The three little boys loved the big bed that their daddy had found discarded in the alley. They knew what it was and where it had come from and didn't care. They loved how big it was and how they could all fit in it together and roll around and play tent with the raggedy blanket that had come along with it. Their daddy had done the best he could considering he hadn't been able to find any work for so very long. It must have been humiliating for him to drag that bed home, but it only showed Clark, Alvie and Lewis how much their daddy loved them. It wasn't his fault that things were so bad, he tried hard all the time, it's just that nothing went right for him any more. But he kept on being their daddy, even when many of their other friends' daddies just picked up and left when things got too bad. He found this row house that no one else wanted and moved them in and picked through alleys and trash bins to find things to fix the house up so they could have a nice place to live. He explained to the boys that all of a sudden they might have to leave because the police didn't much care for squatters, but not to worry about it until something happened, so they didn't.
“Don't kick me like that Alvie. I don't wanna move over any more. I'm already on the edge of the bed.” Clark said.
Alvie stopped because it was really all in fun anyway. “You're just scared you'll roll over and squash the runt.” He referred to Lewis who, at four, was very small for his age, which caused great concern for their parents and made Clark feel like he should protect Lewis from the world. Clark already knew what the world did to runts.
“Don't ever call him that. He can get that kind of talk from the outside. He doesn't need to hear it in his own house.”
Alvie spoke quietly, ashamed of his words. “I was just kidding.”
“It may be just kidding to you, but it's hurt to him. Just don't do it.”
“Yeah.” Said Lewis, who always agreed with Clark, not understanding all of it but agreeing with Clark anyway.
“Hey, Lewis, do you want to blow out the candle tonight?” Clark tickled him.
“Oh, yeah!” Lewis loved to blow out their light source candle before they all fell asleep. It made him feel big like his brothers.
“Don't let him get all excited like that, Clark. You're always telling him he can blow it out and he always falls asleep without doin' it.” Alvie secretly wanted to blow the candle out, even knowing it was Lewis' favorite thing to do.
“Then what does it hurt him to get all excited? Nothin' much else for him to get excited about but this dumb candle. He's just a little kid, man. Besides, maybe by the time he gets big enough to worry about his duty we'll have some real lights in here and all he'll have to worry about it reaching the switch.”
“I heard Momma crying again last night about that kind of stuff. I don't think I wanna hear that any more.”
“Well, you're gonna have to, Alvie. Things aren't going like they thought and sometime Momma can't take it. They want better for us. Sometimes I hear Daddy cryin', too.”
“No, you ain't heard him doin' that!” Alvie did not and could not believe this.
“Alvie, you gotta grow up, man. Life's ugly for us right now. We gotta start helpin' out, too. You're old enough, eight's old enough to be doin' something, you know. Like doin' newspapers in the morning and stuff after school, like running some kinda errand for people. I'm gonna get me something tomorrow.”
Alvie snorted. “Hey, man, you're only eleven years old. What are you gonna do?”
Clark shifted under the weight of Lewis, who had fallen asleep on Clark's arm.
“At this moment, you know I really couldn't tell you. But I know there's something out there for me if I just look hard enough. Something like delivery guy, or a box boy or anything to get us in a better situation. I just know I gotta do something and the sooner the better for all of us.”
“What are you gonna do tomorrow? It's a holiday and most things are gonna be closed for what you're talkin' about.”
Clark sighed and settled some more. He was getting tired and could tell that Alvie was, too.
“You know, I've given that some thought. I'm gonna go over first thing in the morning to Effran Street and walk clear to the end of it. I'm gonna get up about four o'clock in the morning before the sun comes up to give me plenty of time. I'm gonna walk all the way down Effran Street until I find that big open field I saw one day when Daddy and me took the bus over to Aunt Violet's house. God Almighty, it was so beautiful it made your eyes hurt. I remember it like I saw it yesterday. It was almost dawn and you could barely see anything , but I felt like I could see everything in that field, every blade of grass, clean and green like you never saw and all covered in dew. Morning dew, the kind that sparkles like diamonds and makes it look like someone dropped a fairy land right out of the sky for a person to make good use of. And I'm gonna lie down in that grass and look at every blade I can find, and look inside those drops of dew and see all the pictures inside. And I'm gonna find out where that dew goes, if it's up or down or just nowhere. And I'm gonna see how all the bugs and birds act in the morning, what they do to get their day going. And then I'm gonna wait for the sun to come all the way up and find out what it feels like when it first hits your face without all this city air between you and it. And I'm gonna think, Alvie. I'm gonna think hard about how we can get out of this mess and this place and find us a real home and never have to be scared again.”
“Can I go with you, Clark?” Alvie was barely awake enough to get the sentence out.
“No, Alvie. I'd like to say yes but this is something I feel deep down I just gotta do myself. I got to think. I feel a real need for it, you know? I thought a lot about taking the two of you, but we'd just end up playin' and havin' a great old time when what I need is a little time for myself. Daddy was telling me that things aren't as easy for us as they were when he was a kid. We're growing up faster and seeing things clearer and we need time for us just like adults need time for themselves. But I promise you that if I don't have a job by next week, which I will, but if I don't have a job next week or better yet if I get a vacation from that new job I'm gonna get I'll take you and Lewis to my field and we can watch the morning and the whole day and do nothing but play and have no worries. Deal?”
No answer came from Alvie, for he had fallen asleep long ago. Clark was glad his promise wasn't heard, because all they had gotten lately were promises that never happened, but the broken promises still gave them something to look forward to. Clark looked at Lewis who was still fast asleep and would stay so. He looked into the flame of the candle and thought hard until he couldn't think any more
The fireman had the flames out by about three A.M. They waited awhile before going in for the three little boys who had not made it out in time.