAIME
AND THE RACE TO COME
THE THREE OF THEM
were hidden in the dark. Enclosed in the forgotten basement room of the school, they were out of our time. One of them had been a janitor in the school for fifteen years. He was Mr. Pool. Once he had been a teacher, an unhappy secret known only by him and the two boys with him.
Long ago, Mr. Pool had constructed a false wall so that the forgotten room appeared to be nothing more than a large broom closet. He had nailed sheet rock to wood studs and had painted it battleship gray. Anyone entering the basement room would see the gray wall with the brooms and mops stacked against it. But only the three of them knew how to move one side of the wall back a foot or two, squeeze into the large room beyond and replace the wall again.
The three of them had entered the room through the false broom closet many times. And now, together they watched the feeble light of the solar system as they had before.
The planets of the solar system were suspended from metal rods which ran along spherical tracks attached to the ceiling. They were translucent plastic spheres lighted from within by tiny Christmas bulbs of red, yellow and blue. This holiday glow out of the planets seemed a very distant light. Yet it was the only light the three of them had and it became a huge light in the room's musty darkness.
Mr. Pool's head was visible through the silent swing of the revolving planets. His head was bald and glistened godlike in the void. Next to him stood big Buddy Clark. Buddy had been absent from school and on the hook for weeks. Now that he and Mr. Pool had completed their solar system, he thought he might never go back into that steaming noise some called the eighth grade. Big Buddy fiddled with the plastic Halloween pumpkin which he had painted a hot red to make it appear more like the sun. Soon his hands were making motions of magic over all the whirling planets.
Big Buddy's slender fingers were a match for the tough set of his jawline. Floating in the feeble light, his artful hands gave away his soul in a gentle ritual.
I make a world a sto-rayâ¦ . Do you want to live creation?
” Buddy's fingers seemed to sing in a startling, high song. “
Come listen to my someday
how a world made black and brighter rose up righter than its wrong
Mr. Pool's heart swelled with pride. No telling what Buddy would think up next. A boy like him, with a mind like that. Mr. Pool couldn't help saying, “You ought to write that
.” He knew better than to make Buddy uncomfortable by saying more.
Junior Brown was there with them. He was deeper in the shadow light and dark at the far end of the solar system. Junior sat resting a portion of his huge and rolling fat as best he could in the one folding chair. Bent forward, smiling where Buddy and Mr. Pool couldn't clearly see his expression, he looked like a giant, black Buddha about to topple.
Junior Brown didn't move. He fixed his gaze on the outsized planet of Junior Brown in front of him. Junior loved the planet they had named for him. He should have known Mr. Pool and Buddy could make something he would have to love.
Glazed in beige and black, the planet of Junior Brown was shaped in the soft, round contours of Junior Brown's own face. It was a stupendous mass in a brand new solar system, and it claimed a powerful hold on a green, spinning earth. Earth had become the size of an agate racing along in front of the boundless planet of Junior Brown.
Junior Brown studied his planet, the sun, the earth and the other spheres. Finally he looked across space at the bald head of Mr. Pool and the hands of Buddy Clark cupped in a fixed applause.
“It couldn't happen,” Junior said, shaking his head. “That close, the earth wouldn't be nothing by now but a pockmark on the planet of Junior Brown.”
Mr. Pool had been watching Junior Brown watch his planet. He hoped the sad, fat boy realized how much work big Buddy had put into the planet of Junior Brown. But maybe the huge fat boy was only a selfish black boy, too heartsick at his own fate to reach out, to touch the fate of another.
No, you do what you can, thought Mr. Pool. You can't expect to save generosity.
“Like yourself,” Mr. Pool said, suddenly, speaking to Junior, “astronomers were amazed one morning to discover a new ten-planet solar system right where the nine-planet one had been the morning before. Our earth was a part of the new system; yet it was trapped in the orbit of a fantastic planet known as Junior Brown.”
“Then how come the new planet already had a name when it was only just discovered?” asked Junior. He had spoken as calmly as he could. He still didn't know whether there was a trick somewhere waiting for him.
“Why, it all happened on that morning,” said Mr. Pool. “This boy was there at the planetarium early that day looking through the telescope. When he saw what had happened up in space, he commenced to yell for the astronomers.
“âHey, looky here!' he kept screaming. Pretty soon, the place was full of sleepy-eyed stargazers. They all knew the boy had no business being in the room where the great telescope was housed.
“âWhat's your name, boy?' one of them thought to say.
“The boy, he said, âJunior Brown Junior Brown! But looky here in the telescope!'
“âWhat's your name again?' one absent-minded professor asked him.
“âIt's Junior Brown! It's Junior Brown! Looky here in the telescope!'
“Well,” Mr. Pool said, “finally, they did look through the telescope. One of them said, âJesus, Ralph, it really is Junior Brown!'
“What the astronomers saw through their telescope,” said Mr. Pool, “changed their lives completely and changed completely the whole order of things. However, the astros were not men to blow their cool. They had a sense of humor.
“âThis might just stop the war for a while,' one of them said. Another said, âAnd stop the population explosion.'
“âAnd riots,' the boy had said, getting into the swing of it, âand poverty and going to the Statue of Liberty every field trip day.'
“After that,” said Mr. Pool, “Junior Brown was always welcome at the planetarium. The astronomers never caught what his name was and never knew how they happened to call the amazing new planet, Junior Brown. But they were glad to have a name for it right off like that. Now, they wouldn't have to name it My Old Lady, which had been the suggestion of one graduate assistant.”
“Oh, sure, man,” Buddy Clark said, taking up the story from Mr. Pool. Buddy's voice was a soft, high purr. “Those astronomers measured and experimented and even ate their meals looking through that telescope. They had to admit that the ten-planet solar system after about fifty thousand years was stable and up there to stay for the rest of time.”
In the feeble light of the miniature solar system, Big Buddy's hands flipped over, palms down. His hands crossed and slowly uncrossed, while in the room the planets slowed into gliding, peaceful revolutions.
There were three speeds to Mr. Pool's and Buddy Clark's solar system, the same as there were to any decent record player. It was Mr. Pool who had changed the pace of the planets while Junior watched Buddy's hands. But for Junior the slowing down of the planets had seemed like magic.
“Now,” Buddy said, “just figure how those astronomers felt when it hit 'em that little earth wasn't a bit bothered by what had to be a hot-stuff gravity pull from the planet of Junior Brown. Shoot, man, they tore out their hair. Eyeballs were spinning!” Buddy Clark laughed. To Junior, the laughter spilled out of Buddy's mouth in musical triads.
“Remember.” Mr. Pool spoke again. “Earth didn't circle the great planet like a satellite. It revolved around the sun in orbit with and in front of the planet of Junior Brown.”
In shadow and light, Junior Brown tried to keep calm. Mr. Pool and Buddy could do anything, could make anything they wanted to make. It seemed to Junior that he couldn't do anything anymore, not even the one thing he wanted most to do. Behind his eyes, the sound of Miss Lynora Peebs' grand piano swelled in a perfect crescendo as he played it.
The music of his mind faded as Junior concentrated on what Mr. Pool had just told him.
It's some kind of math problem, he thought. He studied the orbiting earth and the planet of Junior Brown. Then he watched Mr. Pool. Junior's face was placid when at last he said, “There's no way to balance the earth against the pull of a planet the size of Junior Brown.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Pool said. “And when the astros calculated the planet's weight, they found it solid beyond all wishing otherwise.
“However,” Mr. Pool added, “everything worked out just fine when a band of some thirty asteroids was discovered in the same orbit and at exactly the same distance from the planet of Junior Brown as was its leader, earth.”
“My stars,” said Buddy Clark, “I think I spy me an equation.”
Junior Brown brushed his hand over his eyes. He should have known Buddy would have to pull some trickâjust because he knew some science. Buddy couldn't play the piano, though, the way Junior could. He couldn't paint people, either.
“I don't see no thirty asteroids following the planet of Junior Brown,” Junior said.
There was silence in the room before Buddy thought to say, “You don't see any moon going around the earth, either, man.”
“I meant to ask you about that, too,” Junior said. “And the sun you made won't be near big enough, either.”
“Listen at this clown,” Buddy said to Mr. Pool. His magical hands fell away into the darkness. “We had enough trouble adding an extra planet, didn't we, Mr. Pool?” And then: “You ever try to figure out the problems to adding a tenth planet to a nine-planet solar system?” he said to Junior. “Well, then, you should next think about trying to figure a band of asteroids to boot.”
“If and when you going to build something, build it right,” Junior told him.
“He always got to spoil something,” Buddy said to Mr. Pool. “How you ever going to change a clown who don't have to want for nothing â¦”
“Didn't spoil nothing,” Junior cut in on him. “I just didn't see no asteroids and you all started in talking about some asteroids.”
“He want gold-plated asteroids and a fifty-foot sun made from silver,” muttered Buddy. “I had hard enough time stealing a motor to run this whole thing.”
Mr. Pool's head spun to one side. “You stole it? You didn't steal it, Buddy!”
“Naw!” Buddy said, clenching his hands in the feeble light. “I didn't steal it offen nobody!”
“Then why you say you stole it when you know you never did?” Junior said. He smirked at catching Buddy in a lie.
“Because, clown, it's easier to say I stole it than to tell how much of a steal it was picking it up in the street.”
“Shuh,” Junior said. “Motor lying there, jumping around on the corner. Say, âHere I am, Buddy, come on, put me in your solar system.'” Junior laughed, his body rolling and shaking.
“Okay,” Buddy said, “I got me a mechanism off of one cat in the gas station on Amsterdam and I got me another piece from a body shop on Canal. Pretty soon, I got all the parts and I put me together a motor, and that's the truth.”
“You could of told us that in the first place,” Junior said, “making out how you so tough, stealing a motor out of some store.”
“I never did say I stole it out of no store!” Buddy exploded.
“Boys!” Mr. Pool said sharply. “Cut it out now. Let's get back to the solar system.” He waited a moment for them to quiet down. Then he began again. “We all agree that the asteroids should be there following the planet of Junior Brown. Since they aren't, because Buddy and I didn't build them, we'll have to pretend they are there.”