Lunch-Box Dream

Tony Abbott

Frances Foster Books

Thursday, June 11, 1959

LUNCH-BOX DREAM (Chapter One)Bobby

They called them chocolate men, Bobby and his brother.

You didn't see them on the East Side, high over Euclid, except once or twice a week and only early in the morning.

Where did they come from? There were no chocolate boys and girls in his school or at church. There were no chocolate ladies living in his neighborhood. There were no chocolate families at the park or the outdoor theater or the ball field. And yet the men came every week to his house.

That morning, as he lay on the grass by the sidewalk, Bobby heard them coming again.

First there was the roar and squeal of the big truck. That was far up the street. It was early, the time when the sun edged over the rooftops, but warm for the middle of June. Bobby was sharpening Popsicle sticks into little knives while his brother watched.

"Hurry up," Ricky said.

Or not, thought Bobby. You have to do this properly. To sharpen a stick correctly you scraped it slantways against the sidewalk seams, and it took a while. With each stroke, you drew the stick toward you or pushed it away from you in a curving motion, like a barber stropping his razor in a Western movie.

Bobby wanted a thin blade, and his cheek was right down there above the sidewalk, with one eye squeezed shut to focus on the motion of his hand. The concrete scratched his knuckles, whited his skin, but you had to do it that way. You needed to scrape the stick nearly flat against the sidewalk to give you the thinnest blade.

Bobby would use the knife for little things. It could be a tool, or a weapon in a soldier game; it might be used to carve modeling clay, or as a casually found stick that on the utterance of a secret phrase became a lost cutlass of legend; or as a makeshift sidearm for defense on the schoolyard; or as nothing much, a thing to stab trees with or to jab into the ground to unearth bugs and roots or to press against your pocketed palm as you walked through stores downtown.

If his mother found one, she tossed it away.

Or he suspected she did. He had seen his sticks snapped in half in the wastebasket and he didn't think his brother threw them there. It was Ricky who had taught him how to shape the knives, though he didn't make them himself anymore. And it wasn't their father, because he was hardly home these days.

"Hurry up," Ricky said.

"This one will be good," said Bobby, taking his time to get the sharpest edge. "Maybe my best."

The truck moved, then stopped, then moved and stopped closer. The boys looked up. They watched the chocolate men jump off the sides of the truck. The ash cans were loud when they scraped them over the sidewalk and into the street, dragging them with leathery hands. Their yelling was not like the sound of the brown men and women who sang and played pianos on television. They approached, crisscrossing the sidewalk.

"That's it," said Ricky. "I don't want to be here when they come. I'm going in."

Bobby scooped up his knives, and the two boys ran inside. Ricky, a year older, was faster. They pulled the living room drapes aside and through the big window saw their cans being scraped and lifted.

"That one guy's huge."

"Did you see that? He took both Downings' cans at the same time."

Thick bare brown arms raised and shook the cans, the truck swallowed the trash, the cans were swung back and set down, and the men were on to the next house and the next. The boys watched from the picture window until the men disappeared down Cliffview to wherever they had come from.

"Let's go out back," said Ricky.

"I want to watch TV," Bobby said.

"No, let's go out back. I have a tennis ball."

"Bring the cans into the carport, please," said their mother. "Then breakfast. I have something to tell you."

"In a minute, Mom," Ricky called. To Bobby he said: "Let's go out back first."

"Yeah, okay."

LUNCH-BOX DREAM Copyright © 2011 by Tony Abbott