Stealing For Good Reason
“You’ll never have a nice bike like this one. Your Mom’s on welfare. I betch’a don’t even know who your Daddy is. You’re garbage,” that brat, Danny Bryant, told me as we hung around the playground on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
“I’ll have a bike just like that one before the day’s over,” I said.
“Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it,” Danny said, then sped off.
All the kids I really like already went home. All that was left was me and Danny. I hate Danny. He’s mean and lowdown. He don’t like me at all, either. It was a pretty good day, though. We played a couple’a games’a hoops and ran around the school building, playing tag. We throwed some rocks at a pack’a stray dogs across the street from the school. A big dog, the meanest one, growled for a bit but Deandre hit the mutt with a big stone and it went flyin’ into the woods. It yelped and yelped. We all laughed and laughed. It was so funny.
I’m faster than any of the others. Uncle Ronnie tells me I’ll be some kind’a great track star or halfback someday. Since Dad’s been gone, Uncle Ronnie’s sort’a took over. He’s my Mom’s kid brother. He lives with us and works as a welder.
Danny’s bike: It’s an Avigno One Eight, an 18-inch BMX. It probably cost over a hundred bucks. But now it has nothin’ to do with the bike. It all comes down to what that brat said to me. No, I hate Danny the Brat and I was determined to get that same Avigno. What I really want is a DK Cincinnati twenty-inch BMX, a better bike than even Danny’s Avigno, but an Avigno would do, too.
Boy, it’d be nice to have a bike, I thought as I was walking back home. A bunch of us kids meet on the playground on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer. There’s nothing else to do. Sometimes we play basketball. There’s a court on the playground with rusty hoops and no threadings underneath. It makes it hard to see if you score a basket without an actual basket that sways and flops after the ball goes through the hoop. Those threads really make a difference, even if they’re all tangled up in a mess. The court’s all chipped up and cracked. We don’t go to a very good school.
Summer: Sometimes we roll dice. Sometimes we sit around and tell stories. Sometimes we just run around in the big fields around the school. Sometimes we don’t do much at all. It’s great in May, right after school’s out, but by August all of this gets boring. I hate to say it, but I’m sort’a lookin’ forward to school startin’ up again. I really hate school, too. After a couple’a weeks in a hot classroom, I’ll be hoping it’s summer vacation again.
You’ll never have a nice bike like this one – huh, how do you know, Danny Bryant? Maybe I have a million zillion dollars in a bank account. Maybe I can afford a whole truckload’a bikes. Your Mom’s on welfare – yep, she is, but at least my Mom isn’t some phony-baloney, two-timin’ whore like your Mom, Danny Bryant. I betcha’ don’t know who your Daddy is – you’re wrong, here, Danny Bryant. My Dad’s in prison. He done murdered somebody. He’ll never get out’a the place. But I know who he is. You’re wrong. You’re so, so wrong. I have a Dad and I know him and I love him. You’re garbage – you’re wrong again, Danny, I’m faster than any of you kids. Smarter, too, maybe not so book smart as most of you, but smarter. Much smarter.
Thinkin’s just too hard. I hate to think, ‘specially when it’s about bad junk. Havin’ fifteen blocks to walk from the playground to home leaves me a lot of time for doin’ nuttin’ else but thinkin’, though. And today I was thinkin’ hard about Danny Bryant. How to get even with the brat, that is.
When I got home, Uncle Ronnie was in the back yard pruning some grape vines. He bought these grape plants from a nursery a couple’a years back that spring purple fruit. He made this arbor out back and painted it white. He custom built the slats he used to build the arbor in his wood shop in the basement. Uncle Ronnie’s really good at stuff like that. His arbor’s neat lookin’ and makes us all proud to be there. Uncle Ronnie, he’s makin’ payments on the house. He lets my Mom, my little sister and me stay with him. He says he wouldn’t want things any other way.
“Uncle Ronnie, how do you get even with a kid you hate?” I asked him as he was eyeing up those vines with that eagle eye of his. He had these big shears in his hands. He sort’a looked like some kind’a superhero right there and then. To me, he did, anyways. But he’s skinny and tall and has long brown hair. He don’t look like any superhero, really – but to me he’s one.
“Well Bubba (he always calls me Bubba even though my name’s Jerry, I don’t know why he calls me that, I ne’er asked him), you’re always going to have people who you don’t like and who don’t like you. Get used to it. It’s a fact of life. There’s no use in thinking about getting even with them all, you’ll be spending all your time and energy scheming about doing horrible things to them. Just take my advice and don’t get even. It’s bound to get you in trouble, sooner or later,” he said.
“Uncle Ronnie, can you buy me a bike today? I need an Avigno. It’s a BMX. It’s a really neat bike.”
He looked at me and laughed. Then he shook his head. Then Uncle Ronnie sort’a took those shears and with a make believe move, he snipped them a few times right in front of my face.
“Bubba, you think your Uncle Ronnie’s made of money? Do you know how hard I work in the weld shop? After paying for the mortgage, the utilities, our food, homeowners and car insurance, along with about a hundred other little incidentals, there’s not much money left over. I can’t just go out today and buy you a Vigno bike.”
“It’s called an Avigno. It’s a great bike, too.”
“Okay, whatever. I’d like to, believe me, I would. I can’t. I just can’t. Right now, Uncle Ronnie can take care of all your needs, but not many of your wants. I’d like to own a Harley-Davidson, a big boy’s bike. Do you see one in the driveway?”
“Nope,” I said, trying to understand his point. “But an Avigno’s a kid’s bike. It’s not a motorcycle. An Avigno’s a lot cheaper than a Harley-Davidson. It has to be.”
“I tell you what, and I promise you this,” he said, lookin’ all in-thought like some per’fessor. “Yes, I’ll promise you this. . . .If you try to help me and your Mom a little more around the house, there’ll be a brand new Avigno BMX under that Christmas tree on December twenty-fifth. All you need to do is clean up after yourself. You can start by cleaning up your room. I looked in there the other day. It looks like the storage room at the weld shop. Maybe even worse.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said.
“Okay, Bubba. I’ve got a lot of work to do and it’ll be dark soon. They say you’re supposed to prune grapes in the spring, but you know how you’re Uncle Ronnie is – I always do things bass-ackwards (he laughs a little). I hope I don’t kill these things for pruning them so late, but they’re getting to be a mess, growing all over the place.”
I looked at him and smiled. I didn’t know what else to say or do.
“You get along, now,” Uncle Ronnie said.
I know’d then it was time to leave him to his chores. He went back to clipping and I went up to my room. Lookin’ around, I seen it was kinda’ messy but not all that bad. All I knew was I needed to get a bike. And it had to be today. And it had to be an Avigno BMX or something even better than that. I thought about it for a while and finally came up with a solution. I got kind’a frustrated about it all, but it was the only thing to do.
I waited until after dark and snuck out’a the house. At the time, Mom was in the livin’ room watchin’ one of her Lifetime movies and Uncle Ronnie was down in the cellar, working in his wood shop. The same-ole, same-ole of most Saturday nights.
It was dark and lonely out but I was on a mission. I walked down to the corner and then up Crawford Street to Pike Corners. I had a couple’a dollars on me so I bought a Coca-Cola from the vending machine in front of the convenient store there. Boy was I thirsty, too, having walked all this way in the August heat. Even after the sun went down, it was still very hot. By the way, I won the money I spent in the pop machine by playin’ dice with the boys at the schoolyard earlier. I kept calling snake eyes and ones hit on both cubes most of the time. I told you I’m smarter than any of ‘em.
Nobody was around Pike’s Corners. Not even those stray dogs we throwed rocks at earlier. Then I walked down Stone Street and up Mills Avenue. I took a left on Piccadilly Circle. Right up the street was Danny Bryant’s house. That horrible mother of his left her first husband to take up with this rich guy. A couple’a years back, Danny Bryant was as poor as the rest of us kids. Now he’s a brat. If anyone’s garbage, it’s Danny’s mom. My mom might be collectin’ some welfare, but she’s no whore.
I started to get nervous and scared but I had something I had to do. All day I thought about what he said to me, that Danny the Brat. I was gonna beat him up. I was gonna kill him and then I’d steal his Avigno.
When I got there, all the lights was out. It was now very dark. A sliver of a moon hung high like a spy. And what’da’ya know, that brand new, shining Avigno BMX was on the front yard, underneath a big tree. Even though my hands was shiverin’ and my knees was shakin’ I walked right over to that bike, jumped on it and rode it out of the yard and down the street. It has a big light on it. I turned it on so people in cars would see me riding down the street. Boy, it rode nice. So smooth. So fast. I was back at my house in a jiffy. Boy, I said to myself, It’d sure be nice to own a bike like this! Then I came to a conclusion: I already own such a bike! I just rode it home!
I snuck in the house and took the bike up to my room. I looked at it for a long time. Jeez, an Avigno BMX eighteen-incher. It was a beauty, all right. But there was one problem with it. Danny Bryant used a penknife or somefin’ and carved his name into the frame. I didn’t see it in the dark, when I rode it, but I noticed it in the light of my room. How could I ever ride it around like that? Everyone would know I stole it from him. Right before I went to bed, though, Uncle Ronnie came in and saw it in the corner of the bedroom.
“Where’d you get the bike, kid?” he asked.
“Stole it,” I said.
“You stole it? I told you all you need to do is work a little harder around here. Help out a bit. I’d promised you this afternoon you’ll get a brand new bike this Christmas.”
“You don’t understand,” I said. “It’s got nothin’ to do with the bike. It has to do with getting even.”
“Getting even?” he said, all wide eyed. “We talked about getting even, too. You can’t get even. Don’t even go there”.
So I told Uncle Ronnie what Danny Bryant said to me about me never being able to own a bike like his, about Mom being on welfare, about not knowing who my Daddy is, about us being so poor. I even told him that the brat called me a piece of garbage.
Uncle Ronnie just shook his head and said he understood where I was coming from. I thought he was going to make me take the bike back, apologize for stealing it, even make me tell Mom about what I’d done and all that happy church stuff. But Uncle Ronnie surprised me. His solution to it all wasn’t anything like that.
“You know, Bubba, stealing isn’t good,” he said, very softly. “There’s nothing good about it. Your father’s in prison because he tried to steal money from a store and shot a clerk dead. Now, we know Jack was a drug addict. A very sick man. But most folks don’t think like that. They don’t consider how desperate sick people are and how they’ll do desperate things. Sick things. Evil things. Well, your father will be in prison for the rest of his life, I guess you can say it’s an even match, although the store clerk’s family wouldn’t think so,” Uncle Ronnie told me.
“Yeah. I know.”
“But sometimes, Bubba, stealing isn’t such a bad thing. Especially when it’s a matter of pride. You know it’s not about the bike, it’s about you, me and your mom and dad. It’s personal. That’s different.”
“Yeah?” I said, wonderin’ where he was heading with all this.
“Now you know you can’t ride that new Avigno BMX around this summer, but you can get away with it next summer. Summer’s about over, anyhow, and you’ll be going back to school soon. I’m going to take that bike down into my wood shop and lock it up in a locker down there. This Christmas, you’re getting it as a present. It’s only right. That Danny the Brat had no right to say all that to you. He said some really horrible things. It serves him right. He got what he deserves,” Uncle Ronnie said, playin’ his per’fessor role again.
“Really? I can keep it? You’re not going to make me take it back?”
“No, no, no,” he said, shaking his head, looking angry. “And what kind of bike is it you like better? A Cincinnati something-or-other?”
“Yeah, a DK Cincinnati twenty-incher. It’s the bomb,” I said.
“The bomb, huh? (he laughs a little). I never heard that one before, but I like it. Anyhow, you’re getting one of those for Christmas, too. That Cincinnati whatever-it-is. Next summer, you’ll have two bikes. This Christmas there’s going to be two bikes for you under that tree. But you know you need to change a few things about yourself. We talked about all this earlier. Right kid?”
“Okay, Uncle Ronnie. No kiddin’? I’m gonna get’ two bikes for Christmas?”
“No kidding at all. But from now on, no more stealing. You got even with Danny Bryant enough. Let him alone. Ignore him. If he insults you, just think in your mind that you have his bike locked up in the basement and that you’re getting it for Christmas. Yeah, Bubba, that’s exactly what Danny deserves for saying all those terrible things about you.”
“Yeah. But no more stealing. No more hating Danny Bryant and you’re going to have to do a little more around here. Understand?”
“Okay,” I said, not believin’ anything that was happenin’ right then.
“But there’s a problem with the bike, Uncle Ronnie,” I said very quietly. “Danny the Brat carved his name into the bike’s frame. How can I ride it around with his name on it? Everyone will know I stole it from him.”
“Well, we have a way to fix that. You know Denny, don’t you? My fishing buddy? Well, Denny works at a shop that paints cars. He paints used cars all day long. He’s good at it, too. What’s your favorite color?”
“Purple,” I said, without thinkin’ twice.
“Well, I’ll have Denny paint the bike metallic purple. It’ll look really good. It’ll shine like a twinkling star. You’ll have a brand new Vigno metallic purple variety. And Denny’s such a good painter that he’ll do a bang-up job spraying the Vigno emblem on it, too.”
I sort’a looked at him funny. This wasn’t my Uncle Ronnie. I’d never ‘spected him to act in such a way.
“Nobody can say you stole it from anyone,” he said, all serious and stuff. “It’ll be yours. But you have to wait until Christmas to get it. And you’ll have to do some things around the house or that bike’s going to Goodwill. Then some other poor kid will get it for Christmas.”
“Sounds great. I’ll do a lot more around here. I promise.”
Uncle Ronnie kissed me on the forehead and smiled. He has such a nice smile. It’s sort of like a sunny day, except it’s even better.
“Yeah Bubba, you did right today. Don’t tell your Mom, though. Just let her think I bought you two bikes this Christmas. I’ll have to get your baby sister a bike, too. Lord knows, how I spoil you all.”
“Okay,” I said. Then I thought of one more thing. I’d never asked Uncle Ronnie anything about it before but now was as good of a time as any. “Uncle Ronnie,” I said, “Why do you call me Bubba when my real name’s Jerry?”
“Well, kid, I had a buddy in the Army who was the biggest, bad-est guy I ever knew. He was a one-man wrecking crew. But he had a heart of gold. You just remind me of him. You’re a big kid. You’re a good kid, too. You have a good spirit in you. You’re going to be a football star someday. A big football star,” he said.
He smiled again, like Jesus smiles in some of those pictures. “Yeah Bubba,” he said, “Sometimes there’s more important things than stealing and sometimes that’s the little evil in it all. One of the Ten Commandments says not to steal but another says not to bear false witness against anyone. I’d say you and Danny the Brat sort of ended up even today. But maybe not. After all, you have a nice new bike and he just lost one,” he said, chuckling a bit.
Then my Uncle Ronnie turned out the lights, walked out of my bedroom and quietly closed the door.
Samuel Vargo has written poetry and short stories for print and online literary magazines, university journals and a few commercial magazines. Mr. Vargo worked most of his adult life as a newspaper reporter. He has a BA in Political Science and an MA in English (both degrees were awarded by Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, USA). Vargo was fiction editor of Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, Ohio, for 12 years.