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Authors: Constance C. Greene

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BOOK: The Ears of Louis
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“You should've seen me, Mom,” Louis said. “I played football and a kid kicked the ball and it hit me in the stomach so I threw up.”

“I thought you looked pale,” she said. “Better go up and lie down.”

Louis took the jar of silver polish up to his room. He put a big gob on his good luck charm, taking special care with the crown and the ears. He rubbed and polished until it shone. Then he washed it under the faucet.

It was time for a workout with the bar bells. Louis still couldn't get them past his knees but he felt a lot stronger.

“Louis, telephone,” his mother called up the stairs.

“Louis here,” he said into the receiver, imitating Mrs. Beeble.

“What? What'd you say? Guess what I caught in my Havaheart,” Matthew's voice said.

“How come you weren't in school today?”

“I caught another skunk and when I went to let it out, it sprayed me. My mother's boiling. She says she's going to give my traps to the Salvation Army. I told her if she did, I'd run away. I told her I couldn't go to school. That's what Miss Carmichael said last week. She said if it happened again, I'd better stay home. So my mother made me sit outside in the car while she went to eat lunch with some ladies. I asked her if I could stay home by myself but she said enough was enough and she wanted to keep me where she'd know what I was doing.”

“Will you smell all right by tomorrow?” Louis said.

“I better. She bought two quarts of tomato juice and put me in the bathtub and poured it over me and now she's scrubbing out the tub and she's still boiling,” Matthew said.

“Guess what?” Louis said. “I played football with the sixth graders today.”

“You did?” Matthew said. “How was it? Did anybody tackle you?”

“It was pretty rough,” Louis said, “but I did all right. They didn't want to let me play. They said I was too little. But I played anyway and one kid kicked the ball and it hit me in the stomach and I got sick. I almost got sick again, all over Amy Adams.”

“Cool,” Matthew said. “What stopped you?”

“I didn't have anything left in my insides,” Louis said. He heard a scream from Matthew's end of the line.

Then silence.

“I have to hang up,” Matthew said. “She says I'm dripping all over her new rug.”

“O.K.,” Louis said. “Stay away from skunks.”

Matthew laughed a hollow laugh and hung up.

11

Tuesday morning Louis woke up feeling very good. Even when he checked his ears and his muscles and they seemed to be too big and too small as they'd always been, he still felt good.

He tucked his amulet inside his shirt, first rubbing it for luck. He didn't go anywhere without that amulet. He found a pair of matching socks in his drawer and he could smell bacon cooking. Everything pointed to a super day.

He wore his helmet to breakfast. From behind his newspaper, his father said, “Take that off while you eat, please.” It was amazing what his father could see from behind that paper.

“How'd you know I had it on?” Louis said, taking it off.

“Haven't you?” his father said, still behind his paper.

“Not now,” Louis said.

“Come home right after school,” his mother said. “I'm taking you for a haircut.”

Louis' hair reached the tip of his ears. It was just the right length.

“I don't need a haircut,” he said.

Nobody answered.

“Why do I always have to get a haircut just when I like it the way it is?” Louis asked. “How'd you like it if somebody made you get your hair cut every time you thought your hair looked pretty nice? You wouldn't like it at all, that's for sure.”

When he got to school, Miss Carmichael told the class she'd only had two people hand in stuff for the newspaper.

“I had hoped for more contributions,” she said, looking over the top of her glasses. “A little more cooperation is indicated.”

Amy Adams turned around in her seat and smiled graciously. She gave a little wave like the queen of England. Louis put both hands around his own throat and gagged noisily.

At lunch, Louis bolted his sandwich and raced out to the field. The same guys he'd played with yesterday were already there throwing the ball back and forth talking big. “Hey Charlie, let's have it here. Toss it to me and I'll take it for a hundred yards. Come on, you apes, let's run it down the line,” they said.

Louis stood there, smiling, holding his helmet.

“Hi,” he said.

Nobody answered. Like this morning at home, it was as if he hadn't spoken. Maybe he'd dreamed up yesterday. But he hadn't dreamed being sick in the boys' room. That much he knew.

Louis put on his helmet and got down in his crouch. The game began, the sun shone on the sixth graders in all their radiance. Louis stood by. The bell rang. It was over.

“Hey, Dumbo, wouldn't they let you play?” Two friends of Ernie's were watching. “They probably figured your ears would get in the way.” One of them, the kid with the tiny eyes straddling his nose, advanced upon Louis.

“What's that?” He reached out a grubby hand toward Louis' charm which had worked its way to the outside of his shirt. “Let's see what you got there, old Elephant Ears.”

Louis knew if this kid touched his amulet, it would no longer be entirely his. Its power would vanish. He jerked back but the kid was holding on. The string broke and the charm was in the hand of the enemy.

“Give it here,” Louis said in a voice that trembled. “Give it here or I'll kill you.”

“Go get it.” The kid threw the charm as far as he could. Louis followed it with his eyes and ran to the spot where it had fallen. He got down on his hands and knees, searching in the dust. The sun glinted on the newly polished surface and led Louis to it. He picked it up and wiped the dust off with his shirt tail. The face looked up at him, noble and unyielding.

“That's all right,” Louis said aloud. “Don't mind those creeps. You're O.K.” He cradled it in his hands, checking for damage. There was none. Louis stood up and put the amulet in his pocket. The bell had long since rung. He stood at his classroom door, watching Miss Carmichael write on the blackboard. If he went in now, she'd bawl him out for being late again.

“I'm not up to it,” he said to the walls. He went down the hall past Mr. Anderson's office. The principal was on the telephone again, and still smiling. Louis thought Mr. Anderson spent so much time smiling over the telephone he didn't have anything but frowns left when he got off.

Louis wandered around the streets, killing time. He'd have to go back to school to pick up Tom. He wished he could tell time by the sun. He didn't have a watch. When it seemed as if he'd been walking for hours, he went to a candy store and asked the man what time it was.

“Time for you to be in school,” the man said, laughing. When he saw the look on Louis' face, he said, “It's two twenty, son.”

Louis went back to school. When Tom came out, Louis said “Hurry up” and took giant steps all the way home. “You're going too fast,” Tom wailed.

Louis got the ball of string from the drawer in the hall table and ran up the stairs.

“Are you ready to go to the barber?” his mother called.

Louis didn't answer. He measured a piece of string and, using his mother's nail scissors, he cut it off and slipped it through the loop at the top of the amulet.

“Come on, Louis, I'm waiting,” his mother said.

He went to the top of the stairs.

“Mom,” he said, “would you please tie this for me.” He held both ends of the string at the back of his neck and backed up to her.

She didn't ask any questions until she'd got it tied in a double knot. She turned him around so their faces were close together.

“That's very pretty,” she said. “What is it?”

“Mrs. Beeble gave it to me,” he said. “It's an amulet. A good luck charm. It wards off evil.”

“You're awfully young to need to ward off anything,” she said. “What do you know of evil?”

“Plenty,” Louis said.

She hugged him. “Well, then, I hope you wear your good luck charm until you're an old man.” She took the car keys out of her pocket. “Let's go,” she said.

“Where?” Louis asked.

“For a haircut.”

Louis tucked his amulet carefully inside his shirt and patted the bulge it made there.

“Tell him to cut off just a little, O.K.?” he said.

“O.K.” his mother answered.

12

Next morning Louis went downstairs in his pajamas.

“I don't feel good,” he said.

“We're having waffles. Too bad. Go back to bed and I'll bring you up some milk toast,” his mother said.

Louis got dressed so fast he put his sweater on inside out. He ate three waffles and could've polished off a few more. His baby sister sat in her high chair industriously stuffing her slipper full of oatmeal, as a cook would stuff a Thanksgiving turkey.

“How do you stand her?” Louis said to his mother.

“Nononono,” his sister said, stuffing away like mad.

“Next time, somebody better teach that kid to say ‘Yes,'” Louis said.

Miss Carmichael was pleased when Louis handed in his picture of a giant genie coming out of a tiny bottle as his contribution to the paper.

“Very nice, Louis,” she said. “This shows a great deal of imagination.” Calvin Leffert gave her a picture he'd made of an electric light fixture made of banana peels.

“Very interesting, Calvin,” Miss Carmichael said. She never played favorites.

Amy Adams handed in a sheaf of poems.

“Amy dear,” Miss Carmichael said, “I think we have enough poetry at the moment. Why don't you take these home and if we need more, I'll call on you.”

“Fake out,” Louis said to Amy.

At lunch time, Matthew exchanged a package of Hostess Twinkies for a hard-boiled egg. John gave Louis two apple slices covered in cinnamon and sugar.

“You don't even have to give me anything for them,” John said. There weren't too many people Louis knew who would do things like that.

“You going to play football today?” Matthew asked.

“I don't know,” Louis answered. He'd been debating whether or not he'd go to the playground. Yesterday had been bad. On the other hand, the day before yesterday had been good. He decided to give it one more try.

“Hey, you, you with the big ears,” a big guy said to Louis. “Want to play right guard? We're short a couple of guys. You got in the game a couple of days ago, right? Get over there next to Harry and remember, you have to cross the goal line and touch the ball on the ground for it to count as a touchdown.”

Louis was astonished. The way he'd said “You with the big ears” didn't even bother him. It was the tone of voice, the way he said it, like “You with the red hair” or “You with the brown pants.” Louis put on his helmet and ran out to the field.

“O.K., guys, time for the huddle.” Louis got squashed. He didn't really know what was going on. All he knew was he'd never been so happy. He ran from one end of the field to the other.

“Time for one more play,” the kid named Jim who everybody listened to, said. “Let's make it a good one.”

Louis stood alert, at the ready. Jim called the signals.

“Hey, get it, Ears! That's the boy! Run it all the way!” Louis heard a whole bunch of voices calling. He looked up just in time:
whoof!
The ball landed in his arms and he ran with it. His legs churned so hard his knees almost reached his chin. He crossed the goal line and fell on his face. He still had the ball. He hadn't dropped it. He hadn't been stopped. He had made a touchdown.

Jim scraped him off the ground.

“You all right, kid? Nothing broken?” Jim said.

Louis smiled. His chin had a big scrape on it. His nose started to bleed.

“Did I score?” he said.

“If we were keeping score, you would've scored,” Jim said. “You're all right, Ears. In a couple of years, you'll be lots better. You're a gutsy little guy, Ears, and that's half the battle.”

Jim and Harry and Steve and Louis walked off the field with their arms around one another. Louis was in the middle. He had to reach way up to touch their shoulders, so far up that his arms were stretched as far as they could stretch. It was uncomfortable, walking that way. But he made it. Louis could've walked that way for miles, if he'd had to.

13

“All of a sudden I caught the ball and I ran and ran until I thought I'd burst and then I went over the goal line and I made a touchdown and they told me I was a gutsy kid.”

Tom's eyes were wide.

“That means you're a hero,” he said. “If you make a touchdown, you're a hero.”

“Only if you make the winning touchdown,” Louis said. “Then you're a hero.”

“If you score a touchdown, you're a hero,” Tom said stubbornly.

“Oh well,” Louis said.

“If Tom wants to think you're a hero, better let him,” Louis' mother said. “I think it's wonderful and I'm proud of you, Louis, but I'm worried about you playing with children so much bigger and stronger than you. You might get hurt.”

She washed his face and put Mercurochrome on his chin.

Louis finished his snack. “I'm going to see Mrs. Beeble,” he said. “I want to tell her what happened.” He was quite sure his amulet had been partly responsible. Maybe not all but part. That and the bar bells.

“Take her an onion, will you?” his mother said. “I owe her one. And here's a jar of apricot jam I made. She's a good old soul. I worry about her living there alone.”

“She's a superior poker player,” Louis said. He didn't like hearing Mrs. Beeble described as an old soul.

His mother raised her eyebrows. “Is she? You're pretty young for poker.”

BOOK: The Ears of Louis
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