Tommy said there was a boarded-up well on old Man Heberlie’s farm we should check out. There were things down there needing investigating, he said. Lost souls.
‘Why us?’ I asked. ‘We’re not lost.’
‘Let’s see,’ Tommy replied, shifting the toothpick in his mouth from side to side. He was always chewing one, said he needed something for his mouth to do other than talking and gum was for girls. I thought he needed something for his hands to do—they were always clenching and unclenching, his nails leaving marks in his palms.
He also had a look in his eye. Like our dog Clem before Dad took him away. I wasn’t crazy about that look, but Tommy had befriended me and I couldn’t be choosy. Adolescence was difficult. Being new in a tiny town was even worse—especially with a limp. And a gimp hand. I was accustomed to the sideways glances and narrow eyes people made in clumsy attempts to get a better look. But I never got used to it.
Tommy stared straight at me from the start, assessing my faulty right side silently, toothpick firmly in place. If he was going to beat me up, so be it. I couldn’t run away. But that’s not what he wanted. ‘You know what’s interesting about you,’ he said finally. ‘Your right side’s all wrong. I like that.’ He grinned widely, toothpick perfectly held. It looked like a grimace. I could have questioned his interest in me, but I wanted to relish the experience of having a friend. It was what I’d wished for, just before we moved, when I dropped a quarter into that fountain at the mall. I hadn’t really believed, just been desperate. And now here I was in a field, holding a flashlight and peering into a black hole with Tommy.
‘The souls down there’re waiting to hear what’ll happen to them. They’re not quite good enough for Heaven or bad enough for Hell.’
‘How do you know what’s down there?’ I asked.
‘Some people got a mission,’ he said, not looking at me, ‘…putting ‘em out of their misery, or keeping ‘em from being bad. There’s that saying: throwing lame dogs down after sick babies.’
‘What? I’ve never heard that,’ I stammered. I felt very cold.
‘It’s just a saying,’ he said. ‘But when do they know where they’re gonna go?’ The toothpick danced in his mouth. ‘I need somebody to tell me.’ His hands were fists at his sides. I licked my lips and tried to think.
‘Tommy—we’re the same,’ I said. ‘Our right side is wrong.’ I repeated this over and over, ‘til I was hoarse.
Eventually, Tommy blinked a few times, then looked at me. ‘Guess you’re right. That’s why we’re friends.’ His hands unclenched and relaxed. I started breathing again. I thought about what he said. I’d need to get back to that fountain at the mall—to help him find something else to do with his hands.