The school library was, in practice, an unofficial opportunity to fool around and waste time. Mrs. Brenner brought the class there once a week. Mrs. Stein, the librarian, would read a story aloud for the first ten minutes, then students were each free to find a library book, which they would pretend to read while making fart noises and whispering to friends.
This week, the entire library session was devoted to research for the Bicentennial project. To be sure, there would still be a lot of muted clowning around, but since the prize for best report was a gift certificate to Friendly’s, there was incentive to do at least a little bit of work.
Elbowing his way into the gridlocked American History section, Timothy ducked under lunch mate Drew’s armpit to scan spines with his finger.
“Boston Tea Party: The Protest That Became a Nation” was the newest book about Timothy’s sort-of chosen subject. It had the most pictures, so he grabbed it along with two others for good measure. He headed to the check-out desk with time to spare.
“Mrs. Stein,” he asked the librarian, “where would I find a book about…camping stuff?”
“Are you going camping?” she asked.
“Wonderful,” she said.
Mrs. Stein was always thrilled whenever a student wanted to use the library for what it was intended.
“Let’s go to the card catalog.”
Ach, the card catalog. He was hoping she was just going to show him where to find it. The card catalog was an indecipherable, hulking mass with impossibly long drawers, each chockablock with a confusing series of index cards. Authors, titles, subjects, all mixed together.
Timothy pulled the drawer marked C, hoping it wouldn’t detach from the cabinet and crush his foot. Flipping back and forth between cards, he wasn’t seeing anything for Camping. Mrs. Stein, seeing that Timothy was trying in earnest, took a quick look herself. She couldn’t find anything either.
“So, Timothy, can you think of another way to categorize what it is you’re looking for?”
It had already taken a bit of creativity to come up with camping, if he switched to something like butchering now, she’d know something was up.
“How about something to do with the outdoors?” she suggested.
“That sounds good,” he quickly agreed.
Mrs. Stein pushed the C drawer back in and tried looking in the O.
“Hmmm, yes, here we go, Outdoor Life, 796.5.”
She handed Timothy a scrap of paper and a little pencil, like the ones you got when you played miniature golf. Timothy copied down the numbers 796.5.
“Do you need help looking in the stacks?” she offered.
“Thanks Mrs. Stein, I think I can take it from here,” he said, ready to break from the lesson in library competence.
The school library only had five or six stacks, The 700s were free and clear because everyone else was still competing for the 900s. There were three or four wilderness books, maybe one of them would have what he was looking for. Amazingly, the Real Men’s Guidebook didn’t have anything about sharpening a dull meat cleaver.
The first book had no pictures and the print was very small. Like a lot of the books on these shelves, it had been sitting here since the 1950s, when a fair percentage of upper elementary school students could still read at an adult level. But this was the 1970s.
The next book had also probably been here since the 50s, but it had detailed diagrams of everything...including how to sharpen a hand axe. Score!
When Timothy checked the book out, Mrs. Stein beamed proudly as she stamped the due date on the inside front cover. The power of reading was alive and well. She pictured Timothy transported by his newfound knowledge, engaging in a wide variety of wholesome outdoor activities.
# # #
“Timothy, what’s that scraping noise?”
“I’ll be up in a minute,” Timothy called from the basement.
He figured he had maybe two more minutes before his mom would stop cooking and come downstairs to see what he was doing. He went back at it with both hands, attempting to sharpen the meat cleaver with an ancient, drop-forged file rustier than the cleaver itself.
To hold it somewhat steady, he had c-clamped the cleaver to a broom handle, the other end of which was wedged inside their top-loader washing machine, onto whose lid he’d piled an overturned chair and half a bag of cement mix to weigh it down.
He paused to cautiously run his finger along the edge of the blade. Not razor sharp, but good enough for now.
Loosening the c-clamp, Timothy took careful aim at the hand-drawn target taped to the face of the Bozo punching bag. Hurling the cleaver halfway across the basement, Timothy missed the clown’s face entirely, but the cleaver stuck into a wooden support column with a satisfying thud.
Timothy had to give the cleaver a good tug to get it loose. It may have failed initially to strike dead the intended target, but it was ready for a semi-public demonstration.
The next afternoon behind the Green Apartment Building, whiffle ball was put on hold, the kids all gathering around a medium-sized maple, which seemed a good enough target. All eyes were on Timothy, and the meat cleaver, as he hurled it at the tree.
His first shot tumbled through the air and missed entirely. So did his second.
“Use two hands,” Crazy Carl suggested, making a two-handed chopping motion above his own head.
Taking his suggestion, Timothy did manage to hit the tree, twice, but it bounced off both times and fell to the ground without penetrating.
“It worked better in the basement,” Timothy said.
He handed it off to Carl, who was waiting eagerly. Carl’s aim was slightly more consistent, but he likewise failed to get the tumbling knife to stick.
When it was Mark’s turn, despite having made expert recommendations to both Carl and Timothy on follow through, he also found it harder to accomplish than imagined.
Amid his friends’ hatchet throwing attempts, Timothy’s gaze shifted to the Green Apartment Building. Did he just see a curtain move? Was that apartment five or six? Was the prostitute secretly watching them at this very moment? Was it that Ken guy?
Timothy couldn’t help but wonder about the investigation that Ken was doing. It’s not like he wanted the brook to be polluted, but the possibility for scandal was intriguing.
“This thing’s no good,” Mark said, dangling it by the handle limply while he handed it back to Timothy.
As the gathering broke for the day, Timothy unconsciously swung the cleaver sideways at a six-foot sapling. The tree cut cleanly in two, the severed top half falling with a crackling thud to the ground.
The thing was deadly after all. You just had to get close enough to your target.
# # #
Later that night, coming downstairs to set the table, he found his mom and Cathryn in the kitchen, huddled together, brows furrowed. They were staring at the local paper in disbelief, obviously reading something that concerned them.
“What is it?” Timothy asked.
Neither answered at first, still processing whatever it was they were reading.
“It’s nothing,” his mom said, after a moment.
Timothy leaned in to see what they were looking at.
Realizing he would likely find out soon enough, his mom tried to translate the article into language that might somehow soft pedal the situation.
“There was a fight last night, a person was injured,” his mom said.
“What kind of fight?”
Timothy took the newspaper into his hands. He would usually flip straight to the comics, but there was theoretically not much in the Daily Freeman beyond his reading level at this point.
Turned out his mom and Cathryn had been reading the column called Police Beat. The first listing described a break-in, the second a drunken driving incident. It was the third item that had apparently caught their attention.
ASSAULT CHARGE -- Tuesday evening, responding to a disruption call at the Oriole Tavern, Kingston Police arrested Kingston resident Lucas “Luke” Grafton. Grafton, who remains in police custody, is being charged with assaulting Kenneth Wilson, also a Kingston resident. Wilson was treated by paramedics at the scene and brought to Kingston Hospital, where he is listed in stable condition…
At first Timothy couldn’t figure out why this particular story was so upsetting.
“Wait,” he asked, “who is Kenneth Wilson?”
“He lives up the street.”
“You mean...the blonde guy who lives in the Green Apartment Building?”
“That’s him,” his mother confirmed, “do you know him?”
Cathryn walked out of the kitchen. The story had clearly unsettled her.
His mom remained with him as he finished reading the column, trying to make sense of it.
“What does ‘provoked’ mean?” he asked his mom.
“It means the other man is claiming that Ken, sort of started the fight.”
Timothy couldn’t believe this. This Ken guy seemed so soft spoken. How could he possibly have done something like this?
“Do you think he started the fight?”
“I...don’t know, I wasn’t there. I just think that...bad things happen sometimes. I wish they didn’t, but…”
Cathryn was sitting on the couch, watching some random game show. She wasn’t really even watching it, she was just staring at the TV, like she needed something to help her zone out, the more mindless the better.
“Why is Cathryn so upset?”
“Ken’s a friend of hers.”
“Well, a friend of a friend, but still...”
The sum total of concealed adult knowledge was growing by the minute. What else did his mom know that she wasn’t telling him?
Absently, he went to set the table.
“It’s okay,” his mom said, “We can just eat in the living room tonight.”
She put some meatloaf on a plate and delivered it to Cathryn, who held it on her lap while she stared at the stupid game show on the black-and-white TV. His mom sat down next to her and started giving her a little shoulder rub, but for the moment Cathryn could not be reached.
Timothy helped himself to some meatloaf, poured ketchup on it, came in and sat cross legged on the floor. He started to clear his plate as usual, but when he looked over, he saw that neither his mom nor Cathryn had touched theirs, and looked like they might not eat at all.
No dinnertime conversation tonight.
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