Authors: James Kahn
Data tried to pull it free, but it wasn't letting go. He pulled a couple more cords, but nothing happened. He was startin'
to get real worked up, but Mouth put his arm around Data's shoulder and said, “Cool it, double-oh-negative-seven.” He said
it nice, though.
It didn't matter that Data's contraptions didn't work much, it was the thought that counted. And we all appreciated his efforts,
just like he appreciated Mouth's thought now, even though Mouth's mouth didn't know exactly what to say.
Just then my mom came in. She was pretty old, forty or so, but still better-looking than most moms. She used to model parkas
for the Sears catalogue. Anyway, her arm was broken now and in a sling, from her accident with the spin dryer. I remember
I broke my arm once when I fell into the excavation at that new housing development, Cuesta Verde Estates, and the doctor
had to break it back in the other direction to set it. He said that was the only way to make it straight. I thought of that
when Mom came in the room, so it was on my mind later, when we got to the lighthouse, but I'll tell about that later.
Anyway, Mom came in now with this maid from Mexico or El Salvador or one of those places Mom won't go because of the water
or the rebels. “Boys,” she said, “this is Rosalita.”
The boys waved. Chunk stood in front of the broken statue of David so Mom wouldn't notice.
“Rosalita doesn't speak much English,” Mom said, “and she's got to help me with the packing. So I was wondering if one of
you… well, I know some of you have taken Spanish in school….”
“I speak perfect Spanish, Mrs. Walsh,” said Mouth. Like I said, he had a mouth in a
“That's wonderful, Clarke.” Mom smiled at him. His paper-name was Clarke, so that's what most of the parents called him. “I
need help explaining some things to her, so if you'd just come with us for a few minutes…”
“Yes, ma'am,” said Mouth, and shot to her side. Data rolled his eyes at me. Brand went back to hangin' upside down. Mom split
with Mouth and Rosalita. Chunk looked at me with this sick face and picked up the statue. There was like a giant hole in the
thing's crotch. So Chunk gives me this pukey grin and says, “Think your mom's gonna notice?”
I gave him a bottle of Elmer's glue and told him to do something right for a change. Then I went after Mouth to make sure
he wasn't grossing out my mom.
They were in my parents' bedroom at the dresser. I stood back, at the door. Mom was talking to Rosalita, loud and slow like
that was going to make her understand. “Socks and underwear in the top drawer. Shirts and blouses in the second. Pants in
the bottom. Always separate the clothes.” Then she turned to Mouth and said, “Can you translate that?”
“Sure, Mrs. Walsh.” He nodded. Then he turned to
Rosalita and said a bunch of Spanish stuff that he told me later meant “The marijuana goes in the top drawer. The cocaine
and speed in the second. The heroin in the bottom. Always separate the drugs.” Anyway that's what he
he said, but I believe him because Rosalita looked kind of weirded out.
Mom just smiled.
Then they went out the other door, into the hallway, and Mom pointed to the trapdoor in the ceiling. “That's the attic. Mr.
Walsh doesn't like anybody up there. Never.” Then she nodded to Mouth again.
This time he told me his rap went, “Never go up there. It's filled with Mr. Walsh's sexual torture devices.” And there was
no doubt; this time Rosalita's face turned white under the brown, so she looked kind of beige.
The Mom opened the supply closet. “This is the supply closet. You'll find everything you need inside. Brooms, mops, insecticide,
And this time after Mouth finished sayin' it in Spanish, Rosalita seemed ready to head back south of the border, rebels or
no rebels. What he'd told her was, “If you do a bad job, you'll be locked in here with the cockroaches for two weeks without
food or water.”
Anyway, the way Rosalita was lookin', I got the idea, even if Mom didn't, so I just left. I didn't much like it when Mouth
jived like that, whether it was on Chunk's lard-belly or some poor lady who couldn't speak English yet. But thinking of Chunk,
I wondered how he was doing with the glue job, so I headed for the rec room where I heard the TV on.
When I got there, Brand was watching the tube, and Data was watching Chunk finish repairing the thing. Its back was to me,
so I walked around to face it just as Chunk took his hand away. “How's that?” he said.
The dork had glued the thing upside down. So it was pointing
We all rolled over laughing, even Brand, who took a second first to slap Chunk in the head. It was just a crack-up to look
at. I knew trouble was on her way down the hall, though.
Brand made a dirty joke, but I guess I won't tell it right now.
We heard everyone coming downstairs from upstairs. Data snapped his fingers and pulled a leaf off the potted philodendron
and taped it to the David's crotch, and we all got down to play marbles in front of an old Abbott and Costello movie just
as Mom came in with Mouth and Rosalita.
Rosalita looked positively nauseous. Mouth didn't tell me right then what he'd laid on the sorry woman, but I could see it
wasn't any winning lottery ticket.
Mom just kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Clarke, that was so nice of you.”
“Nice is my middle name, Mrs. Walsh.”
Made me wanna barf. Then Mom spotted the statue. She had a sixth sense for stuff like that.
“Lawrence…” she said with a tone in her voice. Lawrence was Chunk's other name. Mom also had a seventh sense for knowing who
stuff like that. She pointed to the statue and held out her hand. Chunk handed it to her.
She took off the fig leaf and looked. And wouldn't you know it, the glue began to stretch, and that old you-know-what started
tilting down right at Mom, while she was lookin' at it.
I took a slug of Promotene. Rosalita made the sign of the cross. I think we were the only two in that whole room that had
Mom was about to say something, then decided it just wasn't worth it. So she said something else. “I'm taking Rosalita to
the grocery store. We'll be home in about an hour. Brandon, you stay inside with Mikey. It looks like rain, and I don't want
him out in that with his asthma.”
I pocketed my inhaler.
“He should be in a plastic bubble,” said Brand. My asthma gave him a pain.
“I'm serious, Brandon,” said Mom. “He takes one step outside, and you're… you're…” She thought for a second, trying to come
up with something hip enough to make Brand do what she told him. “Or you're dead meat.” She gave this real cazh smile. Way
to go, Mom, you're too cool for school.
Brand rolled his eyes, and Mom and Rosalita split. The second they were out the door, Brand jumped me.
“You want a breathin' problem?” he said. “You got one.” He put me in a headlock I couldn't come close to breaking, but I got
a couple good jabs in. He finally let me go when I started to wheeze.
Mouth had this thoughtful expression on his face, which was always a dangerous sign. “Hey, what's your father gonna do with
all that stuff in the attic?” he asked.
It was museum stuff. When the Astoria Historical Museum moved to the Endicott Building three years ago, they had a big fund-raising
show of all their oldest stuff, and my dad was in charge of moving it, and some of the stuff that didn't fit in the show got
stored here “temporarily” until the move was complete, only it turned out to be temporary storage that the honchos at the
museum sort of forgot to stash elsewhere.
“He's gonna give it back to the museum,” I said. “Or to whoever they pick to be the new assistant curolator.”
“Curator,” Brand corrected me again. Sometimes
was really a pain, asthma or no asthma.
Mouth's eyes got big as his mouth. “That means it's all gonna go to the rich people, anyway. Let's go up and see if there's
anything we can take for
“Let's do it!”
They all jumped up and ran off to the attic like this was the best idea they'd ever heard.
All except me. “Hey, guys, my dad's responsible for all that stuff. Don't wreck anything… Brand? You know, I'll bet the museum's
got a list of it all somewhere. Guys?”
But they were history. So I just put my marble bag in my pocket and followed.
Actually history's what it's all about—and
were about to discover some… and then make some.
By the time I got upstairs they had the stepladder out and the trapdoor open. Brand was first up, with a flash-light, and
the others were right behind. As usual I was last.
When we got up there, we just stopped and stared in amazement. I'd never been in the attic before—Dad never let us—and I was
as blown away as anyone.
First of all it was pretty dark. There was a skylight in the ceiling, but the storm clouds Mom had seen were really thick
now, kind of black and purple. Even so, with Brand's flashlight we could see plain enough: it was a huge old dusty room, jam-packed
with the far-outest stuff you could imagine. Historical stuff, some of it must've been like centuries old. Oil paintings,
sculptures, broken antique furniture, costumes, whaling harpoons, pirate stuff, Indian stuff. Great stuff.
“I can't believe somethin' this cool is in your house,” Mouth whispered.
“This is the best junk I've ever seen,” said Chunk.
Suddenly this wild rip of lightning tore over the skylight, with a thunder crack in its shadow, and in a second rain was spattering
the glass and throwing funny patterns on all of us. And I don't mind sayin', I was just the slightest bit touchy.
“Okay. You guys saw it,” I said. “Now let's get outta here.”
“Whatsa matter, scared again?” said Brand.
“Yeah—just like you in the elevator,” I answered. I knew that would get him. He hated to be reminded of this one time we were
on an elevator that got stuck between floors and he like totally freaked out, and I just got on the elevator phone and sort
of ran the show. I mean,
got something like that to deal with, but Brand sees it otherwise. He decided someone must've put some angel dust into the
ventilation system, and
why he blew his wad, and I was just immune to the stuff or something. Anyway, he made me promise not to tell.
So when I mentioned the elevator this time, he got me in another headlock and whispered, “You shut up about that elevator.
You understand? Huh?”
I nodded as well as I could with my head being crushed, so then he pushed me to the floor. I coughed and couldn't stop until
I snorted a little Promotene. “Can we go now? It's pretty dusty up here. I think my hay fever's acting up.”
Brand just ignored me, though. “C'mon, let's look around,” he said. He started walkin' through the collection. We all followed,
sort of tiptoe, so as not to disturb anything.
And it was something. A wooden peg leg, a half-set of
ivory false teeth, a walrus mask all mouse-chewed, a hand-carved oar with the handle broken off, some torn lace gloves, a
rusted compass without the needle, some drawing on a piece of whalebone (Brand called it “scrim-shaw”), a piece of real skull…
it was totally cool and kind of spooky.
Suddenly I heard this high-pitched voice calling to me from out of the darkness. “Mikey… oh, Mikey… come to me… come and kiss
Brand turned his light on it. There in the corner was a full-size oil painting, torn in places, of a pirate captain and a
naked woman—and there was a tongue jutting out of a tear in the woman's mouth, licking her lips.
It was pretty creepy at first, until I realized it was a tongue that could only have come from Mouth's mouth—he was behind
“Come here, Mikey,” he said in a kind of ghost voice. “Make me feel like a woman.”
“I'll make you feel like a punching bag,” said Brand.
“Stop bein' so perverted, Mouth,” I said. “You're wreckin' the painting.”
Mouth came out from behind the painting. “Easy, dude. It was already trashed. Like everything else here—trashed, bashed, slashed,
We went back to exploring.
all this stuff?” said Chunk.
“The museum did some kinda show,” I said, explaining it to him. “With historical things they found all around here. And these
are the rejects.”
Chunk nodded. “Kinda like us.”
It was true, though. I felt very in touch with these discards. We started rummaging through the piles. I found an eye patch
and put it on. Mouth and Data each scored a feathered hat; Brand picked up an old cutlass. I felt like I'd
somehow seen it all before. I mean, I know I'd seen stuff like it on lots of pirate movies. But it wasn't that. It was more
had some kind of special meaning for me. Almost like maybe I wore these clothes once before, in a previous life or something.
I mean, I don't really believe in reincarnation, but that's what it felt like. Or maybe it was just a feeling of Time Goes
On. You know, like some guys wore this stuff, and then they took it off and it knocked around for a while, and then
wore it and knocked around for a while, and then someone
will find it. Us, them, now, whenever. All part of the same thing. You know what I'm talkin' about? I can't explain it too
good—my counselor in the eighth grade told me I didn't do well in verbal skills, either. But I guess you already scoped that
Anyway, Data started gettin' into the same thing—the sort of sameness of us and those old-time guys who originally had this
stuff. Like there was some kind of
“Just think of it,” Data said, “all this stuff belonged to guys who walked on the same ground that we do. They went swimming
in the same ocean, they breathed the same air—”
“Yecchhh—they had to breathe the Herring Factory air too?” That was Chunk's contribution to all this deep talk.