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George Pollock

State Kid
Issue 60
Hi, Brother, Hi, Sister!

Sunday, reunion day, dawned bright and warm with a soft summer wind. It was a good
day for five sundered siblings to hit the big, fabled city of Boston, which they had heard
about and seen pictures of -- but had never dared hope for any more than that.
Driving David Weatherall's car, Billy headed out with a map marked with four big X's.
Having just gotten his license, unsure at the wheel, foggy about where he was going, he
proceeded timidly -- and got the horn twice in the first ten minutes he was on the road.
He was collecting them oldest to youngest, Mary first and Raymond last, with times
staggered to allow for church and still have them all in the car by one o'clock. After many
wrong turns, unlovely maneuvers, and angry looks from other drivers, he lurched to a
stop outside Mary's foster home. It was a decent place in a decent neighborhood, which
surprised him.
He sat in the car for a while, just looking at the house. He thought, What's the worst thing
that could happen? She could slam the door in my face. But it won't kill me. I'll just drive
away and come up with a better idea.
He went up and knocked on the door, and the foster mother opened it, just enough to peer
out. Billy blurted his name and why he was there, as if she didn't know.
“Come in. I'll get her,” she said, opening the door.
The foster mother disappeared and came back holding the hand of a timorous girl with a
pretty face, light brown bangs, and mournful eyes. Mary was dressed for church, even
though they were all supposed to wear everyday clothes. Billy glanced down at his
sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers.
Damn!
He pasted on a smile and made small talk with the foster mother. All the while, Mary
clung to her while scrutinizing the slob come to take her away in a car.
“Hi, Mary. I'm Billy.”
She ducked behind the foster mother.
“She's a little shy. But she's a good girl and smart. She does very well in school.”The
foster mother cast a disapproving eye over Billy's attire. “I'm so used to seeing you in a
suit on TV. I expected you to show up in one. Silly me.”
So, bad choice of wardrobe. This does not have to be fatal.
“I was trying to dress like a kid. Silly me.”
Somehow, Billy managed to coax Mary out of the house. Declining his invitation to sit
with him in front, she sat in back, ramrod straight, arms tight at her side, eyes straight
ahead, lips glued shut.
Billy started the car and put it in gear. It jumped forward and stalled. He pumped the gas
pedal and then pressed it to the floor. The engine varoomed to life and, with Billy grimly
gripping the wheel with both hands, the car took off squealing.
They were off to pick up Rebecca. Struggling to remain calm, the foster mother forced a
little wave and bravely watched them out of sight.
Billy got the vehicle under reasonable control. Looking at his sister in the rearview
mirror, he said, “I thought we could have a picnic on the Boston Common, walk around,
sightsee, and just enjoy the city. Perfect day for it. What do you think of that?”
“It's okay.”
Billy tried again.
“Adults split us up, so I thought: Why don't we put us back together? So here we are
doing it.”
No reply.
“Mary?”
“She never comes. She says she is going to come, but she never does.”
“Mother?”
“Yes. Why doesn't she come?”
“Well, she has many problems.”
“But why doesn't she come? Doesn't she care about me?”
“She does care about you, Mary. She loves you.”
“She does?”
“Yes, very much.”
“How do you know?”
“She told me.”
“She comes to see you?”
“Well, not exactly. It's a long story. I'll tell you all about it later when we're all together,
promise. Did you see me on TV?”
“Yes.”
“What did you think?”
“You were someone on TV.”
Billy thrust his hand into the back seat. “Feel it. It's flesh and blood. I'm real.”
Mary poked at his outstretched hand with an index finger, quickly retracting it, as if she
had touched something crawly.

***
They arrived at Rebecca's foster home, which like Mary's was middle-class and neat.
Nice neighborhood. Pays to stay out of trouble.
“Want to go in with me?”
“No.”
Billy went up alone. It was a near replay of Mary's extraction: Chitchat with the foster
mother, who also seemed nice, despite a disapproving look at his attire; Rebecca, all
dressed up in Sunday best, wary, needing to be told by the foster mother that it was okay.
Seeing Rebecca up close, Billy stared at the creature before him with dirty-blond curls
and big almond eyes.
“Hi, Rebecca. I'm Billy.”
She nodded, barely.
On their way out, Billy reached for Rebecca's hand and she pulled it away. Down the
front steps and the long front walk, Rebecca walked as far as she could from the stranger
and, lest he reach for her hand again, kept her arms stiffly by her side. Given a choice of
sitting in front or in back, she unhesitatingly climbed in back with Mary.
“Hi,” Rebecca said.
“Hi,” Mary said.
Billy pulled away, waving at a second gravely concerned foster mother. Given his failure
thus far to spark conversation, Billy thought he would try another approach: keeping his
mouth shut.
That didn't work either. Mary and Rebecca both stared at the back of the head of the
stranger at the wheel without saying a word. The three rode in silence.
Finally, Rebecca said to Mary, “Have you seen her?”
“Our mother?”
“Yes.”
“No.”
“How come she never comes?”
“I don't know.”
***
As he drove, Billy kept looking down at the map in his lap, trying to figure out the way to
Vincent's house. Suddenly, he slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of
them.
“You don't know how to drive,” Mary said. “We're all going to get killed!”
“What if all five of us end up squished on the highway?” Rebecca said.
“What a lousy end to a lousy life,” Mary said.
In the rearview mirror, Billy's and Mary's eyes met. The car behind them passed them
with horn blaring and the driver glaring at Billy.
The eyes of brother and sister met again. Billy made a crazy face, eyes wild, mouth wide
open, tongue out the side of his mouth. A tiny crack of a smile appeared on Mary's face.
And then, fighting not to, she giggled.
It spread to the others and all three began laughing.
***
Billy pulled up to Vincent's house. This time, he did not have to go in alone. Mary and
Rebecca walked up with him, three of them making crazy faces and in tears from
laughing so hard. The foster mother opened the door to three siblings having silly fits.
Mary said, “We're here to pick up Vincent ... for the last day of his life.” She pointed at
Billy. “He can't drive.”
“And we're going to Boston,” Rebecca said. She looked at Billy.“Have you ever driven to
Boston?”
“No.”
“We're going to end up like this,” Mary said, contorting herself into the mangled form of
a car accident victim. Rebecca assumed an even more horrible depiction of highway
death.
Vincent, ten years old and dressed for church in a white shirt and tie, looked scared. He
moved closer to the foster mother. Mary asked him, “Are you in a state of grace?”
“Yes. I went to communion this morning.”
“Good. You'll go straight to heaven.”
“Let's make it!” Rebecca said.
The two sisters dragged a bewildered Vincent out of the house and down the steps to the
car, as if this were something they did every day. Billy followed, waving and smiling
reassuringly at the horrified foster mother.
***
Vincent climbed into the back seat with Mary and Rebecca. All the way to Raymond's,
there was a conversational dam burst, with the four of them sometimes all talking at once.
Before they knew it, with even all the wrong turns, they were at Raymond's. Vincent's
fears had turned to joy.
Nine-year-old Raymond, who had been put into foster care at age three months, found
himself descended upon by a strange delegation of four older siblings with rampant funny
bones. The foster mother's first thought was of an emergency call to DSS.
“Are you in a state of grace?” Vincent asked his younger brother by a year.
“No.”
“Too bad. Some time today, you're going to hell.”
“Hell?”
“That's right,” Vincent said. He pointed at Billy. “He can't drive. And we're going to
Boston. We're all going to die.”
“Don't worry, just a big joke,” Billy said to the foster mother, who was not amused. “It's
all DSS-approved. They wouldn't approve anything that wasn't perfectly safe. We'll be
back early, safe and sound.”
He smiled reassuringly.
The foster mother, back of her hand to her forehead, appeared ready to pass out.
Outside, Mary, Rebecca and Vincent jammed themselves into the tight back seat.
“I guess you're stuck in the front seat with me,” Billy said to Raymond.
Mary said, “In a crash, the front seat is the worst place to be.”
Vincent said, “Where he wants you to sit? That's the death seat.”
Raymond eyed the empty front seat. He looked at Mary, Rebecca, and Vincent huddled
safely in the back seat.
“Come on, they're just kidding,î Billy said. “It'll be all right.”
Raymond's young mind turned. Should he run for it? He took a deep breath, climbed into
the front seat and carefully fastened his seatbelt.
***
They were off to Boston -- and quickly got hopelessly lost. Stuck in a stream of traffic --
Boston is no place to drive even for people who know its unsighted, unwarned twists and
turns -- Billy went with the flow, hoping for the best. He got on and off the Southeast
expressway several times.
He drove in circles around neighborhoods accessible only to those born there, with four
siblings riding him mercilessly at each failed attempt at finding open road. And then, by
complete chance, they caught sight of the green grass of the Boston Common.
They had accomplished the thirty-five-minute trip in an hour and a half. Even though it
was a Sunday with less traffic and fewer people about than on weekdays, the five siblings
gawked in awe at all the people, the hustle and bustle, the roaring traffic, and the tall
buildings.
They ran on the Boston Common, rode on the swan boats, ate street food, walked around,
gazed at the golden-domed state house. Raymond's fears had turned to joy.
They talked about all the years they had missed. Boy, did they talk.
Subject number one: their mother. The four pinned Billy's ears back with questions about
her, since he had seen her most recently in person and talked to her. All wanted to know
why she never came, where she was, what kind of person she was, and if she were going
to come for them some day.
“She has had a very hard life and she still has many problems,” Billy said. “But she loves
us all -- she told me that herself. What she wants more than anything in the world is to
come and get us so we can be a real family.”
He could not, would not, deny them hope.
They talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Mary said she wanted to
be a nurse; Rebecca a social worker; Raymond “to build things;” Vincent a U.S. Marine
General; Billy -- to be honest, his answer struck them all as, well, strange.
“I want to cause trouble,” Billy told them.
Four perplexed faces demanded an explanation.
“What I mean is, I want to help make life in this country fairer. To do that, I have to upset
some people who don't want things to change.”
“You've been watching too much TV,” Mary said.
Vincent and Raymond shot looks at each other. Weird, really weird.