2nd Prize Winner
The entrance to Mr. B’s driveway is marked by a raggedy log that buzzes with termites. Past a trio of overgrown crepe myrtles, a dingy “Second Amendment Gun Sanctuary” sign stands resolutely in the ground, announcing Mr. B’s allegiances without worry about what the neighbors think. Through the cluttered carport you can see a fleet of tired, overworked vehicles piled in the backyard. I once saw Mr. B driving one, a small white pickup, when it fell out of gear and rolled backwards down the street. Legend goes, years ago Mr. B was the groundskeeper and the owner willed him the house as a thank you for sneaking in bottles of whisky each week even though the man’s grown children forbade drinking.
My youngest son was in his second year of preschool when we moved into the house around the corner. The third child, he could already turn on the car ignition and light matches. Though we frequently repeated the parameters (“Do not go past so-and-so’s house, never across the street, and definitely do not go up that hill.”) he was constantly being outed by concerned moms who saw him racing past so-and-so’s house, straight across the street, and up that hill every chance he got. About this time, he also started to name his school art projects: “This spider is named Mr. B.” “This ship is called B.” “This family is called The Bs.”
One afternoon one of the mothers, whose teenage daughter dressed and sang as Sleeping Beauty at princess birthday parties, called to let me know she had just seen my son standing on a crate, stationed under the hood of one of Mr. B’s cars right alongside him. She shivered into the receiver, “You need to go and get him. He cannot be there. Not ever.”
I ran over to retrieve him and, back at home, stuck him straight in the bath. “Have you been hanging out at Mr. B’s? You know you aren’t supposed to leave this street,” I said, resting my forearms on the side of the tub. My son was all blue eyes and freckles when he said shamelessly, “Yes. But I was going to see Mr. B because he’s my friend.” He rattled off the things he learned on his visits, a blur of replacing alternator belts, changing fuel filters, and protecting fig trees from black crows. “He said that, if it’s okay with you, he will give me one of his pocketknives. Did you know that he has a pond with a 70-year-old fish in it? He plays the piano too.”
After we had stopped the futile ritual of placing limits on his travels, my son explained to us one night at the dinner table how he helped Mr. B pull a net over his fig trees. While holding the nylon steady, my son asked, “Mr. B, do you know how to fix everything?” To which Mr. B replied, “Buddy, the only thing I can’t fix is a broken heart.”