His black Converse basketball sneakers left their distinct mark on the dirt path as the boy climbed the hill. He reached the rocky crest, just as a nervous cottontail bolted from his grassy hideaway… Startled, the youngster froze for a moment, and followed the zig-zagging flight of the panicked rabbit. The boy tugged on his blue and white baseball cap and then rubbed his ears, trying to warm them with his cold hands. It was, after all, November, almost December, and although the sun was bright in the morning sky, there was a frosty bite to the gentle breeze that froze the tender edges of the boy’s ears…

        Everything was still again, so he continued on, weaving his way along the top of the ridge, to the special place that was his hideaway; a place hidden in a rocky crevice, high above the asphalt road below, where speeding cars taunted the sharp edges of the curved blacktop, occasionally spitting little grey rocks at the face of the rock wall where he hid…

         Matty reached the ‘nest’ and wedged his way through to the wider part and settled into his rocky seat, feeling the cold surface penetrate his faded Levis. Now, he waited for the unmistakeable sound of an approaching car; the hum of the engine that got louder and louder, until it became a roar, and then the blur of the speeding vehicle as it careened around the curve and was quickly gone, past the barren oaks and over the nearby hill, out of sight, and the silence returned…. The boy turned around and surveyed the morning sky, craning his slender neck, trying to catch the warm rays that reached the rocks above him, but he was too short. Sighing, he covered both ears with his small hands and grimaced… It was cold… Damn cold… He giggled…He liked to think of bad words, sometimes, and say them in his mind. Father Mahoney never said that a silent curse was a sin, so he took pleasure in the phrases that he heard the older boys say. Damn. Hell. Dick. Fuck… Fuck; He didn’t understand that one, it just didn’t make sense! Yesterday, when cousin Jimmy was shooting hoops with him he had asked, “Jimmy, what does ‘fuck’ mean?” Jimmy was much older, 13 going on 14, and four grades ahead in school, so he knew all these words and used them with gusto when they were alone… This time though, Jimmy  swatted the top of Matty’s head and said, “Shut the hell up! All I need is for someone to hear you, and I’ll be in all kinds of shit!”

         Matty thought about that and decided that he’d have to remember to ask Dad on Saturday… He didn’t work on Saturdays, usually, and sometimes they got breakfast together really early, before everyone else got up! That’s when he asked him tough questions that little boys had… Like last Saturday, when he showed him what one older boy in school had done…He raised his arm and extended his hand with his middle finger pointing up… Dad really didn’t give him an answer on that one, he thought. He just said,”All you need to know about that is to NEVER do that again!”

        He returned to his senses now and listened intently, but there was just silence… Nothing moved in the crisp morning air, and the boy was now trembling from the cold, so he hoisted himself up and squeezed out of the crevice, emerging into the light of the warming sun… He looked across the large field towards home and pondered his options… Shrugging his shoulders, he started back down the hill, but then he stopped… He really didn’t want to go back again… The sadness had driven him to this place and he didn’t want to feel that way again… He was starting to wish that school hadn’t been cancelled that day… He thought for a moment and then felt ashamed… He reached up to wipe the tears from his eyes, and kicked the loose gravel at his feet…’ Why had they killed him ‘, he thought? ‘He was a nice man, and he had a little boy of his own… What would John John do without his Daddy? Why was Mommy crying and even Daddy had tears in his eyes?’

        A hollow feeling overtook the blond haired boy and with slumped shoulders, he walked slowly home, his black sneakers dragging in the dirt, kicking little pebbles here and there till he reached the green grass of the field and then the windy path that led to his back yard… He reached the kitchen door and opened it, listening for the sounds of his sisters, but all he heard was the voice of the news man, someone they called Cronker or Cronkle or Cronkite or something… He had been talking in that low voice when he left, but now there was the dull sounds of drums, muffled, thuds, in the distance and the distinct sounds of horses’ hoofs clopping on pavement, and nobody spoke….

       Matty sneaked quietly through the kitchen, and peered around the corner into the living room, where the whole family sat, mesmerized in front of the long console television…His Mom was sitting in her overstuffed blue chair, her eyes red and moist with tears… Dad was in his red leather chair, and Matty could only see the back of his head… The rest of the children were sitting on the carpet, silently watching the unfolding spectacle… Matty looked at the black and white picture and saw the little boy, standing on the cold granite steps, his tiny body dwarfed by the massive pillars behind him and the large people at each side of him… The little boy in the small wool suit raised his hand to his face in a tiny salute and the drums thudded their dull response, as the tears welled up in Matty’s eyes once again….

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