With my father gone, my mother needed somebody to watch me during the evenings she worked at the VA hospital in Bedford.
In the mornings I'd walk down the hill and take the bus to school-- waiting at the bus stop was the only time I saw kids from my neighborhood during the week --but when school let out my mother would pick me up and take me directly to the Deerings' house on Vine Street, on the other side of town.
My mother probably heard about the Deerings from the hospital. They were an average Catholic family with a military bent, not surprising since the father, Ken, was a hardcore VFW member, buzzcut and everything, always dressed in coveralls which held in his paunch and looked more or less like a uniform. Sometimes he actually dressed in his old Army uniform from Korea when he went down to the chapter hall. Mrs. Deering was a hugely obese, perpetually exasperated woman who wore a succession of flowered mumus. I don't think she really wanted to be babysitting me but they needed the money.
The fact that the Deerings were just getting by was shown most acutely by the food they ate. The main course was usually some type of organ meat; liver was very common, with beef hearts featuring on occasion. There was also the popular shit-on-a-shingle, creamed chipped beef on toast. If we were very lucky there were hot dogs. The side dish was sometimes green beans but more frequently shelled beans, which were awesome in their musky, pasty tastelessness. I hated them, almost to the point of tears. Naturally Mrs. Deering made me eat whatever was served. There was warm cherry Kool-Aid to drink. Dessert, if there was any, was a peanut butter sandwich.
One night my number came up, and the combination I'd been anticipating with dread, liver and shelled beans, was served. I told myself that if this happened I'd refuse to eat. Liver was something a kid had to deal with on rare occasions. Coupled with the beans of doom it was intolerable. But Mrs. Deering would not bend. She wasn't having some bastard child telling her that what she fed her kids wasn't good enough for him. She pulled Mr. Deering in on this one. He told me I could eat or get the belt on my behind. I was trained to bow to threats. I made myself get through the meal somehow. They never did hit me in all the time I was there. My mother must have known I was threatened with corporal punishment, though, which meant she was in on it. 'Just threaten to hit him. It always works.'
The Deerings' son was named John. He was probably all of twelve years old, but to a third-grader like me he was practically adult. He delighted in making retard noises and in trying to get me to say swear words, which I memorized dutifully. On occasion he would be bored and I offered amusement... I craved any time he spent with me because there was absolutely nothing to do. The yard was a dirt parking lot with a couple of cars, some debris, a cement wall on one side and the side of a house on the other.
When I started staying there I was free to leave the yard and go up and down the street as far as the end of the block. One day John and his friend Chuck invited me to play ball in front of the house. They tossed the basketball back and forth to each other a couple of times, and then bounced it to me. It slipped out of my hands and bounced out into the street, and I ran after it. I didn't notice the school bus coming. It hadn't gotten that close to me, and I waited across the street as it passed by. But I was pretty much fucked at that point. John told his mother I'd run in front of a bus, and from then on I had to stay in the yard and not even go near that end of it.
Mr. Deering thought my cheap bowl-cut was too long and made me look like a faggot, so he tried to get me to comb it back and use hair trainer. He had one of those miniature pompadours that aging greasers wore, and knew no hairstyle better. I did it for a few days but soon lost interest.
With a dirt yard to play in I got pretty filthy, and Mrs. Deering would wash me. Upstairs she filled the ancient claw-foot bathtub with about three inches of water, like she was afraid I'd drown in anything deeper... the water would be muddy by the time I was through. She would douse me with water and wash my hair with bar soap, and then scrub every inch of my body. She was faintly aghast at the fact that I was uncircumsized, and spent a lot of time washing between my legs as though she thought my penis would rot off at any moment.