"Gerry... Gerry.... GERRY!!! "

              “Huh?  Wha… {yawn}  WWhat’s up Matty?” the 12-year old boy sputtered…

              “What’s up? I’ll tell you what’s up!! You fell asleep! It’s 4 o’clock already! Your customers are gonna be ticked off…again,” Matty stated impatiently.

               “Oh well, can’t please everybody, can we?” Gerry said sarcastically.

               “Uh… yeah, only that implies that you please SOMEONE, SOMETIME… I don’t know, but if it was me, and I was relying on tips to make any money, I’d probably try to at least get the people their papers somewhere near the time they came out, before all the news is old.. But, what do I know? I’m just your typical guy with expectations.”

               “Yeah, my older brother who likes to bug me about stuff, too…” Gerry sighed, as he slowly pushed back the bedcovers and started to put his sneakers on.

                Matty rolled his eyes and pulled open the closet doors and tossed a warmup jacket to the groggy boy. “You’d better wear this. It’s pretty warm right now, but by the time you get done, it’ll be cooling down again…”

                “Not if you helped me, it wouldn’t,” the younger boy suggested.

                “Yeah, right… I just get home from the afternoon milking and now, I’m supposed to head out and deliver newspapers because you fell asleep.”

                 “It wouldn’t take that long with both of us delivering… I could take the area on the other side of Adrian Avenue and you could take the closer…”

                  “Dream on,” the tall 15 year old howled. “What’s in it for me? I earn my money working on the farm and trapping… oh, and caddying on sundays when I don’t have to be at the farm…What makes you so special that you can’t even do a little paper route without someone holding your hand?”

                  “Here we go again with all the job stuff,” Gerry grumbled… “Why is it that I’m the only kid of all the guys I know that has to have a job ?”

                  “Last time I looked, there are 7 kids in this family who all need things. Do you want me to go over this AGAIN? Look, just get your stuff together, stop griping and get your butt on that bike! Your customers are waiting! The next thing, we’ll have the phone ringing off the hook because you’re late again!  MOVE IT!!  I gotta get a shower…”

                   Gerry reddened and zipped the jacket and then winced, sniffing the aroma that lingered from his big brother’s work day. “Yeah, you’re right about that! Geezz, you stink!!”

                   Matty pointed towards the bedroom door with his arm extended for emphasis. “GO!!”

                   With that, Gerry shuffled miserably out of the upstairs bedroom and down the flight of stairs, slipping towards the bottom on a loose runner that he always slipped on. Matty heard him mutter something under his breath, and then before he could get out the door, a bewildered comment from the boy’s mom, apparently realizing that her middle son was tardy again.

                   Matty shook his head and grabbed his towel and personal items from his bureau drawer and then headed off to the bathroom to wash the smell of the barn and its occupants off his body before he did anything else.

                   In the little house that 9 people shared, bathroom time was precious- almost as precious as warm water and soap… These were prized commodities and altho Matty had his own stock of soap because of his daily combat with the dreaded skin outbreaks and the fact that he had his own money, it was well known that there was a type of black market for the little bars, especially certain fragrant ones that the girls connived from each other when and if possible… Each kid was issued a bar of soap per  month that was supposed to be used conservatively, and in the opinion of the girls, not nearly enough, even tho each one of them had bottles of shampoo for their long blond locks, some that reached almost waist- length as was the fashion. There always seemed to be an argument about pilfered or ‘used’ soap, as each kid tried to preserve their own stock, preferring to sneak a shower or two from someone else’s if possible.

                This was frowned upon, and basically grossed out the older kids, but the younger ones didn’t seem to have the same qualms, so most of the older children had resorted to hiding their supply in various places around the house. The problem was that it was far easier to hide the commodity in the area it was used, so after a fashion, the bathroom closet became the favorite and most unoriginal hiding place. The older and taller the kid, the higher the bar of soap was hidden, until there was a strata that Matty often laughed about as he tried to extricate a fresh towel- sometimes, 2 or 3 bars of partially used soap in their tattered boxes would tumble from the pile of towels as the teenager pulled out the new towel. But, the game continued, as most of these things did, and if nothing else, a certain efficiency and thrift was instilled in those that would listen.

               The rest resorted to outright thievery to accommodate themselves.

               So, dressed in  his robe, Matty descended the stairs from the second floor and rounded the corner, into the living room, intent on resuscitating the blue boiler in the basement by flicking the shutoff switch to the ‘on’ position.  It was located on the wall at the top of the basement stairs, outside of little DJ’s bedroom. This provided the younger boy with an opportunity to pester his big brother and he rarely missed the chance, even if Matty was in a big hurry. On the face of things, it might have appeared that the 15 year old teenager was annoyed, but in reality, he adored his baby brother who was 11 years his junior.

                 The subtle noise of the toggled switch was more than enough for the 4 year old. He was blessed with acute hearing, often being the first to alert Matty to the arrival of the most dangerous creatures, many of them quite mystical and many of which seemed to arrive just before bedtime and station themselves under various pieces of furniture in the little house. It had become the big brother’s job to eliminate said dangers when they arose, as he canvassed each room, carrying a small plastic sword that in the little boy’s mind was forged from the strongest steel and polished to match the sheen of the armor his brother wore as he protected him the way that big brothers should…

                 So, as the teenager closed the basement door, he was attacked, at waist level by the hurtling ball of energy from the eastern bedroom as DJ coralled the older boy the only way he knew how- low and holding on for dear life!!

                 “Matty… Matty,” the youngster said excitedly. “Read me a story… You know, the one about the dragon. The one where the little prince has to slate the monster to save everyone…”

                 “Slate the monster?” Matty chuckled. “We say slay, little monkey, like Santa’s sleigh…”

                 “Santa kills monsters too?” the little boy said with a confused look.

                 Matty laughed and picked the boy up from his waist, inverting him onto his shoulders as the blond- haired lad squealed… “No, I don’t think so, DEEJ… Santa has other things to do… No, what I mean is that the little prince ‘slayed’ … actually slew the dragon… That means he killed the dragon. He slew the dragon, get it?” He tickled the exposed belly of the 4 year old and then cradled him and gave him the traditional ‘raspberry’ with his mouth on the pale flesh. DJ giggled and then squealed again, this time even louder, causing a terse warning to be issued from the boys’ mom who was around the corner, trying to complete a recipe for the upcoming dinner.

              “Matty… Could you take DJ into his room if you two are going to horse around? I can’t hear myself think! I need to concentrate, or this cake will be a disaster!”

               Matty shushed the little tyke as both boys shared a secret smile and then he flipped him again and carefully returned him to the worn rug on the hallway oak floor.

              “OK mom, I’m gonna be taking a shower anyways. I just got back from work. DJ’s gonna be in his room playing…” With that, the teenager  swatted the 4 year old on the seat of his pants and steered him into the tiny bedroom as the youngster whispered his objections… A quick bargain was struck and Matty closed the door and headed to the tiled bathroom at the end of the hall to wash the hard- earned dirt from his slender frame with the help of his moisturizing soap… The soap that was supposed to quell the vicious flareups of the acne that had besieged the boy for the past 4 months.

              It was a typical and efficient shower. The water was turned off while the teenager soaped himself and then turned on again to rinse, eliminating the waste of running water when it was serving no apparent use. Given enough time, the boy would have taken a bath like he did once a week, if he was able to appropriate the bathroom for a half hour period, but with a birthday dinner imminent, this day a shower would have to do.

             So, the tall boy spent the last full minute luxuriating in the warm stream of water as he rinsed the final suds from his hair and body… It was SO nice… Until he was startled out of his stupor by a clawing hand!!

            “Oh my God!!” Matty yelled. He looked down, and peering up at him was the beaming face of his little brother. The youngster was naked and clutching his favorite bath toy, a red, yellow and blue tug boat that Matty often played with as he monitored the little boy’s bath… “DJ!! What are you doing, you little squirt?”

           “Nuthin, Matty… Just giving you my favorite boat so you have sumthin’ to play with…”
Matty sighed… “Well, I guess I should say thank you, but big boys don’t usually play with boats while they shower… Oh my God, why’s your hand all green?”

           “Oh, I guess I spilt somethin’…”

            Matty parted the curtain and saw the puddle of green shampoo… He groaned, and lifted the young boy into the tub. Soon, their feet were awash with suds as the older boy rinsed the apple-scented shampoo from the 5- year- olds hands and feet, and after a second thought, utilized the remaining warm water to wash the kindergartner’s hair and body… At least he wouldn’t need his bath tonight, Matty thought.

           The water cooled quickly after that- it was almost automatic that after 5 minutes, Matty’s mom flicked off the boiler switch, thus limiting the amount of water that was heated. In the large family, there was little waste.

           A  frantic knocking at the bathroom door soon followed, as DJ came up ‘missing’.

           “Matty… Is DJ in there with you?” the anxious mom asked.

           “YUP!  He even got a free shower… whether he wanted one or not… And, I got to play with a special tug boat…”

           The teenager could hear the sigh of relief from the other side of the door… “I see.. Well, make sure he gets dried off and you might as well put him into his PJ’s if he’s all showered. I have to wash his play clothes anyhow. Just put them in the hamper… I’ll get his PJ’s and hang them on the doorknob out here… When you’re ready, you can grab them.

          “Uh… OK… Grab some clean underwear too, OK? His is all green…”

          “Green? How..”

          “Long story,” Matty replied. But he needs clean underwear.”

          “OK, OK… I really have to get back to the baking. I still have to wrap your sister’s present! Would you be able to entertain DJ for a while once you’re done? I need some free time…”

          The little boy looked up at his big brother with an ear- to- ear smile after hearing that…Matty looked down at him and growled. DJ beamed even more. “Sure,  no problem, mom…”

          And so it was… The two boys preened in front of the steam- covered mirror that Matty wiped with his bath towel and laughed as the older boy styled the 4 year old’s hair in different ways as the boy stood on the  edge of the cast iron tub. Eventually, the ‘Mohawk’ version gave way to a tamer and more conservative style with a part  on the right side that made the boy look cherubic. Matty shook his head and stood back to survey the PJ -clad kid… “You have no right to be so cute!” he chuckled as he opened the bathroom door, venting the steamy air to the hallway and onto his bored sister who sat waiting in a chair by the larger bedroom.

         “I never thought you’d be done!”

         “I would have been, earlier. But, tonight was two -for -one night, right DJ?”

         DJ nodded, not really comprehending, but it didn’t matter, as long as his big brother said it!  It had to be true!

           Dinner that night was an interesting affair, as the youngest girl celebrated her 11th birthday and the family  gorged themselves on her favorite dish- a Hawaiian stew of sorts that was made up of slices of kielbasa mixed with hunks of fresh pineapple and peppers immersed in a sweet sauce and served over a bed of rice… Matty was more partial to dishes made from chicken or beef, but occasionally enjoyed a serving or two of the scrumptious combination and since it was rarely on the menu, it was a bit of a treat, even for him…

But there was something else that caught his attention, about the time that the fudge cake was served to the chorus of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song, sung in various keys and decibel levels by the large cadre… What seemed coincidental at the beginning of the meal, was now more evident in the bizarre behavior of the middle boy… Gerry had been fidgeting from the beginning of the meal, in a way that Matty ignored, because it seemed to be a ploy for attention, but after a while, it could not be ignored… Obviously, something was amiss, and when the 15- year- old finally returned the boy’s anxious look, it was confirmed.

           Matty raised his eyebrows and mouthed the word, ‘What?’

           Gerry grinned smugly and whispered back, “You’ll see..”

           And he was right… With the dinner over, the boys returned to their bedroom… Matty turned to the younger boy who seemed to be busting at the seams. “What the heck is up with you?”

          Gerry answered cryptically, basking in the glow of his big secret. “Wouldn’t YOU like to know.”

          He should have known better. This was not a game that Matty played. The older boy shrugged and turned away, grabbing his jacket in preparation for a rendezvous with Bobby. “Not really…”

          That had the expected effect of deflating the 12- year- old’s puffed up chest… “Wait… WAIT!!  Don’t you want to know what I got for free today?”

          Matty answered impatiently, “Not really… Either you spill your guts fast, or I’m gone. I don’t have time for this right now.”

         “OK, OK… look!” With that, the excited 12- year- old  went down to his knees and dragged his canvas newspaper bag from underneath his bed. It was bulging, as though he hadn’t delivered the newspapers he was commissioned to do.

         Matty groaned. What now? He had no patience left to deal with another problem tonight. But, he decided that the situation definitely needed some attention so he waited. “All right, what’s in the bag?”

         “You’re not going to believe this! ” the boy answered. He reached into the bag and pulled out a plastic bag that contained a green and white box and a piece of paper that appeared to be an advertisement…

          Matty took the bag from his brother’s hand and studied it. It  contained a box of bath- sized soap. A new brand by the name of, ‘Irish Spring’. The new soap that had been advertised on TV in the past week…

         “Where did you get this?” Matty demanded.

         “Where I got ALL of these!” With that, the proud newspaper boy dumped the contents of the canvas bag onto the blue throw rug in the center of the room. No less than 50 bags fell out, each containing a bar of soap!

         “What the hell…” Matty scowled, starting to put two and two together. “Were these door samples that you found? Where the heck did you get all of these?”

         “Ain’t it cool?” replied the exuberant lad. “We’ll NEVER have to beg for another bar of soap! Well, at least not for  like 5 years… I counted them- there’s 55 bars of soap here, and I figure I could even get more tomorrow!”

         “WOAH!!! Are you nuts, or something?  Did you get these where I thought you did?”

         “What the matter? They were just hanging on all the doors… It says ‘free sample’ on every one of them!”

           Matty was speechless for a full thirty seconds. Then, he gathered himself and looked the 12- year- old in the eyes. “Are you telling me that you think that these were free for ANYBODY that happened to see them? REALLY??”

           “Sure! It says ‘free’ on every one of them… I figured that it was my good luck to find them before anybody else… You know, ‘finders, keepers, losers, weepers…’ “

           “Oh my God,” Matty groaned… “Where do I start? Cripes… You can’t take stuff off of peoples’ doors just because you want something free! You took something that was left for the people in THAT house. It was a sample for THEM  to try.. Not for you to steal, just because noone saw.”

           “But you can’t steal something that is being given away for free!”

           Matty sighed… He saw the look of confusion on the boy’s face. “Yeah, actually you can… Listen, every time you put your quarter into the collection basket at church, you’re giving something for free, only you’re giving it to the church. What if someone else reached into that basket and took your quarter just because you gave it away?”

          “I’d kick him in the nuts!”

          “Yeah, great… So, you’d cripple the guy because he took the quarter that wasn’t yours anymore, but you think it’s OK to take something that’s hanging on someone else’s door just because you can! Stealing is stealing. The soap never belonged to you! Maybe you could have rung the doorbell and asked the people if they wanted the soap, but you didn’t…”

         “Well, I couldn’t really do that! I mean, I don’t know ALL the people! Some of them weren’t even customers of mine…”

         “Great…” Matty sighed, rubbing his temples. “Whatever… Now tho, you have to return all of these…”

         “You gotta be kidding!”

         “Kidding? I’m dead serious! You stole every one of these, whether you meant to or not! Now, you have to fix your mistake and bring them back to where you got them.”

         Gerry’s shoulders drooped… “Can’t I keep a few of them?”

         “Which ones belonged to you?”

         The dejected boy didn’t answer at first. Then, he picked the bag up and muttered something under his breath.

         Matty turned. “Huh? Which ones?”

         “None of ’em…” the 12-year- old answered quietly.

         “OK then. I expect you to do the right thing and put them back where you found them. I’m outta here…”

                  A week later, after 3 solid days of rain that descended on the quiet, blue- collar town, compliments of a slow- moving nor’easter, Matty returned home from his job at the farm. He walked through the backyards, past the line of towering pines and fir trees with the intention of using the basement stairs to enter the house.  His usual habit after a day at the farm. He always kept a change of clothes or a robe in the basement laundry room so that he could leave the work- worn clothes and their strong smell in the basement where they were washed separately from the rest of the family’s clothes.

               Today though, he ran headlong into his dad, who had a look of concern on his face. He appeared to be lost in thought and spent from a long day at work.

              “Hi dad… What’s up?” queried the teenaged boy.

              “Uhh… I don’t really know, to tell you the truth, Matty… Can’t figure this out… Your mother insists that there’s something wrong with the drain line from the washing machine, but I’ve checked it and it drains just fine.”

              “Well, that’s good then, isn’t it?”

              The tired man sighed… “It would be, except she swears that yesterday, right at the edge of the property line, she saw a big area of soap suds… I just don’t understand it… The drain line runs near there, but it has to be 10 feet away from where she claims the suds were. If there was a break in the line, I just can’t imagine it showing up 10 feet away, and then, only during a heavy rain… It just doesn’t make sense… ”  The 44 -year- old man walked away mumbling, searching for a shovel.

              Matty thought for a moment, and then changed into his bathrobe. He walked up the two flights of stairs to the second floor bedroom and opened the door. Gerry was lying on his bed, dozing on top of an opened school book. He awoke as his big brother entered the room. Matty stopped and stood facing him with crossed arms, and asked the question. The type of question that an experienced big brother already knows the answer to…

            “Where did you put those bars of soap?”

             The twelve -year- old’s face reddened, and he looked away.

                             He never could lie to me.

                                   {for a great Irish poet, Davie- as requested}

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