Writer's Camp: Johnny of the fire pump
February 22, 2006
By Jerry Vilhotti--

When Johnny Pump could walk, his 11-year-old sister Alice in Wonderland would dance with him as she stood on her knees. She would kiss his neck and rub his leg as they waltzed to the music coming from the radio that was much taller than even she was. And when he, excited, would laugh she would pinch him to quiet saying, "Remember now. Twenty-four Eighty Arthur Avenue is where you live. Remember that number. If you ever get lost— you tell everybody— you live at Twenty-four Eighty Arthur Avenue!" Again and again Alice whispered in his ear, as if it were the seashell Johnny once found on the sands of their home town, Orchard Beach.

His last born was his father's favorite. He told everyone that fact. He thought the boy's birth was a miracle and gave gave him a middle name of Savior after the doctor said several years before there would be no more babies. That finality of that statement and the lack of work had gnawed much of his manhood away. With arms flailing he said: "Johnny, remember if ever you get lost— you tell the person you live at Twenty-four Eighty Arthur Avenue!" The father repeated this more than several times while lifting him gently up towrds the sky.

Johnny's mother told him once, clearly placing a finger on each word precisely but still saying it only once--seeing in him another mouth to feed and obscurely jealous of this boy with blond curly hair and constant smile that had become her husband's favorite.

With a leg displaying the ravages of the polio that attacked it when he was 6 months old, Johnny's 8-year-old brother Tommy Tom Tom, told him the address several times, always leaving parts of it out as he made frightening faces while trying to pinch Johnny's leg to red blotches or trying to pull all his hair out.

His 9-year-old brother Leny One N lost the other N as punishment for the day he killed a potential bird by stomping its egg found on the sands of Orchard Beach. The breeze carried away his name from his mother's mouth while she was busy breast feeding Johnny the intruder. Leny with a frown on his face told Johnny the address only once, leaving out half the numbers and substituting "street" for "avenue."

His oldest sister Tina of the Troy never said anything about finding his way back home because she feared "the brat" was stealing her father's love from her. When they were alone, she would shout things about his ears. She told him they were as big as elephant ears and always to make the image come alive she would fashion them from the air in big swoopfuls with fingers used for pinching. "Big ears! Look at yourself— big ears! Why don't you die and go away? Big ears!"

"What? What? What?" he would say denying he had any ears.

"Papa, can I have it?" five year old Johnny asked standing before the window of the Fordham Road Toy Store. He thought the plane he saw could really fly. He could fit his whole body inside the cockpit and have enough room to spare while shooting down Nazi and Nip planes piloted by sneering blond guys and buck-teethed guys wearing very thick glasses.

"No, Johnny, but with the war just started I will be working more, building ships in the great navy yard, and I'll get you two planes to fly!"

Johnny wanted only this one. This plane he would dream about many nights flying up past the clouds. Johnny would tell anyone who came near him and this plane that he was not lost and he would announce his address to the fierce shouting winds several times before doing a mighty climb to get to the lightest part of the sky that was way over by the warm sun. It was the same sky that he wanted to touch when his father lifted him up towards it.

On the way back home Johnny let go of his father's hand and ran a few paces ahead of him. Jumping over a fire hydrant, he looked up as he flapped his arms like wings buzzing and humming, never quite reaching the free clouds that floated above him high in the sky.

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