Note: This post is part of a series of stories about a boy. Find the rest and other writing by browsing the “writing” category. Feel free to drop a comment and let me know if you liked it, or how it can be improved.
Gaylord had just walked around the corner of the garage when he was confronted by his mother.
“What were you doing back there?”
The boy had two options: tell the truth, or lie.
Behind the garage was a narrow path, an even narrower patch of grass with bushes, and a pile of logs. During the day, the heat from the sun warmed up the logs and radiated off the garage. It was a good place to pass the time. Gaylord had been eating an apple danish while watching ants swarm around fallen crumbs. The pastry was from his grandfather’s secret stash in the kitchen cabinet, behind a basket of budding sweet potatoes. This wasn’t the first time he had stolen one, and his grandfather speculated that about half his GODDAMN APPLE DANISHES ended up missing. Gaylord was skeptical of this number. Ten squashed and sorry-looking danishes lined each plastic tray. Even in a gluttonous week, he didn’t eat more than five. His grandfather was losing his mind.
Put on the spot between the moral implications of lying and the incriminating truth, Gaylord spurted out a weird mix of the two.
“I, I was eating ants.”
Obviously Gaylord’s mother wasn’t buying it.
“Oh really? Then why did you Grandpa interrupt my work this morning with ‘WHERE ARE MY SIX GODDAMN APPLE DANISHES?’ According to him, they were all there last night, and now they’re gone. Are you sure that those ants weren’t actually puff pastries with apple topping? That would certainly taste more delicious than ants.”
“Jeez, is this guy taking inventory every hour?” Gaylord pondered. He twisted the tip of his shoe into the ground.
“Oh I agree. Ants probably, I mean do, taste horrible compared to goddamn apple danishes,” he said.
“I mean, not that I’ve had an apple danish recently. Seems that there used to be a lot around here, but someone stopped buying them.”
Gaylord’s mother rolled her eyes.
Until last year, there were plenty of danishes in the household. Gaylord feasted on them. No matter where they were hid, he seemed to have some Danish sense about finding them. She’d leave the room and come back to find the boy with a half-eaten danish in his mouth and another ready in his hand. Day and all night, this eating machine prowled. Crumbs covered the floor, apple residue clung to the doorknobs, and the cupboards looked like they’d been ransacked by the FBI.
Gaylord knew why there weren’t any more official danishes in the house. A sleepless night a year earlier, he wandering towards the kitchen in search of apple danishes. The boy stopped at the doorway; his parents were fighting. Most of their fights were related to money, but this fight was about apple danishes.
“I fear that if we cut off the supply of apple danishes completely, he’s going to wander off into the neighborhood to find some. And where do you think he’ll go? He knows that I buy them at Stensons. Can you imagine him trying to get to Stensons on foot, he’ll get run over. And I don’t want to even think about what happened in the alley!”
His mother was crying.
“It’s okay. No need to worry about that. It’ll be okay. But we don’t have the money to buy so many apple danishes. The way things are going, I don’t even know if I going to have a job next month. And even if we could afford it, it’s not healthy for him.” His father’s voice was calming but sad. He always seemed to be on the verge of losing his job.
That night in the kitchen, a plan was hatched. Gaylord heard it all. His grandfather would still get a steady supply of apple danishes. With all his medical problems, the old man needed a simple pleasure. Plus, his mother reminded, he was letting them live in the house for free. If Gaylord found this stash, which he most certainly would, his mother would secretly replace the missing danishes before anyone noticed. Gaylord’s mother hoped that the fear of getting caught would curb her son’s insatiable appetite. His mother would have to store a sizable buffer of danishes somewhere, as she didn’t have time to run to the store every day to buy more. Gaylord’s snuck back to bed as his parents rattled off possible hiding places.
“Mom, did you hear those weird sounds again last night?”
“It sounded like someone was digging a hole behind the garage.”
“It did?” His mother looked at the pathway.
“Yeah. There’s a big hole by the bushes today and the gate to the alley is broken.”
Mother and son went to investigate. Behind the bushes was a roughly dug hole. Dirt was everywhere. Beside the hole, a large tupperware container was upside down and torn open. Spilt crumbs attracted ants. The wooden gate was fine, but the metal latch had been broken off.
Gaylord’s mother looked at the hole with annoyance.
“You didn’t do this?”
Gaylord nodded no.
“Do you know what was inside that container?”
Gaylord knelt and picked up the tupperware. He sniffed it. The strongest smell was of dirt, then saliva. But there was also a faint smell of apples. Gaylord was perplexed.
“Smells like danishes. But who would bury them in the yard?”
His mother turned her attention to the gate.
“Wait here a second, I’m going to go find some screws to fix that thing.”
She went into the house and came back a few minutes later with rope. She couldn’t find any screws and the drill battery was dead. Gaylord helped her tie the gate closed. The fibers on the old rope were scratchy.
“Gaylord, will you be okay alone for a while? I need to go pick up some groceries before your dad and grandpa get home from the doctor.”
Gaylord nodded yes.
His mother ran to the house to get her car keys, backed the station wagon into the street, and waved goodbye.
All alone, Gaylord watched as the late afternoon light turned red and low. More and more of the backyard became shadow and the house started to creak as it cooled off for the night. The bushes and trees blended together into chaotic blackness. A bare bulb above the garage illuminated some putty-colored plastic trash cans. When the garbage was full, his dad would lug them to the alley.
Gaylord looked at the wooden fence. The boards were tall and tightly packed together, so it was impossible to see the alley except for looking through some of the knot holes. The lamp light in the alley was bright, and it shined through the holes likes stars in outer space.
“I could sure go for an apple danish right now,” the boy sighed.
The family used to have a lot of parties in that yard. Birthdays mainly. There were friends, pinatas, cake, lots of food and games. When he was younger, his father would rent a temperamental film projector to play movies on the side of the garage. The cartoons were a weird variety of whatever the company had, but they created vivid memories of dogs driving cars, coyotes getting injured, and other slapstick. Something about watching cartoons outside made them better.
There hadn’t been a party in a while and the yard seemed sad. His father had started repainting the garage last weekend, but hadn’t finished. Some paint cans and a screwdriver were in a pile next to the door.
Something in the alley had stepped on a twig.
Footsteps crunched lightly on the gravel behind the wooden fence. The stars twinkled as it passed. Whatever it was moved cautiously, stopping as if spooked by its own noise. Gaylord’s heart raced. Was that old rope stronger than a metal latch?
Sneaking quietly towards the garage, he grabbed the screw driver and slipped into the darkness around the corner. The narrow space smelled strongly of dirt. It was quiet. Except something wasn’t right. Gaylord knew the gate had a big knot hole, but he couldn’t see it.
Tightening his grip on the screwdriver, he snuck as quietly as he could amongst the shadows to the fence. Someone was trying to be quiet on other side of the gate. He could hear breathing through the knot hole.
“You’ve had enough!” Gaylord screamed.
Gaylord jabbed the screwdriver through the hole with full force and it sunk into something juicy. Clear, warm liquid squirted onto his hand. Whatever was behind the gate thrashed around and the tool flailed wildly, making hollow plunks against the wood. Then it slipped through the hole and into the alley.
Gaylord stood still and listened to the interloper moan and stagger into a chain link fence. It screamed in rage and thrashed against the fence before it pulled itself up and continued down the alley. Footsteps faded into the night.
Gaylord tugged on the rope holding the gate closed. It was sturdy. He turned and ran to the house. Only the kitchen light was on. From inside, the backyard looked pitch black. Gaylord went to every room and turned on the lights, making sure that each door and window was locked. His mother still wasn’t back from the store and in the cabinet, behind the basket of sweet potatoes, there were no goddamn apple danishes.