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Authors: Maria Padian

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BOOK: Out of Nowhere
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“Okay, well …” I grabbed one of the sheets from Saeed and pointed to a line. “Your mother or father needs to sign here. Their name. That gives you permission to play soccer.” I slowed down, pronouncing each word carefully, but he still looked confused.

I tried to imagine how Turcotte would act out “permission slip.”

“I got … no father,” Saeed finally said.

“Mother?” I said.

He nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Samira speak English good. So you come. Yes?” He didn’t wait for an answer. Just motioned for me to follow him and headed out of the gym.

We walked. Far. And before long I was in a section of downtown Enniston I pretty much never visit. Right near the police
station and the skate park and the bread factory, which fills the air with the most amazing smells. The aroma of hot rolls greeted us when we reached his neighborhood, followed us as we trudged up the stairs that snaked along the outside wall of his four-story wooden apartment building.

His door opened onto this little vestibule cluttered with shoes. Saeed kicked his off, adding to the pile. He didn’t ask me to do the same, but what the heck—I slipped mine off as well. He shouted into the apartment, announcing his arrival. He motioned for me to wait with the shoes while he walked ahead, then rounded a corner into a room I couldn’t see.

A riot of conversation followed, absolutely foreign to me. Somali is a no-holds-barred language. Half the time it sounds like people are fighting with each other, but it’s just that they get that animated. The hands go, too, emphasizing each word. I think you’d render a Somali person partially mute if you tied their hands.

Finally Saeed stuck his head around the corner and waved me in.

They were all in the kitchen and looked pretty surprised about me being there. They were in the middle of making dinner. A big pot of something steamed on the stove, and the air in the room felt thick with cumin and curry. There was this old-looking woman who I guessed was his mother, standing near the pot, and a couple of little boys, and a girl about our age. The little guys were dressed like any American kid, in jeans and T-shirts, but the woman and the girl were in long skirts and head coverings. The girl was seated at the kitchen table, reading the papers Coach had given Saeed.

I stood there, awkward as hell, while no one said anything to me. Finally the girl looked up.

“My mother does not know how to write her own name. But I will write for her on these lines, and she will put her mark, and that is good, I think.” She stared at me, waiting for my response.

“Sure … I mean, yeah. Whatever. It’s not like she’s signing away his endorsement rights or anything.” I laughed at my own joke. The girl didn’t smile. Instead, she turned to her mother and began speaking quickly and pointing to the papers. The mother nodded: yes, yes. I shifted from one foot to the other and back again. I didn’t understand why I was there. If Saeed’s sister could read and all, why had he dragged me home with him?

I watched as the girl carefully wrote her mother’s name on the appropriate lines and pointed to where her mother should pen a big
. They did this very carefully, like they were signing a will or something.

After they finished the permission forms, they moved on to the emergency contact card, where you list people to call in case you get hurt and your parents can’t be reached. You also have to list your family doctor and dentist, with their phone numbers and emails. Also list your health insurance. If you’ve got health insurance.

The girl stared hard at this card and frowned. She said something to one of the little brothers, who ran from the room. We heard the door to the apartment open, then slam shut.

“He gets the phone number for the people next door,” she explained to me. “But we don’t know anyone for the other line. And we don’t know any doctor.”

There was a plastic clock on the wall just over the stove, and my eyes inadvertently glanced at it. I’d already been there twenty
minutes. It takes my parents about five minutes, tops, to complete these papers every year.

“Tell you what,” I said. I pulled out the kitchen chair alongside her and sat. I motioned for her to hand me the card and her pen. “I’ll put my mother down as Saeed’s second emergency contact. And I’ll write in my doctor and dentist. When you get your own, you can change it. But for now, this’ll work.” I pulled the card toward me and plucked the pen from her fingers. She looked startled, but I began filling in blanks.

“That is … okay?” she asked hesitantly.

I shrugged.

“Trust me: they don’t read these things. They just eyeball ’em to make sure all the lines are filled in.” Saeed’s mother, watching as I rapidly completed the questions on the card, nodded. She smiled at me. This friendly American, helping her son. The girl’s eyes narrowed, but she said nothing.

The last sheet was the medical form. It required a doctor’s signature, proving that Saeed had all his immunizations and a recent physical.

Right. These people didn’t have a doctor in town. There was no way Saeed was going to find one, schedule an appointment, and pass a physical before the season was half over.

I made a management decision, especially because I was already going to be late for dinner. I scrawled something fairly illegible but slightly resembling my doctor’s name on the medical release form.

“Done,” I said, slapping the pen down on the Formica tabletop. The girl picked up the paper and scrutinized my handwriting.

“This is … not true,” she declared, laying the paper down.

“No, it’s not,” I agreed. “It’s a little something we call forgery. And if you want your brother here to go to soccer practice on Monday, you’ll let him hand that paper in to the nice lady at the high school athletic office.” I stared at the girl. She stared back. Saeed, uneasily watching all this, asked her something in Somali.

Her response was sharp, a rapid-fire staccato of words. I didn’t need a translator to tell me what she thought of my helpfulness. Saeed shot back at her, equally fast. Emphatic. The mother looked very concerned.

I stood up. Everyone stopped.

“Let me ask you something,” I said to the girl. “Is your brother healthy?”

“Yes, he is fine, but—”

“Then what’s the problem? Your mother says he can play, right? You’re gonna eventually find a family doctor. And you can go in and change everything on the card after that if you want. But for right now? He’s good to go.”

She shook her head slowly from side to side, lips pressed tightly together. She wasn’t buying this.

I shrugged.

“Whatever. My job here is finished. He needs to hand those papers in on Monday or else he can’t play.” I turned to Saeed and raised my hand. “Dude,” I said. He raised his hand, slapped his palm against mine. “Good luck.”

I don’t know what happened in that apartment after I left, but since Saeed was out on the field next practice, I guess he won. Come to think of it, so did I. Because he was turning out to be awesome.

Not something I felt like discussing with my uncle.

“I saw your girlfriend at the game,” he said. “Danny Ouellette’s daughter.” He glanced at me as he bent to pick up a split. “What’s her name again?”

“Cherisse,” I replied, relieved that he was moving away from a possible Somali rant.

He nodded. “That’s right. Cherisse. Cute kid,” he commented.

I lifted a big log onto the splitter. “Mom’s not a fan,” I said.

Paul laughed.

“Well, that shouldn’t surprise you. You’re being careful, Tommy. Right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, half muttering. The wedge inched toward the log, but Paul released the lever, halting its progress and cutting the sound.

“I’m serious,” he said.

“I know. Don’t worry. I’m not stupid, Uncle Paul,” I told him.

“I’ve seen plenty of smart guys get stupid over girls like your Cherisse,” he said. “And stupid turns into stuck pretty damn fast, if you know what I mean.” He pulled on the lever again and the wedge continued on its path.

I didn’t know how we’d gotten into my second-least-favorite topic to discuss with the family: Cherisse. The number one least favorite is college applications and my progress (or lack of progress) toward completing them. This was the first time Paul had started in on me about number two.

Just then Donnie came round the side of the house. He looked like shit. He was wearing the same clothes from nine hours earlier, only more wrinkled. He had his hands jammed in his pockets and this stupid grin on his face. When he got close, you could
see his eyes were so bloodshot even the lids were swollen and red. Uncle Paul leaned against the splitter, arms crossed, checking him out.

“Well, good morning, sunshine,” he said. Donnie shifted from one foot to the other, then back again. One corner of his mouth turned up as he looked at Paul.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said.

“Hell, you’re not late. We’ve got hours of daylight left. You want coffee?” he asked, but it was more like a statement. He pulled off his work gloves and stuffed them into the front of Donnie’s shirt before walking toward the house. “Tommy?”

“No, thanks, I’m good,” I replied.

As Uncle Paul disappeared into the house, I looked Donnie over. He was pulling on the gloves and whistling quietly to himself as he surveyed the mound of wood.

“So what’s the drill here?” he asked easily.

“Are you stoned?” I asked.

“Hell yeah,” Donnie said. He broke out one of his big-ass smiles, the type that’s been keeping him out of serious trouble for years, because who could ever bust the balls of a guy who can smile like one of God’s own angels? Okay, so maybe Sister Marie, our
not-favorite nun from St. Cecilia’s Elementary, could. But no one else. I mean it: no one else.

He strode over to the big pieces, bent at the knees, and wrapped his arms around one. He lifted, staggered toward the splitter.

“Dude, you are in no shape to be standing near heavy machinery, let alone working with it.”

He half dropped the piece onto the splitter, which shuddered.

“I know, right?” he panted. “Don’t worry, Tom-boy. I’m not
so fucked up that I can’t carry wood. You handle the heavy machinery.”

We worked through a few of the big ones in silence, and when I was confident that Donnie wasn’t going to drop a forty-pound log on his foot, I spoke.

“We saw you in the parking lot,” I said.

He laughed softly.

“Man, that was a
!” he said. “Morin says he did a donut at fifty!”

“Looked like you were going to fly right through the roof.”

like I was gonna fly,” he said. “I think I got a little whiplash.” He paused, took off one glove, and rubbed the back of his neck. He stood there, inspecting me.

“And what about you and the lovely Miss Ouellette?” he continued. “You manage to get some … quality time?”

I grabbed the lever and pulled. The wedge glided.

“Oh yeah.” I smiled at him and let his imagination do the rest of the work. Donnie shook his head.

“You are so damn lucky.”

“Nothin’ lucky about it. I got a way with the ladies. You should try talking to them instead of kicking them. Or taking off to find Pepper. Man, can’t you score somewhere else? That guy is not cool.”

Donnie shrugged. “He’s all right. You’re just a little too clean-cut for that side of town. Anyway, Morin had some weed in his glove compartment. We never connected with Pepper.”

“So that’s what you did all night? Got high and broke the speed limit? Talk about lame. There was Lila Boutin, all lonely on the grass.…”

Donnie snorted, signaling what he thought of the lonely Lila.

“Hey, at least I’m not breaking some athletic pledge. Right, Tom-boy?” He didn’t bother to hide the edge of annoyance in his voice. Donnie’s a habitual screw-up, but he owns it. I think he actually has a little pride of ownership. Not, he enjoys pointing out, like certain jocks who sign athletic pledges but still manage to down their fair share of Bud Light on a Saturday night.

He never comes right out and calls me a hypocrite, but we both know that’s what he thinks. Just like I never come right out and call him a stoner.

The screen door squealed open and Uncle Paul stepped out. He carried a mug and a plate piled with donuts. Steam floated from the mug.

what I’m talkin’ about!” Donnie exclaimed. “Breakfast of champions!” He threw his gloves on the ground and walked toward Paul. As he brushed past me, he murmured, “When we’re done with this, I want to show you something Morin and I found last night.” He walked toward my uncle, enthusing, “You are the
, Paul!”

Later that evening, with the wood all split and mostly stacked, I let him show me what he and Morin found. Yeah, I’m that stupid. Or that hopeful. I always hold out hope that when Donnie says, “Dude, check this out!” it’s something like a new all-night diner that makes incredible hot wings. Or a great place by the river to hang out on a hot day in July. I want to keep pretending that my best childhood friend, who’s always pretty much been a goofball, is still a lovable goofball.

Not some wake-’n’-baker headed for … nowhere good.

Chapter Three

Whenever Donnie does something stupid and gets into trouble, my mom says the same thing.

“He’s never been as lucky as you, Tommy.” She’s a schoolteacher in Enniston, so she’s seen just about every type of luck, good and bad. Plus she’s known Donnie since we were in kindergarten together. Little Catholic boys at St. Cecilia’s Elementary. Until sixth grade, when we both switched to public school.

For as long as I can remember, Donnie has come up pretty empty-handed in the luck department. He’s been jumping out of his own skin since … I don’t know … the day he was born? He is totally hyperactive, with a processing disability to boot, so school has always been pretty much a disaster for him. He did the whole meds thing, Ritalin and stuff, but whether he took them depended on who had custody that day (his folks split ages ago) and whether anyone was sober enough to remember to pick up his pills at the pharmacy.

Sucks for him. Always has. Not that I’m making excuses for him. Or maybe I am. Isn’t luck my excuse? Grades, sports, and girls
have always come easy to me because I’m lucky enough to have a good memory, be coordinated, and be halfway decent-looking. Lucky enough to have
parents, not Don’s. Lucky enough to be born in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and not some war zone.

BOOK: Out of Nowhere
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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