Do Clams Bite?
Chapter 21: Rodney, a Rascal, Called Raskol
YOU CAN READ THE FIRST HALF
I BEGAN TO GO TO SLEEP after a day on the Rambunctious, the bed
in my father’s room would toss and roll, replaying the trip down the river
and across the bay. Sometime before I reached the flats, I would
usually be asleep, but that night, shortly after I passed the town dock,
I heard a scratching at the window screen. I lifted my head and found
myself looking into a boy’s face flattened against the screen. His
nose was bent to one side and pressed white, with dimpled squares of flesh
projecting through the interstices. His lips were curled into a snarl,
and he was holding his hands beside his ears and clawing with his fingers
against the screen, playing the part of a large, white-faced cat that would
go for my throat if it could get in. It was the boy who had burst
into Great-grandmother’s room, the one she called “rascal,” crouched on
the roof over the front porch.
Recently, when I read to him the foregoing description of his snarling at the window screen, he said, “I think I realized even then that making friends is an odd and delicate business, full of opportunities for disaster, for losing face, and for rejection. At some point, in some way, you have to declare your intentions, to say, ‘I like you. I want to be friends.’ This is much harder to say than ‘I love you,’ because friends give up much more to each other than lovers do. I suppose that’s why few lovers are friends. I’m certain that’s why making friends, for many boys anyway, often begins with a threat. The boy needs to establish antagonism as a base from which to build the friendship, so that if anything goes wrong, if the possible friend laughs at his name or catches him in a lie, he can fall back on the antagonism and pretend that he was only kidding about the friendship.”
That may be, but it struck me at once when I saw him that he had come to make friends. He pulled his face away from the screen and smiled. I opened the screen, and he climbed through the window onto the bed.
“You’re Peter,” he said. “Right?”
“Yes,” I whispered. I was fascinated by the grid left on his nose and the side of his face by the window screen.
“My name’s Rodney,” he said. He paused a moment. He was looking at me with unblinking eyes. “You think that’s funny?”
“No,” I said.
“I think it’s the stupidest name I ever heard of, and so does my father,” he said. “My mother thought it up. But nobody calls me that anyway. Everybody calls me Raskolnikov. It’s a mouthful, isn’t it? My uncle started calling me that, on account of the haunted look I have. What do you think?” He clamped his jaw and tipped his head downward so that he was looking up at me, his eyes glinting from deep hollows. “It’s the name of a character in a book. A real son of a bitch. Carries an ax.” He stopped to let that sink in. He was chewing gum. “Anyway, everybody calls me Raskol.”
“Oh,” I said, “that’s what Grandma called you.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Your great-grandmother, you mean. She’s a peach, isn’t she?”
“Yeah,” I said. I tried to sound as if I agreed enthusiastically, but I wasn’t sure that I liked having this fellow call my great-grandmother a peach; in fact, I wasn’t sure that I liked his knowing my great-grandmother well enough to have decided that she was a peach. Things were not off to a very good start, I thought. Still, I had decided that I liked him, and I wanted him to like me.
“Move over,” he said. “I’ve got somebody else with me.”
“Is it the boy who sold you the knife?” I asked. “The one who ran away from home because his father is a drunk and his mother is an entertainer? He probably needs a place to sleep. We can put some blankets on the floor and fold up some towels to make a pillow. Did he have any lunch or dinner? I could probably sneak down into the kitchen later, when I’m sure everybody’s asleep, and make him some sandwiches.”
He had started to turn toward the window. Now he turned back toward me, but he looked to one side of me and the dimpled squares on his cheek reddened. He said nothing.
I felt like a fool, a naive fool, a little boy, next to this little man. Why hadn’t I realized that the runaway had been stitched up out of whole cloth and stuffed full of sawdust? Why hadn’t I kept my mouth shut? I suppose that I looked wistful and disappointed, for I felt that I had lost the chance to make the right impression on this fellow, who would have made so good a friend. I was trying like the dickens to think of something clever to say that would get both of us out of this awkward spot, get things moving again, but I couldn’t think of a thing, and the moment seemed as if it would freeze as it was and become one of those damned moments that persist and persist, rising from the memory now and then like heartburn, but then Raskol’s face lit up. For an instant he seemed about to grin, but then he tightened his mouth. He shook his head resignedly.
“Oh, him,” he said. “Nah, he’s gone. Now there was a haunted character. I really feel sorry for that kid. I know how you feel; I felt the same way you do about him. I figured that if I brought him home my parents would probably give him a warm meal and then adopt him, but he wouldn’t have any of that. He just wanted to keep moving. I never even got his name.”
“That’s a shame,” I said, “a real shame,” and I was grinning from ear to ear and so was he. It was going to be all right.
“Anyway,” he said, “I brought somebody much better than him. I brought these two sweeties.”
He leaned out the window and hissed. The two girls that I had seen sneaking up behind him on the dock appeared, and they climbed through the window and onto the bed.
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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.