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To Walk Humbly

To Walk Humbly was a runner-up in the New Rivers Press novel contest. It is pending publication from TouchPoint Press. Watch this space for publication date and availability.


Read the opening pages here ...




Chapter 1: Farmers Field


  I'm walking the dog in Farmers Field and this bunch of guys comes up. They're a couple years older, 16 or 17. They ask have I got the time. I look at my watch like a dummy instead of running but it's dark so I can't tell they're colored. Not that it should matter.


  I'm by myself except for the dog and it's almost 10 o'clock. Now they know I've got a watch too.


  I'm already a dummy to be out alone. Dad says Don't walk the dog in Farmers Field at night. It's the best place though. People yell when he craps on their lawns.


  One of the colored kids bumps into me. He says Oops but I know he's not  apologizing. I know I'm in trouble.


  Another bumps me on the other side a lot harder. A third one is down on the ground behind me, the old all-fours trick. The first guy pushes me and I go over backward. Good thing I had my hand behind my head. I could be dead.


  Then they're on top of me punching and kicking. There's four of them and they're a lot bigger than me. The dog is barking but they just laugh.


  They turn me on my stomach, grab the wallet and tear off the watch, then yank me up and say to empty my pockets. I'm thinking I've got about 35 cents on me but when I pull my pockets out, there's the silver thing.


  I squeeze my fist so tight the thing digs into my palm but it's too late, they see it. The first one twists my arm behind my back so high it feels like it'll break. Big bruiser with buck teeth. I shout out something stupid like It's my grandpa's but he just twists harder. I'm hoping he doesn't see me crying.


  I'm done for. What Dad said was Don't walk the dog in Farmers Field at night because of the colored.


  The bucktooth guy waves the thing in the air. The others say Bring it here Woodrow and someone lights a match. One of them, tall skinny kid, he sees it's silver. He lets out a whistle.


  "What's that on it?"


  "It's from the Bible."


  "What you mean Bible? It's some other language."


  His voice. I've heard it before.


  "It's Hebrew."


  "Ain't it the Jews killed Christ?" Jeez his voice is familiar.


  Then they start hitting again and yelling dirty Jew dirty Jew. The dog barks louder. It sounds like Jew! Jew! Jew!


* * *


  I shouldn't've had the silver thing with me in the first place. I should've given it to Grandpa the moment I found it and I would've but they were talking about him going to the hospital. He blacked out at the wheel, hit a tree in Jackson Park so they took him to Michael Reese. His car isn't in bad shape though. He might have to stop driving and give it to us. Mom'd have to learn how to drive.


  So this night we're at Grandpa and Grandma's. The grownups are busy talking and I'm poking in the couch cushions for something to do and I feel itmetal, sort of oval-shaped, too thick to be a coin. I'm not going to ask Dad to get up so I can look under the cushions, it's one of those conversations where they get mad if you interrupt. I just pull the thing out and stick it in my shirt pocket.


  I don't look at it. I don't need to. I've seen it a thousand times in my mind.


* * *


  We were at Grandma and Grandpa's that night four years ago too. Grandpa was telling stories, how his own grandpa the jeweler shaped this thing out of silver and carved tiny letters in Hebrew by hand. Grandpa reaches in his pocket to show us but it's not there. He starts tearing things apart, cussing and getting Grandma upset.  Then he says The colored kid stole it. That's why I went looking for Sass again, to warn him my grandpa was going to put him in jail unless we found the silver thing. We went to look for it but we got lost, wound up at Riverview Amusement Park, stayed out all night. Long story.


  Now I know why we never found it. It was in the couch cushions all along.


  Sass. His real name is Jesse, Jesse Owens Trimble, but they call him Sass on account of his smart mouth. He has an older brother too, Nubby. They look like brothers except for Nubby is tall and skinny and Sass is short. Well not short but you know. About my size.


  It was Nubby who tried to pick Grandpa's pocket. Nubby not Sass.


  I haven't seen Sass since then though. He just lives around the corner from Grandpa's movie theater, the Calumet, and his mom Mattie is cashier, but I haven't been back to the theater, not once since that night. Mom and Dad won't let me. They're afraid something'll happen like what happened four years ago. ...


* * *


  Beth doesn't see me stick the thing in my pocket. She'd've snitched if she did. I figure I'll tell Grandpa next day and he'll be so happy he'll give it to me on the spot, not wait till he dies. Which he's going in the hospital and what if he does?

Then I forget about it. The first time I get a real look is getting ready for bed. I set it on the night table and stare till I fall asleep.


  Grandpa says the writing is from the Old Testament, book of Micah. What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God. But it's too small to read even if I could read Hebrew which I can't. They don't teach Hebrew at Sinai Temple. You can't even be Bar Mitzvah at Sinai, only confirmed, that's how Reform it is. Rickie goes to Rodfei Zedek, very Conservative. His Bar Mitzvah went on so long I nearly peed in my pants. Rickie asks when I'll be Bar Mitzvah. I say I'm being confirmed. He asks what am I, some kind of Catholic? Very funny.


  How did his grandfather carve those letters so small? Must have been a pretty good jeweler. Real silver, soft enough to nick with your thumbnail. It has two nicks on the back already. Grandpa might have made one when he was a kid. The other maybe his own grandpa, the guy who made it, my great-great-grandpa. I don't even know his name.


  I press my thumbnail into the back. One nick for Grandpa, one for the guy back in Lithuania, now one for me. Maybe one for my own grandson some day. If I have one.


  That's what I was thinking as I fell asleep. It'll never happen now though. This time the thing is gone for good.


  Read more? Contact the author at frank@frankjoseph.com.