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The First Trick

While his parents took in a Broadway matinee and ate dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant, a romantic place, the boy child fought imaginary air battles against enemies of America. His parents had left him in the care of his recently widowed, paternal grandmother Catherine called Cate, a woman with a decidedly pessimistic outlook. By then Lenny stood about four feet and weighed about fifty pounds. He was full of childhood energy; his grandmother was not.

His parents held hands over glasses of Chianti and twirled pasta about the tines of their forks at Mama Mia’s. They were still freshly enough married to gaze at each with glowing, adoring eyes; they were still young enough to be handsome and beautiful and to believe in romance. They made toasts clinking their glasses to love eternal while their over-energized son was disobedient, a condition of his life.

He soared around his grandmother’s house like a fighter airplane. Zooming, making sounds he equated with a plane's decent, arms extended like aircraft wings, he ran from room to room, looping from the dining room, smashing into the flopping, swinging door into the kitchen. His dive-bomber dove as if to release a torpedo toward an enemy aircraft carrier. Machinegun sounds erupted from his lips while he passed around the polished dinner table of dark wood and through the living room where his grandmother knitted in the chair. He had learned such sounds from movies watched on television.

The boy rushed loudly up the steps to the second floor clomp clomp clomp and descended in a series of rushed, rattling footsteps. He returned into the kitchen, booming again through the reverberating swinging door.

"Lenny!" Cate (Catherine) (a woman who had taken all she could stand) said. "Stop that!"

At this moment, filled with a kind of majestic grace that made him feel that he could fly if he wanted to, soar like Superman around the large lamp hanging over the dining room table, or levitate up the stairs weightless to his bedroom, he ignored his grandmother and traveled the same annoying path. He felt like an asteroid orbiting the Earth, or maybe one about to smash into it.

Ascending and descending aircraft sounds, the hum of jet engines and the boom of exploding bombs, all loud, burst from his mouth, gurgled from his throat, whined out his nose.

I am a pilot, he thought, a kamikaze.

"Lenny, I said ‘stop that,’" Cate ordered in vain.

Mindless joy, ecstatic rush of dizziness, chortles of laughter, enjoyment, and disobedience, total disobedience; around and around he caromed, aware only of life and not yet convinced of death.

"Lenny, you stop that this minute or I am going away, and you will never see me again," she threatened.

Her oldest boy had died years before, the joy of her life, a good part of her, and she had raised two sons to adulthood, and now this alien she babysat and had never bore or asked for zipped about her house like he had four cups of coffee in him and refused to obey her, even acknowledge her. She had seen her husband fall ill, had listened to his death rattle, had recently buried him, had sat in her room weeping over Fred called Fritz - but this new child, to whom she had given so much, spun like a loud top through what should have been the tranquility of her mourning. She had enough grandchildren before Lenny, and she had certainly had enough of Lenny.

"I am telling you, Lenny, if you do not stop acting like a brat this very instant, I am going to leave you and never see you again."

He scarcely heard her, certainly didn't listen to her, while he enjoyed the flexibility of new muscles. Lithe and prancing, his annoyance became even greater to an elderly woman far from lithe, who had not pranced in several decades, might have been against prancing, and would certainly never prance again.

"You are going to fall and hurt yourself," she warned.

There was truth in this statement. He had fallen and hurt himself several times. He had smashed his head into the end of the table once, requiring stitches. He had tumbled down the basement steps also, falling hard on the cement floor, requiring more stitches in his head. A young girl, who Lenny had teased, had hit him in the head really hard, not with her hand, but with an iron ring on a playground, blood spurting and running into his eyes, the first of many blows to come from women, the easier ones requiring stitches. He had a lot of stitches in his head and would have more. Yes, it was true he might hurt himself, but it didn't matter, for at this moment he was invincible.

And while he was running, spiraling, twisting, and diving like a comet of extinction plummeting toward the earth, passing through the kitchen door again bang bang, and up and down the steps thump thump thump, he became gradually aware of dead stillness in the house and the absence of his knitting grandmother from her chair. She left so quietly he had not heard the door close.

He continued to zip a few more revolutions around the house, gradually losing his joy and boundless enthusiasm, for great acts require a witness, and he had none.

He thought Grandmother Cate probably was not really going anywhere and would return soon. Maybe she was hiding outside around the corner or in the backyard.

The rapidity of his trips slowed until he was almost stopped, like a rundown, mechanical alarm clock, the hands uncertain toward what hour and minute to point.

He went to the windows and looked outside to the front street. Cars continued down the broad avenue in both directions. Sunshine poured from a cloudless sky and flashed from the windshield of passing cars. There was no sign of his grandmother in her blue checked dress with her gray hair in a bun.

Through the back windows, he looked into the small fenced yard where vegetables (squash, corn, tomatoes) grew in three well-kept rows. A mockingbird perched on the straw-stuffed scarecrow. Butterflies fluttered over the garden amid bright flowers.

She was gone. He couldn't believe it. He began to worry. Where was his grandmother? More importantly, what would happen to him? For one thing, he would feel tremendously guilty if his grandmother really left her home because of his misbehavior and was never seen again. That would be awful. He would go to hell, wouldn't he?

His parents would ask: Where was his Grandmother Cate? What if he told his parents that he had driven her away by being bad? Or what if he didn't tell them anything, then she came back and told his parents later that she had left because of him? Or if months went by and his parents got a letter from Cate, wandering the country, writing that Lenny had driven her away by being so bad?

He sat under the table in the dining room. It seemed like a good place to take shelter. Better than under the house, where his father found Lenny hiding after his grandfather had the stroke.

Clocks were ticking, making the only sounds in the house. A large, grandfather clock ticked loudly in the dining room. This clock had a carved wooden bird that flew out every hour and crowed. That clock chimed every quarter hour. Other clocks were ticking in the kitchen and upstairs. Some clocks had rundown and stopped the day his grandfather died, and his grandmother had not rewound them. His grandfather took violently ill in a manner resembling the cuckoo coming out of the door of the clock.

Fritz (“Pop”) suddenly stood at the dinner table, throwing his body forward onto his meal. His eyes were strange. Incoherent sounds came from his throat. He flailed with his right arm and could not move the other. Lenny’s grandmother screamed. Lenny’s father cried out, "Pop!" His mother ran to the telephone and called for help, while his father carried his grandfather from the table to the couch where Catherine wiped the food off his grandfather's clothes.

Crouched under the table and waiting for Cate to return, Lenny began to cry. His grandfather was dead, Lenny had been very bad, and now he had lost his grandmother too.

Cate found him crying under the table when she returned after spending time visiting Mr. and Mrs. Krause, the neighbors next door who could grow larger, juicier tomatoes than Cate, and watermelons to boot. Lenny hugged his grandmother with relief, held onto her and said he was sorry over and over.

Then he got it. This was a trick. It was like with his grandfather. Pop was not really dead. He was not in the ground. There wasn't any death. The great heavy sadness left Lenny for his grandfather was hiding somewhere and would be home soon, just like his grandmother Kate had come home from hiding.

Life was full of tricks, and Lenny must learn them. Lenny felt better, eternal, immortal.

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