Haute Cuisine via the Alabaster Fortress

Willy ran toward the park. Each stride contested by the cold blustery January wind. It was already bitingly frigid and dark had not yet fallen. He had been afraid that he would not be able to arrive while there was still some daylight. His Mom had made him help his Aunt clean out her attic. It had taken forever, at least half the day. By the time they had gotten home and he had cleaned his own room the winter light was already dimming.

Worst of all he had not gotten paid anything! His Aunt said that hard work built character. Maybe so, but it sure did not buy candy. Worse still she had put up the candy dish she usually kept in the foyer. To be fair they had stopped at the diner on the way home and she had bought him a hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream. He had hauled a lot of old trash out to the bins. Even in the sun it had been chilly. The hot chocolate had tasted like a dream, hot and sweet and chocolaty and creamy. His Aunt and Mom had laughed at him as he took the last sip, cooler than all the rest, the one where the extra chocolate settles thickly in the bottom of the cup that you had to turn all the way up to the sky to get out. His Mom fussing with the napkin afterward to wipe off his mouth had made it almost not worth it, but only almost.

He wanted to get to the park before dark. His Mom did not like him out after sunset. She liked him inside so early only marginally less though. Something about too much candy and bouncing off the walls. More importantly right now though was that the park had far more dog walkers while the sun was still up. Especially on Saturday. And dog walkers were Willy’s chief source of income. Willy had discovered that quite a few people found cleaning up after their pets disgusting. Some smaller percentage of those found it disgusting enough that they were willing to part with a nominal amount of cash to have someone else do the cleaning.

Willy’s Mom approved of his efforts. Besides her hair, eyes, and chin she shared with her sister annoying notions regarding cleanliness and character building. Pooper scooper for hire was one of those character building tasks. Come to think of it the cleanliness bit applied here as well. However, it was one that Willy could tolerate much more willingly than most. It could be tedious and yes, it was possible to gross out an eleven year old boy, but the results were worth it: candy. And in the pantheon of Willy’s gods candy was pretty much Zeus, Odin, and Jupiter all rolled into one.

Willy broke out into the park and sighed with disappointment. Today would be tough. It was cold and few people were out. He tucked his chin in his jacket to guard against the wind and headed for the nearest six legged pair. It was a numbers game and he did not let the rejection get him down. All they could do was say, “No”. After all, his Mom said “No” to him all the time. He still had all of his fingers and toes and eventually a request would elicit a “Yes”. Willy figured the same principal applied to a man and his dog. Or woman.

Almost an hour later Willy had exhausted all of his prospects. As cold as it was there had been few people out. Willy had only found four willing to part with their cash for his services and they had been none too generous. His take totaled only $4.75. He could get one chocolate bar and a pack of gum, but it would be mostly hard candy this week. Oh,well. It was easier to get away with eating that in class any way.

It was past dark and Willy decided that he had better start back home. He headed toward the fountain. The small detour would not extend his trek by much. The park was his favorite place to hang out and in the park there was no place he loved more than the fountain. Last summer had been a scorcher and Willy had almost lived in the fountain. So had most of his friends. His Mom had said that if he spent any more time there he would have to start paying rent. Not tonight. Willy had not realized just how cold it had been.

There was a rime of ice over much of the fountain. The freezing spray had turned the familiar cavorting figures into fairytale creatures. Willy laughed. The sly dolphin’s fins had transformed into drooping ice wings. The beautiful merwoman was sporting a long ice beard. The other figures were altered in similar fantastical ways. Willy’s favorite was the fierce merman’s ice skirt. It was more modest than his accustomed conch shell and far more fun. The night time lights made the ice sparkle and glitter like a fairy’s wings. Willy circled the fountain twice and then set off at a trot for home.

He had only gotten a block when he stopped as though slamming into an invisible wall. The delectable aroma of grease, frying beef, and steaming onions formed an impenetrable barrier to his progress. His stomach, quiescent for the last two hours, rumbled to life with seismic ferocity. Saliva threatened to drown him. Unconsciously Willy felt the pocket holding his hard earned cash.

He was suddenly aware of how cold his feet were and the wind swirling around his ankles. If his feet had not frozen off his Mom was going to kill him for going out in only tennis shoes in this cold. And if Juan had been around he probably would have made a less than charitable comment about Willy’s cords and his preparation for a flood. Willy shrugged. He had grown another inch since Thanksgiving and his Mom had let the pants out as far as they would go. Willy almost debated with himself for a moment. But free will had deserted him from that first whiff. Cold and the biological imperative of a growing child drove thoughts of candy out of his mind and replaced them with an overriding compulsion: burgers.

Six minutes later Willy resumed his journey. In his left hand he clutched the top of a sack rolled tightly closed against the depredations of the cold wind. In his right he held one of the marvels of modern society: a slider, with extra pickles. Then he held only a half. And then his hand was empty, but his stomach was not and he had four more in the sack. His impetuous acquisition had set him back severely. He had only enough change for a few of pieces of hard candy. And that was probably with the generous application of the have-a-penny-give-a-penny, need-a-penny-take-a-penny tray at Ahmed’s. He did not regret it a bit.

Willy moved further toward the curb as he approached the next alley. He was glad he had done so because he was assaulted by a raucous clatter as he drew even with it. He stopped and looked in warily. The streetlights provided plenty of illumination, but it still took a moment for him to make out a figure digging into the dumpster. It was Smelly Frank. Willy walked a little closer to the alley.

Smelly Frank was a little off. Hey, he was a lot off. He talked to people that were not there and made airplane noises like a five year old. He waved his arms around and yelled gibberish. And he most definitely avoided the shelters. If he was digging in the dumpster he was hungry. Willy knew in the bitter cold that hungry was not good. He looked down at his sack of burgers and then back at Frank. It really was not too tough of a decision.

Compassion does live in the hearts of children. Unfortunately, in the case of little boys its roommate is recalcitrance and its landlord is mischief. Willy’s rent was always paid up in advance. He shifted the bag to his right hand and wound up. Rollie Fingers had never thrown a better slider. The sack hit Smelly Frank right in the side of the head. He turned and looked at Willy, his mouth frozen in an “O” of surprise. Willy doubled over laughing as Smelly Frank launched into an amazingly creative tirade. He turned and skedaddled for home. Smelly Frank would check out the sack soon enough. Willy had accomplished his objective and was pretty sure that he had learned a new word. He did not know what it meant, but he was sure that neither his Mother nor Aunt would approve of it.

Willy pondered his day as he made his way up the steps to his apartment. He frowned. Smelly Frank would never stop being hungry. Then he smiled. That was o.k. He was pretty sure the dogs in the park would never stop pooping.


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