Alley - Chapter 1
“Hike up dem pants, boy,” a gravely voice from around the gravel alley blurted out.
“Dad! What you doin’ here? Why now? It’s a school day.”
“You love me that much, ehh?” he whispered to the nearest trash can.
Raising his volume, “Just sayin’ gotta look good now, won’t you, on this last day of fifth grade. I wanta see you. You done good boy, just hike up dem pants.”
I halted by the trash can, unbuckled, then rebuckled up one more hole. Felt like I was pulling the drawstring on a knapsack, except it didn’t close all the way. Almost all the way.
“So, you comin’ Dad? Comin’ to the assembly? It’s at 2:15.”
“I’ll be there. I’ll be there. I’ll be there.” Each time he murmured the phrase, each word seemed to go further and further into the distance.
Me? I’m Harris. Harrison M. Sturgeon, III. My grandfather was the one and only Junction button factory owner, way before I was alive. Never met him. He never held me. Made buttons, he did. Plain buttons, fancy buttons, army buttons, dainty buttons. I knew how to sort buttons since I was 18 months old. Or so my Dad used to say.
Momma made me oats that morning like every morning, but it felt special for two reasons. She sang the song she used to sing to me when I was a little one and eating them same oats - “Oats for you, oats for me, oats for the old man in the sea.” I can still hear it in my head, in her used-to-be voice.
She also made the oats special that day cause she sliced up strawberries and put them on top. I never used to get strawberries, but I did that morning. I felt like one lucky kid. Dad was coming to the assembly, Mom sang, and I got strawberries. This was going to be the best day ever.
Mom was my main person, when around. Dad, was my second-hand man. He knew me better, but had nowhere to live with me. He visited on the weekends, and Mom went off to do her job. Hair stylist she was, and she was good, or so the secretary at my school said. (I still can’t tell what’s a good hair style and what’s not.)
Well, like Dad said, I have done good in school. Opps, I have done well. (I still don’t get why that word is so important but Mr. Weaver liked it, and I liked Mr. Weaver.) Mr. Weaver was my fifth grade teacher at Junction Elementary School, also known as Munchkin Junction. Mr. Weaver walked real tall, like his bald head was ready to touch whatever clouds happen to be in the sky. He spoke low though, like a bassoon got into his throat.
Back to the first day of school, Momma put some gunk in my hair, and holy cow, I was not going to school with gunk in my hair. She giggled proudly, moving it off to one side then the other. Momma and giggles usually do not go together, so I didn’t say anything, put my empty oatmeal bowl into the sink, swung my school bag over my shoulder, and did the obligatory kiss on Momma’s cheek. I was headed into fifth grade, and I did not want to start with gunk in my hair.
First thought that came to my mind, “How was I going to get this out of my hair? A bathroom on the way? No bathrooms down the alley and onto Capital Blvd. Wait, what about over at 7-11?”
Sprinting over littered sidewalks, I skidded into 7-11’s parking lot, off my beaten track to school. Cool air rushed out at me as I opened the door, put on my “Bathroom Sign” vision glasses, and quickly, pretending I was a shadow, skirted around the aisles praying, “let the door be open, let the door be open,” and thank God, or whatever good fortune, it was open. Locked the door behind me, pushed the faucet on, and let the cold water collect in my hand, then whoosh up to my gummed up head, and again, and again. I don’t know how much really came out, but it felt a little less greasy. After yanking down the lever of the paper towel dispenser so many times it sounded like a train coming down the tracks, my hair was somewhat dry. My image in the mirror wasn’t what I was hoping for but it looked better than the shark my giggling Momma made me out to be that morning.
Back to my beaten track I ran, fast, because my 10 minute walk had to become a 5 minute run if I was to get to Munchkin Junction on time. The bell rang as I passed through the paint peeling columns, and I made it to the mob of 5th graders waiting on the teachers to call out the class lists.
“Harrison, Harrison Sturgeon,” the bassoon voice bellowed. I shuffled on over to Mr. Weaver, just now noticing how wet my new polo had become. Whispering I said, “Harry, sir, you can call me Harry.” The rest of that day is a blur now, and that’s okay.
Here’s what I know about Harrison Sturgeon I (the first). He was a big man, big belly and all. He wore suits with vests and you could see how the buttons were just managing to hang on. He liked buttons on everything. My grandmother was a seamstress, and they met behind the scenes off Broadway. I’ve been told she was sewing a button on King Lear’s royal coat when grandpa poked his nose in the costume shop asking how to get out of the building. But he stopped in mid-sentence when he saw grandma sewing a gold button on a red silk coat with gold embroidery. Grandpa collected special buttons in a jar. That became mine when I turned 10. It’s under my bed, wrapped in Grandpa’s old-fashioned knapsack.
Daddy was born way after the button factory started. He was a mistake, Grandma told him once. She never thought she could have children. Grandpa and Grandma were old, you know in their 40s. Before Daddy’s 10th birthday (I remember counting the candles in the photo, maybe he was 9 and there was a candle there for good luck), the button factory was doing great. Then the “button boom” happened when a giant factory went up in Portsmouth, producing buttons way faster, and even manufacturing a few fancy ones. Junction Button Factory was a done deal, there was nothing Grandpa could do about it. Some workers were mad at him, and their kids are still mad at Dad, even though he had nothing to do with the factory going up in Portsmouth. Some workers begrudgingly moved to Portsmouth.
Grandpa died three years after that disaster, and Grandma followed in his footsteps so to speak, a few years later. So where did Dad live his teenage years? He went to Aunt Bessy’s place, above a costume shop. Aunt Bessy, liked Grandma, was a seamstress. She was also a good baker and chain smoker. Dad once told me about how all his birthday cakes with her were made to look like buttons and he could pick which kind- fancy, army, dainty or plain. I once met Aunt Bessy. She was really old, and wrinkled, and smelly, but her eyes sparkled.
So back to fifth grade in the life of Harrison M. Sturgeon III. It was not only going to be a good first day, with Mom giggles, Dad blessings, and strawberries. It was going to be a good year.
(Note: In taking on the challenge of writing a short story for my creative piece, I bit off more than I could chew. This challenge was inspired by Stephen King. He said, “let the story come to you,” (or something to that effect). And surprisingly, I was able to experience the story flowing out of me. I was also able to experience how clips of my life, or friend’s and family’s, and stray observations play a part in letting the story writing flow. The actual story that flowed though, was way too big for this assignment, and therefore, you as my audience, will have to wait, hopefully in suspense, for the remaining chapters.)