John

I looked at the blank test. I knew the answers but I still left it blank. I knew what my teacher’s face would be like when I handed in this my third blank test. She would say, “Oh Ally,” and sigh and give me a disappointed look. I know what my mom’s face will be like when she finds my report card in my backpack. She will say, “My poor baby,” and shake her head. Then she will probably call the school again, get all worked up, and go on and on about how they are burning me out by giving me too much homework. I guess she doesn’t know how easy that stuff is. Oh well, then again, really I don’t care. I don’t want to stay here; I want to go live with my dad. I’m waiting for my dad to realize that I don’t belong here and take me home. Until then, I’m not doing anything for school.

If I was with my dad, he would send me to a good school, not this old dump they call a school. A really nice school where you get good, new schoolbooks, not like the old, beat up ones here. But my dad left us. He left me with my mom and no home, that’s why we live in a small apartment in a bad part of town. That’s why my mom has to work all the  time. My dad was a doctor. We were rich and had a big house in a nice suburb. Not any more. When he left he took every thing, even the refrigerator, which was my moms. He had given it to her on her birthday, and it had a picture of us on it. He left the picture with my mom.

On my way back home from school I stopped at the little, old grocery store to buy some more gum. I always chew gum, and I was running out. The cashier wasn’t there so I stood and waited. I’m used to waiting, and I was in no hurry to get home because I knew my mom wouldn’t be home for at least an hour. At last the cashier came and I handed him the gum and he said, not lifting his eyes from the counter, “You come to the store by your self? Does your mom know you’re here?”

I answered with a bored kind of sigh. “Yeah, she don’t care.”

“Ok,” said the old man in a kind of voice that adults use when they don’t believe you. I handed him the money and waited for my change, not liking this nosy, creepy old guy. He carefully placed the change on the counter. I grabbed it and ran away.

Half-ways home, I stopped running because I didn’t want to get home too early. Walking to the curb, I heard a flapping noise, and I stopped to hear where it was coming from. It was coming from behind a garbage can, so I walked over to further investigate. Flapping behind the garbage can was a mangy half-grown raven. Its nest was on top of one of the tall trees by the street, so putting it back would be impossible. I had no idea what to do with it. I didn’t want to touch it, because I might get a disease or something. But I couldn’t leave it there to die. Some cat might come over and kill it, or some dumb kids might hurt it. I got a brown paper bag from my lunch and used it as a glove to pick it up. At first it squawked and flapped its wings, but after holding it tightly for a few seconds it calmed down. It was probably hungry, and it looked as if it had a broken wing. I couldn’t take it back home, so I decided to take it to the grocery store. Maybe that old man would want to help a baby bird. He must be pretty bored there. It was a long walk because I had to go slowly as to not drop the bird. When I finally got to the store, I realized the man there probably would not want a bird in his store. He was mopping when I got there, so I stood out by the door and yelled, “Hey, could you help me? I found a hurt baby bird and I don’t know what to do with it.”

The man looked at the bird and me for a minute, and then said slowly, “Well… I don’t know, I don’t want it spreading disease in my shop, and anyways, I’m not allowed to have animals in the store.”

“Oh, I don’t need you to keep it, I just need help feeding it,” I said apologetically.

“Oh ok, just leave it outside and I’ll try to find something to feed it with. Why don’t you go wash your hands um…”

“Ally, Ally Verone,” I interrupted.

“Nice to meet you Ally, I’m Jonathan, but please call me John.” he said smiling for the first time. He had nice white teeth, not yellow like most old people. “ I know!” John said, abruptly shaking me out of my train of thought about his nice teeth. “We could use a syringe to give it water, because it’s probably more thirsty than hungry. I could also add bread crumbs to the water to make a kind of baby food for it,” he said excitedly. “But first why don’t you put the bird in back of the shop; I’ll be there in a minute.” I picked it up and brought it to the back. There was an old orange crate out back and I put the bird in it. John finally came with a syringe full of water.

“We need to name it,” I said thoughtfully. “I mean we can’t just call it “it”, it will feel unloved.”

“You’re right, what do you want to call it?” John said in a way that actually didn’t sound like he was talking to a kid.

“Well,” I began slowly, savoring John’s new tone; “I think we should name it after you, since you are the one that is helping it most.”

“I would be honored.” He said smiling with his nice teeth again.

I got up, and looking at my watch, said, “Well, I really got to go, but I’ll come back tomorrow.”

“Ok,” John said not looking up from the bird.

I ran home, hoping that my mom wouldn’t be worried about where I was.

When I got home my mom was doing the dishes.

“Where were you?” she asked coolly, scrubbing an oily frying pan.

“Just hanging around,” I said.

“Well, don’t,” she retorted flatly. “I don’t like this neighborhood, and I don’t want you ‘just hanging around.’ Ok?”

“Fine,” I said clicking through fuzzy channels. “And Mom?” I tried to add casually. “Can I have a bird?” I turned off the TV.

“Um, sure, what kind of bird do you want?” she said caught a little of guard.

“A raven” I said picking at my nails, not looking her in the eyes.

“Well, where do you think I could find a raven for you?” she said sarcastically. “Well…” I cautiously continued. “When I was walking back home from school, I found a baby raven with a broken wing, and if I don’t take care of it, it will be eaten or starve.” I paused for dramatic effect.

She sighed and started to say something, but stopped herself. Finally she said, “Honey, we can’t have a wild bird in our house.”

“It’s not wild,” I said adamantly. “It’s helpless.”

“It won’t stay helpless for long.” she added forebodingly.

“I will let it go as soon as it can fly. It just needs a little help right now.”

My mom gave a big, long sigh of defeat, “Oh whatever, just please don’t let it in the house.”

As I walked in the store the next day, I saw John squirting the water bread-crumb mixture into the bird’s mouth. Both Johns seemed pleased to see me. Bird John was opening his mouth obediently, looking up trustingly at John. “Hey,” I said more loudly than I had intended.

“How is John doing?”

“Oh he’s doing just fine.” John answered smiling again. “He’s almost eaten up all the bread in my store.”

“That’s good.” I said. Suddenly I felt unsure what to do or why I had even come.

I think John could tell. He said, “Hey, if you’re not too busy after school, I would sure appreciate if you could help me take care of John. He needs to have his box cleaned every day and he eats non-stop. I mean, if your parents are ok with that.”

“Yeah, I think my mom’s cool with that,” I said happily.

“Wonderful, why don’t you go get him some clean newspapers.”

I came back the next day. John was feeding the bird again. “Hi, Ally,” John said cheerfully. “Our John seems a bit tired today, but I think he’s just recovering from all that he’s been through, being pushed out of his nest and all.” His little eyes were closed to slits, and he was resting on John’s arm. He seemed pretty happy there though, sitting on his arm.

“Can I hold him?” I asked.

“Sure Ally, here you go,” he said placing John on my arm. His sleek black feathers looked much better than when I first saw him. He looked so trusting, confident in our good intentions. He had no way of knowing that we wanted to help him. To him, we were just giant, pink creatures, but still, he trusted us. It was also strange to me how content he seemed, I mean for goodness’ sakes, his own parents pushed him out of his home. Only one of my parents pushed me out of my house, and I will probably never forgive him for that.

I stayed there till dinnertime helping John around the store. I liked ordering the shelves. As I walked in our apartment, I saw my mom on the couch, sleeping.

She had been crying. Her make-up was smeared all over her face and her pillow. I felt bad that I was gone for so long without her knowing where I was, but I knew that was not why she was crying. She was crying about Dad. She tried to not show it, to be strong for me, but I still knew. The dishes were in the sink, unwashed. I didn’t feel like cleaning, so I went to bed.

When I got to the store the next day after school, John was standing outside waiting for me; he looked worried.

“What’s up?” I tried to ask casually, knowing very well that something was wrong.

“John is sick.”

We walked to the back silently. John was clearly very sick; his eyes were swollen and his breathing was strained. “He started loosing his appetite late last night, and when I woke up he looked like this. I’m so sorry Ally.” He kept his eyes on a coke bottle near the orange crate.

“It’s not your fault,” I said. I couldn’t keep my voice steady.

We both felt that he would die soon. I couldn’t afford a vet and my mom wouldn’t pay for it. John obviously didn’t have any extra money, and I don’t think that a vet would of helped anyways. We gave him some aspirin mixed with water, but it didn’t really help. There was nothing left to do in the store, so we sat on the back stairs.

“I used to have a family,” John said. “A daughter, about your age, and a wife.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, or why John was telling me this. “What happened?” I asked hesitantly.

“They died in a car accident, about four years ago”

“I’m so sorry,” I said, scared of my own voice.

“It’s ok,” he said sighing, “I’ll see them some day.”

John died the next day. We buried him in back of the store, and I planted a sunflower over him. I asked John if he wouldn’t mind me coming over to water the flower. He said he wouldn’t mind. When I got home, my mom was sleeping on the couch again, make-up smeary. I did my homework and finished the dishes.

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