Chapter 1 of ‘Becoming’

MARK LICHTERMAN


From Becoming

Prologue

The lady and boy stood at the curb.

Watching the stoplight across the wide, busy street, the lady looked forward, waiting for the light to turn to green.

The five-year-old boy at her side looked to his left, watching the light across the smaller street, waiting for it to turn to red.

The lights changed colors: from red to green, from green to red.

Automobiles stopped on either side of the wide street.

From the little boy’s perspective, looking much like a red monster, its steel wheels squealing in steel tracks, a streetcar halted its rattling forward motion and seemed to be straining to begin moving again.

Tightening her grip on the boy’s hand, the woman and child started across the wide street.

On the other side of the street a man carefully stepped off the curb to begin his journey in the opposite direction.

Scraggly gray hair hung over his age‑splotched forehead and he propelled himself slowly with the help of a wooden cane that he held tightly in his gnarled hand.

Crossing paths, the fog‑cast, green eyes of the old man made contact with the clear, green eyes of the little boy and held for the seconds it took to pass.

Passing, the little boy turned his head, watching the old man. Tripping on the curb, he hung by his mother’s hand until she pulled him up onto the sidewalk and his own two feet.

“Mommy, what’s wrong with that man?”

“What man?” Turning, the woman looked at the slowly receding figure. “Oh. Nothing, baby, he’s just an old man.”

Watching another moment, “Will daddy be an old man someday?”.

“Why yes, baby. I hope so.”

“And will you be old someday, too, Mommy?”

“Yes, Mitchie. God willing. Unless something bad happens, I’ll be an old lady someday.”

“And me too, Mommy, I’ll be old, too?”

“Yes, baby, someday.”

His throat tightening, his eyes stinging, the boy began to cry.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Reaching into her purse, removing a handkerchief, she wiped away his tears.

“I don’t want to be old, Mommy!”

Stooping, “Shhh,” hugging her son to her chest, “don’t worry, Mitchie. You’ve a whole lifetime ’till you’ll be an old man.”

Standing, taking hold of her son’s hand, the two began to walk again.

The boy looked over his shoulder at him one last time, but the old man had disappeared from sight.

1: The Lone Ranger and the Mountain Rescue

Winter, 1940

His sisser was big.

Mitchell burrowed under the down‑filled blanket. He lay at that extremely comfortable place where he was not quite awake and yet not quite asleep.

When he lifted his head from beneath the warmth, he felt cold air on his sleep‑flushed face. His eyes opened, then closed again.

He had to make sissy bad, but he liked it then because then his sisser got big and it got hard and he liked it then because when he held it, it felt so nice.

So warm! So comfortable! So nice!

Lying snug and warm, holding himself, he knew he should get out of bed and make sissy but it felt so nice.

His eyes opened then closed again.

He is by the toilet, looking down, aiming at the circle of water. Now! His full bladder loosened…

“No!” Awakened with a start, realizing where he was. I’m in bed! he thought. I almost made siss in bed! And though he did not want to leave the warmth, he knew, Gotta go, that if he didn’t get up then, right then, he’d have an accident, and Mitchell knew he was too big and too old to have an accident.

Cold air replacing the warm blanket, lowering his feet over the side of the bed, he shuffled them about the floor in a futile effort to find his house slippers that were so carelessly kicked off the evening before. Can’t wait no more! Forcing his bare feet onto the frigid floor, holding his still-rigid penis that had poked through the fly of his pajamas, remembering not to run, he hurried from the bedroom, through the kitchen and hallway, and into the bathroom. A muted square of gray light came from the air-well window and, far from enough to see by, he reached to turn the light on, but remembering how the light hurt his eyes at night, changed his mind. Standing in front of the toilet, aiming down, not noticing that the toilet seat was down, Uh-oh, his stream of urine hit the ring and splattered over his feet onto the floor. Correcting his aim, he heard the reassuring sound of water tinkling into the water.

Shivering, Mitchell stood with wet feet for what seemed a long time, until his bladder was empty and his penis had shrunken back to its little boy’s nub.

Giving himself one final shake, he flushed the toilet, then, taking his father’s towel off the bar on the door, wiped his feet, the toilet seat and the floor, then re‑folded the towel and put it back on the bar.

As heat from the coal‑fed furnace in the basement four stories below began to rise, the cold, cast‑iron radiator rattled as it expanded, and as the apartment began to heat, the slight hiss of escaping steam could be heard coming from the radiator’s safety valve.

Back in the warmth of his bed, listening to the sounds of winter, Mitchell closed his eyes.

Suddenly remembering, bolting up, he rushed to the window and lifted the shade, but the window was covered with a thick, uneven coating of milky white frost. Holding his mouth an inch from the frozen glass, feeling the radiating cold, he exhaled his warm breath onto the opaque surface. A dime‑sized spot melted; a nickel, a quarter, a half‑dollar. He looked through the clear, transparent circle and took a sharp intake of breath. “Snow!” The wind had blown high drifts against the building across the alley and, even as he looked, his peephole became speckled with melting white flakes. “Oh, boy!” he said aloud, thinking, Today’s Saturday! Ain’t no school today and I got all day to play in the snow! Oh-boy-oh-boy-oh-boy!

Standing barefooted on the cold floor, the soles of his feet began to feel as though they were burning. Reluctantly turning from the window, forgetting the Kaplins. Forgetting, as most usual, his parent’s constant admonishments about running across the floor… About, “Mitchell!” his mother would always say, “You’re making those poor people downstairs crazy!”—especially at 5:45 a.m. Running back to bed, he made a full forward leap, landing head first on the pillow then pulled the blanket to his chin. By angling his body, he was able to see the spot on the window, but condensation had already caused a thin membrane of frost to coat it.

The boy’s eyes closed.

The gray shadows on the ceiling and walls begin to lighten.

His eyes opened. Remembering, he was back at the window. The spot had frosted over and steam from the radiator had caused a formation of an additional thickness of ice. Putting his hand flush against the window, wincing at the burning sensation as the pads of his fingers and the soft flesh of his palm absorbed the cold, the boy melted a hand‑shaped opening and looked through the palm‑print. Everything was covered with snow! Mitchell’s world, as much of his world as he could see, was clean and white. Heavy flakes of snow were still falling, and there was a three-inch-high drift of snow on the window ledge.

Unable to contain his excitement a moment longer…

Below, on the second floor, sleeping in the largest of three bedrooms, the middle bedroom, waking with the rapid thudding of the boy’s feet, Mrs. Kaplin glanced at the ceiling, muttered, Momzer!” [bastard] and pulled the pillow over her head.

Mitchell ran from his bedroom at the rear of the apartment, past the back door, past his parent’s proudest possession—an electric refrigerator. He ran through the kitchen, past the pantry, through the hall, past the air‑well, middle bedroom, and toilet, through the dining room, past the front door, and through the front room to the smallest of the three bedrooms, the current—by decree of Walter Lipensky—bedroom of his parents. The bedroom that was, because Walter liked to sleep, the farthest away from the early morning noise of the “god-damned janitor!” The bedroom that was the farthest away from the noise of the hub of his home: the kitchen. And last but not least, as far away as possible from the noise of his six-year-old son.

Standing just outside the open door, speaking softly, “Ma‑me.” Whispering, so he thought. “It snowed last night an’ it’s still snowin’ now an’ I wanna go outside! Ma‑me! Wake up, Ma‑me!”

Lifting her head from the pillow, looking at the Baby Ben alarm clock on the dresser through half‑open eyes. “Mitchell, it’s not even seven,” Myra Lipensky whispered. “It’s too early! Go back to bed!”

“Mommy, I went back to bed before, an’ I can’t sleep no more, an’ I wanna go outside. Please, Mommy, get up!”

“Mitchell, shhh! You’ll wake your father!”

The boy looked at the back of his father’s head.

A sound sleeper, facing the wall with the blanket pulled to his ears, settling lower on the pillow, “What time’s it,” Walter muttered.

Mitchell waited a few moments, then, hearing nothing else from his father, whispered, “But, Mommy, I can’t sleep no more.”

Sighing, “Okay, Mitchie. I might just as well get up.”

Slipping from under the blanket, Myra pulled the flannel nightgown down from around her hips and buttocks. Standing, she ran her fingers through her hair, stretched, sat on the bed and, reaching down, started to put her house slippers on.

Feeling the motion of the bed, turning from the wall, Walter looked at his wife’s back, then at his son. “Mitchell, didn’t you hear your mother?” Glancing at the clock, “It’s not even seven!” he said angrily. Walter Lipensky had been awoken, and if there was one thing that always made Walter angry, it was being awoken when he didn’t have to be awake. “Myra, it’s too early! Come back to bed!”

“No, it’s okay, Walt. You know once I’m up, I’m up. You go back to sleep. I’ll fix him some breakfast and get him dressed. I’ll be back after he’s outside.”

“You ought to send him back to bed, Myra. You really spoil that kid!” Fluffing his pillow, Walter turned back to the wall. “You really do, you know.”

Myra Lipensky was a tall, beautiful, heavy‑set woman in her late‑twenties. She had straight, dark brown hair that came to a widow’s peak, gray eyes, a straight nose and a small mouth. Her son’s face was definitely a combination of both his parents, and his hair, widow’s peak, and mouth were noticeable contributions of his mother’s.

Myra had gained a considerable amount of weight during her pregnancy because her doctor believed that women were better off, during a pregnancy, if they added weight and Myra had been told, within limits, to eat what she wanted, and, “Of course it’s okay to drink malted milk!” Myra’s favorite drink was malted milk, the thick, solid kind that supported the weight of a spoon. Prone to easy weight gain normally, Myra had always watched her diet—more or less, but she did take the doctor at his word, and six years later was still unable to shed a good part of the weight that she’d gained during her pregnancy.

An extremely handsome man, Walter Lipensky had dark brown eyes and straight black hair. Six feet tall, dark complected and solidly built, though intelligent, Walter was frustrated because working as a salesman at his father’s manufacturing company he had no outlet for his creative energy.

A confirmed bachelor, Walter was twenty‑seven when he and Myra first met. Although he’d thought himself too set in his ways to ever marry, Walter and Myra fell in love and, within four months of their first meeting, married.

First-generation Americans, the roots of both families went to Russia, but that was where the similarity ended. Myra’s father, Morris, was a carpenter, whereas Walter’s mother and father were both scholars.

Walter was obstinate and opinionated, and this frequently led to bitter, extremely vocal arguments between him and his wife. In addition, though he did love his wife and son, Walter had trouble showing affection; consequently, Myra’s family, while they did like Walter, felt he was unaffectionate and distant.

Mitchell had a round face, a button of a nose, large green eyes and long lashes. He was a beautiful child and people would often stop his mother as she would wheel the buggy, and as he grew older, when they would walk together, “Shayner punnum!” [beautiful face] they would say, pinching a cheek or ruffling his hair.

Large for his age, Mitchell had unlimited energy and would rarely sit still for more than a few seconds at a time, and he never walked when he could run, which had converted the downstairs neighbors into constantly complaining enemies.

“Mitchell, walk! Stop running!” his mother would shout as he’d jump off a chair in the kitchen or the bed in his bedroom and run across the linoleum-covered floor of the kitchen and hallway and out the back door, slamming it shut behind him. “You’re driving the poor Kaplins crazy! Stop running!”

Bang! Bang! Bang! would come the sharp sound of a broomstick pounding the ceiling of the apartment below.

“It’s a wonder she hasn’t poked that damned stick through the floor by now. Please, Mitchell,” his mother would implore, “stop running!”

When they would pass each other in the hall, or outside, or at Abe’s Delicatessen or Sam’s Grocery, Mrs. Lipensky, out of guilt, would always smile at Mrs. Kaplin and say, “Hello, Mrs. Kaplin. So, how’s by you? Mr. Kaplin, he’s feeling okay?”

“Hurrumph!” would come the icy reply, and Mrs. Kaplin would turn her back on Mrs. Lipensky and stalk away.

Now, in all truth, Mrs. Lipensky really did feel bad that these innocent downstairs neighbors had to be subjected to the merciless pounding of her son’s feet across the carpetless floors of the kitchen, hall and two back bedrooms, But, she thought, Jesus! Can’t they see I’m doing everything in my power to make him stop? Can’t they see that? What the hell am I supposed to do with the kid? Lock him in a closet? Chain him to a bed?

Whenever the embarrassment of Mrs. Kaplin’s snubs became too much, things begin to fall. A bed frame dropped with a thud. A chair fell with a clatter. “My God, that twelve-quart pot just jumped out of my hands! Can you imagine that?” Mrs. Lipensky would say as, Bang, Bang, Bang, would come the pounding of the broomstick on the ceiling below. Occasionally, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth, Mrs. Lipensky would imagine the Kaplin’s pock‑marked ceiling.

When deserved, Myra would spank her son. Walter had never spanked the boy, but Mitchell was somewhat afraid of his father and would try, whenever possible, to stay out of his way.

“Hi, Joe!” Squatting, looking through the lower portion of one of the kitchen windows where the heat of the radiator had melted the frost, Mitchell knocked on the glass and waved to the janitor, who glanced up, but because of the snow was running more than an hour behind schedule, although, even if he were on time, Joe would ignore the boy’s greeting, just as he did then.

In this neighborhood, garbage was usually collected at a pre‑dawn hour, which was why the back bedroom, though it might be larger than the front bedroom, usually housed the kids rather than their parents. Those unfortunate enough to sleep in the rear bedrooms were awakened seven days a week, summer and winter, by the garbage collection ritual when the janitor—who was also the plumber, painter, gardener and electrician, whom for some reason usually seemed to be of German descent, which may have accounted for the general neatness of the buildings—clumped up the stairs in heavy‑soled work shoes. In winter, if it had snowed, the sound of a metal shovel scraping snow off the stairs preceded the ritual. Then Joe or Karl, Heinz or Fritz, would tramp up the stairs with a huge, steel collection can slung across his back. The can would be dropped onto the porch with a thud and the smaller can would be slammed into the larger can with a resounding, off‑key, cymbal-like clang that would jar even the soundest sleeper out of the soundest sleep.

Janitors, so it would seem, were given the contractual right, so the tenants thought, to make whatever noise was needed to be sure that if they were awake everyone should be awake, and no amount of pleading with Joe or Karl, Heinz or Fritz, or the unseen god-like landlord would lessen the din.

With bad, though, often comes some good, and few rear bedroom tenants were ever late for work or school, and in future years “Reveille” would literally be as music to their ears in comparison to the noise made by the collision of the garbage can into the collection can.

Coming from the bathroom, Myra looked out the window, too. “Yup! It sure snowed all right. What’d you want for breakfast, Kiddo?”

Thinking a moment, “Oatmeal.”

“With warm honey?”

“Yup!”

“Okay. Go get washed and brush your teeth, and put your long-johns on, okay?”

“Okay.”

He began to run, but catching him by the seat of his pajamas, “Mitchell,” she said sternly, waving a finger in front of his face, “walk! Don’t run! It’s much too early to wake the Kaplins! Do you understand me?”

Nodding, walking on tiptoes, Mitchell looked at his mother over his shoulder.

“That’s a boy.” Myra put her finger to her pursed lips. “Shhh!”

The boy loved both parents, but felt closer to his mother. All of his life, sometimes hiding in his bed or the closet, he’d listened to the arguments of his parents through closed doors and, in all instances, though he had no idea why they argued, Mitchell always mentally sided with his mother.

Deciding to try to “make,” wearing only his long underwear, by the time he returned to the kitchen there was a glass of orange juice, a glass of milk, and a steaming bowl of oatmeal with warm honey puddling the circumference of the bowl with a chunk of melting butter in a depression in the middle. Anxious to be outside, dropping onto the chair, lifting a spoonful of oatmeal to his mouth he stuffed it in, then pursing his lips he drew air inward to cool the heat of the molten oatmeal.

“Mitchell, slow down! The snow’s not going anywhere!”

His mouth stuffed full of oatmeal, a thin line of it dribbled down his chin as, swallowing with a loud gulp, he took two more spoonfuls then pushed away from the table.

“Oh no, young man! You just sit there and finish eating!”

“Aw, gee whiz!”

Smiling at his serious expression, “Don’t you go gee‑whizzing me, young man! You finish your breakfast!”

*

“Mitchell,” squirming, as she’d help him dress, “stand still!” A flannel shirt buttoned to the neck was stuffed between the long underwear and a pair of corduroy pants. Two pair of heavy woolen socks were pulled over the cuffs of the corduroys. Leggings, a sweater, shoes, galoshes with four metal buckles, a wool scarf, his coat, an Ace cap pulled over his ears and woolen gloves on his hands…

“Uh‑oh… Mommy.”

Uh-oh? With apprehension, “Yes, Mitchell?”

“Mommy, I gotta make.”

“You’ve got to make! Now? What do you have to make, Mitchell?”

“Poopie. I made before but gotta again.”

Like a movie running in reverse: off came the gloves, hat, coat, scarf, sweater, so the leggings could be lowered. Off came the shirt, so he could unbutton and lower the long underwear. Down came the leggings and corduroy pants that bunched up over the galoshes.

“Okay, Mitchell,” Myra sighed. “Go make poopie.”

Taking small, shuffling steps, dragging the leggings and pants, the boy went from the kitchen to the bathroom. Unbuttoning the underwear, dropping it too his knees, sitting on the toilet, he put his chin into his cupped hands and, turning red in the face, strained… but nothing happened. He lifted and buttoned the underwear, pulled the pants and leggings up and went back to his mother, whose patience was beginning to wear just a little thin.

“Come on, Mitchell, let’s get you dressed and out of here.”

Outside, at last!

The snow had all but stopped falling, but even there on the porch it was up to the second buckle of his galoshes. Standing a minute, breathing deeply, filling his lungs with crisp, clean air, he watched as the vapor of his breath dissipated in the air.

Steel runners bumping from step to step, dragging his Flexible Flyer behind him by the piece of laundry‑line that had been slung through the handle, he carefully, slowly, made his way down the stairs that Joe had shoveled earlier but hadn’t time yet to spread furnace cinders over. More blowing snow had fallen onto the steps and, hampered by the bulk of his clothing, holding the banister with his right hand and the rope of the sled, held near the handle with his left, Mitchell struggled down the three flights of stairs.

Finally, downstairs, Joe had shoveled a path from the steps to the entry of the wooden fence that separated the yard from the alley. The mounds were too much to resist. Dropping the sled, taking a running start, throwing his body onto a fluffy embankment, Mitchell rolled over the top and down the other side. Standing, covered in snow, he flung himself over the mound again, onto the shoveled sidewalk, bringing a small avalanche with him then did it again.

“Hey, you! Lipensky!” Joe yelled at the boy from the basement substructure. “Shtop vit der shnow! Get the hell out vitch you! I han’t shovlin’ shnow from der sidevalk hall day so you kin get it full vit der shnow hagin! Get hout! Go play in der halley!”

To a janitor, snow, after all, only meant three times the work, and being short‑tempered anyway, Joe didn’t look at the wet, heavy stuff through the eyes of a six-year-old child.

“Okay, Joe!” Taking the sled, he trudged kitty‑corner through the unshoveled portion of the yard, out the gate and into the alley.

Trucks, cars, and the horse‑drawn wagons of peddlers traveling the streets and alleys made compacted furrows that, with melting and re‑freezing, become hard as concrete and slick as… well, ice, and vehicles were often forced to travel in unwanted directions as their wheels become captive in the deep ruts. By this time a few trucks had driven the T-shaped alley compacting the snow into twin strips on either side of the ridge.

Holding the sled against his chest, Mitchell stepped onto and into the soft ridge. As he began to run, he could hear the sounds of his breathing and, as it rubbed between his well-clothed thighs, the swishing of the smooth fabric of his leggings. Taking nine or ten longs strides, he flung himself onto one of the slick strips. Momentum took the sled twenty or thirty feet. At the “T” section of the alley he was able to steer out of the rut and, aiming towards a garbage can, he waited till the last second, then rolled off letting the sled crash into the can. Standing, brushing snow from his coat, reclaiming the sled, about to repeat the feat going in the opposite direction with the fence as his target but, “Hi, Nick!” stopped because Nick and Erma had entered the alley.

“Hi, Mitchie!” Nick yelled from the high seat of the wagon. “Whoa, Erma!” Thick plumes of vapor streaming from her wide nostrils, the horse stopped on command, lifted her tail, and with a “fart” that he could hear, though Mitchell was about fifteen yards away, Erma deposited a huge plop of steaming manure onto the clean, white snow.

So much for sledding in that direction.

“’AY, BEANS! FRESH LIMA BEANS!”

Sun or snow, peddlers traveled the alleys.

“CARROTS! APPLES! FIVE CENTS A POUND! BANANAS! ’AY, BEANS, FRESH PEAS!”

“Nickey! You‑whooo! Nickey!”

Turning, trying to locate the distant voice, spotting her, “Oh, no!” Waving at, answering… “Mrs. Lefkin!” the lady that lived at the far end of the third floor in Mitchell’s L-shaped building. “What can I bring for you today, Mrs. Lefkin?”

“Nickey, if you vould be so kind,” calling through cupped hands, “bring for me von bunch carrots, von pound hepples.”

“Madonn!” Nick said to himself, looking across the snow-covered yard and up the three flights of slippery stairs. Shrugging his shoulders, glancing at Mitchell, he climbed off the wagon, went to the rear, shook open a brown paper bag, took three Jonathan apples from a bushel basket, weighed them on the Toledo scale that hung from a hook at the rear of the wagon, put them in the bag and picked a bunch of carrots out of a crate, as all the while he looked for another customer, hoping he wouldn’t have to make the arduous journey for only fifteen cents. “FRESH FRUIT! VEGETABLES! PEAS!” But no one else called so, pulling his cap down and his collar up, the peddler started his trek.

Watching from the window, waiting till her son had started down the stairs, thinking, That should keep him busy for a while, Myra went into the bathroom, turned the water on, and, while waiting for it to get hot, brushed her teeth. Steaming water coming from the spigot, she’d adjusted the mix, disrobed, put her shower cap on, stepped into the tub and pulled the curtain closed…

Turning the water off, she’d wiped herself, then the fogged mirror… Through brushing her hair, she had taken a bottle of toilet water from the medicine cabinet, poured a generous amount into her hand and rubbed it over her chest and under her breasts. Putting the robe on, thinking, Just in case, returning to the kitchen, Myra locked the door.

Exactly as she had left him, Walter still slept facing the wall with his right arm under the pillow.

Taking her robe off, slipping beneath the blanket, spoon fashion, she cuddled against her husband. “Walt…” No response. “Walt!”

Hearing her, feeling the warmth of her body, he put his hand on her smooth, damp hip and arching his backside, stretching his arm, Walter caressed the fleshy cheek of his wife’s left buttock.

“Hi, honey. Guess what?” Whispering in his ear, reaching over his hip, slipping her hand through the fly of his pajamas, holding her husband’s flaccid penis. “We’re alone.”

Fully awake. Oh, yeah! Walter’s penis was… Oh, no. It was no longer flaccid, and…

“Mommy!” Mitchell didn’t know why the door was locked and, pounding on it, “Oh, Maaa‑me!”

“…Oh, shit!”

“Sorry, Walt.” Coming off the bed, slipping her arms into the robe, “I’ll just see what he wants and be right back.” Smiling at her husband, “You’re not going to go anyplace now, are you?”

“Myra,” throwing the blanket back, “where would I go?” Walter exposed his turgid penis.

“Mitchell,” clutching the robe closed, “what do you want?”

“I called you from downstairs and you didn’t come. Can I go out front and play?”

“Yes!” Relieved he doesn’t have to “make” again, “But don’t go on the street! You stay in the “block”! You hear me?”

The block was his world. This gave him his entire world to explore. “Yes, Mommy.”

The block is absolutely square. It is bounded on the north by busy Ogden Avenue with its silver tracks and clanging streetcars, on the south by Nineteenth Street, the east by Christiana Avenue, and the west by Homan Avenue. The block is sliced in half by an east/west alley that runs from Homan to Christiana, and the southern half is halved again by yet another short alley coming off Nineteenth Street, that ended at the high, wood fence of the boy’s large, concrete‑ covered back yard.

Slamming the door shut, Myra rushed back to the bedroom.

His head propped against the headboard, lying on her side of the bed, Walter was smoking a cigarette. Taking a deep, final drag, he offered it to her. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Myra took a light draw and handed the cigarette back. Snubbing it out in the ashtray on her nightstand, patting the bed, he moved to the side, making room for her.

Pulling the blanket back, Myra saw that he’d taken his pajama bottoms off, and that he was “attentively” waiting for her. Shrugging out of the robe, not overly proud of the appearance of her nude body, she crawled under the blanket quickly.

Kissing deeply, lying to the side and above her, Walter’s hand on Myra’s breast, and Myra’s hand… exactly where he wanted it.

*

Snowplows clearing streets after a snowstorm make high drifts along the curb, sometimes burying cars under tons of snow. Standing at the intersection of Homan and the alley, the boy looked in both directions, and what he saw, for as far as he could see, broken only by streets and alleys, was one long mountain range of snow.

Oh, boy-o-boy, he thought, I’m gonna play The Lone Ranger! Shoving the plate‑glass door open…

Cuddling closer yet, his hand moved from the softness of his wife’s breast to the warm moisture of her vagina, and as their lips met again, moving fully atop her body, positioning himself between her thighs, as Walter was about to…

His son pushed the button under the mailbox marked Lipensky, waited a moment, pushed the button again, holding it this time as he counted: One, two, three, then ran up the five steps, pulled the inner door open and waited for his mother to…

“Mitchell,” she yelled from three stories up, “is that you?”

Not knowing why she sounded so angry, “Yes, Mommy.” he answered timidly.

Calming herself, restraining herself, “Mitchell.” Fighting for control, “Uh, honey, what do, uh, what do you want?”

“Mommy, I wanna play Lone Ranger. Can you put my gun ’n’ holster in a bag an’ throw ’em out the window?” Adding, “Please!”

“Yes, Mitchell,” speaking with exaggerated patience, “I’ll go get them. Where are they?”

“In my toy box, Mommy.”

Upstairs, the door on the south side of the landing slammed shut.

Running outside, he climbed to the top of the plowed snowdrift opposite their living room window and looked up.

Passing the bathroom, she heard the sound of running water behind the closed door.

In the back bedroom, Myra rummaged in Mitchell’s toy box till she found his Roy Rogers cap pistol and holster, and, just to be on the safe side, put a new roll of caps in the gun. Going into the pantry, she got a brown paper bag, put the gun and holster inside, crinkled the bag for insulation, then put that bag into another bag. Back in the living room, she tried to pull the window open, but it was frozen shut, so she hit the frame with the palm of her hand. “Damnit!” bruising her palm. Straining, she pulled upward on both handles… Giving suddenly, the window banged upward, toppling a six-inch high drift of snow that had blown onto the windowsill, onto her bare legs and into her house slippers.

“Mitchell,” leaning out the window, losing all vestige of self‑control, “here’s your damned gun!”

The boy watched as the bag sailed down, landing safely in a cushion of snow.

“Now leave me alone!” Slamming the window shut, she sat on the windowsill, breathing deeply, trying to regain the composure she had just lost.

Coming from the bathroom nude, Walter was smoking a cigarette.

Looking at her husband, smiling dementedly, reaching down, removing a slipper, holding it up for him to seen, Myra then up‑ended it, spilling water and a bit of snow onto the carpet.

“Where the hell’d that come from?”

“Oh, I got bored waiting for you to come out of the toilet and thought I’d play in the snow awhile.”

Not knowing where the slush had come from, or how it got into her slipper, but more than just a smidgen anxious to get back to his previous position, shrugging his shoulders, Walter asked, “Uh, you still want to…” jerking his thumb in the direction of the bedroom.

“Do I still want to make love?” Bouncing the tip of her forefinger up and down over her blowing lips, making a kind of “flubbering” sound, taking her robe off, dancing in a circle, swinging it madly over her head, “Do I want to make love, the man asks!”

Her self‑conscious modesty having kept him from seeing his wife’s fully nude body very often over the past few years, watching Myra’s bouncing breasts and jiggling buttocks, Walter thoroughly appreciated what he saw and his body responded.

Stopping, she watched the upward progression of his penis. “Yes, Walter, I do still want to make love.”

“Me, too, baby,” he said, excitedly. “Me, too!”

Yeah, so I see! But you’d better hurry, Walter,” turning, running into the bedroom, diving onto the bed, “before the kid finds a phone and calls us.”

Mitchell opened the bag, took the silver‑plated, fifty-shot cap pistol, holster and belt out and tried to strap the belt around his waist, but due to the bulk of his clothing was barely able to fasten the belt on its last hole. “Okay, you…” looking about to see if there were any adults within hearing, “bastard, bad guys. This is the Looone Ranger!”

He scrambled up a tall snow peak, where from the higher elevation he could see for miles. “Steady, big fella!” Patting “the great white stallion, Silver.” “They’ve got Tonto an’ we gotta git’em back! You wait here, big fella, an’ I’ll be back in a couple’a days to get’j’ya.”

Pulling the pistol from its holster, he looked at the cylinder to be sure it was loaded. “Yup! All loaded all right. Okay, big fella. I hates to leave ya, but I’ll be back!”

With a determined look on his masked, square‑jawed face, the Lone Ranger slammed the pistol in the holster then ran up one mountain and down another. He scrambled over a buried car and, standing on the mountaintop, shaded his eyes from the glaring sun of this dull gray, overcast day. “I see’s ’em! There they go! Gotta git ’em if I wanna save my faithful Indian companion, Tonto!”

The mountains were steep and treacherous, and the Lone Ranger slipped, slid, and crawled, but eventually made it the quarter block to the corner. “Hummm,” scratching his steel-hard chin, “I’m’a thinkin’ ah better mosey in here for some vittles.”

Sliding down a dangerous, precipitous cliff, the Lone Ranger, with spurs a’jingling, strode into Abe’s Delicatessen.

Marlene, Abe’s five-year-old daughter, was sitting at a parfait table sipping at a cup of hot chocolate with a big puff of whipped cream floating on top.

The snow‑covered boy walked to the counter, leaving tracks of slush where he stepped. “Abe, my mommy said that if I want I can come here an’ get some candy an’ that you should put it on the bill an’ that she’ll pay you later.”

“Mitchie,” looking down at the boy from over the counter, “are you sure your mother said that you can have candy this early?”

Mitchell knew how to get what he wanted from adults, sometimes. Looking up at Abe from below the counter, he opened his big, green eyes in wide‑eyed innocence. After all, would the Lone Ranger ever lie?

“Abe, I wouldn’t lie to you.”

“I know, Mitchie.” Abe, always a soft touch for the kids in the neighborhood, looked at this beautiful, wide‑eyed, red‑cheeked little boy and, raising his eyes skyward, shrugging his shoulders, opening his hands palms up, “So, nu, Mitchie, take what you want.”

Studying the selection of penny candy on the rack, taking his time, Mitchell choose three boxes of Snaps, a white- and red-coated tubular licorice that when cold snaps when bitten; and also two packages of Mary Janes, a chewy caramel with peanut‑butter filling that comes three to a package. Going to the counter he held his hands open so Abe could see what he’d taken.

“Okay, Mitchie, tell your mother she owes me a nickel.”

“What’ch’ya doin’, Mitchie?” Marlene had a chocolate mustache and a dab of whipped cream on the tip of her nose.

“They’ve taken Tonto, an’ I gotta git’em back!”

“Can I play with you?”

That’s silly, Mitchell thought. Would the Lone Ranger ever play with a girl? “No!” Looking at Marlene through steely, squinted eyes. “It’s too dangerous to bring women along!” Turning his back on the “barmaid,” the Lone Ranger strutted through the swinging barroom doors, into the heat of the desert.

Struggling up a mountain, he looked at his box of Snaps/compass to find the proper bearing. Shading his eyes from the glaring sun, “There they are,” spotting them in the distance, “an’ they’re draggin’ Tonto behind one’a the horses.” Cupping his hands to his mouth, “Hold on, Tonto, I’m’a’comin’!” But before starting, opening the box of Snaps, he upturned the entire contents into his mouth, relishing, as he chewed, the sharp taste of the licorice, then, leaning forward and turning his head just as he’d seen Gabby Hayes do it in a Roy Rogers movie—or was it a Gene Autry movie—he spit/dribbled a stream of tobaccy-licorice juice into the snow… and onto his scarf.

“Let’s go!” he yelled, and once again began the dangerous, arduous trek to save his faithful Indian companion, Tonto.

Sliding on his stomach to the bottom of the hill, the Lone Ranger had worked his way to the middle of the block. Rolling over, lying on his back, he looked up. “Whew! The heat! Need water,” he gasped. “Ah gotta have water! Water,” he croaked.

It’s Sam’s Grocery.

“Ah better be stoppin’ for more vittles.” Going into Sam’s Grocery, trailing sloppy puddles on the worn, linoleum floor, the Lone Ranger strode to the counter.

Sam was filling a bag for a customer as Rachel, his wife, cut paper‑thin slices of lox from the side of a large, red, smoked fish that lay on a marble slab just to the right of the cash register.

Sam and Rachel took people at face value and, until proven wrong, would keep a running bill for customers in good standing until payday when the bill would be paid in full.

The register dinged and, giving the customer her change, Sam handed the bag across the counter. “Hi’ya, Mitchie,” the grocer said. “Out enjoying the snow today?”

“Yes, Sam.” Pulling his snow-crusted gloves and cap off, Mitchell slapped them against his thigh in order to break off the particles of snow that clung to the wool fibers. “Sam, my mommy says it’s okay if I get some candy and that you should put it on the bill.”

Finished slicing the lox, “Mitchie,” Rachel put the mound onto a piece of waxed paper and placed it on the scale, “are you sure your mama said it’s okay for you to have candy so early?”

Eyes widening, Mitchell looked from Rachel to Sam. “Yes.”

“So, okay,” Sam said. “Little boys need to have candy for energy. Go, Mitchie, go take what you want.”

“Sam, can I have a piece of halvah, please?”

“Tell you what I’m going to do,” handing him a chunk of the oily, sweet, dry‑tasting Turkish confection that had broken off the three‑pound block that sat on a smaller marble slab to the left of the scale, “My present to you, Mitchie. We won’t even charge for it.”

“Thank you, Sam.” Taking the candy, he went to the door. Eating it slowly, he stood looking out, absently watching the swirling snow and people plodding through drifts and digging through mounds to uncover sidewalks and buried cars.

“Mitchie, why don’t you go back outside and play?”

Walking back to the counter, “Rachel…”

Sighing, “Yes, Mitchie?”

“Can I have a drink of water?”

“Yes, Mitchie. You know where it is.”

Going to the rear of the store, he parted the curtain and, passing the storage area, went into the small bathroom. Taking the jelly glass from the sink, he filled it to overflowing, took a sip, then spilled the rest down the drain. Looking at the toilet, Mitchell considered whether or not he had to make, but the thought of taking his coat off and lowering his leggings seemed like such a monumental task that he decided, Maybe I don’t gotta make. “Thanks, you guys,” he yelled at Sam and Rachel as he ran through the store and out the door, leaving it ajar.

Outside, putting his hat back on, he opened and up‑ended another box of Snaps, then pulled his gloves on.

Back on the trail, the Lone Ranger stopped just long enough to spit another stream of tobaccy/licorice juice into the snow… and onto his scarf.

Does the Lone Ranger chew tobaccy? Mitchell wondered, and if he did, Would he ever spit?

Trailing the bad guys and his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the Lone Ranger followed the mountain range to the corner of Ogden and Christiana where the mountains veered to the south. Climbing and slipping he made his way to the halfway point, to where the longer alley bisected the block, when a snowball whizzed past his ear and splattered on the side of a slowly moving car.

The driver, who was concentrating on driving this barely navigable street, glanced to his right, then quickly brought his attention back to the snow‑rutted street before him.

“Hey, Mitch! What’ch’ya doin’”

“Hey, Normie! Playin’ Lone Ranger. Wanna play?”

Norman Parminter and Mitchell had been friends since the Lipenskys moved into the apartment slightly more than three years ago. The Parminter apartment was diagonally across from the Lipenskys’ and their back porches overlooked each other’s yards.

“Yeah! But you be the bad guy for a change!”

“No! I’m the Lone Ranger, an’ you’re the bad guy, an’ you’ve got Tonto an’ I’m comin’ to save him from you.”

“How’s come I gotta always be the bad guy?”

“Just ’cause I’m the good guy an’ you’re the bad guy.”

Considering a moment, “Okay,” Norman said, “if I’m the bad guy then I get to do lots’a really bad, sneaky stuff, okay?”

“Yeah, sure. That’s what I said; you’re the bad guy!”

“Okay. Then I’m gonna hide, an’ you gotta come an’ find me.”

“Yeah, an’ Tonto, too.”

“Yeah, an’ Tonto, too! Where’s Silver?”

“Guess I left him tied up outside’a Abe’s. Come on, go on! Hide somewhere an’ I’ll come an’ find’ja.”

“Yeah, okay!” Norman ran through the long and short alleys to a hiding place somewhere on the Nineteenth Street mountain range.

Waiting a minute, the Lone Ranger again began the arduous task of saving his faithful Indian companion, Tonto. But first, removing his gloves, he unwrapped one of the Mary Janes.

Making his way to the Christiana and Nineteenth Street mountain range, turning westerly, he spotted an exceptionally high drift. Not knowing if the bad guy had seen him and was waiting someplace in ambush, crawling stealthily on his stomach, the Lone Ranger headed to the summit. Once there, still on his stomach, searching for the bad guy, shading his eyes from its blinding glare, the Lone Ranger squinted into that somber day’s blazing sun. Unable to see him, he slithered from the high summit to the edge of the alley/valley. Having no cover, thinking it best to do it quickly, the Lone Ranger sprinted/slipped the fifteen feet to the range of mountains on the other side of the alley/valley, then, “Well,” speaking loudly, in a deep, masculine voice, “he ain’t no place to be seen! Guess ah better draw the varmint-bastard’s fire!” Standing, the Lone Ranger pulled his trusty Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, six‑shooter from its holster. “I’m’a gonna git’j’ya,” he yelled as he fired into the air, but, pftt, pftt, pftt, wet, the caps fizzled. The Lone Ranger looked at his trusty Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, six‑shooter a moment, then, “Pow! Pow!” Pointing the pistol in the air, “Pow! Pow!”

As he fired verbally, a snowball thrown from some unseen place hit the Lone Ranger on the shoulder, followed by another and another hitting him on the chest and forehead. “Where are ya?” the Lone Ranger shouted. “Ya dirty varmint!” But he couldn’t see the bad guy, and, “Ain’t no fair, Normie!” Mitchell yelled. “The Lone Ranger’s supposed to win!” Turning in a circle, he looked for him, but Norman could be anyplace and he couldn’t see him…

Suddenly there was the sound of rapid, snow-scrunching footprints, but before he could locate the direction they were coming from, the leaping body of the bad guy caught the Lone Ranger around the neck and dragged him off the mountain, into the soft snow where the two rolled and thrashed until each was able to break out of the grasp of the other and, standing with fists poised, they circled each other menacingly.

The Lone Ranger threw a haymaker that caught the bad guy on the side of his upturned collar. The bad guy flew back in an exaggerated motion and fell on the ground. The Lone Ranger threw himself on top of the bad guy and the two wallowed in the snow, punching and grunting till, sitting on the bad guy’s chest, the Lone Ranger yelled, “You dirty bastard bad guy! Where’s my faithful Indian companion, Tonto?” As he yelled, a stream of saliva drooled from the Lone Ranger’s mouth onto the forehead of the bad guy and Mitchell began to laugh.

“Hey,” easily pushing Mitchell of his chest, the positions were quickly reversed. “The Lone Ranger ain’t supposed to go ’round spittin’ on other guy’s faces.” Picking up a handful of snow, Norman let it sift through his fingers onto Mitchell’s face.

Twisting his head from side to side, Mitchell was laughing so hard he hadn’t the strength to shove Norman off his chest, but within a few moments, infected by the contagious laughter, Norman, holding his side, gasping for air, fell off, and the two friends lay in the snowy gutter laughing until tears run down their cold, flushed cheeks.

Sitting up, catching his breath, “Hey,” Norman knew Mitchell, and he knew his friend was seldom without something to eat, “does the Lone Ranger got any stuff to eat?”

“Yeah.” Digging through his coat pocket, he came up with the last, sodden box of Snaps, and the two loose Mary Janes. “Hey, Normie, maybe it ain’t too late for Let’s Pretend. You wanna come to my house an’ listen to the radio?”

“Think your ma’ll make toasted cheese sandwiches?” Norman loved Myra Lipensky’s toasted cheese sandwiches.

“Yeah, sure. I’m starved!”

Standing, putting their arms about each other’s shoulders, the two cut through the short alley.

At the start of the trek, Mitchell had put his sled in the basement, now, dragged by the rope, it bounced up the steps behind the boys.

“Hey,” Norman asked, “what about Tonto ‘n Silver?”

“Ehh, we’ll get ’em later.”

“Or tomorrow.”

“Yeah. Or tomorrow.”

* * *

See more: Becoming

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