Do Clams Bite?
Chapter 4: A Rascal with a Knife
YOU CAN READ THE FIRST HALF
THE CALL CAME from downstairs, it startled me, although I had expected
“Peter. Come on downstairs. You’ll miss the boat.” It was my mother. She always called me in the same way.
“I have to go, Grandma,” I said. “I’m going to go out on the boat.” I waited a moment, hoping that a tear might form in her eye, that she might burst out blubbering, imploring me to stay. Had things ever gone right, she would have said, “I see so little of you Peter, and we’ve only covered Black Jacques and Fat Hank. You can’t go now. I’ll insist. I won’t let them take you out on the bay, I won’t, I won’t!” She would have thrown herself on the floor, kicking her feet and pounding with her brittle fists.
Instead, there was a rapid pounding of feet up the stairs, and for a moment I thought my father was coming to tell me that my dawdling was delaying Grandfather, to tell me to get a move on, to pull me by the shirtsleeve if I hesitated. But it wasn’t my father who burst through the door without knocking—it was a boy about my size but a little older. His mouth was open, to shout a greeting, I suppose, but when he saw me he stopped himself. We looked at each other warily, with immediate suspicion. He looked to me like a boy who carried a knife. His hair was light, sun-bleached, and dirty. His face was dirty. His T shirt and his pants were dirty. He gave up looking me over, and he walked to Great-grandmother’s side. He gave her a kiss, rather a hearty one. That was something I never did, because she seemed too dry and delicate. “I have something for you, Lydia,” he said.
Lydia. I couldn’t imagine even Fat Hank calling Great-grandmother Lydia to her face.
“You do?” she said. “What?”
She had become animated, eager. The thought struck me that I never brought her anything, except on her birthday or at Christmas, when I brought her a box containing a gift that my mother had bought. I was usually as surprised as Great-grandmother to see what was in those boxes, and I was often embarrassed, since my mother, who never climbed the stairs to these rooms, always bought things that were wrong.
“Something you need.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife. It was a small paring knife, with a wooden handle. On the handle was a small sticker with a price written on it.
“You rascal,” said Great-grandmother. “Where did you steal this?”
She had taken it from him and was running her thumb along the blade.
“I didn’t steal it,” he said. “I swear. I bought it off a kid.”
“I don’t know. Nobody who lives around here. He was just passing through. See, he was running away from home because his father is a drunk and his mother entertains strange men whenever his father’s on a toot, so he needed some cash and I bought a few things off him just to help him out.”
It sounded reasonable to me. I wondered how old this runaway was, where he slept at night, and whether he would have to go to school in the fall. Before I could ask, there were other footsteps on the stairs, slower, heavier, and a soft knock at the door. I thought that this must surely be the runaway boy, that I’d get a chance to ask him all my questions, and that this extraordinary appearance would keep me from going clamming with Grandfather, since Great-grandmother would be sure to insist that I make him some sandwiches and warm up a bowl of chowder.
Instead, my father appeared in the doorway. He looked smaller and younger up here, and when he spoke to Great-grandmother his ears turned red and he looked at his shoes.
“Hello, Grandma,” he said. “I came to get Peter.”
“Why, Bert,” she said, “I didn’t know you were here. Why didn’t you come up to see me?”
“Oh, I was going to, Grandma. I was going to come up sometime before I left. Right now I have to get Peter downstairs. He’s holding everything up.” He took hold of my sleeve and started backing toward the door.
“Peter can find his way downstairs on his own. Why don’t you stay here and talk with me for a while? Look at this,” she said, holding the unfinished coconut carving out toward him, turning it so that he could see the profile. “Do you know who this is?”
“I’m not sure,” said my father. “I—uh—look—I can’t stay, Grandma. I—” He looked at me quickly, and for a moment it seemed to me that he wanted me to tell him what to say.
“I have to go out on the boat,” I said.
My father brightened. “Me too,” he said. “I’m going out on the boat too.”
Great-grandmother’s mouth fell open. “You?” she asked.
“Sure,” said my father. “I haven’t had a chance to go out clamming for a long time. I usually have so many things to do. This is a real treat for me.”
Here are a couple of swell ideas from Eric Kraft's vivacious publicist, Candi Lee Manning:
Tip the author.
Add yourself to our e-mailing list.
Little Follies is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
“My Mother Takes a Tumble,” “Do Clams Bite?,” “Life on the Bolotomy,” “The Static of the Spheres,” “The Fox and the Clam,” “The Girl with the White Fur Muff,” “Take the Long Way Home,” and “Call Me Larry” were originally published in paperback by Apple-Wood Books.
Little Follies was first published in hardcover by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail the author’s imaginary agent, Alec “Nick” Rafter.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.