“Here, basketball star,” the milkman laughed as he tossed a pint of fresh milk to Adam. “Ya, gotta keep up that superman strength, Boy. Looks like you have a lot to offer football or basketball, either one. I saw you shoot baskets when I picked up my son from school. You’re good at that too.”
“Thanks,” Adam shouted back, more thankful for the milk than the compliment.
“Adam, that would be great! Join the team! I would come to every game,” Fritzy giggled a little more. “I happen to know the coach personally and I’m going to tell him what you just did for that boy.”
Adam wanted to change the subject. He didn’t know what had happened. Had he actually flown across the street like a super hero? “Oh you know the coach do you?” he teased.
“We get along alright as long as I take out the trash on time, help Mother, and keep my grades up. Dads are dads. You know how that goes,” she laughed.
“Sure,” Adam agreed but he thought, No, I don’t know how that goes. I haven’t seen Pops in almost three years.
“Come on Adam, join the team. What’s stopping you?”
“No Fritzy, I . . . I can’t.” Adam never planned to say anything out loud about his family’s problems, not until he heard himself say, “Fritzy, I don’t have any basketball shoes.”
“What about your uncle? Can’t he get them for you?”
“My uncle?” Adam stumbled over his words. He was beginning to forget all the lies he had told.
“You told me you’re living with your uncle. Uncle—Harold I think?”
“Yeah, Fritz, Uncle Harold.” Adam knew he was lying and he didn’t lie well. Fritzy went on talking and didn’t seem to notice.
“Couldn’t he give you the money for the shoes and help with your mother’s medical bills?” Fritzy asked then stuck her tongue out to capture a few fresh snowflakes.
“He’s gone a lot—and you don’t know where that snowflake has been.”
“It has been in the pure air of a snow cloud.”
“You hope it’s clean,” He joked. “Uncle Harold works hard but he doesn’t make much money.” Adam stopped when he realized what he was saying. That turn of the conversation could be a problem. “Of course, he’s home every night. He’s just late.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a traveling salesman. He’s home mostly to sleep. I get my homework done then—now Fritzy, that’s another thing. I have so much to do. I clean the house―”
“What?” Adam was confused.
“You said house, Adam. You meant apartment. You live in an apartment, right?”
“Right—an apartment.” He had to talk about something else before he slipped and fell
over his own fabrications.
“Maybe if my dad,” Fritzy started, “no—I have a better idea. My brother, Jimmy, is away at college. His basketball shoes are just laying in his closet. I’ll bet you could have them.”
“That’s nice, Fritz, but I have so much on my mind right now, so much to do. I don’t
think I could focus on the game.”
“But, Adam, it’s―”
“Are you and your family going to Florida for Christmas this year?” Adam quickly changed the subject. He would have to redirect her before he got his stories all tangled up and choked on them.
“Florida? I’d love to go south again for the holidays but Grandma wanted to come up here and enjoy the snow for a week or two. Besides, vacation break is so late this year.”
“So you’re stuck here?”
“Not stuck, Adam. I haven’t had a white Christmas for a long time. I’m looking forward to sparkling snow on holly wreaths. What are you and your uncle going to do?”
“Not much. I plan to spend the day at the hospital with Moms.”
“At the hospital? Won’t you get tuberculosis, Adam?”
“No. Moms has pasted the contagious stage. She’s just weak.”
“Will your uncle take you out there?”
“Sure,” Adam lied again. The only way he was going to get out to the sanitarium would be to walk the ten miles since he had no Uncle Harold to drive him anywhere. He knew he could hike that far. He had trudged out there often. Maybe this time, with all the snow and cold wind, he would be able to hitch a ride. But, he wouldn’t tell Fritzy any of it. No one knew he lived in the church bell tower and no one would, not even his mother. He shook his head and tried to get his mind off the impossible.
“Guess what I found, Fritzy—a hummingbird.”
“You did not, Adam Shoemaker. They left months ago.”
“Yes, I did. He flew right at me.”
“Where? Where were you? Where did you find him?”
Adam stopped. How could he explain that the bird had been high up in the beams of a belfry at church? He had to think up a different location. “The garage,” Adam offered. “He was up in the rafters of my uncle’s garage. He dove at me, then hit the ground.”
“The apartment has a garage? That’s great.”
“The apartment is in the upstairs of a home and we have one of the spaces in a three car garage.” Lies, lies and more lies.
“Is he okay? The hummingbird. Is he alright?”
“He snapped out of it. This morning, I gave him sugar water with some food coloring mixed in to attract his attention.” How could he tell her that Shaddi had helped him heal the little bird?
“Maybe he was in torpor, Adam,” Fritzy chattered on, caught up in the excitement of find. “They do that, ya know, when they don’t have enough to eat.”
“They do not.” Adam stopped. “What is torpor anyway?”
“My dad’s a science teacher, remember.”
“Oh—that’s right. Okay, so what’s torpor?”
“Hummers eat one and a half to three times their body weight in food every day. Well,
when they don’t have enough to eat, they go into a sleep-like state called torpor. Their body temperature drops by 50 degrees and their heart rate can slow from 500 beats per minute to less than 50. They may even stop breathing for a while.”
“He was sure wide awake when he flew at me.”
“Then that rules out torpor. Hummingbirds don’t respond to an emergency when they’re in torpor and your coming upon him would be an emergency for the hummer.”
“Sure is a pretty little thing.”
“They are fascinating. Daddy keeps a hummingbird feeder outside our breakfast room window. I could watch them all morning.”
“Maybe the bird is one of yours.” Adam didn’t like the sound of that. He wanted the bird for himself. He might have to give the little fellow back if its owner could be proven.
“Couldn’t be. They flew south in September.”
“Yeah, to Mexico,” Adam added, then thought a moment. “Ask your dad how those little things fly all the way to Mexico.”
“Everyone believed that hummers fly south on the backs of northern geese. Some stories even say that they piggyback under the geese’s wings. But Daddy says―”
“Don’t tell me if the story isn’t true. I like the way you told it first. For a little bird to find shelter under a large, safe wing is almost spiritual. I like that better.” Adam always preferred the fantasy to reality. He had enough reality all around him in the bell tower.
Fritzy slipped her hand through the crook of Adam’s arm and stomped through the deep snow a little harder until she matched his stride—almost. “I like that story too. Aren’t little fables wonderful? They take your mind off harder things?”
“Harder things like basketball games and Algebra tests,” Adam added. He liked walking with Fritzy. Maybe that’s why he wanted to keep the conversation going. “I got a basketball last night.”
“Have you been practicing?”
Fritzy seemed to gulp in air as she shot back a plea. “Let Daddy give you Jimmy’s shoes, Adam, please, for me.”
“For you? You wouldn’t fit in those shoes, Frederica Breman.”
“You know what I mean Adam. Stop being abstruse.”
“So now I’m a fancy word for confused?”
When they got to the school door, they stomped off as much of the snow that clung to their boots all the way to the ankle as they could. They walked through the school door and entered a world of polished hardwood floors, tile walls, and brick arches that defined the staircases. School was the home Adam did not have and housed the only healthy adults in his life. School felt safe.
“Adam, look!” Fritzy squealed.
“What?” he looked around to see what she was so excited about.
“The New Year’s Eve Party—I nearly forgot!” She pointed to the poster prominently displayed on the wall.
“I thought they cancelled that, since this is the first Christmas so many of the dads are home.” Adam said as he thought of full dinner tables and families gathered by the fireplace.
“Look at the date. The party is on December 28, four days before my sister’s wedding.”
Fritzy nearly jumped up and down with party possibilities for the first time in years. Her verbal speed increased by twice its rate. “It’s not a Christmas Party and it’s not a New Year’s Eve Party either. They couldn’t have the get-together on the actual New Year’s Eve. That would be a Monday night and it would be too late for the chaperones who would have to go to work on Wednesday. They’ll need Tuesday, New Years Day, to relax and recover from the holidays. And, Sarah Jane’s wedding is on New Years Day. So—the party is Friday night, the twenty-eighth,” she looked so excited, she seemed to bubble as she babbled.
“Adam, can we go? A party would be so much fun, games and food and music! Everyone
will be there. Will you take me?”
Adam’s head swam with alternating waves that thundered in and felt like they could take him under. He would have to tread water fast. He wouldn’t have the money for a corsage or the tickets. He wouldn’t have proper clothes and he couldn’t drive to take her. He had no one to pick them up and drop them off.
“I’ll bet we could double with Charlie and Barbara.”
“How much are the tickets?” Adam knew the price wouldn’t matter, even if it cost nothing. He still wouldn’t have money for flowers.
“The tickets are two dollars a piece and—I don’t need flowers, Adam.”
“I have an idea, if you won’t be insulted. My church needs someone to help the janitor for a few weeks during the holidays. There are so many programs, he can hardly keep up with everything. You would set up and take down tables and chairs, haul out the trash, sweep the floors—you know.” She chattered on and on.
Adam saw no evidence of Mr. O’Shaughnessy, no green crystal dust, no shamrocks. Shaddi had not whispered in his ear either, but, Adam had one thought—a job!
For the first time in months, Adam felt a little sliver of hope stir within him. Had Shaddi, the wizard, put thoughts in Fritzy’s head? How else was she able to have an answer to all of his problems? Was Shaddi providing what he needs, when he needs it, like he said? “Where Fritzy? What church do you attend?”
Fritzy beamed, “The Church on Cranberry Street.”
“Don’t push Bobby,” Kathleen Snyder ordered as she elbowed the eighth-grader who always pushed and shoved his way out to the bus stop at the end of every school day.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the red-headed kid with the orange stocking cap fired back.
Adam saw the shadow people pass, glare at Bobby and seethe but move on. Adam shuddered at the sight of them as he stood just inside the west door and waited for everyone to leave.
The snow beyond the windows still pilled halfway up the mailbox posts and rolled into five foot drifts in the open fields where they waited for excited kids to get home from school. The country road out to the farm could be impassible. That couldn’t stop Adam today.
Later, that same afternoon, after everyone had cleared out of the school except the floor sweeping crew, Adam started to walk toward the farm. He didn’t think anyone had seen him slip out of town. He had hurried down back streets, away from traffic. He didn’t want anyone to know his business. And, he definitely did not want anyone to know that the farm was empty. He knew that neighboring farm families might notice, since they look out after one another. But, they also respected the need for privacy.
The day was Thursday, the twentieth, but the date wasn’t important to Adam. What mattered was the mission he was on. He hadn’t been out to the farm in months. If his mother was going to come home soon, he would have to make sure everything was ready.
The farm was ten miles out, along a country dirt road. Farm trucks had flattened deep ruts in the snow that made walking easier as long as he stayed in the furrows. But, even the warm sun hadn’t melted very much of the snow, just enough to leave some sloppy ice that caused him to slip occasionally like he had stepped on some slippery moss on the edge of the woods after a rain. It had happened before.
“Shaddi, walk with me please and protect me from the bitter wind.” Adam felt the same warmth come over him as before. It started in his heart and spread throughout his body, both inside and out.
“I will remember your gloves for you,” Shaddi promised.
“Adam?” a familiar voice called after him on cold air.
He turned and found Fritzy Breman behind him a few yards as she pushed into the wind. “Fritzy, what are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry Adam. I truly am.” She swished in her snow pants and stomped through the snow in her fur-lined winter books. “I had to come and find you. There’s something going on with you and I’m your friend.” She stopped and stomped her foot. “Talk to me, Adam Shoemaker!” she yelled.
“I don’t know what to say,” he blurted out.
“Begin by telling me why you were hiding from everyone when you left town.”
“I wasn’t hiding,” he began another lie.
“You were too, so knock it off.”
“Okay, okay,” his shoulders fell as he opened a little. He trusted Fritzy more and more. She was real. “I have to go out to the farm and check on everything. I didn’t want anyone to see me so they wouldn’t know no one is around the place now,” he confessed.
“Adam, I already know your mom is sick, your dad is gone, and you live in town with your uncle. Who else would be living at the farm anyway?”
“I guess you’re right. But, I don’t want anyone else to know.”
“Why?” she demanded.
“Because I don’t, that’s why. You’ll just have to accept that,” he whispered insistently.
Adam gestured for Fritzy to walk beside him and they walked together in silence. “Your dad is going to kill me if I get you home after dark,” Adam shook his head.
“No he won’t. I told mom I would be late because I was going for a walk.”
“A walk! Girl a ten mile hike is not an afternoon stroll,” Adam chuckled a little.
“When I get back, I’m going to help Mother with Christmas cookies.”
“Christmas cookies? They sound good.” What Adam really meant was that food of any kind would taste like a feast that afternoon.
They arrived at the farmstead a little before 5:00 p.m. The short lane that led to the barnyard had been plowed. By the looks of the tracks the tractor tires had left, the good neighbor was either Nate Parker, down the road, or Sidney Crammer from the next farm over. Adam recognized the tread prints.
The wind whipped through the willows and wept their icy tears all around the yard, from the road to the house. It all looked cold and abandoned.
“It gives me the shivers,” Adam admitted as he pulled his jacket around him.
“I think it’s kinda pretty. A beautiful winter scene. All it needs is a light in the window and a little smoke from the chimney,” Fritzy stopped and smiled.
“Beautiful?” Adam gasped. “It just looks empty to me.”
Adam had carried the house key in his pocket all the months the family had been off the place. The key represented access to a life that used to be—a life that was no more. He looked toward the house but it looked dark and cold.
“Let’s go out to the barn and check on the cats.” His choose the barn first because it was too hard to go into the house. He grabbed Fritzy’s hand and together they slipped and slid up the earthen hill to the bank barn. Adam pushed the double, cross beamed doors open.
The tractor was still in the barn with a partial tank of gas. The silo, to the side of the barn, was half full of grain but the cows had been sold.
“Looks like the cats still play in the hay mow. They must have found food by hunting mice.” A few of them, including Adam’s favorite calico, bounded over to them and nuzzled Adam’s leg. “They look okay.”
So much was the same, yet everything was different. The key to the house was something he could hold on to. He would never have left it behind.
“Come on, Fritzy. We can’t waste too much time. The dark will be comin’ on.” Adam found a flat-nosed grain shovel in the corner of the barn and took it to the house.
“I can help, Adam. I shovel the walk at home sometimes.”
“I can get it done faster,” Adam insisted. He shoveled the snow until he had made a path up the steps. He and Fritzy stepped up on the wide porch that wrapped around two sides of the house like a man wrestling a bear with biceps of icy steel. Adam nearly slipped onto his backside.
“Careful Adam,” Fritzy laughed. “I don’t think I can pick you up off the ground or this porch.”
Shadows came and watched with their blank, black eyes. The porch smelled foul, like a dead possum was under the boards.
“Get away from me,” Adam commanded the darkness.
“Done well, my son,” Shaddi encouraged.
Fritzy didn’t hear the wizard. “Sorry!” Fritzy threw up her hands in resignation.
“Not you,” Adam stammered.
“Who then? Ghosts?” She looked around the barnyard.
“Something like that,” Adam whispered, embarrassed.
With the large shovel, he pushed the snow from a large section of the porch but not to the front door. The parlor door was only for company and few people were considered company to Moms. Then, he turned the tumblers in the lock at the side entrance that led into the sitting room and let them both in.
The house didn’t feel like home to Adam. There was no warmth and the rich aroma of pot roast with potatoes and carrots wasn’t coming from the kitchen. Moms’s African violets had withered and dropped their dry blossoms. A layer of dust blanketed everything.
“Adam this is lovely,” Fritzy admired.
“Done well, my son,” Shaddi encouraged.
He knew that Fritzy would not have heard the wizard. “This is all dirty, is what you
Then Adam turned to the details of the room itself. “Let’s get you guys out of here,” Adam talked to the plants as he hustled them to the back porch.
Fritzy follow close behind. The enclosed porch always smelled of tart pie apples, no
matter the time of year. “It smells wonderful in here,” she smiled as she inhaled the fruity aroma. A bucket of black walnuts still sat in the corner. The green hulls had been removed but
they had waited there, uncracked, for over a year. Moms had gotten too weak to think about walnut meat that still clung to the shells.
“Maybe we can crack these nuts for your mom sometime, Adam.”
“Sure,” he responded mechanically as he sat the skeletal remains of the violets on the tin counter-top of the old wooden cabinet that stood against the wall. He grabbed up some cleaning supplies and looked around.
“The electricity may not be on now, but I can chase some of the dirt around with these rags and out of the carpet with the broom.”
“I’ll take the dust rag,” Fritzy offered.
“One of them. I can dust too,” he grinned
“Wow, what a man,” she teased.
In the parlor, he focused special attention on the bookshelves.
“Moms always said, ‘Adam, don’t just push the dust around in front of the books. Take each book down and dust the shelf underneath it. Moms was always particular about a clean house.” As he removed each book, he stopped.
“Huckleberry Finn. Moms you—” his voice cracked and he wiped his nose on his sleeve.
“Good ol’ Huck,” he smiled and shoved the book back into its assigned slot.
“Anne of Green Gables, Adam. Did you read the Anne stories?” Fritzy asked surprised.
“No,” he laughed. “They were Moms’ favorites.”
“The fireplaces will be a big problem,” Adam admitted. “We left the house in late summer when the dampers were still open. It looks like snow and leaves have fallen through the chimney and picked up a lot of soot as they fell.” He stared at the hearth, took a deep breath, and took one of the dust rags to clean the brass andirons until they shone.
“That looks great, Adam. I’ll use the broom on the carpet. That way, we won’t chase dirt from the carpet back to the fireplace.” She grabbed up the broom and didn’t wait for Adam’s approval.
“The little shovel with the rest of these fireplace tools will get rid of these leftover ashes,” Adam’s voice was soft. “Moms asked me to clean the fireplaces after the last cold spell in the Spring, but, as usual, I didn’t refuse, I just didn’t do it.” He leaned his hand on the mantel and stared at the hearth. “I would do anything that you asked me to do now Moms, if you could just come home.”
“I am so sorry, Adam,” Fritzy soothed as she gently touched his shoulder.
“Pops—why, why did you leave us?” Adam spoke so soft, it had to come from a hidden corner of his memory.
Fritzy tried to encourage him and picked up a framed family portrait from the thick beamed mantle. She saw smiling parents and a happy son with stubborn brown hair. On the right side, little globs of glue dotted the glass. “Look at the cute kid with all the hair” she added. “Your family looks really happy,” she offered.
“Were happy,” Adam corrected. The picture brought back memories and unanswered questions Adam thought he had forgotten. Pops was several heads taller than Adam when the picture was taken.
“I wonder who’s the tallest now,” Adam whispered as he took the picture and carefully dusted the surface. A faint smile crossed his face. How could he hate someone he loved so much?
Suddenly, there was a strange presence around the house, a foreboding. He had seen the shadows in the barn, but not in the house. What was it? He didn’t see anything, but he could feel it. He suddenly felt trapped, like the house was closing in on him. The foreboding made his skin raise with chill bumps.
“You okay?” Fritzy asked.
“Sure,” Adam shrugged it off. “I’m just jumpy today I guess.” Then he hurried to finish cleaning the house as it seemed to grow colder.
Adam was soon lost in his thoughts, fears he didn’t share with anyone. What is it? Who is here? Whatever is here doesn’t feel like evil, but it does feel like change.
He shook off the uneasy feeling that had taken over his common sense and tried to concentrate on the work in front of them. There were two dual fireplaces in the house. The first one was there in the living room that shared a chimney with the fireplace in the parlor. The same was true upstairs. A fireplace in Adam’s room was back-to-back with the one in his parent’s room.
“Let’s get busy,” Adam said. That late afternoon, the two friends shoveled and whisked all four fireplaces, vigorously pulled and raked the carpets with the broom and carefully ran a dust
cloth over all surfaces. Then he checked his watch. “The sun will be going down. It will be dark
“Adam Schumacher, you here?” A voice called from downstairs.
He sounds familiar, not sinister. “I’m here,” Adam admitted, then wondered if he should have kept Fritzy and himself hidden. Their presence was out now, so he added, “I’ll come down.”
“Gloves,” Shaddi whispered as he had promised.
Adam grabbed out his gloves from his top bureau drawer and started down the stairs with
Fritzy close behind. When they got to the foot of the stairs, Adam was surprised to see Sidney Crammer. He stood just inside the sitting room where he dropped snow from his hat on his Moms’ good sofa.
“I let myself in. I thought I saw you walking up the lane.”
“We were just leaving Mr. Crammer. We have to get back to town.”
Fritzy came quietly down the stairs and stood at a distance.
“Haven’t seen you or your ma around the place in months. There a problem?”
“No Sir. We—well, we don’t tell everyone our family’s business, Mr. Crammer. I hope you understand.” Adam reached behind him for Fritzy’s hand and started for the door.
“Sure, Adam.” Crammer paused and followed the two as they walked out onto the porch and Adam locked up. “I talked to your pa a couple years ago about buying some of the farm. He wanted to put in running water and a bathroom with the money.”
Adam stopped and studied the man. He certainly knew there was no indoor toilet. It was a major condition in Moms’ ability to come home and he had walked the slippery path to the outhouse on many cold nights. Mr. Crammer’s words reminded him again of everything Moms would need.
“We put in electricity back in 1939,” Adam reminded his neighbor, “when the rural service came down our road. Guess Pops was thinking about a bathroom too.”
“Yeah, he was,” Crammer agreed.
“He didn’t tell me anything about it. Moms neither.”
“Well, he told me, Son. I’m sure he didn’t want to bother you.” Mr. Crammer squared his shoulders and looked out over the barn yard. “You sure have a pretty place here.”
“Yes Sir.” Adam searched his memory for any hint that Pops was thinking about bringing the privy into the house. “Pops told me about everything, Mr. Crammer. We didn’t talk about the bathroom. He never kept secrets from Moms and me.” Crammer must be the source of my crowded feeling, I feel pushed.
“Won’t argue with that, Adam. Since your dad—well, is still gone, don’t know how you’re going to pay to have a bathroom put in your house. If part of the farm is going to be sold, you and your mom are the two I should deal with. As a matter of fact, your dad had talked about selling off the creek and the bottom land adjacent to the water’s edge.”
Adam felt a knot in his stomach. “The creek?” He looked at Fritzy and motioned for them to move on down the porch steps with Sidney Crammer scampering close behind, like a yapping dog unrelentingly nipping at their heals.
“Yes, of course, the creek,” Crammer cracked.
“We’ve got to get back to town, Mr. Crammer.” Adam had to nearly push the man aside so they could be on their way. They were running late.
Adam knew Crammer’s offer didn’t sound right. His grandfather’s voice echoed in his ears with the same theme reverberating back from his own father. Both of them had been through the Great Depression. Each knew the fear and desperation of poverty but they always had one thing of value.
As they started down the lane, Adam spoke low to Fritzy. “Grandpa said, ‘Adam, it’s the farm.’ Pops and Grandpa taught me clearly. They both said, ‘The land is all you have between hunger and prosperity. Hang onto every acre. The ground is a living solution.’ Crammer is not going to trick us into selling one foot of the farm.”
Sidney Crammer stood in the lane as the young landowner and his friend squared their shoulders and leaned into the wind that had come up again while they were inside. “Think about selling, Adam. Letting go of some of the land was what your father wanted,” the man shouted after them.
They had walked half way down the dirt lane when Adam turned and put on his gloves. “I’ll talk to Moms. I can’t promise you anything.” He turned and did not look back.