Everbodys got un, ya know. I woke one mornin last year bout harvest-time with that expirey date in ma hed, cleer as bells. November twelve, two-thowsan an sixteen. Mos peeple dont know theirs, travlin through tha day as purty as ya please, bline to tha worl. I aint never been bline, though. Even when I dint know ma date.
Its a freein kinda thing, that expirey date. When ya know yur leavin this worl on a certain day, it kinda means you ain got ta care bout yer ownself so much. Take yestidy noon—I knew that car werent gonna kill me, sos there werent no danger pushin tha girl out tha street. People sez Is slow, but Is plenty fas when it counts, yessir. Lil Dolly Bartel only gots a scraped knee stead o a smushed head.
Dont get me wrong, I aint no man o steel. I can be hurt, an hurt bad. I jes cant be kilt, is all Im sayin. Leastways, not till ma expirey date.
Ol man Barker sez Is nuts, but he aint all there his ownself. I ketched him peekin in tha Bartels winder one time when Is out walkin the widder Austins dawg, Molly, an tha ol man boxed ma ears real good fer pointin out that warnt his house. Miz Austins a good ol gal, but Mollys better. That puppy is always hoppin ta see me when I step up to tha fence, an she barks a storm at ol man Barker—leastways, she been doin that tha last week or so. Dont know why, but thats a good un right there. Barkin at Barker. Ha.
Anyways, Is tellin yall bout tha day I went an saved tha worl.
Wuz a Thusday, iffin I recalect correct-like. Mos evenins me an Alice—thats ma fren from way back—is sittin on her porch swing, swayin and recalectin bout tha ol days. She dont call me nuts like Barker duz, but thers a sad kinda look in them eyes when I talk bout that expirey date.
“Charlie,” she sez, “nobody knows when theys a gonna die. That theres up ta tha Lord.”
Now Alice dont say it like that, them words an all (heck, I dont think shes even a believer) cause shes smart. Not like I use ta be, but that were a long time ago. I jes has a hard time memberin is all. I dont argue with her when she say stuff like that, cause it just makes her more sad like. Alice wuz ma girl fer a time back when I wuz smart, but we dont talk bout that no more. That makes her sad, too.
Wes both too dang ol anyways.
Ol Man Barker walks by an we both wave, and I nuj Alice a bit, pointin to out tha fac hes a heddin over to tha Bartels agin. She giggles all girlie-like, even tho shes well pas her sebemties like me.
“Whutcha think I get us some tea ta sip on whiles we swing?” she sez.
“Sure,” I sez back, “I cud go fer some tea.” I smak ma lips, “Lots o ice. Its a mite hot tanight.” It aint full night, yet, but tha daytime sun don gon an baked that heat right inta tha groun like a oven. Tha science guys keep a babblin bout global warmin an stuff like that, but Ima thinkin its jes tha sun a heatin up. Its as good a idee as any, but I can tell Alice dont think to kindly bout it. Jes like she dont think to much bout most o my idees, an I no she wishes it were like tha ol days wen I wuz smart.
I kech her cryin bout it wen she thinks I aint lookin, but dont say nuthin. I usta cry bout it to, if I wer tellin tha truth.
Molly starts a yappin ta let me know Ol Man Barker is a passin by her propity. I gess I should say hes a mite younger n me—by at least a good twenty year—but thats whut tha kids call him, sos tha name don stuck. We won talk about whut theys a callin me. I don boxed a few ears my ownself over that, sos tha meen kids mostly jes leave me lone. Tha gooduns I smile and wave and fun aroun with. I also save a few… like lil Dolly.
That pups stirred up sumpin powerful, tho, and I sits up ta take a looksee. Cross tha street, thers a Barker-shaped shadow squeezed twixt Mollys fence and tha Bartels house. I knowd heda been headin that way, and knowd he wuz a plannin to peek in agin. But hes at Dollys winder now, an that dont sit right with me. Nosir.
That swing slamd hard into tha porch railin when I jumpt off an ran into Alices front yard. When I got to tha gate I yell “Hey Mr. Barker,” an that shadow froze up solid as a block o ice. Mollys a tearin up n down that fenceline ta beat tha ban, barkin tha hole way. I open Alices gate, but tha shadow skitters off behin tha house, an beats feet away down tha street. Tha screen door slams behind me, an I turn ta see Alice lookin at me funny-like an holdin two swetty glasses o ice-tea. I close tha gate an walk back to tha porch.
“Whut wuz that all bout,” she sez, settin them glasses on tha table by tha swing.
“Jess a shadow. Molly wuz a barkin, sos I got up ta see whuts whut.” I shrug my sholders an climb tha steps, “Twarnt nothin.”
But it were sumpin, an I decided then an there ta keep my eye on Ol Man Barker.