JOSH, All Saints Church, pt. II
Josh, part II
"Remember, what I taught you, the louder you are, the more people there will be that want to avoid ya, " said grandpa. Grandpa said little of anything, else. Grandpa once explained, the reason he said the same things over, and over, and over was so it would sink so far down into his brain, he’d be doin’ it in his sleep. Josh stepped out of the van which smelled of grandpa’s sweat and rotting skin. He looked around the parking lot at the people getting into their shiny, waxed cars. Some were going in and out of the strip mall stores. Josh took his baby sister, Claire’s small, plump hand, giving it a little squeeze. He heard his grandpa’s voice behind him, "Get real close to the women in the wealthy clothes, close enough so they can smell ya."
Josh tugged his four year-old baby sister’s arm, hoping she wouldn’t mess things up. She wasn’t too young to get the belt from mama, but his would feel harder on his back. The welts sticking to the bed sheets. Josh knew he couldn’t screw up, especially here. Mama had made a deal with the manager who was a daughter of one of the neighbors. They could swipe as long as they didn’t take too much and promised to phone at least every two weeks and compliment the lady on her politeness, saying what a great help she was to her supervisor, so she wouldn’t never lose her job and maybe even get a raise in pay.
Josh recognized her from the neighborhood as he stood in aisle eight, away from the cash registers. Grandpa was wobbling around in aisle ten, loudly sayin to a woman, "Excuse me there, miss, didn’t mean to take up the whole aisle."
That was Josh’s signal. While the customers were lookin toward grandpa’s voice, Josh swiped a package of hot dogs and shoved them down his jeans, his overly large, baggy shirt hiding his stash.
Josh was 11 years-old and never once did he think that he was ever doing anything bad. In fact, he thought all the kids with their moms and their shopping carts were just plain stupid for paying for free things.
Josh’s mama was parked in the beat up old chevy watching the cash registers thru the large paned windows. Mama’s job was to call the store so the cashier had to answer. Mama would call the store when grandpa was second in the line. That’s when he and Claire were to leave the store. Grandpa would always yell the same words as they were half way out the door, "Don’t go too far, now. And, watch your sister." Before anyone turned their head toward Josh and Claire, grandpa would start talkin' in his loud, obnoxious voice about kids these days. Everyone tried to ignore him, turning their heads in the opposite direction of he and Claire, making their escape to the van while the cashier listened to mama on the phone. Grandpa paid for his dollar item then hobbled out of the store, a little faster than he hobbled in. No one noticed, though. They were relieved the scroungy, old man was finally leaving.
Josh had no problems with the thieving. There was always food for him, Claire, mama and grandpa. If he, or Claire needed a bigger size pair of pants, or a nice shirt, they’d go to the Laund-O-Rama and grab one out of someone’s dryer.
Never once did Josh long for the life of a boy attached to paying customers. He didn’t have to scrape quarters together for a shiny matchbox car. Josh would just swipe one. And, mama didn’t care what kind of grade he got on a spelling test. Mama didn’t even care if he went to school. To Josh, all the boys comparing their new converse sneakers every September were the stupid ones. They worked their tails off just to end up behind the cash registers of the stores Josh stole from, lookin at other people’s money, saying yes sir, yes ma’am, lugging big boxes of stuff to put on the shelves Josh would steal off of. They had to save their quarters to buy.
Josh was the smart one. He always made sure he swiped a new shirt from the Laund-O-Rama so he looked just as good as the other boys the first day of school-free of charge!
Josh was 13 and an expert shoplifter. One of the best, his grandpa had told him.
But, not too long after Josh’s thirteenth birthday, mama brought a stinky, smelly "bourbonized" man home in the beat up old chevy. He started smackin’ Josh around on his first night there. Some nights the "bourbonized" man wouldn’t even let Josh eat any of the food Josh had lifted. Once, Josh stayed home from school for two weeks straight when the "bourbonized" man punched his face so hard, Josh’s two front bottom teeth had broken. Josh started jumping out the window of the room he shared with grandpa and Claire. He’d hide all day in the van, underneath a dirty blanket, cursing his mama for ruining the family.
The van doors swung open one summer afternoon, the sunlight blaring in to spotlight Josh’s hiding space. The "bourbonized" man grabbed Josh by the shirt, ripping it half off his back. "You wanna hide in an auto, here how’s this for you, you little worthless piece of garbage," yelled the "Bourbonized" man as he stuffed Josh into the trunk of his mama’s beat up old chevy. Josh was certain his windpipe was broken as he gasped for breath in the stifling air.
Mama finally let him out, hours later. But, the "bourbonized" man was there too, where he always was, standing right next to mama. He whacked a tire rod over Josh’s right shoulder. Before, he could take another swipe, Josh took off running, not lookin' back.
Josh was 13 and on his own. He was fine with that. Anything he got, would be all his. He didn’t need that pukie school with the teachers that barely looked his way. He was certain Mrs. Hoskins breathed sighs of relief when she noticed his vacant desk.