He was younger than me, by a year or two and his brother Neil was even younger than that. I was eleven then. But his mom and dad were old, really old. They looked like they should be Bobby and Neil’s grandma and grandpa, not the mom and dad. Their house smelled old. Not old like a musty basement but old like old fashioned cooking. Mrs. Thompson cooked old fashioned food. Some was good, like cinnamon rolls and butter tarts and some was not, like soup with white beans and turnip.
They had no dog but Bobby had a turtle. One of those small ones, about the size of a cookie. I had one of those once. I called him Pokey. He got out of his plastic turtle bowl, with the plastic green palm tree and got lost. He was on the dresser top and then he was gone. ‘Pokey, the vanishing turtle’. I found him eventually, after a long time. He made his way next to a heating vent and got dried up like a mummy. ‘Pokey the turtle mummy’. I felt bad for him.
Bobby’s turtle died too. I don’t know how, but it didn’t become a mummy. He showed it to me. It was in an orange tin pipe tobacco box, with red writing on the top. The box smelled good, like sweet candy. But when Mr. Thompson used to put that tobacco in his pipe and set it on fire, it didn’t smell good at all. Bobby cried about his dead turtle and Mrs. Thompson made us have a turtle funeral and bury his turtle in the pipe tobacco coffin, out by the garage. We weren’t allowed to bury it in the flower bed because Mrs. Thompson didn’t want to dig it up later when she was planting flowers and have a turtle zombie spring from the earth in front of her. It was a small turtle, smaller than Pokey even. I don’t think it could have hurt her even if it was a turtle zombie.
Bobby cried when he put it in the hole and covered it over with dirt. I didn’t understand it at all because it was just a turtle. It’s not like it was a pet dog. They didn’t have a dog, because of Mr. Thompson’s heart attack. Every time I was at their house the only thing Mr. Thompson did was sit in his old reclining chair. He liked it when we played games in front of him so he could watch. But Bobby and Neil’s games were all really old. One time we played a golfing game where you had to putt a marble into small holes. I was losing until the last hole when I shot my marble into the hole with the six and I scored the most points. Mr. Thompson said I lost because you had to shoot the lowest score in golf to win. Neil shot a two and Mr. Thompson said he won. What a stupid game. I think Mr. Thompson just said that because Neil was the youngest and he never won games when he played with me and Bobby.
One time we played their table hockey game. It was hand made out of wood and didn’t have real hockey players, just little flippers. It wasn’t like my table hockey game, it was more like a table pinball game. It was stupid too. Bobby was better than me at it, but only because he played it lots and it wasn’t like real table hockey. I think Mr. Thompson played it when he was a kid. He like to watch us play it so we played it on the floor in front of his reclining chair. When someone scored, he cheered and sometimes he would laugh and cough until Mrs. Thompson came and gave him hot water to drink.
They had a big yard. It was in between their house and the next one over. It was the size of a whole yard that had a house on it except there was no house, just grass. We played football there. Me and Bobby and Neil. We played all the time and I always won because I was the fastest runner. Bobby was the slowest but he still wanted to play anyway. He ran slow, like he was wearing big clown shoes on his feet and he couldn’t even catch his little brother in a race, even though Neil ran like a girl. We played until Neil got a bleeding nose when he tried to tackle me and we butted heads. Mrs. Thompson wouldn’t let us play football anymore after that.
In the winter the snow piled high in their big yard and it was perfect for making snow tunnels. We made long tunnels under the snow, the way ants make tunnels in the ground. When you went all the way in, all the way to the back, all the sound disappeared and when you talked it was like you were talking from inside the other persons head. We played for hours and hours inside the tunnels, until Mrs. Thompson made us come in and eat her awful hot turnip soup.
One time we played high divers off the back porch, jumping into the big snow drift that piled up beside the house. The snow was deep and if you climbed onto the railing and jumped from the highest point, you could sink into the snow all the way to your waist. But Bobby jumped headfirst one time and got stuck straight down, with his legs sticking up. He flailed and kicked but couldn’t get out. His screaming and yelling was muffled, like his head was covered by a big blanket. He kicked and kicked and when he started crying me and Neil tried to pull him out but he was stuck so hard we couldn’t. Mrs. Thompson had to come running out of the house in her cooking dress and the apron with the cows on it wearing her house slippers. She jumped into the snowbank with her bare legs and pulled and pulled on Bobby’s legs until he came unstuck. His face was white and his lips were blue and he had big snot bubbles in his nose. But he wasn’t dead. I think he just fainted, like a girl. Mrs. Thompson was really mad at me and I wasn’t allowed to play with Bobby and Neil after that.
I never talked to Bobby after that except once when I walked by his house on the way to Sam’s grocery store to buy a can of dog food. He was sitting on the steps on their front porch holding his head in his hands with his elbows propped on his knees. He said that his dad’s heart attacked him again and he got killed. He said his mom cried all the time and made him and Neil eat all the time. Neil climbed into the tree beside their fence and was picking aphids from the leaves and dropping them into the asparagus bush on the ground below.
“My dad got dead,” Neil said. “He’s not coming home.”
This is Neil, in the front on the right.
The little kid that looks like he’s freezing. Bobby Thompson is the boy in the back left in the plaid shirt. Mrs. Thompson wouldn’t let him go into the wading pool because he might get sick because of allergies. The other kids are just girls from McIntosh. Mostly annoying ones.
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