Bob White ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
The fat woman sat on a bench to rest before walking the rest of the way home. In a moment a little boy ran by, a streak in a red-and-white shirt. When he did it the second time, the fat woman grabbed onto his little bird-like arm and held him.
“Where you goin’ to, boy, in such a hurry?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Let me go.”
She had forgotten that children run just for the sake of running and don’t need a reason.
“Where’s your mama?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You shouldn’t be out here on the street all by yourself. You might get kidnapped or run over by a car.”
“No, I won’t! Let me go!”
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Mrs. Tinser. Mary Tinser.”
“Why don’t you sit down beside me on the bench here, Bob? You’re all hot.”
He climbed onto the bench and leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
“How old are you, Bob?” she asked.
“You look small for eight.”
“How old are you?”
“You should never ask a lady her age, Bob.”
“You asked me.”
“That’s different. You’re young. When you’re young, you don’t ever mind divulging your age. It’s only after you get much older that it becomes a secret.”
“I have to go now.”
“I don’t know. I was playing with a couple of other kids but they ran off somewhere.”
“Would you like to come home with me, Bob?”
“To my home. Where I live.”
“Where is that?”
“It’s two blocks down that way; then you turn left down there where those trees are and go two blocks the other way.”
“I don’t want to get lost.”
“You won’t get lost.”
“All right, then,” he said. “I’ll go.”
She wanted to take his hand when they were walking on the street because he was so little, but she was sure he wouldn’t like it. When they came to her building, they went down some steps to get to where she lived.
“I haven’t ever seen a place like this before,” he said as he walked inside.
“Do you like it?”
It was dark and cool in the apartment, but she opened some window shades and soon the room was flooded with cheerful light.
“I like it,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind living here.”
“Where do you live?”
“Oh, I don’t remember the address.”
“I didn’t mean the address.”
“I live with my mother and my sister on the third floor in a building not far from where I go to school.”
“Oh, that must be nice.”
“I should probably go now,” he said.
“But you just got here.”
“I know, but…”
“Are you hungry, Bob? Would you like it if I fixed you a sandwich?”
She took Bob White into the kitchen and sat him down at her little white table for two against the wall. Sitting all the way back in the chair, his feet were a long way off the floor.
“Is your husband at home?” he asked.
“He died.” she said.
“What was the matter with him?”
“He got sick and he died.”
She took a slice of white bread and slathered it with peanut butter, added a layer of strawberry jam to the peanut butter and slapped another piece of bread over it. She put the sandwich on a little plate and carried it over to the table.
She watched him as he took the first couple of bites. “Would you like a Coke?” she asked.
“I don’t have any milk.”
“I don’t like it, anyway.”
She took a bottle of Coke out of the refrigerator and placed it on the table in front of him.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you to say ‘thank you’?” she asked.
He looked at her sheepishly and grinned. “Thank you,” he said.
She sat down in the other chair at the table and watched him as he ate and drank.
“A long time ago I had a little boy a lot like you,” she said.
“What was his name?”
“What happened to him?”
“He grew up and left me.”
“Where is he now?”
“I wish I knew, Bob.”
“Did he die, too?”
“Not that I know of.”
“At school they always tell us not to talk to strangers,” he said.
“That’s a good policy, but I would never hurt you.”
“I know. I’d better not tell my mother I was here, though. She wouldn’t like it.”
“Whatever you think is best,” she said.
After he finished eating, they went back to the front part of the apartment. She sat on the couch and he sat beside her.
“Do you know you have the name of a bird?” she asked.
“No. What do you mean?”
“A bird called the bobwhite. There aren’t any in the city, but I grew up in the country and we had lots of them there. It’s a pretty brown bird, but you hear them more than you see them. In the evening they call to each other and it sounds like they’re saying ‘bobwhite, bobwhite, bobwhite’. That’s how they get their name.”
“I’d like to hear one of them sometime,” he said.
“You’d feel right at home.”
He leaned into her, into her soft, warm flesh, and she draped her right arm over him, touching him lightly along the shoulder.
“Tell me a story,” he said.
“I’m not good at telling stories,” she said, “but I’ll sing you a song.”
In her soft, quavering soprano voice, she began to sing:
“When the red, red robin
There’ll be no more sobbin’
When he starts throbbin’
His old sweet song.
“Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head!
Get up, get up, get out o’ bed
Cheer up, cheer up, the sun is red,
Live, love, laugh and be happy!”
“Sing some more,” he said.
“I’m just a kid again,
Doin’ what I did again,
Singin’ a song,
When the red, red robin
By the time she finished the next verse, he was asleep. With her left hand she reached for a pillow and put it behind her head. In a couple of minutes she was also asleep. With her good ear pressed into the pillow, she didn’t hear the knocks on the door. Or maybe she heard them, but if she did she chose to ignore them.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp