You never know what you’ll find when you start Spring cleaning. Knowing full well my sixty-year-old knees will never forgive me, I climb the creaky pull-down attic steps. Every other step, I rub my achy knees. I try to remember the last time I’d ventured up these steps. I cringe at the thought of what I might find. But, believe me, it didn’t disappoint.
A series of cobwebs lace the entrance. Two or three spiders scurry away as I wipe away the webs and step up inside. The smell of mold and mildew causes me to gag, then place my hand over my mouth and nose.
“Should have worn a mass and googles,” I scold myself.
Streams of sunlight reveal floating dust particles. The floorboards creak under every step as I walk to the middle of the room. Looking around, a broken rocking horse is lying on its side in the corner. Framed pictures lean against the wall. Against the far wall are two storage chests; I sit on one and open the other.
“Wow. Look at this.”
I pick up a leather-bound photo album. Pieces of the dried cover peel off into my hand. The album is full of Polaroid pictures. Three pages in, I come across a picture of me, Buddy, and Max. Wearing our John Marshall Junior High gym shirts, ah, we thought we were so cool. Then, slowly, as the memories come back to me. My eyes well with tears as I remember how Buddy and I almost got Max killed.
That Tuesday, the dreaded parents/teacher’s meeting was scheduled, so the students were dismissed early. So the three of us moped home.
Buddy shook his head. “My Dad’s going to see my teacher this afternoon. But, man, am I going to get it tonight.”
Making a sour face, I said, “You?” I said. “At least you’re only going to get it from your Dad. My mom’s coming up to the school. Then when my Dad gets home, she is going to tell him. I’m gonna get yelled at by both of them.”
“What about you, Max?”
“Buddy, both of my parents are coming up to school. I don’t know what Mrs. Harrison’s going to tell them. I hope it’s good.”
Buddy stopped. “I wonder if the math teacher will snitch about all my missing homework? I tell you guys now. My Dad’s gonna whip my ass.”
“I know what you mean. I’m missing a lot of History assignments. And I never got my parents to sign my midterm.”
“Come on, “ Buddy said, “we might as well get home. There’s nothing else we can do.”
“We had to get our midterms signed? I never got mine signed.”
Buddy sighed. “Of course, you passed the test. You didn’t have to get your’s signed.”
“Lucky you, Max. You don’t have anything to worry about. Me, “I lamented, “I’m going to be on punishment.”
“Yeah, me too. My Dad’s going to have a fit-to-be-tied when he gets home.”
Buddy looked at us. “You guys are lucky. At least you got moms to look out for you. I got my sister’s. They ain’t going to help at all.”
We walked a few more feet.
“Hey, wait a minute. I got an idea.”
Buddy and Max stared at me.
“Suppose we ran away?”
“What?” Buddy asked.
“Yeah, run away. Think about it. If we ran away, our parents would be so worried about us, they’d forget the bad teacher’s report.”
Buddy shook his head. “I don’t know, Jonas. That may work, but where would we run away to?”
“I’ve got that it. Prospect Park!”
“Yes, it’s big enough that no one will find us for days. In a couple of days, we’ll let them find us. Believe me that’ll be so happy to get us back.”
Buddy began slowly. “I don’t know, Jonas. Ho would get there.”
“Hey, we live in Crown Heights. We can easily walk there.”
“What are we going to eat?”
“We’ll bring a few sandwiches and a couple of sodas. We’ll be fine.”
“What can I bring?” Max asked.
Buddy and I looked at each other.
“You? Max, you’re not going to get a bad report from school. There’s no need for you to run away.”
“No, Max,” Buddy added, “Your parents won’t be mad at you, man.”
Max looked hurt. “I thought we were friends? We do everything together.”
“Yeah, but Max, we don’t want you to get in trouble. You understand?”
“No, he doesn’t understand, Buddy. Okay, Max, if you want to come with us.”
Max grinned. “I’ll bring a few sandwiches and drinks, too.”
“Where will me, Jason?”
“In the basement of my building. 1-9-3- Albany Avenue.”
Buddy and Max repeated the address.
Jason turned to his friends. “Now, don’t be late, fellas. We’ll leave at exactly two o’clock.”
At one-thirty, I met Buddy at his building, and we walked over to 1-9-3 to meet for Max. When we walked into the vestibule of the building, we gasped.
My parents and Buddy’s Dad were standing near the elevator talking. My mother noticed us first.
“Hey, boys, come here. It’s good to see you. We just came from your school.”
Buddy and I braced for the bad news.
My Dad said. “Come here, Jason. Let me shake your hand. Your teachers told us you’re doing a great job in school. They all think you ‘ll be promoted to the eighth grade.”
Buddy’s Dad waved him over. After giving Buddy a big hug, he said, ”Son, I’m proud of you. Except for a few missed assignments, which I promised you were going to make up, your report was pretty good.”
Buddy and I gawked at each other.
“What’s in the bag?” My mother asked.
“Oh, nothing, mom. It’s some old gym clothes that need to be washed.”
Buddy’s Dad glanced at him, but before he could ask any questions, Buddy offered. “Yeah, same here, dad.”
“Look, you boys got such good job, here’s five dollars. Go treat yourselves to something special from over at the deli.”
It was two two-thirty when in mid-swallow, I stared at Buddy and exclaimed, “Max!”
We jumped up and ran to the basement. Max’s wasn’t there.
Relieved, Buddy and I nervously laughed and slapped each other five.
“Jason!” A kid yelled from the playground. “Did you see your friend, Max? He was here looking for you.”
“Do you know where he went?”
“Naw, he went walking down Prospect Ave.”
Letting out a grown, Buddy said, “Oh. No.”
“Yeah, he’s walking to Prospect Park alone. We got to get him. He is going to be walking through some bad neighborhoods., man.”
As we jogged down Prospect Ave Avenue in search of Max, my heart grew heavy.
“This all my fault, Buddy. I should never have said anything about running away.”
“Naw, Jason, it’s both our faults. We should have called him at home and told him the Runaway plan was over. Man, we blew it.”
We stopped at the corner of Brooklyn Ave.
Panting, Buddy asked, “Which way do you think he went? Did he keep going straight? Or did he turned left on Brooklyn Ave. or what?”
I stood there, hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath.
“I don’t know, but we know he loved the Brooklyn Dodgers. I know it’s an apartment building now, but I bet he’ll run by old Ebbets Field.”
Buddy nodded. “You take Prospect, and I’ll go up to Eastern Parkway. We gotta stop him before he gets to Pigtown!”
There were so many ways Max could have walked to Prospect Park that all Buddy and I could do was guess what route he would take. I ran through pains in my feet. I ran through cramps in my legs. I ran through fear in my heart. Not just for me, but also for my friends.
I crossed Rogers Ave into what was regarded as the territory for a gang called the Suicide Bishops. A few of the neighborhood kids watched me, but they didn’t say anything. I wondered how Buddy was doing. When I reached the corner of Bedford Ave. and Eastern Parkway, I saw Buddy waiting for me on the southwest corner.
“Did you find him?”
Buddy gave me this, ‘duh’, look. Of course, if he had, Max would be standing by his side.
Without answering, we ran down Bedford Ave towards old Ebbets Field. We ran all the way down to Empire Boulevard. As we ran, we check every crossing street to see if Max might have turned down one of them. No Max.
We made the right onto Empire Boulevard, and Prospect park came into view. As we waited to cross the busy intersection of Empire Boulevard and Flatbush Avenue, we heard someone calling our names. We looked around.
“Buddy yelled, “It’s Max!”
I turned, and there he stood in the parking lot of Weston Hamburger restaurant. He had a burger in one hand and a milkshake in the other. He didn’t understand why we dodged the cars on Empire Boulevard just to hug him.