1. Prove It

by Peter C. Conrad

Allen looked down from the stack of square hay bails to where his younger brother, Mark was. Mark had darker blonde hair and was one inch taller than Allen. Allen manoeuvred along the top of the stack to where Mark was. Allen carefully stepped high to keep the snow from falling down and alerting Mark. He took one more looked to see that he was in the right place and jumped onto Mark.

“Uck!” shouted Mark as he fell forward onto the frozen ground. He quickly struggled to face his brother who was on top of him. Mark grabbed Allen’s shoulder and pulled up. Allen fell side ways. Mark rolled to one side as fast as he could. He struggled to his feet, but was surprised that Allen was still on his knees.

“Come on,” said Mark as he braced himself and clinched his fists.

“Why do you have to be good at everything?” yelled Allen.

Mark pulled his gloves off and stood where he was. He might not win this time, but Allen was going to hurt when it was over, Mark thought.

“Damn you!” said Allen again as he sat down on the frozen ground.

“What the hell do you want?” said Mark.

“I already got it,” said Allen. “I just needed to hit you.”

“What?” said Mark, bewildered.

“I want to quit,” said Allen with a tired voice.

“What?” Mark said again as he relaxed and leaned over to get his gloves.

“Everything: hockey, school, I don’t know. Maybe even this place,” he said as he looked around at the haystack, the fences, and the cattle quietly eating.

“Well, I guess you wouldn’t be the first,” said Mark as he sat down on a bail of hay. He pulled his gloves on and adjusted them.

“You mean Matthew,” said Allen.

“And Kat,” said Mark. Kat was short for Katherine.

“I don’t hate Dad the way they did when they left,” said Allen.

“I don’t know,” said Mark. “I guess you just want to get away from this place.”

Allen shrugged.

“It makes sense to hate this place,” said Mark.

“I don’t know if I hate this place either,” said Allen.

“But you dream of leaving just like the rest of us,” said Mark.

Allen shook his head.

“Come on, especially since Kat and Matthew hitched rides to somewhere else.”

“I don’t know,” said Allen. “Things don’t have to be the way they are…” said Allen.

“But they are,” said Mark. “I look at things the way they are and think about how I want them to be. Then, in my thinking anyway, I’ll get what I want somewhere else.”

“Things aren’t that bad for you,” said Allen. “You get to sit in the house after school to keep the books and do the pedigree records for the cattle.”

“Was that what set you off?” asked Mark.

“I guess,” said Allen.

“It isn’t the chores that are getting to you,” said Mark.

“What then?”

“I’m not sure, but it is as if everything changed when Kat left. When Matthew left, he was the only one who had. Dad could just say he was too wild anyway. When Kat disappeared, he looked at us differently.”

“Like what?” said Allen.

“Like we could leave too, but he has to do what he can to keep us around. You should stop denying that the problem is Dad.”

Allen shook his head again. “I don’t know. I just want to quit everything.”

“That’s probably because your school work isn’t that good,” said Mark.

“Shut up,” replied Allen.

“No one likes to get lousy marks,” said Mark.

“You seem to do alright.”

“I don’t play hockey,” said Mark. “I have more time.”

“You just have to come home after school, get your work done and then you’re free to do whatever you want,” said Allen.

“I still have my chores to do. Even if it doesn’t seem like it to you, putting the numbers into the farm books is a chore too.”

“Yeah, right,” said Allen sarcastically.

“I am doing the books because I took accounting at school. I see school as the solution to everything,” said Mark.

“Yeah, you told me what you thought before,” said Allen.

“If you do all right in school, you can do things after.”

“I don’t believe that,” said Allen. “I know that the only reason you really try to get Bs on your report card is that you know Dad doesn’t like it.”

“I guess, especially because I am the youngest. If you leave too, than I will be the only one left. If I have good marks and graduate high school who knows what I might be able to do.”

“Yeah, you think you might go to college,” said Allen.

“More is possible than you think,” said Mark.
“It’s just wishful thinking,” replied Allen.

“Why don’t you just take a chance? Do something for yourself even if it doesn’t please Dad,” said Mark.

“Whatever.”

“I guess we should get to the chores,” said Mark. He was tired of the same kind of conversation they had been having all year. Matthew challenged Mark two years before to get his first B at school. Once he saw the B on his report card in math, he tried to get the same marks or better ones in all his subjects. It gave him a feeling of power. His father had always said he would never amount to much; that was why he was going to stay on the farm like his brothers. Mark knew differently.

Mark wanted to continue to get the best marks he could. He was in grade ten and his marks would matter once he graduated high school.

Posted in Sandhill Cranes | Leave a comment

Sandhill Cranes

By Peter C. Conrad

In the young adult novel Sandhill Cranes, we find what appears to be a calm and carefree farm life turns out to be a tangle of deception with a hidden truth only those who live it know.

This fast paced story is about the challenges of family breakdown and the demands of community as Mark and his brother Allen struggle to find a way to do what is right. The surprising turn of events bring them to a better understanding of themselves and their strength to change things for the better.

There are surprising changes coming for Mark and Allen who find they must take chances to do what is right.

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Chapter 2

by Peter C. Conrad

“How did you ever become the editor of the school newspaper?” asked Jennifer Webster. She tossed her straight brunette hair back and stared at Larry. She had just moved to the city before Christmas and joined the newspaper because she wanted to be a writer or journalist.

“Who do you think should be the editor?” asked Larry.

“No offence but, where I come from, the editor would always be the person who was in honours English and History. Not someone who was into the sciences, and computers.”

“Like who?”

“You mean from the people around the newspaper now?”

“Sure,” replied Larry.

“Well, I guess Cecil fits the description.”

Larry laughed. “And he was the editor last year.”

“Why wasn’t he voted in as editor this year?”

“I guess it was the computer that gave me this job,” replied Larry.

“How can a computer make you the editor?”

“Well, Cecil still needs help turning the computer on.”

“Oh come on, I don’t believe that.”

“No, he can do that but, he tries to get other people to key board his articles into the computer.”

“He writes out his work?”

“You’ll find out,” said Larry.

“That doesn’t explain how you became editor.”

“I do all the layouts on the computer, check the grammar, and spelling. Basically, by the mid-point of the first term everyone who had something to put into the newspaper was told to ask me if there was room. Cecil didn’t even make decisions about the line up of the stories, the photographs, or the content.”

“Didn’t he edit the material for punctuation?” asked Jennifer.

“No. If Mel didn’t get the photographs in, and I didn’t put in the time to pull it all together, there was no newspaper.”
“I guess that makes sense,” said Jennifer. “But, did that ever happen?”

“What?”

“The newspaper didn’t come out until you guys pulled it together.”

“First two issues last year were two weeks late. Cecil needed a lot of help and I didn’t mind. I joined the paper only to do that but, the amount of work grew fast.”

“What else did you do?”

“When article weren’t done, I just wrote them up.”

“Now that is the part I don’t understand. You’re a—a science nerd,” said Jennifer. She felt relieved to see Larry’s smile. “Well, I mean you guys are in sciences for a reason: you usually can’t write.”

“I just wanted to know if I could do it at first. Once I had it figured out, article writing was easy.”

Jennifer shook her head. “Don’t you wish you had taken more English and History classes now that you know you can do it?”

“Not really. I like sciences.”

“I guess,” she said.

* * *

At the end of the school day Larry had to go to KXOL-TV where he was a youth volunteer. It was one of the things he wanted to try the year before but, now he wandered if he should put so much time into it. His work on the school paper and at Alvin’s was making it difficult.

As he walked to the bus stop Larry thought about what he was doing. He had been telling himself for a long time that he would try this or that just to see if he could do it. But, when should he leave something he had set out to do?

He stepped back from the curb as the bus pulled up. The air was heavy with the smell of exhaust. He paid the fair and made his way to the seats near the back of the bus.

He didn’t like going to the station anymore. When he started he felt important. It wasn’t that he was bored: it was the way he was being treated when he went there that he didn’t like.

Larry remembered when he began as a cameraman. He was carrying a camera on the mobile unit. It wasn’t a position usually given to such a light person. Often he would end up hooking power and television cords while the regular cameramen took over.

He had hung around the television-editing studio, perhaps doing a little more than he should have considering that he was a volunteer. But, if he could do it, they usually let him have some freedom. That’s how he produced the station’s new Promo.

It was used constantly. The production staff knew he had produced it but, Larry wanted to do less work on the mobile and more work in production so he went to see the day producer the last time he had been in. Larry walked into Mr. Baits’ office.

“I am Larry,” he said to the tall red haired man at the desk. “I was the one who produced the station Promo.”

Baits nodded his head as he continued to read the forms in front of him.

“I’m one of the volunteers,” continued Larry. “I’d be glad to do more video work.”

Baits did not nod.

“June! June, where are you?” called Baits. A brunette woman rushed into the office. “Would you get these typed and send these forms off,” he said as he handed the woman the bundle of paper. Larry stepped back into the hall as she walked out. Mr. Baits continued his work and ignored Larry. He felt foolish and small as she stared at him.

He walked down the hall. When he was asked to do the Promo he felt excited and important. Soon he felt uneasy when he walked into the Mixing Studio and asked for a videotape. No one responded. He asked again. He explained to those in the room that he was going to do the Promo.

He knew where to get the tapes so he walked over to the rack and took one. Larry picked up the camera he needed and began shooting scenes of the studios and the other crewmen on the mobile.

Larry wanted to show everyone there what the cameramen were doing. He wanted to show everyone how important that work was.

Larry walked into the mixing studio when no one was scheduled to use it and put the Promo together. He handed in the tape in with Station Promo and his name written on it as producer. It appeared on the air that afternoon. No one thanked Larry for his work. The Promo did not show how important his work was. It was just a typical station Promo and now he knew he could do it.

Larry got off the bus in front of the television station and looked at the building for a minute. He wandered why he had bothered to get off because he had made his mind up: he wasn’t going in. He was finished with his experiment to see if he could do it.

Larry crossed to the other side of the street to catch the bus that would take him back home.

“Would you get that?” asked Alvin when they both heard the electric beep that indicated someone had entered the shop. Larry looked over at Alvin and saw that he was sliding a circuit board into a stereo.

“Sure,” he replied.

“Larry?” said Jennifer, surprised.

“Hi Jen what can I do for you?”

“You never told me you work here,” she said.

“No, I guess I didn’t.”

“Does you father own the place or something?”

Larry laughed, “No, my father wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a circuit board and a speaker.”

“That’s great, you have a job that isn’t just serving burgers.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I brought in a ghetto-blaster.”

“Just a minute,” he said as he turned around and looked at the tags on the radios behind him. “Oh, this one,” he said as pulled the ghetto blaster off the shelf that he had repaired a few days before.

“Did you fix this one, or something?”

“That’s right. The motor was burned out on it. I also cleaned the components and the heads were really dirty. You must use it a lot.”

“Yes I do.”

Alvin walked in from the back room and stood beside Larry.

“Hi Alvin, this is Jennifer Webster. We go to the same school.”

“Hello, Jennifer,” said Alvin. “You can go if you want: I’ll close the place up.”

“I haven’t finished putting in all the screws on the casing for the radio I’m doing,” said Larry.

“Well, you should finish that,” said Alvin. “You can show Jennifer around if you like.”

“Jennifer, do you want to see the shop?”

“Sure,” she replied with a smile.

The two walked to the back room. Larry pointed to Alvin’s chair: “Make yourself comfortable, this will only take a minute.”

“Thanks,” she said as she pulled the chair forward.

Larry placed the screws in their holes and screwed them tight.

“So you’re a techno-geek too,” said Jennifer.

“I guess I am,” said Larry. “So are you a musician, dancer, or some kind of groupie?”

“I’m into drama. I dance some but I don’t know if I’m good enough to do anything with it.”

“Just give it a good honest try,” replied Larry.

“I suppose,” she said.

“I’m nearly done here; do you want to go for a burger or something?”

“Sure.”

Larry tagged the radio he had just finished and carried it to the shelves behind the counter. He pulled his coat on and the two stepped out of the door.

“Let me carry that for you,” said Larry as he took the ghetto blaster from Jennifer. “Where should we go?” asked Larry.

“Nothing too fancy,” replied Jennifer.

Soon they were in the food court at the shopping mall.

“What do you feel like?” asked Larry.

“A cappuccino,” said Jennifer with a smile.

“What’s that?” asked Larry.

“It is like coffee, but much better.”

“I don’t know—”

“Don’t you think that everyone should try different things,” Jennifer asked. Larry shrugged.

“You’ll like it, it’s like hot chocolate.”

“Why not?” replied Larry.

They stepped up to the counter. Jennifer looked at Larry and gave him a little push.

“I’ll order for both of us. We’ll have a chocolate mint cappuccino and a cinnamon.”

“It’s on me,” said Larry. “Lets have something with it.”

“Sure, how about two raspberry almond muffins?” asked Jennifer.

“I’ll try anything,” said Larry.

They sat down and Larry looked at the cappuccino in front of him. He picked up a plastic spoon from the try. He dipped it into the white topping and tasted it. He frowned.

“It’s not whip cream, its whipped milk. That’s not the good part anyway. Drink some.”

Larry picked up the cup and tasted it. When he put his cup down Jennifer’s smile broadened and she laughed. Larry felt the smear of whipped milk on his lip. He quickly whipped it off, turning red.

“I love it when people do that for the first time.”

“You were just waiting for that, weren’t you?” said Larry, now smiling.

“Maybe. So what do you think?”

“It’s just hot chocolate,” replied Larry.

“I told you, you would like it,” said Jennifer as she picked up a plastic spoon and began removing the wiped milk from her cup and putting it on the tray.

“No way,” said Larry. “I won’t let you get away with that.”

Jennifer smiled at him and picked up her cup and had a drink leaving the whip on her lip for a moment. Larry laughed.

“Why are you working at Alvin’s repair, you don’t look like the type that needs the money. You have your own truck and even though you don’t wear designer clothes like Limi, you dress all right.” They called Cecil; Limi because he always wore limited edition clothes and made sure everyone knew it.

“I just went in once to ask for some components for my remote control unit. Alvin sold me the parts and said that if I could get it running, to bring it back for him to see. So I did.”

“What did he say about that?”

“He wanted to find out how a kid knew so much.”

“And how did you know how to fix it?”

“I had been using electronic hobby kits for years and had bought some books with circuit plans. I made a lot of messes but, by the time I got to high school, I wasn’t doing too badly.”

“So Alvin hired up for that reason.”

“No. I think he was just curious about what I could do so when he suggested that I drop by and he would be able to show me how to do some things I did. I doubt that he thought I would be there just about every day with questions or plans.”

“He should have wanted to kick you out for wasting so much of his time.”

“He always answered my questions. One day he asked me to check a circuit. I found the trouble. Then he asked me how I would fix it. Once I explained what I would do he said ‘do it and I’ll pay you.’”

“And that was it?”

“Well, he did know what I could do. That’s probably more than he would get from others who were just off the street.”

“It sounds like it was personal too.”

“What do you mean?”

“He liked you, I guess.”

“Maybe. What about you? Why did your parents move here?”

Jennifer adjust herself uncomfortably.

“Well, my Mom is an Illustrator,” said Jennifer softly.

“Illustrator?”

“She draws and paints pictures for publications. You know graphics, like on your computer.”

“Sure.”

“Well she got a half-time position here at the university medical college to draw anatomical things for their publications. She also is doing the free-lance work from back east that she used to do.”

“Like what?”

“Whatever they ask for. She has done book covers, ink drawings for magazines, and some work that has been used for web-sites on the Internet.”

“What does your Dad do?”

“He’s still back east. He’s a teacher but he was told that he was not going to have a job next year because of cutbacks. He has only been teaching for a few years. Before that he was a radio producer, and a freelance writer,” said Jennifer.

“That’s interesting. Are your parents separated?”

“Sure he’s back where we came from and we are here.”

“No, I mean, are they officially separated?”

“What?”

“Before people get divorced, they have to be separated for a year or two.”

Jennifer’s eyes widened with surprise. “Is that what happened to your parents?”

“Yes.”

“That’s terrible,” replied Jennifer.

“It wasn’t that bad. We were older when it came to that and now it feels normal. Well, at least to me it feels like it should be.”

“Who doesn’t it feel normal to?” asked Jennifer.

“I’m not sure about my Mom but, it certainly always got to Derrick, my older brother. Everything seemed to effect him badly.”

“What’s he doing now?”

“Just skiing and snow boarding full time.”

“How can he do that?”

“He was living with Dad but when the snow came he headed off to the mountains Dad feels guilty, I guess, because he tried to get Derrick a job at the bank he worked at. But, Derrick was fired, or should I say, just asked to leave. Ever since then he has skied all winter and wandered around camping in summer.”

“That’s sad,” said Jennifer.

“I have always wanted to avoid being like him. That’s probably why I keep working and kept looking for different things to do.”

“I guess that is good,” said Jennifer quietly. “What does your mother do now?”

“She’s a secretary in law firm.”

“That’s good.”

“I can give you a ride home. I have my truck here.”

“Oh yes, thank you,” said Jennifer. k.”

Baits did not nod.

“June! June, where are you?” called Baits. A brunette woman rushed into the office. “Would you get these typed and send these forms off,” he said as he handed the woman the bundle of paper. Larry stepped back into the hall as she walked out. Mr. Baits continued his work and ignored Larry. He felt foolish and small as she stared at him.

He walked down the hall. When he was asked to do the Promo he felt excited and important. Soon he felt uneasy when he walked into the Mixing Studio and asked for a videotape. No one responded. He asked again. He explained to those in the room that he was going to do the Promo.

He knew where to get the tapes so he walked over to the rack and took one. Larry picked up the camera he needed and began shooting scenes of the studios and the other crewmen on the mobile.

Larry wanted to show everyone there what the cameramen were doing. He wanted to show everyone how important that work was.

Larry walked into the mixing studio when no one was scheduled to use it and put the Promo together. He handed in the tape in with Station Promo and his name written on it as producer. It appeared on the air that afternoon. No one thanked Larry for his work. The Promo did not show how important his work was. It was just a typical station Promo and now he knew he could do it.

Larry got off the bus in front of the television station and looked at the building for a minute. He wandered why he had bothered to get off because he had made his mind up: he wasn’t going in. He was finished with his experiment to see if he could do it.

Larry crossed to the other side of the street to catch the bus that would take him back home.

* * *

“Would you get that?” asked Alvin when they both heard the electric beep that indicated someone had entered the shop. Larry looked over at Alvin and saw that he was sliding a circuit board into a stereo.

“Sure,” he replied.

“Larry?” said Jennifer, surprised.

“Hi Jen what can I do for you?”

“You never told me you work here,” she said.

“No, I guess I didn’t.”

“Does you father own the place or something?”

Larry laughed, “No, my father wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a circuit board and a speaker.”

“That’s great, you have a job that isn’t just serving burgers.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I brought in a ghetto-blaster.”

“Just a minute,” he said as he turned around and looked at the tags on the radios behind him. “Oh, this one,” he said as pulled the ghetto blaster off the shelf that he had repaired a few days before.

“Did you fix this one, or something?”

“That’s right. The motor was burned out on it. I also cleaned the components and the heads were really dirty. You must use it a lot.”

“Yes I do.”

Alvin walked in from the back room and stood beside Larry.

“Hi Alvin, this is Jennifer Webster. We go to the same school.”

“Hello, Jennifer,” said Alvin. “You can go if you want: I’ll close the place up.”

“I haven’t finished putting in all the screws on the casing for the radio I’m doing,” said Larry.

“Well, you should finish that,” said Alvin. “You can show Jennifer around if you like.”

“Jennifer, do you want to see the shop?”

“Sure,” she replied with a smile.

The two walked to the back room. Larry pointed to Alvin’s chair: “Make yourself comfortable, this will only take a minute.”

“Thanks,” she said as she pulled the chair forward.

Larry placed the screws in their holes and screwed them tight.

“So you’re a techno-geek too,” said Jennifer.

“I guess I am,” said Larry. “So are you a musician, dancer, or some kind of groupie?”

“I’m into drama. I dance some but I don’t know if I’m good enough to do anything with it.”

“Just give it a good honest try,” replied Larry.

“I suppose,” she said.

“I’m nearly done here; do you want to go for a burger or something?”

“Sure.”

Larry tagged the radio he had just finished and carried it to the shelves behind the counter. He pulled his coat on and the two stepped out of the door.

“Let me carry that for you,” said Larry as he took the ghetto blaster from Jennifer. “Where should we go?” asked Larry.

“Nothing too fancy,” replied Jennifer.

Soon they were in the food court at the shopping mall.

“What do you feel like?” asked Larry.

“A cappuccino,” said Jennifer with a smile.

“What’s that?” asked Larry.

“It is like coffee, but much better.”

“I don’t know—”

“Don’t you think that everyone should try different things,” Jennifer asked. Larry shrugged.

“You’ll like it, it’s like hot chocolate.”

“Why not?” replied Larry.

They stepped up to the counter. Jennifer looked at Larry and gave him a little push.

“I’ll order for both of us. We’ll have a chocolate mint cappuccino and a cinnamon.”

“It’s on me,” said Larry. “Lets have something with it.”

“Sure, how about two raspberry almond muffins?” asked Jennifer.

“I’ll try anything,” said Larry.

They sat down and Larry looked at the cappuccino in front of him. He picked up a plastic spoon from the try. He dipped it into the white topping and tasted it. He frowned.

“It’s not whip cream, its whipped milk. That’s not the good part anyway. Drink some.”

Larry picked up the cup and tasted it. When he put his cup down Jennifer’s smile broadened and she laughed. Larry felt the smear of whipped milk on his lip. He quickly whipped it off, turning red.

“I love it when people do that for the first time.”

“You were just waiting for that, weren’t you?” said Larry, now smiling.

“Maybe. So what do you think?”

“It’s just hot chocolate,” replied Larry.

“I told you, you would like it,” said Jennifer as she picked up a plastic spoon and began removing the wiped milk from her cup and putting it on the tray.

“No way,” said Larry. “I won’t let you get away with that.”

Jennifer smiled at him and picked up her cup and had a drink leaving the whip on her lip for a moment. Larry laughed.

“Why are you working at Alvin’s repair, you don’t look like the type that needs the money. You have your own truck and even though you don’t wear designer clothes like Limi, you dress all right.” They called Cecil; Limi because he always wore limited edition clothes and made sure everyone knew it.

“I just went in once to ask for some components for my remote control unit. Alvin sold me the parts and said that if I could get it running, to bring it back for him to see. So I did.”

“What did he say about that?”

“He wanted to find out how a kid knew so much.”

“And how did you know how to fix it?”

“I had been using electronic hobby kits for years and had bought some books with circuit plans. I made a lot of messes but, by the time I got to high school, I wasn’t doing too badly.”

“So Alvin hired up for that reason.”

“No. I think he was just curious about what I could do so when he suggested that I drop by and he would be able to show me how to do some things I did. I doubt that he thought I would be there just about every day with questions or plans.”

“He should have wanted to kick you out for wasting so much of his time.”

“He always answered my questions. One day he asked me to check a circuit. I found the trouble. Then he asked me how I would fix it. Once I explained what I would do he said ‘do it and I’ll pay you.’”

“And that was it?”

“Well, he did know what I could do. That’s probably more than he would get from others who were just off the street.”

“It sounds like it was personal too.”

“What do you mean?”

“He liked you, I guess.”

“Maybe. What about you? Why did your parents move here?”

Jennifer adjust herself uncomfortably.

“Well, my Mom is an Illustrator,” said Jennifer softly.

“Illustrator?”

“She draws and paints pictures for publications. You know graphics, like on your computer.”

“Sure.”

“Well she got a half-time position here at the university medical college to draw anatomical things for their publications. She also is doing the free-lance work from back east that she used to do.”

“Like what?”

“Whatever they ask for. She has done book covers, ink drawings for magazines, and some work that has been used for web-sites on the Internet.”

“What does your Dad do?”

“He’s still back east. He’s a teacher but he was told that he was not going to have a job next year because of cutbacks. He has only been teaching for a few years. Before that he was a radio producer, and a freelance writer,” said Jennifer.

“That’s interesting. Are your parents separated?”

“Sure he’s back where we came from and we are here.”

“No, I mean, are they officially separated?”

“What?”

“Before people get divorced, they have to be separated for a year or two.”

Jennifer’s eyes widened with surprise. “Is that what happened to your parents?”

“Yes.”

“That’s terrible,” replied Jennifer.

“It wasn’t that bad. We were older when it came to that and now it feels normal. Well, at least to me it feels like it should be.”

“Who doesn’t it feel normal to?” asked Jennifer.

“I’m not sure about my Mom but, it certainly always got to Derrick, my older brother. Everything seemed to effect him badly.”

“What’s he doing now?”

“Just skiing and snow boarding full time.”

“How can he do that?”

“He was living with Dad but when the snow came he headed off to the mountains Dad feels guilty, I guess, because he tried to get Derrick a job at the bank he worked at. But, Derrick was fired, or should I say, just asked to leave. Ever since then he has skied all winter and wandered around camping in summer.”

“That’s sad,” said Jennifer.

“I have always wanted to avoid being like him. That’s probably why I keep working and kept looking for different things to do.”

“I guess that is good,” said Jennifer quietly. “What does your mother do now?”

“She’s a secretary in law firm.”

“That’s good.”

“I can give you a ride home. I have my truck here.”

“Oh yes, thank you,” said Jennifer.

Posted in Just Listen | Leave a comment

Chapter 1

by Peter C. Conrad

Larry sat at the same table he always sat at in the school library after school. He had a few more exercises to do before his physics was finished.

“Hey Larry, still being a Nerd?” asked Cecil as he walked closer to the table Larry was working at. Cecil look just about normal, thought Larry as he looked up. The green coat with a crest on it fit him better than the baggy large coats he often wore. Cecil’s shortness made the baggy effect often seem more comic. The coats were always from a limited edition, an official team, or company. He would show up wearing a different one every week. Everyone at the school called him Limi, for “limited edition.” Cecil liked the name but wished more people would ask where each coat was from.

Larry looked at Cecil with his green coat, old torn jeans, and a black T-shirt that was so faded he wasn’t sure that had once been printed on it.

“I just like the feeling of having my work done, Limi,” said Larry.

“Have you seen Brian around?”

“No,” said Larry. The library was always very quiet after school.

“I was going to get a paper from him,” said Cecil.

“He’s got one of your papers?”

“No, not really. Well it is going to be mine when he gives it to me.”

“Oh,” said Larry as he shook his head and looked down at his book again.

“Well, if I want to graduate from this place, I better see if I can find him.”

“Sure,” said Larry. They were both seniors. Larry walked away, looking up each aisle of books as he went, as if he was expecting to see Brian picking a book off a shelf.

Larry hurried through the remaining exercises; he had to get to the work at Alvin’s repair shop. He worked twice a week doing simple electronic repairs there.

* * *

Larry felt a dull burning pain in his stomach as he dropped his pack of schoolbooks by the door and saw his mother in the living room with a drink.

“Did you have to go in to work today?” he asked. It was Friday and she usually worked only Tuesdays and Wednesdays as a secretary in a law office. His mother was just over five feet tall and light builds. Larry was six feet tall. He was a senior in high school. Like his mother, he had a light build and black hair.

“I’ll be working full time now,” she replied.

Larry sat down across from his mother in the easy chair. He was tired after working two hours at Alvin’s electronic repair store after school. He noticed that there was a thick document unfolded on the coffee table in front of her.

“Why?” he asked.

“It’s not a surprise. He’s finally gone for good,” she said referring to Larry’s father. Larry had been expecting it for a long time. He was home for Christmas three weeks before but he only stayed a few days and was gone again.

“We were going to wait for you to graduate high school this spring before we made it final but, it was convenient to get it over with,” she said with a strained voice.

Larry knew that there was probably more to it but he didn’t want to know. For Larry, it was all over years ago when his father rarely came home and had little to talk about. He didn’t blame himself anymore for his parents splitting up.

“It doesn’t really matter to me,” he said.

“He’s left the house to me, and the car. You can have the truck.”

Larry nodded his head. He had expected it to be this way. He watched his mother as she poured another drink. Soon the strained lines in her face would fade but that never meant things would be fine. He wanted to avoid conversation; it may make her drink more.

“Your brother, Derrick, is still in ski-slope college,” she continued. “I told Allen he would have to tell Derrick.” Derrick was two years older than Larry. He graduated from high school with marks too poor to do much, not that he wanted to.

“Is he going to move back in with us or is going to stay with Dad?”

“I don’t know,” she said. Neither of them wanted him to disrupt their lives.

“Is Alvin going to start paying you?” she asked. Larry shrugged. He had been paid for his work for just over a year but he had not told his mother. She believed that a high school student couldn’t contribute enough to be paid, or so she once said. It was true that Larry had started as a volunteer at Alvin’s repair shop like he volunteered at the local cable television station. He just wanted to see what it was like to work in an electronic repair shop, or in television. The repair shop turned into a job when Larry had shown how fast he could learn. The television work was becoming tedious and boring but, Larry was going to give it a little longer before he decided if he would keep doing it.

There was always the other reason for doing the volunteer work: it was to stay away from the house. Before his father left, he would never be sure what it would be like at home when he got there. Once his father stayed away his mother was more unpredictable than she had been.

“Maybe we should get something to eat,” said Larry. He stopped short of saying, in his usual joking voice, your favorite?

His mother’s look softened as she looked at her son. It hadn’t been an easy day for her. “Yes, my favorite,” she said, “order-in.” she said with an affectionate smile.

* * *

Larry felt relieved as he watched his mother eat some pizza. She seemed far too thin to him. She would forget to eat but things always went better after she had some food. She had a dark complexion, which helped mask how pale her skin would get when she forgot to eat.

“You’re upset about this,” she said after a while.

“What? … Oh, that Dad isn’t coming back?” said Larry shaking his head. “No, not really. I was expecting it.”

“I never told you that the whole thing was more or less decided and finished by Christmas.”

“I guess that is why he came home one last time,” said Larry.

“Yes, that it what he said.”

“That was what it felt like—like he was just saying good bye.”

“That’s all he ever seemed to be doing when he came home, saying good bye,” said his mother.

“No, it was different this time,” said Larry.

“How was it different?”

“It was so…” Larry paused, unsure if he should say it. “It was so quiet.” His mother narrowed her eye for moment, and then nodded her head.

“It was as if you two just didn’t have anything more to discuss.”

“That’s true.”

“It was as if there was some kind of truce—”

“Nothing left to prove,” she said. Larry wasn’t sure what she meant by that but her downward silent glance left him feeling uncomfortable.

“I always know that something is happening when I get that feeling I had when I got lost at Murdock Beach,” Larry said. His mother’s expression of embarrassment surprised Larry. She still felt embarrassed over that incident. “It’s a feeling of being totally disconnected, like floating.”

“You feel like you’re floating?”

“No, at Christmas, I felt that way.”

She shook her head. “It was sad because it was the best Christmas we ever had,” she said.

“I don’t know,” said Larry. “I remember some good ones from when I was very young.”

“Maybe that’s because it was easier then to just let things go for the holidays.” She shook her head again. “I’m feeling tired, I think I’ll just go to bed and watch some television.”

“Have you had enough to eat?”

His mother looked at the food tiredly and nodded.

* * *

After clearing away what was left of the pizza, Larry went down stairs to the basement where he had set up a table with electronic supplies he was given by Alvin. If Larry weren’t sure what to do, he would find some work to do. During a crisis or change he would start a new volunteer position or find a new hobby that would occupy his mind. Each time he would need something more involved to keep him occupied.

He looked at the electronic project books that had been stacked on the table and the piles of old electrical component boards that he had taken home to take the good parts off.

“What a mess,” he whispered to himself. He picked up a box and began to clean up. Soon the bench was clean enough to work on. He flipped through one book after another looking at the circuit plans for alarms and amplifiers. It was all uninteresting to Larry. He needed much more.

He stopped when he reached a plan for a radio transmitter. It could be adjusted to the AM band. It wouldn’t have much power but for a few blocks of a city everyone who had their transistor radios on that radio band could listen to his broadcast.

Larry sat in his chair wandering if he could build the transmitter. The list of items he needed wouldn’t be hard to get. The circuits may take some time and the power source would need some work but he could do it.

He found a large flat box and began retrieving the components that he would need. He had no idea what he would do with the transmitter when it was done but for now he just wanted to know if he could do it.

He knew that it was illegal to operate a radio on the AM or FM band without a broadcasting license. Larry had no plan to use the transmitter but then there was always the possibility that some idea may occur to him by the time he was finished it.

Larry felt exhausted. He looked at his flat box with so few parts retrieved after so much work. He rubbed his eyes and decided to go to bed.

* * *

When Larry woke up it was still dark. He had to go to work that Saturday. He felt relieved that it was too early for his mother to be up yet because after last night his mother would not be in a very good mood. He slipped his feet out of the bed and stared at his stereo and the old reel-to-reel tape recorder. Cables connected the two machines. A microphone stood on top of the reel-to-reel tape recorder. Larry was recording a program. He thought he could put it on a web site with graphics but he lost interest in that project because it was just too easy to do. Anyone could do it. Larry looked at the new computer he had received from his father that Christmas.

Beside the computer was a framed picture of his father standing behind his mother who was behind Larry holding him. Derrick stood beside them. They were all smiling. It was summer and they were on holidays in the mountains. He didn’t want to put the picture away. It was a part of who he was but Larry knew that it was over long ago.

He remembered that trip to the mountains more vividly than any other holiday. Perhaps that was when he became aware of his parents indifference to each other and the world around them. It was a warm summer’s day when his father took him on a walk along the mountain brook that rushed through their campsite. The cold stung his hand when he touched the water. It flowed fast and deep.

Larry had always been afraid of water. They had rarely gone swimming because his father, his mother, Larry didn’t like swimming. Larry was sure that they would stay away from the water’s edge, keeping the brook in sight just to guide them back to the campsite.

They walked along its bank, only now and then walking into the forest to look at something Larry’s father had seen, or hoped to see. The roar of the brook was never far away. As they continued Larry became more uncomfortable. He didn’t think they were lost but he became more anxious.

“Here!” yelled his father loudly as they emerged from the forest one more time. Larry shuttered when he saw what his father was pointing at. It was a log that crossed over a narrow part of the brook. The water splashed over the edge of the log on the other side of the brook.

“We can cross here!” his father said.

Why did they have to cross the brook? he thought as he looked at his father.

“Look, I’ll go first to show you that it is safe.”

“No!” pleaded Larry.

His father didn’t answer he just looked disgusted. Larry watched as his father slowly crept one sliding step at a time to cross the brook. He had made it.

Larry watched as his father called across to him. His father’s face was red as he shouted. Larry couldn’t hear a thing over the roar of the brook.

He would go out across the brook just to see if he could. That is all he thought. Larry wouldn’t allow himself to think that he could do it because he believed he couldn’t. He made his way half way across when he stopped. Larry couldn’t move. The water roared under him and he realized that he was entirely alone.

Larry closed his eyes for a moment and decided he would try to take the next step just to see if could. When he opened his eyes his left foot slid forward and then the right came up behind. Again, he thought about trying his next step. When he tried, it happened. He slipped and stumbled onto the bank his father was standing on.

“I told you that if you just believed you could do it, you could,” said Larry’s father. Larry stared at him, feeling confused, then he nodded. He never forgot that he made it because he was only trying to see if he really could.

Larry turned and looked at himself in the mirror. He was thin like his mother and he had tight curly hair that was as black as his mothers. His curls were like his fathers. His glasses were like his fathers. That was the only features he had from his father, he thought

Once in the kitchen, Larry poured some cereal then looked at the clock. He would have lots of time if the truck started. He heard a thud upstairs from his mother’s room. It sounded like a book falling off her bed stand. He quickly took the half full bowel of cereal and put it into the sink. He slipped his coat on and felt for the keys in his pocket. He picked up his gloves and was out the door.

* * *

Larry smelled the familiar hot metal of the soldering iron as he entered Alvin’s repair shop. Alvin looked more like a toy-maker than an electronic technician, thought Larry. Alvin was wearing an apron and had white hair. He was studying the circuit board in front of him. After a moment he touched the board with his solder iron.

“Hi Al,” said Larry.

“Hi.”

“Did you finish that ghetto-blaster?”

“I left it for you.”

“It should be finished today.”

“So, how are things?”

“Not bad.”

“Have you started a new project?” asked Alvin as he continued to frown at the circuit he was working on.

“It’s a bit strange,” replied Larry as he tipped the ghetto blaster forward and started to loosen the screws on the back.

“Oh?”

“It’s a radio transmitter,” replied Larry.

“That’s not strange, you’re always repairing walkie-talkies here.”

“It’s to transmit on the AM band.”

Alvin’s eyebrows lifted as he looked at Larry for a moment. “Are you getting into the pirate radio trend?”

“What trend?”

“I was reading about these people who have something to say and decide that the only way to get their message out is to build their own radio station and broadcast it to everyone who wants to hear it.”

“I don’t have anything to say,” said Larry. “I guess it is just to see if I can do it.”

“If anyone can do it, you can,” said Alvin.

“Oh?”

“You have determination—you’re driven.”

Larry felt uncomfortable. His father was driven and he didn’t want to be like that.

“I don’t know,” said Larry. “It doesn’t seem to get me anywhere.”

“Maybe, you need some tuning.”

“Perhaps.”

“You could probably do anything, Larry.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“You’re about to graduate high school. It’s like a beginning for you. You have to decide what you want to do and do it.”

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“Yes, you have.”

“Hum…” said Larry as he pulled the motor drive out of the ghetto blaster that he was working on.

“You decided you’re interested in electronics. All you have to do is decide exactly what you’re going to do with that.”

“Like what?”

“Like going to college. Maybe electrical engineering.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“Does your mother say anything about your education?”

“We never talk about anything like that.”

“Has she ever said anything about when you should leave home?”

“No.”

“Weather you leave or stay at home, you will have to decide what you’re going to do.”

“I haven’t thought about it. You know it is almost like I’m living alone already. I share a house with my mother but I usually don’t see her. She started working full time this week so I don’t think that we are going to be talking much now.”

“Why is she working full time now?”

“My parents are divorced now,” said Larry indifferently.

“I thought they were already divorced,” said Alvin, surprised.

“They were separated for years.”

“Oh? Well how does that sit with you?”

“It changes nothing. They have been separated since before I started high school. I’m used to it.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Not really,” said Larry. “It was a relief to me.”

* * *

Larry stomach jumped as he pulled up in front of his house. There was his father’s dark blue car. Larry wanted to stop, put his truck in reverse and leave but, he knew he couldn’t do that because it too late. His chest felt heavy as he parked the truck behind it. His father got out of the car and looked at Larry.

“Hi, son,” he said. Larry was surprised by how much he was looking more and more like his father. They had the same black curly hair, and brown eyes. They were exactly the same height and light build.

“Hi,” said Larry.

“Is the truck working all right?” his father asked.

“Yeah.”

“I guess you have heard by now—” said his Dad.

“Yes, I have.”

“You want to go and talk somewhere?” asked his father.

“I guess so,” said Larry. He knew he really had no choice.

The two got into his father’s car. Without a word they began to drive.

“How’s your Mom taking it?”

“As you would expect,” said Larry.

“Has she quit her job?” asked his Dad with concern in his voice that Larry wasn’t used to hearing.

“She moved up to full-time work,” said Larry. His father’s eyebrows moved up in surprise.

“I wouldn’t have guessed that is what she would do. I pay her a fair amount in maintenance every month…” his voice drifted off. Larry had heard it before. He had heard too often about how his father had always been a good provider.

“Maybe things are going much better than I expected,” said his Dad after a moment. “Have you eaten supper yet?”

“No,” said Larry.

“We can have something here,” he said as they pulled into the parking lot of a small diner.

Soon, they were seated at a table and had their order placed. Larry’s father looked at Larry for a moment and shook his head.

“I guess I should have asked you how you were doing with all this happening.”

“I’m fine. It doesn’t feel like anything has changed to me,” said Larry.

“I could have guessed that would be what you would say. You were always the one who could put things into prospective.”

“Oh?” said Larry.

“You’re always hard on yourself. I would swear that you were already setting goals for yourself at six years old, maybe younger.”

Larry shrugged. He was not sure what his father was getting at. They rarely talked, but he must have some reason for wanting to talk now.

“Well, I thought now that the divorce is all over I could get to know you better,” said his father.

“Why?”

“You know, I tried to give Derrick a start in the banking business but, it wasn’t for him.”

“Who knows what is right for Derrick,” said Larry.

“I guess I wanted to find out what your plans are; you are going to be graduating high school this spring.”

Larry shuffled in his seat. He really didn’t know what he wanted to do after he graduated high school. He knew he should have been applying to colleges and universities by now if that was what he wanted to do. The question of what he was going to do had been put off because, he hadn’t been asked, or forced to answer any questions. His father’s interested look made Larry realize that he had expected that the question had been decided. The only thing his father was expecting was to find out what the decision was. His father’s expression turned to one of uncertainty at the silence.

“Haven’t you decided? I was expecting that you were…”

“I haven’t decided yet,” said Larry.

“But, you can do so many things. You always did more than Derrick.”

Larry shrugged.

“I would have expected that you would do something like engineering. Have you considered that?”

“A bit,” said Larry. “Electronics makes a good hobby but I don’t know if it is what I want to do.”

“What about sciences?” said his father.

“What kind of job would that give me? Working as a technician all day? I don’t know.”

“You are quick with computers,” said his Dad.

“Maybe there is something there I could do but, it seems like recycling data. It’s not too stimulating.”

“What about being a programmer?” asked his father in disbelief.

“The question is how many times can you write the same program and keeping selling it?” said Larry.

“The options you have are incredible. Maybe that is the trouble, you have too many choices.”

“Maybe,” said Larry. “Maybe, I’m looking for something entirely new; something different.”

“You’re fast with numbers, how about commerce, or business administration?”

“That sounds a lot like being an accountant. That would be like operating a computer, it is just processing more and more of the same kind of data.”

“You have a quick reply for everything,” said his father. “I should have been talking to you a long time ago.”

“Maybe,” said Larry.

“Well, what are you going to do next year?”

Larry shrugged. “Maybe I’ll just continue to work at Alvin’s repair shop until I decide.”

“You have a job?” his father’s expression returned to surprise.

“Yes, I have a part-time job,” said Larry. He didn’t care if his father knew. Maybe, thought Larry, if he knew that I was doing a job he would relax.

“What do you do there?”

“I repair electronic equipment, take care of the customers if I have to, and sweep the floors some times.”

“You do electronic repairs for pay and you’re only a senior in high school?”

“I receive a lot of instruction,” said Larry. “A lot of the repairs are simply burnt out transistors. With just a little instruction a lot of people could do what I do.”

“You can do all that and you don’t have a college picked out?”

“That’s right,” said Larry.

“You really need a college degree of some kind to get work.”

“There is a lot of work for those who can actually do something.”

“There are those fast answers again,” said his father, irritated.

Larry shrugged again. “I just have a feeling right now,” said Larry, “that there is something out there that is completely different from what I’m doing now that is right for me. I want to figure out what it is.”

“What it is,” said his Dad in a strained voice, “is your rebellious nature. It’s there just like Derrick. But, you’re showing it differently.”

Larry’s face grew hot. He hated any kind of comparison between himself and his brother.

“All right, enough of that,” said his Dad. “One of the things I wanted to tell you is that I set up a trust fund for you for your education years ago. It’s large enough to comfortably pay your way through any four year university or college program.”

Larry stared. He had no idea that his father had been thinking of his future.

“It will be there for you even if you don’t go this year. Derrick’s fund is still waiting for him. You have to go to a university or a college to get any of the money.”

“I’ll remember that,” said Larry.

“There are no strings attached, you can go where you want and you can study whatever you want.”

“That’s good,” said Larry.

“I know there’s no point in pushing you too much. If I do, you’ll just push back as hard I’m pushing you. You’re like your mother that way.”

“Oh?” said Larry.

Posted in Just Listen | Leave a comment

Just Listen

by Peter C. Conrad

In the young adult novel Just Listen, Larry a high school senior, is doing well, edits the school newspaper, and has a job, but he has many secrets. He learned that some secrets have helped, but others haunt him everyday. He works to find a way to cope with his mother and brother’s substance abuse, family break down and his own confusion about what he is going to do when he graduates high school. Just Listen has many unexpected twists as Larry finally figures out what he must do.

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2. The Arrivals

by Peter C. Conrad

“What did you say your name was?” asked the heavy-set woman as she cracked another egg onto the grill. Ed was stirring a pot of steaming cereal.

“Ed, Mrs. Thomas.”

“Well, you can start calling me Darcy.”

“Okay.”

“How old are you?”

“Just about thirteen,” Ed lied.

“Thirteen, ah? That’s something—the ones that stick with it are older. I was sure after a week you’d stop coming, that was if you came back for the first day.”

“Oh.”

“You’re a nice kid—you have problems getting along with the rest?”

Ed remained silent a moment. “No—I’m fine,” he replied.

“Quickly now, get the dishes out,” she said. “That cereal is done. Set the table, they should be here any minute.”

Bill and Gregory were the first to arrive. Like every other morning, the town’s only taxi arrived and the two slowly opened the door and climbed out. Ed didn’t know why a taxi brought them. It seemed odd to Ed at first, but as he spent time in their world, things that seemed strange became normal.

He watched out the window as the hunchback boys came to the door and walked in. Their faces were red and cold just like everyone else. They had thick lips and crooked stained teeth. Bill had a huge lump on the right side of his nose that made it look crooked. Gregory didn’t appear to have any nose at all. Their cheekbones were low and heavy. The heavy bony mass of their brows made their eyes look small and sunken. Their hair was thin, making them look slightly bald. They both had short, stocky legs. Ed watched as the two helped each other take their boots and coats off. This silent ritual occurred every morning and every afternoon when they left.

Connie was different. She would skip and jump as she came to the small building. There was no one with her. “La-la, ta-ta, da-da.” She would come in. Connie was always dancing to the rhythms of some band playing again and again, somewhere in the light of her mind. She was always there—wherever that was—smiling, always happy. “Ta-ta, la-la, da-da,” she sang along as she took off her coat. She was not physically different like Gregory and Bill. She was overweight for her height, but at eleven years old it seemed right. From a distance, she looked like any other girl.

Tom came next. He was he oldest and the biggest. He came down the street from the same direction as Connie. He had abnormally big boots. Tom never looked around. He walked with his eyes straightforward and his chin stuck far out. Like Gregory and Bill, he had a pronounced hunchback and heavy brow. His arms were long and bulky and his legs were bowed. He looked old at nineteen.

Kathy and Bob came on one of the early school buses. They arrived as the rest finished their breakfast.

“Oh but Connie,” said Kathy as Ed came out of the kitchen with fresh toast for the two that just arrived. Kathy was at Connie’s side, her coat still on. She was cleaning some hot cereal from Connie’s blouse. Connie was sitting still and looking down at the mess. Ed was surprised. For the first time since he has been helping, Connie was still, not humming. “Oh but, oh but,” continued Kathy.

“There now, don’t worry,” said Darcy as she continued to clean Connie. “You take your coat off Kathy. I’ll take care of this.”

“Yes,” said Kathy quietly as she did as she was told.

“I saw a nice car today,” announced Bob.

“You take your coat off too Bob,” said Darcy. “And have something to eat.”

* * *

Ed felt comfortable as he sat down at the small table on the far side of the school library and opened the book he had chosen for his book report. He looked up and noticed Carleton sitting down beside him.

“Find a book to do your report on?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said Ed.

“I think I’ll do this one,” he said as he patted the book he had in front of him.

“That’s good,” said Ed, unsure of why Carleton had come to sit down beside him.

“I was going to say thanks.”

Ed looked up from his book, surprised. Carleton stared intently at Ed. He shrugged. “For what?” asked Ed.

“Getting the guys off me the last couple of times,” said Carleton.

“Oh?”

“I sure wish I was like you,” said Carleton.

“What?” said Ed, surprised.

“You’re fast and you’re smart.”

“Your Mom is a teacher and your father is a lawyer. You have to be smart,” said Ed.

Carleton just looked down and shrugged. “I wish I could run like you.”

“It’s not that much fun running either,” said Ed.

“It’s better than just having to take it,” said Carleton.

“Have you ever tried doing anything when they get you?”

“If you fight back, they really let you have it. If you tell, the next time it’s worse,” said Carleton, embarrassed.

“Maybe they will lay off you more now,” said Ed. “They have been after me more lately.”

“That’s because you’re helping at the special school.”

“Yeah, well—” said Ed.

“Why did you do that anyway?” asked Carleton.

“I guess just because I wanted to. You know, in a way, I did it because I knew that Robert would hate it. It’s a power trip for him, you know.”

“What?” asked Carleton.

“His fighting; I think that’s the reason why there wasn’t a volunteer at the special school all fall until I got here was that Robert said he would beat up the weirdo who dared to do it.”

“That’s right,” said Carleton.

“I didn’t like the way he could do that,” said Ed.

“It’s like you are having a fight with him and you’re winning,” said Carleton with a smile.

“I guess,” said Ed.

“Hey look, the two losers sitting together,” said Robert loudly as he walked over to the table they were sitting at. Carleton quickly looked away, but Ed stared at Robert as he approached. Ed felt calm. He knew that he was okay in the library; Robert wouldn’t start anything physical.

“Hey, Eddy, you still going to school with the weirdoes?”

Ed didn’t move he just watched as Robert stepped up to the table.

“Hey, you scared to talk?” asked Robert with a smile.

“Robbie,” Ed said. He had often called Robert “Robbie” in his mind, but he had never said it. Now it just slipped out. Jessica, who was standing nearby laughed. “Robbie,” repeated Ed, to the surprise of Robert and Stan who heard it. “They sure could use your help over there too.”

Robert stepped back from the small table, shocked. As he watched, Ed thought he looked as if he had just been punched.

“I’ll get you,” stammered Robert. Jennifer began laughing with Jessica. Robert stepped forward and hit his fist on the small table as he felt his cheeks burn. Ed just looked at Robert passively, and then looked at Robert’s fist. It seemed small to Ed.

“I’ll be waiting,” said Ed to his own surprise. He meant to say he would be watching, but it was too late to change what he had said. The girls behind Robert were silent. Robert motioned to his friends and quickly left the library.

Ed looked across the table to Carleton. He stared back wide-eyed. He looked like he hadn’t breathed the entire time Robert had been there.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said excitedly.

“It doesn’t change anything,” said Ed.

“What?” said Carleton.

“They have been really watching me for weeks now. They have done everything they could to get me. They’ll just keep trying,” said Ed as his heart began to pound.

“But, when they do get you, they’ll really do some damage.”

“They would have anyway,” said Ed.

Carleton was right, he really shouldn’t have done it, but it just came out. Ed had been thinking of saying those things to Robert for a long time. He never thought he would get a chance or have the guts to say them. Robert may have a better reason to try to get Ed now, but Ed now had a reason to be careful. This could be a good thing, thought Ed. He had always been very fast, now he would be much faster.

* * *

At the back of Ed’s class, there was a small study room and a small storage room. In the storage room on the left, there was a small shelf of books. Ed had finished with the atlas he was looking at and made his way to the small room without noticing that Mrs. Brown, his teacher, was not at her desk.

Mrs. Brown was only an inch taller than Ed was. She had dark brown straight hair that touched her shoulders. Ed thought he was too thin. She wore a pair of large round glasses.

As he stepped close to the door of the small room, he heard her voice.

“Robert, I didn’t give your assignment a mark,” she said.

“Why?” Ed heard Robert say in a whisper.

“You really wouldn’t want the mark I would be forced to put on it.”

“I’d pass, wouldn’t I.”

“Not with this assignment. It’s no better than the other assignments you handed in.”

“They weren’t that bad,” Robert pleaded.

“You know I have to tell Mr. Ryerson about this soon.” Mr. Ryerson was the manager of the hockey team and the rink.

“You can’t do that.”

“I have to, especially if you don’t come in for help at noon. You still have trouble with reading and—”

Ed noticed Stan staring at him. Ed turned and made his way back to his desk. He could return the atlas later.

* * *

All the students had left the special school except Connie. Ed watched as Darcy pulled Connie’s coat on and zipped it up. She stepped up to where Ed was and looked out the window. She nodded and turned.

“Okay Connie you can go, he’s waiting for you,” she said. Connie swayed from one foot to the other and until Darcy opened the door. She stepped out and walked to the curb of the sidewalk. She paused and stared across at the boy who was waiting there. It was Dwain, another player on the hockey team. He was the same size as Robert and had dark hair. Ed could not remember ever seeing Dwain talking to Robert in class. But then, Ed had noticed that Dwain never seemed to talk to anyone.

Dwain looked both ways and nodded to Connie who was looking at him. She did not look side to side, she just stepped out onto the street and walked to him.

“That’s her brother, he comes to get her sometimes,” said Darcy. “Now can you help me get these chairs on the table before you go. The floors have to be swept.”

Ed quickly helped with the job.

“It’s a strange thing,” said Darcy. “You can have a whole family that is completely normal, then for no reason that I know there will be one with cerebral palsy.”

“Like Dwain’s family?” asked Ed.

“Yes. You never know what it’s going to be like either. One may not be able to walk, but have full use of their hands. Another may have very few outward problems, but he may not be able to swallow, or talk very well.” She shrugged. “We have one of the highest number of cases in the world and no one has any idea why.” She placed the last chair on the table and looked at Ed. “I guess it just one of those things.”
“I guess so,” said Ed.

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1. Two Streams

by Peter C. Conrad

Edward Walker was going to get involved—he decided. He walked out of the school and looked across the white snow covered field that was their playground in the summer. The building was white too, but its walls looked dirty. The large windows were covered with shapes of all colours cut from paper. “That’s where the rejects go,” Ed remembered one of his classmates said. Stupid, he thought as he began to walk across the playground.

The building was divided into two sections. One was the classroom. Three walls were covered with shelves. The other wall had a small blackboard on it. The second section was the recreation area. Off to one side was a small kitchen. The kitchen had one door and a small square opening where plates of food were pushed through.

* * *

“You’ve come to help,” said the heavyset lady standing in front of Ed. “Well, let me tell you what is expected. It isn’t going to be a picnic.”

“No.” replied Ed. His hands felt sticky and clammy as he watched Mrs. Thomas dry her stout fingers on a tea towel. Her grey hair was gathered into a loose bun with about a quarter of it falling to the sides.

“Well you better be prepared to work—and that isn’t just cleaning up—you’re going to have to get right into the mess. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“If you come in the morning, there are the chores you’ll have to do. They show up and need breakfast. That means cooking, setting the table, helping them where they need it, and then doing the dishes. Noon is the same way—you will have to come straight here when your class ends. It’s the same thing, but you’ll have to help clean up the morning’s things; from the class you understand. You’ll be busy right through. There are also games after lunch that you’ll have to help with. After school is time to put things away and get ready for the next day. You think you’ll be able to handle that?”

“Yes.”

“We’ll see. We’ll see if you turn up tomorrow morning at seven-thirty. You’ll have to help with everything.”

“Yes.”

“Tomorrow, then—”

* * *

As Ed walked passed the back of the hockey rink, he saw the usual group of boys crowded around a fight. They were cheering; first one and then another would kick at whoever was in the centre. If they’re so tough thought Ed, why do they need to help each other fight?

Ed never understood the idea of fighting even when he played hockey. He always felt puzzled when he was arguing. A friend would ask, “Do you want to fight about it?” It made no sense. He just didn’t fight. He believed it made him a better hockey player when he used to play. If he wanted to avoid fights, he had to skate fast enough to get away from trouble. He practiced skating more than anyone so that he could easily out skate the other boys. He would rather have people call him yellow than have a fight behind the gym at three-thirty. Ed watched his classmates’ fight and play. He was often surprised by the how fast a game became a fight. He always preferred to watch.

Robert was different. He would beat anyone that stood around long enough. Everyone was careful when the muscular blond Robert arrived. Even though Robert was the captain on the hockey team, he would be the first to drop his stick and let it fly. Half the time he was the one behind the gym or the hockey rink at three-thirty. None of the guys wanted to scrap with Robert.

At least that is how Ed remembered he had been told it was. When he thought about it, he realized that every scrap he had heard about, Stan, Alex, or sometimes Wade, Robert’s brother, who was fighting. Robert just told them what he wanted them to do. That is how it was at least as long as Ed had been around.

Ed’s classmates didn’t know how he was at fighting because he had just moved to this town four months before. That alone was enough to make his classmates try to fight with him. They would try to corner him or taunt him. They would chase him now and then, but even though Ed was muscular and heavy set, he was faster than any of them. He would dodge them and be on his way before anyone could get him. It made them more curious about Ed, and Ed knew it. He enjoyed playing fox and hound with them. He hadn’t been caught and intended to keep it that way.

Ed walked closer and closer to the small group; curious about whom they were beating up this time. He watched the alley behind the rink, as he got closer, planning his run out of there as soon as they saw him watching. His heart pounded. They all had their hockey equipment, which Ed knew was an advantage for him.

“Hey, it’s Ed!” called Stan, one of the boys at the circle. The circle opened up and Ed could see by his bulk that it was Carleton again. He was overweight and never fought back anymore. He couldn’t run fast enough to get away.

“Hey,” said Robert. “A chocolate bar for any one who can get him.”

Ed was off, but he avoided running straight down the alley like they would expect him to. He ran down the alley the length of two back yards and jumped the fence. He felt panicked when the snow was deeper than he was expecting. He looked back quickly. The boys chasing him were just dropping their bags of equipment at that moment. Their clumsy efforts to run at first with their bags had given Ed a head start. He rushed forward through the snow lifting his feet as high as he could. If one goes around the path two houses down they may catch me he thought. Ed didn’t look a second time to find out if anyone had. He hurried to the side of the house. He heard the grunts of the boys behind him falling into the deep snow.

In a moment, he was rushing to the shovelled front walk. He looked both ways as he ran and saw no one. He turned to the right and away from the walk that one of them may have been on. He kept running as fast as he could for the main road that was connected to the crescent. Beyond the main road he would run across the open baseball field that had one path down the middle. If he kept his pace up he would have a moment on the other side to see how far behind the other boys were.

At the other side, he turned and looked. He saw no one. Either they had given up or they had lost a lot of time in the deep snow in the back yard. Ed had learned that he couldn’t take any chances; he turned and continued to run. Soon he would be home.

Ed was panting as he stepped into the side door of the small house his mother was renting. The side door entered the kitchen where his brother and sister where sitting at the table with their schoolbooks. He pulled his backpack and coat off as fast he could. He was too hot.

“Not, again,” Martin complained as he shook his head at his brother. Martin looked like Ed, but he was a little taller and lighter. “You always run, instead of sticking up for yourself: it’s embarrassing. You never did that in Witter when we lived there. Just because we are in a new town doesn’t mean that you have to turn into such a wimp.”

“Yeah, I know Martin, you’ve told me a hundred times that it would be better to stand my ground, even if that means I get the hell beaten out me. At least then they would know I wasn’t a coward.”

“It’s not as hard as you think. “It wouldn’t even hurt that much,” Martin urged.

“Martin, you don’t have to bug Ed that much,” said his sister, Kate. She was in grade eleven, two years older than Martin. “As long as he can out run them, who cares.”

“Thanks Katie,” said Ed.

“He’ll get beaten up soon enough,” she added.

Ed grinned at her. “That’s right, Martin.”

“I think I should do it myself,” said Martin as he made a fist and stood up.

“Hey, don’t start,” their mother stepped into the kitchen. “Martin, you’re the man of the house now, don’t you think that you should act a little more mature?”

“I don’t know why he acts like such a palsy,” said Martin “If he was still in hockey, he would probably be different.”

His mother looked at him with cold and tired eyes. “I don’t want to hear that from you ever again,” she said irritably. “None of those people who have cerebral palsy can help it.”

“Yeah,” mumbled Martin.

“I don’t want to hear that either,’ she said more loudly. “There are a lot of people around here that have that condition. You never know who’s family you may be insulting.”

Martin shook his head.

“It’s just name calling. You should have grown out of that years ago.”

“I won’t say it again, okay?”

His mother looked at him and shook her head. She felt bad that Ed had acted different ever since his father left. He didn’t play hockey anymore. It was the one thing he shared with his dad. He didn’t seem to be interested in anything. She blamed herself for the change in Ed, his father leaving, and the way they lived.

Ed’s mother was short, and she thought she was a little too heavy. Her hands had long, elegant fingers. They were skilled hands that served her well at her job as a seamstress in the small factory in town.

“Yeah, I guess I should have really laid into Ed a long time ago,” said Martin.

His mother looked at him with disgust. She grabbed the oven mitts and pulled out the meat loaf.

“Yuck, not that stuff again,” Kate groaned.

“When you’re making the income for the house you can choose what we eat,” said her mother quickly as she placed the pan on the top of the stove. She pulled her hand from the mitt and shook it in the air to cool it off.

“You two, clean off the table and set it.” Their mother turned and pulled the lid off the pot of boiling potatoes and stabbed one with her fork. “Hurry, these are done.”

They kids did as they were told. They ate meat loaf, potatoes and one quarter of a tomato each.

“I’m tired of this,” said Kate as she toyed with her slice of meat loaf.

“I do what I can,” said her mother quietly. She knew it was more important to keep them all off welfare than to have more money. She had been told that with three kids she could get a little more from welfare than she was making at the factory, but she wouldn’t consider it. Being separated was bad enough, accepting welfare would be worse.

Their father had left to go west when he couldn’t get a job in Witter, the last town they lived in. After trying to find a job in Alton, he realized he would have no more luck there. He packed his bag soon after they were in this town and their mother had started her job at the factory. He would go west, get a better job, and send money. If he got a good enough job, he would send for them. They hadn’t heard anything from him in three months.

“We all must learn to help ourselves,” said their mother. “We all need to learn that if we just try, we can do things we didn’t believe were possible.”

They had heard it before. They knew that they were never allowed to say they couldn’t do something, at least not until they had truly tried to do it first.

“I’m going to take that job at Jensen’s store,” said Kate.

Her mother looked at Kate surprised and embarrassed. “I don’t think we really need the money that bad,” she said.

Kate shrugged. “Well, I wasn’t thinking just about the money. I heard that all employees get a ten percent discount on the stuff they buy.”

Her mother looked at her feeling helpless. Her throat felt dry.

“That would be fine,” she said as she nodded her head. “But, I don’t want it to be an excuse Kate.”
“An excuse for what?” asked Kate.
Kate’s mother took a drink of water. “An excuse for not doing well at school. You have to do your home work, and keep your marks up.”

“Sure,” said Kate quickly.

“Kate, you’re not going to turn out like me!” said her mother with force.

Kate stared at her mother quietly.

“Money, and discounts on groceries are a good thing,” said her mother. “But, having a future; having a chance to do what you really want in life is more important.”

“I don’t really know what I want,” said Kate.

“Then it’s important to keep your options open. That is the real reason to work hard in all your subjects at school,” said her mother. When she talked about something she believed in, she would talk too much, thought Kate. “Yeah,” she said.

“I’ll be watching your school marks,” said her mother again. “I’ll go right down to the school if I hear there are report cards out and I haven’t seen yours. I’ve done it before,” she said as she looked at Martin. Martin looked down at his plate feeling his face become warm.

Kate said, “Well, I will keep doing my home work, but what difference does it make if we don’t have enough money to send me to college?”

“There is always a way, if you believe,” said her mother.

Kate nodded her head.

Ed was tired and getting into bed felt good. He lay quietly watching the shadow of the leafless apple tree that was casting its shadow on the far wall of his darkened room. He remembered how much he liked hockey, the feeling of freedom on the ice. His Dad had told him that he didn’t look like he should even be in this league; he could skate far too well. Ed remembered the speed and the control. He could get the puck and move it down the ice fast. He would always be waiting for his team mates to catch up.

Ed remembered the surprised look on his Dad’s face that day when the team had won a game and they were just leaving the rink.

“Hey, wimp, we’ll get you next time,” said a large defensive player who was getting on the bus.

“I guess he doesn’t like losing,” said Ed’s Dad.

“He’s the same as the rest,” Ed said.

“Who?” asked his father.

“The guys on the team.”

“They say that too?” asked his Dad, surprised.

“Yeah,” said Ed. “They say I should check and fight more and skate less.”

Ed’s father smiled. “They don’t like hitting the boards just about every time they think they have you checked, ah?”

“I guess,” said Ed.

“Yeah, but don’t listen to them. You’re also the one who wins their games for them.” Ed smiled at his father. “It’s like everything, you should do what you want to do. You’ll be a lot better off for it. Just keep doing your own thing.”

“Sure, Dad,” replied Ed.

Ed sat up and looked at the darken window of his room. It was a large window that was made up of eight smaller panes of glass. “That’s how they used to make windows,” he remembered his Dad saying when they moved into the old house. All the windows in the house were made up of these small panes of glass.

No one seemed to know when the house had been built, but it must have been a long time ago, thought Ed. The hardwood floors had dark gray areas along the walls. In the places where there was the most traffic, the wood was worn to a concave path. When they first moved into the house, his Dad had pointed out the screw holes that had held a hand pump by the sink.

“No way, they couldn’t have hand pumps in the kitchens of houses in towns,” said Martin.

“Let’s see,” said their father as he walked to the basement door near the back door. He turned on the lights. In a moment, the two boys and their father were looking at a concrete tank in the corner of the basement just under the kitchen.

“They had water brought in by wagon and had it stored here,” their Dad told them. “When they needed it, they just pumped it up stairs. They didn’t have running water until much later.”

“What’s this?” asked Martin as he kicked at some red bricks that formed a square in the far corner. The pattern of bricks went up the walls and they could see that it formed another square enclosure at one time. “Another tank for the bathroom?”

Their Dad laughed. “No, that is where they had their coal hopper. They probably had a coal furnace right there where this gas furnace is now.”

The two boys looked at the red brick platform the furnace was on.

“They didn’t have a toilet, at least they didn’t have one indoors,” said their father. The two boys looked at each other.

“Take a look outside in the back yard. There is a circle of apple trees and shrubs for a reason. It was to shelter the outhouse.”

“Look at all this,” said Ed. There was a small room with a door half open. “There’s doesn’t seem to be any light switch for in here.”

“That’s the storage room the landlady told us about. We have to stay away from that stuff. It is all her personal family things. There’s probably has things in there from a hundred years ago. It’s dirty and fragile.”

“That sounds interesting,” said Ed.

“We don’t need any hassles from the landlady or anyone else. I don’t ever want to find you guys looking through that stuff.”
The two nodded as they backed away from the darkened room.

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Two Streams

by Peter C. Conrad

In the 1990s I was working as a teacher with students that had been facing challenges in their home lives and at school. Tapping experiences from my own youth I wrote several young adult novels.

Two Streams, is based on a short story of the same title, broadcast on CBC radio in 1986. Two Streams is a fast moving story about Ed, a new kid who refuses to follow the crowd. He finds himself at odds with his classmates, especially Robert, a bully who is the captain of the hockey team.

Ed refuses to be told what to do by his brother or by his classmates. Ignoring their threats, he volunteers to help with special needs children. When he is challenged, Ed discovers that he has the inner strength to do what he thinks is right.

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Canadian Wartime Prison Escapes

by Peter C. Conrad

After completing a contract with The Heritage Community Foundation as a Senior Editor and Writer from producing content for the Alberta Online Encyclopaedia in 2006, I signed a contract with Folklore Publishing in Edmonton, Alberta for the book Canadian Wartime Prison Escapes: Courage and Daring Behind Enemy Lines, published in 2007. Critics complained, as the book was focused on the young reader, with each chapter written so they could stand-alone. This format demanded that each chapter would repeat some basic facts for the reader rather than simply referring to another place in the text.

 

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The Baby Sitters

by Peter C. Conrad

I liked going to the baby sitters which was a family of two older sisters and one of the sister’s husband; I never really knew who was the married sister, and could remember their names, I just called them the Luftwaffe family, because the husband, a quiet and kind man had been with the German air force during the Second World War. This made perfect sense as they ha always said that they were in the Old Country fighting and were they were done they came to live in Canada. They had retired from the war, which continued as my friends and I knew that the Second World War was still continuing at the time, in the mid-1960s. Every time you turned on the radio there was only big band music. There was Verra Lynn singing about how we all meet when the light back on all around the world. You could see the black and white newscast of the War on the new televisions we were all getting at the time, and there were daily tests of the air raid sirens at noon in town, with one situated just outside Mountain View School.

The siren sounded at night to let the volunteers of the town’s fire department know they had to hurry to the station for a fire. Perhaps the fire was because a bomb had been dropped. No one had told any of us about the DEW Line, the Distant Early Warning Line in the far north to monitor the movement of Russian bombers over Canada and into the United States, an institution of the Cold War, not the Second World War. When we had a Second Grade discussion about what we wanted to be when we grew up, almost every boy and girl answered that we wanted to be one of the services. The girls were going to enter the Women’s Division of the RCAF, or the Naval Auxiliary. The boys were scattered through all of the various services, as I was going to be in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The teacher’s expression was amused at first and then it turned to confusion and concern: there was no major military facility attached to the town. There were survival-training facilities at Blue Lake, but nothing to suggest that we were all related to military families.

She shook her head and looked at me, and asked, “Why do you all want to join the military?”

“To fight in the Second World War,” I said.

“The Second World War,” she said, confused.

“We want to help win it,” said Greg, a classmate.

“Win it?” questioned the teacher. We all smiled and nodded. “But, it’s over,” she said. “It has been over for nearly twenty years.”

We stared in disbelief until someone asked, “Who won?”

“We did,” she said without hesitation.

The class roared with excitement. She quickly made her way back to her desk, disoriented and speechless.

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