Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
It was just little things.
Kicking the newspaper under his rarely-moved car so that he'd be out there in the morning — a crickety old man — lying on his driveway, a rake or broom coaxing the rolled daily out from under.
Or sneaking out of our homes the night before the garbage service was scheduled so we could knock his trashcan down. We knew the truck would bypass his overturned bin. Steve, Tanner and I would ride our bikes innocently by on the way to school as he limped across his yard, picking up the trash, scattered.
Out of his sight, we'd laugh at the thought of two weeks worth piled high — just waiting for us to knock it down. Again. And then there'd be another week's worth. . .
Three weeks was the highest we ever got to. Mr. Peters complained to my father about some neighborhood "rascals" bothering him. Dad offered to cart the garbage to the city dump and volunteered me to help. If Dad suspected I had anything to do with it, he never said a word and I wasn't confessing. Still, I refused to let the guys tumble his trash bin again.
For awhile, we laid off Mr. Peters; busy with soccer, homework, band, the science club.
One Saturday, early morning, Steve rode his bike over to my house and we were outside, talking, before we rode out to the park. Tanner was out walking his family dog and the three of us stood in the space where the sidewalk changes from my family's to Mr. Peters,' joking around.
A car drove up, the name of some pharmacy printed on the door. A tall, skinny guy with a hurried look on his face got out and walked toward us. "Is this 525 Cedar Lane?"
"Yeah," I said.
He looked at a clipboard in his hands. "A Mr. Peters live here?"
"Yeah," Tanner said. "My granddad."
Steve and I looked at each other wide-eyed, and then we stared at Tanner. He grinned back at us.
"So what do you need?" Tanner continued. "Cause he's resting and you're not gonna bother him."
The guy shot Tanner a look. "Look, Punk, he called us, okay?" He shoved the clipboard at Tanner. "Sign on seven," he said. "And hurry up 'cause this isn't the only delivery I've got."
Tanner took the pen offered him and scribbled something across the line. He exchanged the pen for a white paper bag, top folded and stapled shut.
Without another word, the delivery guy got in the car. We busted out laughing as the car peeled off. Then we stared at the bag in Tanner's hand, eyeing it like some buried treasure found.
We were silent for awhile, then Steve said, "So you gonna take it to him?"
Tanner screwed up his face. "No." He tossed the bag to me. "Give it to him later," he suggested. "See ya," he said as he and his dog continued down the street.
"We gotta go too," Steve told me.
I held the bag out to him.
Steve shrugged. He suggested I hide it under the hedge in Mr. Peters yard, and he stood lookout as I did.
As I darted back across the lawn, Steve said, "Race you there," throwing his leg over his ten-speed.
I laughed as I righted my bike. "Beat you there," I told him, as I hopped on and sped off down the street. Mr. Peters slipped our minds before we even reached the end of the block.
After the park, we went to Sam Goody's to check out the latest CD by The Sheriffs; had a pizza eating contest at A Slice O' It and then we headed home, just around five.
"Hey, Man, look —" Steve told me.
Down the street, red lights spun in the air. At my house, neighbors stood in the street; a fire truck, an ambulance, police cars in the background.
I dropped my bike and tore off running, though my legs felt floppy. "Mom! Dad! Mom!" I screamed the whole way. As I neared home, my mother stepped out of the crowd and I flung myself in her arms.
"Are you okay? Where's Dad? Did something happen to Dad?" The words gushed from my mouth.
My mother smoothed my hair back. "We're okay, Kevin. It's Mr. Peters. His wife, really."
"His wife?" I asked. "Something happened to his wife?"
"Yes, Kevin," she said. "Now hush." Her attention turned from me.
Minutes later my dad came out of our neighbor's house. He found Mom and began explaining. "The pharmacy swears the medicine was delivered," he said.
My eyes zoomed in on the package under the hedge, though I kept my ears close to my father's words.
". . . a severe stoke. . . aren't sure if she'll pull through.. ."
Whose name had Tanner signed? I wondered. I backed up into the crowd, and from behind, I slipped across our lawn.
I glanced over my shoulder as a stretcher was wheeled down the walk to the waiting ambulance. Mr. Peters limped behind. My dad joined him and put his arm around the old man's shoulders. I turned the doorknob and pushed the front door open as I heard the ambulance doors slam shut.
In my bedroom, I stood by my window and looked out across the way, into the Peters' backyard.
I dropped my head. I could feel the glass pane throb with the pounding of my heart. In the distance, I thought I heard the wail of the ambulance crying out its departure, but listening closer, I decided it sounded too human to be. Too much in pain to be.
Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a fiction writer and poet. Her work has
appeared in various online and print journals as well as several
anthologies. Visit her blog at http://www.gwennotes.blogspot.com.
"Too Human" was previously published in Las Cruces Poets & Writers, 2004. __________________________________________________________