Larry shivered as he ran across the boulevard that separated the neighborhoods. His green windbreaker had been enough earlier in the sun, but not with the temperature dropping to the low 50s.
His watch blinked 10:08. Damn! His school night curfew was 10.
Sheldon’s galcit rocket was so cool–eighteen inches long, aluminum body, steel fins, annealed nozzle–that Larry forgot he was three miles from home and not just across the street at Jimmy’s house. Sheldon planned a big launch Saturday, on the hill behind his house.
Imagine that! Sheldon lived where all the space was not taken up by buildings.
Larry sprinted down Dimsdale Drive, halfway home. What a change a friend made! This morning, when Michael wanted him to skip school at the pool hall, Larry said no. Now that he had a friend, school was not so hateful.
He bounded up the steps to the porch of their end row house. Catching his breath, making as little noise as possible, he pressed the latch of the screen door.
His father had been doing this at Michael’s midnight curfew, but Larry hadn’t thought he’d do it to him.
He was only a few minutes late. He pressed the doorbell. No sound inside. He pressed it again. Still no sound. Phase two of his father’s prevent defense was enforce, disable electricity to the outside.
Larry rapped on the aluminum screen door. It made a good, loud sound.
Larry’s knuckles stung in the cold air, but still no response from in the house.
He started banging on the door with the flat of one hand while shaking the handle with his other, amplifying the noise.
Finally, a light came on in his father’s bedroom. Heavy footsteps came down the inside stairs.
The chain rattled and the door swung open a few inches. His father’s grey eyes peered over the metal chain. “What!”
Like his father didn’t know. “Open the door,” Larry said.
“No.” His father shook his head. “You missed curfew. You know the consequences.”
“One time, Dad.” Larry heard the whine in his voice, but the ridiculousness of this lockout overwhelmed his control. “Just fifteen minutes.”
“I can’t make exceptions. You know that. Even a little soldier can’t be late. A miss is miss. Sleep on the porch tonight. Dismissed!” He slammed the door.
“But I’m not a soldier,” Larry screamed.
Frustrated, Larry pulled the summer lounge chair to the inner corner of the porch, where the overhang was greatest and the wind least. He slipped under the worn cushion. The metal of the chair was cold.
After he closed his eyes, a shiver started at his ears and worked its way down to his toes. That passed, Larry forced his mind to more pleasant thoughts. He imagined the smoke trail the galcit rocket would leave. He wondered how much higher it would go than his best launch, twice the heights of the twin oaks at the park.
Larry heard the crunch of leaves on the sidewalk. His eyes popped open. “Michael?”
A shadowy figure in the yard stopped and looked around. “Larry?”
“Up here.” Larry swung out from under the foam pad. “I got locked out.”
Michael came up to the porch. “I guess you’re not letting me in tonight.” He grabbed the screen door’s handle and shook it and banged on the panel. It made a terrible racket. Sure to bother neighbors as well as their father.
“I was late.” Larry grabbed his brother’s arm. “I deserved it.”
Michael shook him off and banged the door louder. “Nobody deserves it.”
Lights came on in the next house. Through an opened sash, Mr. Corci yelled, “Stop that noise. It’s after midnight.”
“You better stop, Michael.”
“Never!” He pounded the door. Still no sign from inside.
He kicked the metal front panel. It bent in with a distinct crunch.
Finally the front door opened again. “Two rule breakers!” Dad’s eyes tightened; his lips pulled back, showing his teeth. “I should have guessed. You both know the rules.” He paused. “The cool air is good for you.” He slammed the door.
“Cool air is good for us!” Michael yelled back.
Larry jumped up from the lounge chair. “Then it’s good for him, too.”
He folded the chair, picked it up, and threw it through the front window.
Lights came on in more houses.
The front door swung wide open. “What the hell?” Their father pushed the screen door, but it was jammed in place.
Larry and Michael jumped off the porch.
“Come on.” Michael grabbed his brother’s sleeve. “We can stay at the pool hall tonight.”
Robert Hamill has been writing fiction and essays for his personal satisfaction for years. He has one coming of age novel gathering dust. While he’s been occupied in the workaday world, he stored his ideas and fitful attempts into folders for later development. Now is later. After a stint in the Marines, he got a degree in Chemistry, eventually slipped over to computer science and has been doing software development for a large telecomm company for 30 years.