Evan’s Literary Interests At Age Thirteen

by Mark BROWN
 

Evan jerked the handle to knock off the rust that bound the two pieces of the latch. He lifted the corrugated aluminum door and saw a daddy long legs scurry to a hole between two of the limestone blocks that lined the stairway underneath his grandparent’s farmhouse. He’d seen a garter snake slipping its way across the packed earth floor when he was six, and seven years later he was still apprehensive. His Grandma’d found a blacksnake sleeping on the sunny side of the cucumber patch in the garden just last week. She always carried a hoe with her, and used it to cleave the snake’s head from its trunk. With a dull clank Evan lowered the door to the iron stop hammered into the ground.

He stepped down and lifted his hand toward the floor joists inches above. Soon he’d be able to touch them standing-height, he thought — just another year or two. His hand tore through a cobweb and he pulled it back with fear. He wished he’d swiped Jack’s lighter from the secret pocket inside his backpack. Jack didn’t know he was onto his smoking, and Evan knew he’d never ask about the lighter since they’d made a blood pact when their dad died to never touch cigarettes. Evan jammed his right hand into his pocket, the denim pulling the flaxen thread off as he freed his hand from his Levis. He reached blindly again and felt dusty glass roll past his fingernails. He’d knocked the light swinging. He stood and waited for its pendulum arc to slow, then found the chain to switch it on.

It’d been since last summer since he’d been in the cellar, when Jack showed him his treasure. That was probably the last time anybody’d been in there, he figured. Evan read the labels on the Mason jars of picked beets and cauliflower, penned in his Grandma’s shaky script; they were all at least five years old. His Grandpa’s oak drafting table was in the corner by a two-wheeled tricycle. Evan walked over to the desk and picked up one of the Bakelite lead holders. He pressed the release button and a rod of 2-millimeter graphite slid out and fell to the floor. Evan slid open the glass door shielding a German-made compass. He pulled his shirt up and over his head so his belly was exposed but the t-shirt was still wrapped ‘round his neck. He drew a few faint circles on his torso then laid the compass on the table. The best instrument he owned, his Gradpa’d told him.

Evan scanned the bottom row of shelves until he spotted the Charmin toilet paper box. Its comparatively dust-free corners would’ve clued any careful observer to his and Jack’s pilgrimages the previous summer. He slid the box from the shelf and plume of dirt wafted into the dank air. With dainty attention Evan lifted the layers of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books out of the box and stacked them in four small piles. Two hours, he thought — it’d take his family two hours to get to the Indianola Wal-Mart and back. Probably an hour to shop on top of that, he gloated, so closer to three. With the care of an archaeologist he peeled back the cover of the June ‘66 issue, then flipped for the centerfold.

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