August 14th, 1959 was a momentous day for seven-year-old Dickie Mulroney; that morning he lost his first ever tooth and later, a man fell from the sky.
Dickie sighed as he slapped the sponge on the truck’s side. His shoulders ached from scrubbing the buildup of dust and squashed flies. He wished he were with his cousins right now, tossing burned out light bulbs into the old quarry, but his father had instructed him to wash the truck until it gleamed. “You’re not a boy anymore, Dickie,” his father told him after his baby tooth fell out at breakfast. “If you want your grown up tooth to come in, then you have to follow orders like a grown man. And if not..." his father shrugged, "then I hope you like liquid food." So Dickie told his cousins he could not join them and had watched the whooping boys bike towards adventure while he dragged the bucket to the driveway.
Dickie poked the new gap in his smile with his tongue. The tip prodded the slick gum, searching for signs of erupting bone. Nothing yet.
He was rubbing at a particularly sticky substance under the door handle when, from a distant field, there came an earsplitting BOOM!
Dickie dropped to the ground and shimmied through a puddle of sudsy water, worming his way under the truck. It was the Russians, probably dropping an Atom Bomb. He peered from behind a wheel and spotted a black speck in the sky. He wondered, if when the bomb landed in the corn fields, the air would be full of popcorn. The speck grew into a dot which grew into a mass which ended its rapid downward arc with a thwop thirty feet from the truck.
He braced himself for impact, but the explosion didn’t come. Slowly, Dickie army-crawled from under the truck. He cautiously proceeded, his elbows inching him closer to the bomb. Except it wasn’t a bomb. It was a man, wearing a skin-tight white suit adorned with fringe and blue stars and a helmet with an American flag painted on the side. Probably not a Commie. He looked like a cowboy mixed with patriotic bunting.
The man had landed face down on a metal spike Dickie’s father had hammered into the ground to mark the spot of the future well. Four inches of the spike protruded from his back. Dickie wiggled closer, his heart skittering like a hare in a hawk’s shadow.
“Hello?” he called.
The man screamed.
Dickie scrambled away, his legs shooting in front of him and crab walking backwards, screaming all the while. The two screams leapfrogged over each other, growing in volume.
Dickie’s father burst from the kitchen. “What? What?” he shouted.
Dickie pointed, still screaming, to the man skewered on the metal post. His father's subsequent scream took the bass harmony of the trio.
Eventually, the man’s screaming petered out and Dickie’s father grew quiet. Dickie’s operatic squeal was alone in the August heat. His gaze ricocheted between his father and the man, both now stoically silent, and, feeling foolish, he shut his maw.
“Excuse me.” The man’s voice was muffled, his face in the dirt. He couldn’t lift his head. “I seem to be impaled.”
Dickie’s father and the man discussed scientific matters like “pulling me up,” and “gonna bleed like a pig.” Dickie tried to follow along but his mind drifted towards what eating radioactive popcorn would be like. Probably like having a warm brain freeze.
He snapped to attention.
“I’m going into town to get Doctor Clifton. You stay right here beside this man and don’t touch him! You hear, boy?”
"Yessir,” said Dickie. “But… can’t you take him?”
His father loomed over him. “If I move him off this stake, he’ll leak out like a split tomato.”
Dickie’s eyes grew wide. His chin wobbled.
“Time to be a man, Dickie.” His father jabbed at the air next to the man. “Right here! Don’t move. Alright? Alright.” He sprinted to the truck. He sped backwards down the driveway and whipped the truck onto the dirt road. “Split tomato!” he yelled in parting.
Dickie watched the truck grow smaller and smaller. He didn’t have a chance to wash the soap off the sides and now it would dry all streaky. His father would be cross.
Dickie sunk to the ground. He looked at the man, at the circle of red surrounding the spike poking through the white suit. He hugged his knees.
“So, Dickie, is it?” The man’s hand skittered in the dirt like a fleshy spider, blindly searching for Dickie. Dickie scooted his butt backwards to the edge of what his father had declared as "right here.”
The hand gave up the search. “So, I guess you’re stuck with me, huh? And I’m just stuck.” The man paused. “My name is Stew, short for Stewart, perfect for dinner. Say, how old are you, Dick?”
“Shit. How long do you think before your Pops gets back with this doctor?”
Dickie glanced at the road cutting through the forest of corn. It was empty. "Probably an hour. Maybe two.”
“Double shit. Shit on Hitler’s head.”
Dickie giggled then wished he had gone to the bathroom before he had taken up his vigil. He looked at the post. “Does it hurt?”
“Not really. Honestly, I don’t feel it much at all.”
“Well, that’s good!” he chirped.
“Are you an angel?” he asked.
“An angel?” Stew chuckled which turned into a cough and a moan.
“You fell from the sky.” Dickie squinted. “Are you Lucifer? He fell.”
“Nope, not Lucifer.”
Dickie wondered if the helmet was covering horns.
“I’m not Lucifer. Why would Lucifer be falling from the sky? Didn’t you say he already fell?”
Dickie pondered this logic and found it sound. Still, he made the sign of the cross. Just in case. “So, then who are you? How’d you get up there?”
“I shot myself out of a canon.”
“Did so. I loaded myself up like a bullet and KAH-BAM.”
Dickie assessed the situation, the spike sticking out of the prostrate man. “That was dumb.”
“As it turns out. But I did it for a good reason. The best reason. To impress a girl.”
“Girls are gross. They hit you and if you hit them back, you get sent to the corner.”
Stew sighed. “Dickie, wise sage, where was your counsel all those years ago? I’ve chased the luscious Lorraine for half my life; and to think, all my heartache could have been avoided had I only heard those words earlier: Girls are gross.” The man spoke like radio announcer to an audience. Dickie thought that was silly. It was only him and the worms under the ground listening.
Dickie crossed his legs tightly. His stomach pooched; his bladder was pushing the other organs out of the way.
“Gorgeous red hair. She can put her legs behind her ears.”
Dickie thought this sounded disturbing, but Stew said it with such admiration that Dickie answered with a polite “that’s neat.” He grimaced. He really, really needed to pee.
“But alas, young Dickard, my love for my lady was not alone. There was another, a fiendish rogue. I believe it is he who had a hand in creating my current… predicament.”
Dickie’s ears pricked up. He didn’t care about damsels all that much, but the villainous rival was always his favorite part of stories.
“Grover Payne. He fiddled with my gun powder. The saboteur!”
Dickie gasped. “Is he ugly?”
“A complete dunce.”
“Cruelty comes to him like flight to a bird.”
Stew continued waxing on about all the negative aspects of Grover Payne, gleefully remarking on his pocked face and his limited vocabulary. Dickie balled his fists and pushed them into his thighs. Could a bladder split like an overstuffed brown bag? He clenched his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut but the trickle still came. The denim turned a deeper shade of navy as warm piss snaked its way down his legs. Dickie started to snuffle. He pressed his hands into his eyes, trying to push the tears back in, but he seemed to be leaky all over.
“…and that’s why he’s called The Short Stop of… Dickie? Son, are you crying?”
“Nuh-no.” He was a baby, a little pissy baby, weeping and pissing his pants and his grown-up teeth were never going to come and he’d just be all gums. The sniffles evolved into sobs. Strands of snot dripped from his nose, the thick kind that had their roots in his brain.
“Dick? Hey, kid?” Stew took a breath. “HEY!”
A sob caught in Dickie’s throat.
“Does this seem fair to you? I’m poked through with a stake and you’re the one crying?”
“Right. So quit your bellyaching.”
Dickie swiped his nose with his forearm. A string of snot connected them. He felt a little better now. His bladder didn’t hurt anymore.
“Now. What’s got you all upset? Did my description of Grover’s hideous mug scare you?”
“No.” Dickie traced a circle in the dirt.
“Come on. You can tell your old pal Stew.”
Dickie ran his finger around the circumference, creating a deep groove.
“Dickie.” Stew’s voice was soft. Nice. The radio announcer was on lunch break. “Dickie, you can tell me.”
“I peed my pants,” Dickie whispered.
Stew was quiet for a moment. “Do you know how to go to the bathroom alone?”
“Then… why didn’t you?”
“Cause…” Dickie’s voice was thick. “Cause my daddy told me to stay right here.” His mouth stretched horizontally in preparation for crying. He began to hiccup. “He said I couldn’t m-move and I am a man now and if I follow orders like a man, then my adult teeth will grow and if I don’t, they w-w-won’t!”
The hand near Dickie tap, tap, tapped. “Dickie.” He could hear the frown in Stew’s voice. “That’s as dumb as shooting yourself out of a canon.”
Dickie huffed. “I-is not.”
“Is so. Listen, son. I bet a lot of what your daddy tells you is real smart stuff. I wish I’d had a daddy like him to teach me about hard work and responsibility. But being a man isn’t just about following orders or doing the so-called right thing. You end up crying and covered in piss. Being a man is about deciding when to follow orders and when not to. Take me, for instance.”
“You have a stick through your belly.”
“Yes. I do. And I don’t regret a thing. Cause before I was falling, Dickie, I was flying. And that was the greatest feeling I ever had in my whole rotten life. That’s what being a man is. Deciding when the flight might be worth the fall; otherwise you spend your whole life with your feet on the ground and that ain’t no way to live.” He coughed phlegmatically. “And your teeth will grow in just fine. I know lots of people I’d hesitate to call men and they’ve got real big chompers. You understand?”
Dickie blew his nose into his sleeve. “Yeah.”
“Good then. That’s real good. You’re a nice kid, Dickie and you’re gonna be a real nice man.”
Dickie hoped to be a heroic man, or a super-big-and-strong man, but being a nice man was good too.
“Dickie.” Stew’s voice was mellow. “Any sign of your dad?”
Dickie checked. “No. Probably going to be a long while. We live pretty far from town.”
Stew sighed to the worms below him. “Okay. Okay then. Dickie, I’m going to be heading out soon. I can tell. I’d really hate to go out facing the dirt, pinned like this.”
Dickie ran his finger around the circle in the dirt.
“Dick. I need your help. I can’t get up on my own.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Sure ya can. I’ll push, you pull. I’ll slide right off.”
“I can’t. Daddy said. You’ll be like a split tomato.”
“No, I won’t. It’ll be… It’s what I want.”
“No! If I move you, I’ll kill you dead!”
“Son, it’s this here fence post that’s committed the crime. Officer, arrest that stake!” Stew laughed or choked. “Dickie. I’m dying. Even if they could get this stick outta me and sew me up, my insides are jelly. I just want to go with the sun on my face.”
Dickie felt like someone had scooped out his guts with a very cold spoon. “You might live. When the doctor gets here, he can fix you.”
Stew clenched his hand. He exhaled and fanned out his fingers. “Dickie. I had this dog when I was right around your age. This bitch had a real bad habit of chasing cars, getting so close she could nip the tires. My ma locked her up in the house cause she was afraid she’d get run over. So Lady, that’s the dog, Lady spent all her time staring out the window, staring at the cars zooming past. She got real fat and mopey and slept all the time. So, one day, I let her out. And wouldn’t you know, she got hit by the very first car she ran after.”
Dickie glared at the circle. He rubbed his hand over it, erasing it. “You killed her.”
“No, you see, she was wagging her tail so fast. She was barking and running and wagging her tail for the first time since my ma locked her up. She was flying, Dickie. And I believe, truly, that to her, it was worth the fall.”
Stew waited for a response. Dickie offered none.
“Dickie. Please help me. I’ve been chasing Lorraine my whole life. I gotta chase her now.”
“My daddy says I can’t touch you.”
“Damn your daddy! Damn him to hell and damn you!” He blindly swiped at Dickie’s general direction. “You little pissant baby bastard! Help me!”
The hand sunk impotently to the ground. It pinched dirt between its fingers, rolled it and let it sprinkle out like salt. It lay limp.
“Dickie? I’m sorry. Dickie? Dick?”
Dickie didn't move. He held his breath.
“Please? Are you there?” Stew was still but for a slight tremor in his shoulders. Dickie realized the man was crying. It made him feel squirmy.
Dickie chewed his thumbnail. He knew what his daddy had said. Don’t touch. Stay here. His dungarees were damp; his nose was crusty with boogers. He pressed his tongue into the gap where his tooth had been. He thought he might have felt the very beginning of his adult tooth coming in.
He stood and padded over to Stew. The man looked smaller from this angle.
“Was the story about the dog true?” he asked.
“Probably true for someone,” came the muffled reply.
“Okay,” Dickie said.
Somehow, with Dickie’s arms made strong by farm work and with a lot of screaming between them, they got Stew to his feet. His innards didn’t spill out like Dickie had feared but the little splotch of red was quickly dyeing the whole suit.
“Thank you, son.” Stew clapped Dickie on the shoulder. “Yep. A mighty nice man.” He turned and walked towards the westward sun, off in chase of Lorraine.
Of course, he didn’t get very far. Three steps in, he collapsed face down, stone dead. Sometime after, Dickie’s father drove up with the doctor and his face got as red as Stew’s stomach from screaming at Dickie. Even Doctor Clifton interjecting that there was nothing that could have been done didn’t stop his tirade. Dickie didn’t cry though. He had seen, when the doctor turned over the body, that there was a big grin on Stew’s face.
Dickie didn’t know if Grover Payne was real or if Stew had simply botched his own stunt. He didn’t know if Lorraine was real; no bendy redhead ever came in search of the man. Dickie didn’t know what cars Stew had been chasing, but that smile had told him he’d been chasing something and having a damn fine time doing so.
Dickie Mulroney is no longer seven. He grew into a hardworking, cautious, responsible man like his father. But sometimes, when standing on the precipice of a foolhardy decision, he recalls that day in August, 1959, when he lost his very first tooth and a man flew in the sky.