as with many of the stories i will post here, this story may be rooted in some truth like all fiction, but is still fiction. and though it may be in first person, the narrator is not necessarily myself.
Owen lives down the street from my parents. every time i go visit, we walk the dogs around the historic neighborhood, and Owen’s house is one of the first and last houses we see. i don’t know how someone lives in that house. it was once a beautiful two-story, southern plantation style home, but i now cannot tell if it was once covered in white siding, or if it’s that i can actually see the termites.
the roof looks like it’s about to fall in. above the front porch sits a bench and a step ladder; it looks like maybe there was a nice patio-style landing maybe sixty years ago, but whatever floor may still be there now rests at the same angle as the rest of the roof.
the yard is unkempt, and what’s there wouldn’t look good if it were kempt — palm trees, cacti, magnolia, dogwood, pea gravel, mismatched grasses, cement decor… it’s all kind of a mess, made worse by being covered in leaves, dirt, litter, and the eccentric collection that only good Southern white trash can effectively
straw strow (what’s the present tense of strewn?) across the half-acre corner property.
and it’s this mishmash of a lawn that serves as the home of Owen’s many yard sales. i’m not sure exactly what the yard sale laws are in this little hamlet, but they obviously don’t apply to Owen, at least in his mind. he has them every few hours i think. where he digs up this junk is a compete mystery to me. i guess he finds it on the side of the road or something? it’s like he sees some garbage and thinks, hey, that mostly demolished coffee table just needs a little dusting, that’s all.
more than anything else, Owen sells bicycles. right now, he’s got various pieces of thirty plus bicycles scattered across his property. and every time i pass the house, i see Owen outside with… i guess it’s his wife? sitting on plastic lawn chairs that strain under their plump round ends. Owen’s got a cold, cheap beer can in one hand and a wrench in the other, concocting some new Frankenstein with wheels to try and sell at his daily flea market.
once on a walk without the dogs, dad and i tried out a few of the bikes Owen had for sale that day (he seems to turn them around pretty quickly). they were clunky, stiff. uncomfortable seat. not great rides. i think one of my tires was more of a triangle than a circle. even at $35 or so, we declined. i’ve wanted a cheap bike for some time, but was willing to save up a little more if this what thirty-five dollars gets you.
Owen usually has a story or two. dunno the veracity of any of them. i really don’t know the first thing about Owen or where he came from. the only car i’ve ever seen there is a probation officer truck parked in front of the house a time or two. my guess, from the beer and bicycles, is that Owen has no driver’s license, presumably from a DUI or worse. everything about Owen is a little sketchy, really.
the neighborhood, once just a neighborhood, is now a historic neighborhood near the town’s only college, now a university. most of the homes have been bought up and fixed up. and yet there sits a shirtless Owen, tossing back Old Milwaukee in front of a house whose threshold even Shaggy and Velma wouldn’t cross, peddling wares that’d be better off in a landfill, or maybe not.
why anyone would ever want that garbage was beyond me.
like many kids, Dewan was a summertime opportunist, a weekend entrepreneur, a purveyor of citrusy refreshment to those that happened to walk by (or pull over and stop, if they were so kind). at 25¢, it sounded like a good bargain. i imagine Dewan made less money than his mother put into it.
Dewan could probably use a lesson in economics. being ten (or thereabouts), i’m sure he doesn’t understand supply and demand or the rule of 72. i doubt he understands profit margins or advertising (my theory supported by his sign: ”lemenaid – ¢25″). kind of unfortunate that many life lessons are probably lost here for this kid. i doubt he even learned how to count money, since Dewan lived a block in every direction from any street that had even remote traffic. but no one in the house cared or knew enough to teach him anything about salesmanship. i never once even heard him call out. he just sat there in front of his house, hoping someone would buy some of his lemonade, which i doubt that even he himself had bought to begin with.
it was kind of sad to watch, really. occasionally, i’d pity him and buy a cup. at least his mother is letting him make it himself, i presumed, the grains of undissolved drink mix sanding their way down my esophagus. it was rare, but over the course of the summer, i did see a few others wander his way with the same pitiful smile i no doubt displayed.
once, i saw his mom. i could barely make her out behind the screened-in door beneath the large green awning over the front steps. but i could see her eyes. she was a small, wiry woman in an old sleeveless t-shirt who watched me the way a security guard in an art museum would. it was clear from her intensity that the only thing of value in her life was Dewan, and she didn’t trust anyone else with him. certainly not a white man she didn’t recognize from around here. i don’t know her name.
i’ve never seen Dewan anywhere besides behind the little wooden card table with the masking-taped sign hanging from the front. never seen him playing in the street or waiting for the bus. i suspected sitting at the edge of the yard with a pitcher of undrinkable generic-ade was probably the most freedom he was allowed.
he was really quiet. almost submissive, even to his customers, strangers. Dewan always grinned when taking my quarter, but said little more than “thank you” and never looked me in the eye. i said thank you back, then headed home, wondering what hope people like that have, and badly needing a glass of water.
i hung up the phone, angry. for the third time this week, i’d have to rearrange my travel schedule for work. work is good, but i was having to cancel two things to which i’d committed, as if i’d set a price on my own word to someone else. not to mention, i’d only just arrived at my parents and hoped to take a couple of days to unwind.
looking at my calendar and my email only made me more frustrated. trying to release my irritation, i grunted through gritted teeth, sending the growl echoing through the empty house. i paced and huffed into the kitchen and poured a glass of water from the Brita pitcher. i stepped back onto the cold hardwood of the living room floor to stare out of the bay window, hoping for some serenity. that’s when i saw them.
there was Dewan, his frail little boyish frame standing at the edge of the street, talking with Owen. Owen was squatted down in front of Dewan, his large, round, balding head slightly lower than Dewan’s bushy head of hair. they chatted for a bit, and i saw Dewan point to his house down the block. Owen looked, then talked some more.
though part of me felt bad for instantly thinking it, i didn’t trust this redneck alone with this boy. where was Dewan’s mother? what had Owen gone to jail for, anyway? i suddenly felt like something insidious might be happening. the whole thing gave me a creepy intuition.
Dewan reached into his pocket and pulled out a fistful of change. i watched him count each coin into Owen’s grease-covered, chubby hand. Owen took them and flashed a grimy, semi-toothy grin. then, he walked back toward his house, out of my vantage. Dewan followed him. a queasy feeling filled my stomach as they both disappeared from my sight, and i darted for the guest room after my sneakers.
fumbling to get them on, i tumbled through the front door of my parents’ house just as Dewan rolled past me on a slightly rusty He-Man bicycle, complete with a faded Battle Cat mask between the handlebars and a shaky set of training wheels keeping the whole wobbly mess upright. for what couldn’t have been more than about $3.50, Dewan had spent his life savings on his first bike. Owen followed a few feet behind as Dewan clunked about on the pedals. Dewan had the first smile i’d ever seen him give — big and toothy, with almost as many teeth missing as Owen.
Dewan laughed out loud as he zoomed past me, squeaking down 19th street, never even noticing me. the late-afternoon sunlight fractured through the leaves and rippled flashes across his nose as he squeezed close his eyes and felt the wind rustle through his thick hair escaping from the oversized helmet strapped tightly under his little chin. smiling deeply, Owen noticed me and waved. trying to hide my shame, i smiled and waved back.
at the corner, Dewan did a figure eight, then turned around and headed for home. Owen moseyed right behind, watching Dewan to the end of the street to make sure he was safe before finally stepping back onto his patchwork lawn amidst his menagerie of patchwork bicycles.
and i followed right behind Owen, pulling two crisp twenties from my wallet.