Harold and D
The life of an ex-con is hard. No one trusts you, you can’t vote, people look at you funny, and you can’t get a job. Harold had been out for a year and this freedom stuff still didn’t feel right. He was living in a cheap apartment and the only friend he had was the seven-year-old kid who lived two doors down. The kid’s mom worked and as far as he could tell, there was no dad in the picture. The kid got home from school about 3:00 and his mom didn’t get off work until 4:00, so the kid stuck close to their front porch for an hour or so every day. Couldn’t be much fun.
One day Harold asked the kid if he knew any card games. The kid’s eyes brightened. “Yes, I love Go Fish. Do you know how to play?”
“I believe I do,” said Harold. “Come on over here and I’ll go get a deck of cards.” The kid walked over to his porch and plopped down in one of the chairs. Harold came out in a minute with deck of cards. “What’s your name, kid? I can’t just keep calling you kid.”
“My name is D. It’s just D, like the letter. I don’t know why, it just is.” The kid had a real attitude.
“Sounds like you’ve had some problems with that name. How many cards do we get? I don’t remember. It’s been a long time since I played Fish,” said Harold.
“It’s Go Fish and we get six cards, I think, and people tease me about my name. But I like it. It’s easy to spell.
“That it is,” said Harold smiling as he dealt the cards. He noticed the old biddy two doors down watching them and the retired coach checking out his window every few minutes, too. Like I said, no one trusts an ex-con.
“Do I go first? My Mom lets me go first,” said D.
“I think we should take turns. You can go first this time and next time I’ll go first.”
“OK. Give me all your 3s,” said D, his eyebrows set in concentration mode.
“Go fish. Give me all of your queens,” said Harold. He was just remembering how boring this game was.
“How did you know I had queens?” said D as he laid two queens on the table. “I think you’re cheating!”
“Now, that’s not a friendly thing to say. Why do you think I’m cheating?”
“Because my Mom never asks for cards I have. You must’ve peeked.”
Harold looked over his cards at the boy. “I’m not your Mom and I’m not cheating. I just guessed. It isn’t a good idea to accuse people of cheating.” Harold knew this from hard experience. First you accuse someone of cheating, then there’s a fight, then your knife just sort of ends up in someone, and then you’re in prison. Yeah, accusing someone of cheating is a bad idea.
“You don’t have to talk mean to me. OK, so you just guessed good,” said D as his lip began to quiver.
“Give me all of your fives,” said Harold.
“Now wait a minute! How’d you know I had a five. You sure you didn’t peek?”
“I didn’t peek, and if you keep asking we aren’t going to be able to keep playing.” Harold was remembering that not only was it a boring game, he really didn’t like this game. “Give me all your aces.”
“Which ones are they?” asked D looking a bit confused.
“They are the ones with the letter ‘A’ on them.”
“Ha, I don’t have any! Go Fish!” D’s eyes twinkled. “I love this game!”
They went back and forth for the next ten minutes. When Harold put all of his cards down first D was not pleased. “I don’t think I am going to play with you anymore. It’s more fun to play with Jerome.”
Harold remembered names. He didn’t know any Jeromes in the area. “Who’s Jerome? Some kid in your class?”
“No, he’s the pirate who lives in the green shack.” said D matter of factly.
“Which shack?” Harold knew several homeless guys found shelter in any vacant spot they could. He wondered if Jerome might be a homeless guy.
“The one right behind the corner apartment. I think I might be Jerome’s only friend.” D sounded sad for Jerome.
“Tell me about Jerome,” said Harold.
“He’s really cool!” D started bouncing in his seat and wiggling all over as he started talking about Jerome. “He has a long sword and a big hat and a monkey that sits on his shoulder. He says ‘Arrgh!’ and ‘Ahoy, Matey!’ And, boy, can he tell stories. He’s been in battles and hurricanes and fought sharks and really cool stuff.”
Harold knew some of the homeless folks, and some had significant mental issues. Jerome sounded like he might be one of them. He wondered if he might be dangerous. He didn’t like the idea of some unknown crazy person living in the shed next to his apartment. Two years in prison taught Harold how to take care of himself – there weren’t any people in this neighborhood who scared him. He wasn’t so sure that D could take care of himself, though, and even if he didn’t like Go Fish, he was starting to like the little guy. He didn’t like the idea that he might be in danger.
“Can you introduce me to Jerome sometime? I like pirate stories, too.” Harold tried to sound unconcerned.
“Ummm, Jerome said he doesn’t want to meet anyone else. He said he’s my special friend and I’m not supposed to tell anyone about him. Uh oh. I guess I just did, didn’t I?”
“I won’t tell anyone. You said he lives in that shed over there?”
“Yep. He pretty much only comes out to talk when I am sitting alone on my porch. He seems to like to come over when it rains. He looks funny.”
“I bet he does with the hat and the sword and the monkey. I’d really like to meet him.”
“Yeah, that does make him look funny, but it’s something different than that. He is sort of smoky.” D looked like he was having trouble figuring out how to describe this guy.
“You mean his skin is kind of dark?” asked Harold.
“No, it’s almost like you can sort of see through him or something. Anyway, he’s a great friend. And he never beats me at Go Fish. He’s much nicer than that.”
Harold decided that he needed to investigate. A crazy person and a long sword made a bad combination. “You want a snack? I’m hungry,” said Harold.
“That’d be great. Jerome always talks about oranges. He really loves oranges. Do you have any oranges?”
“Nope, the best I can do is some cheese and crackers.” That was Harold’s standard snack. That and a beer, but he didn’t think offering a seven-year-old a beer was a good idea. “You wait here and I’ll go get us something.” Harold went into the house and D started shuffling the cards. He needed lots of practice.
Harold brought out some cheese and crackers and a sliced apple. The two of them munched and chatted for a few minutes and then D saw his Mom.
“Hi, Mom. I’m over here,” hollered D.
“What are you doing over there. You know you are supposed to stay on our porch. I’ve told you…”
“It’s OK, Ms. Becton. We’ve just been sitting here playing Go Fish and I got hungry and got us a snack. D hasn’t been any trouble. You can ask the old biddy over there and the coach. They’ve been watching us the whole time. He couldn’t have gotten into any trouble if he’d wanted to.” Harold knew Ms. Becton was careful with what she allowed D to do and he suspected that she didn’t want him to have anything to do with an ex-con. He was getting used to that. He hated it, but it was familiar.
D’s mom headed over to Harold’s porch looking a bit more relaxed but still concerned. Harold said, “Your mailbox looks a little loose. Let’s take a look at it.” She walked over to the mailbox. “Nothing’s wrong with the mailbox. I just wanted a word with you. D seems like a good kid. Does he ever talk to you about someone named Jerome?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard him mention a Jerome. Why?” she asked.
“D says he’s pirate who lives in the shed over there.”
“I swear! I’m never taking him to the movies again. We went to see that pirate movie that had all the dead pirates that turned into skeletons and the guy with the monkey on his shoulder and that’s all he can talk about. I guess seven is too young for that. I hope he hasn’t been a problem for you this afternoon.”
“He’s no problem at all. He can come over anytime and play Go Fish. But I’m not going to let him win all the time.”
She grinned. “That is one of my failings. He’s so happy when he wins, I just let him.”
“Life doesn’t work that way. I think winning is sweeter when you earn it. Anyway, he was no trouble and I enjoyed the company. And as you can see, we were well chaperoned,” he said as he glanced at the nearby windows.
“I’ll take him home now so he can get his homework done. Thank you for playing with him and giving him a snack.”
“I‘m going to check out the shed tonight. I’ll let you know if I see anything unexpected.”
“Thanks,” she said over her shoulder as she went to collect D.
“Thanks for the cheese and crackers. Can we play cards again?” D said as he headed into his apartment.
“Anytime, D. Just check with your Mom,” Harold said as he headed into his apartment.
After dark, armed with a flashlight and a bat, Harold headed out to the shed. He heard a noise. He braced himself, turned his flashlight on, and opened the door. A raccoon skittered out. Harold went in. He looked around and didn’t see any long swords, monkeys, or big hats, but there was a big wet spot in the corner. He went over and looked closer. Wet seaweed! What was seaweed doing in Charlotte, NC?