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The Red Umbrella
I found this in the junk yard today. I asked Charly what it was and he says a journal. "Give it here," he says, "it's good for fire kindle." "No way", I says. "It's mine. I found it fair and square." Charly shrugged and muttered something about stubborn girls but he gave me a stub of pencil. "Might as well have something to write with," he said. But the fire is going out so I should be getting to bed. We're hitting the rails tomorrow Charly told me.
I just realized I hadn't told you anything about me yet so I'm going to now. I'm Alexandria Mason but I go by Alice. Only Ma ever called me Alexandria but she's gone now. She and Pa died in a fire. It burned up our house and them, but that was a long time ago. A year I think. Back then I went to school and had enough to eat. So much has changed. Charly is my older brother. He's not much older. Just sixteen. I'm almost fourteen but I'm short so most people think I'm twelve. Anyway, me and Charly are bums I guess. Tramps more like it. Ma would cry to see us now, I think. But our stop's the next. I hear the railroad police and Charly looks nervous, so bye.
Well, we got off and that's good. We're in the forest now. I think we should stick around the shanty towns but Charly says it's no place for a girl so we don't. He acts like a gaurd dog to me sometimes, but I'm secretly glad. Charly is a good brother.
Sometime in October;
I don't know what day it is because I lost track since the last time we were in a town with a calendar. We're on a train again. We don't exactly know where we're headed. Hopfully a place where Charly can get work and we can find a place to live, but I don't know where we'll find a place like that. There are too many men out of work right now with all the banks closed and everything. This country is a mess.
I got the date again. Last night we slept at a place called the Home For the Poor. You can stay for up to a week and get free food besides. I like it here. Charly is gone looking for work while I am looking for odd jobs. We have four dollars last I looked but Charly doesn't like to use our money unless he has to.
We'e still at the Home. I met a girl here named Charlotte. She's 13 too, and we talked together for a long time. Her family lives in places like this and when they can't find one they live in their car. Charlotte told me they got kicked out of their house last year and have been living like this ever since. We went outside the Home and found an empty field of flowers. She gave a bundle to her ma and I pick some to press and dry in here. The dinner bell is ringing.
We left the Home and Charlotte four days ago. Charlotte and I cut small lengths of each other's hair and gave them to each other. We decieded to be best friends but I don't think I will ever see her again. Goodbye Charlotte.
P.S. Charly did not find work. We are heading off on the next train.
My hands are shaking as I write this. I can't belive we made it. Let me explain. Charly and I almost got caught on the last train. We fell asleep in one of the empty traincars and did not wake up when we should have. The railroad police were swarming like flys all over the place and we didn't know what to do. Then I felt someone grab my shoulder and push me into the bushes outside. I looked around and tried to scream but I couldn't because someone's hand was over it so I bit it hard. Then that Someone squealed and pinched me and I looked over to see Charly and Mr.Someone. When the train finally pulled away I got to meet him. His name is Wayne and he is a strange fellow but kind. Charly and I are now in a shanty town with Wayne and it is night. We supped around the fire together and Charly and Wayne became friends fast. They are now talking in low voices outside the hut I am in. I am worn out and my eyes hurt because there is no light in here. Goodnight.
When I said Wayne is a strange fellow I was not exagerating in the least; he has many strange ideas. Wayne is only 17 but he acts and talks like an old man. A very smart old man. He says he learned everything he knows from books and that is a lot. I have seen his "library". It is very big. He has a suitcase full of books. I don't see how he can lug it from place to place all the time but he does. He says knowlege is worth it. Charly seems very impressed.
Charly has decided Wayne will be our "traveling companion" and so he is. He said he is on his way to his uncle's house and so I guess we will end up there too. We are now at another shanty town. Charly must have given up his ideas about it not being safe since Wayne said there is more safety in numbers.
I think Wayne is out of his mind. Off his rocker. Lost his marbles. You will not believe what he told me today. You see, I was looking through Wayne's library because he said I could, and it turns out he keeps the rest of his belongings there. In the mess I found an umbrella. A red umbrella. Nothing special really, I thought. But I also thought is was a bit out of the ordinary so I asked Wayne about it. "What's this for," I taunted, "Are you scared of rain or something?" He jerked back and grabbed it from me. "Look here Alice," he says, "You can go through my things but you cannot ask questions." Then he marched away his back stiff like a fire prod. But I was curious and -I being the fool I am- decided to ask again. So, I walked up to Wayne again 'round supper time and said "Wayne? I want to know about that umbrella. And I will bother you until you tell me." He scowled at me and I stuck my nose in the air. Finally he looked at me and I saw something in his eyes. Fear. I jumped back and said, "Never mind Wayne," and walked away but he said "No Alice I have to tell somebody. I know you were making fun of me but this is nothing to joke about. No it isn't. You see, when I was born I was cursed. Cursed so that if ever I was to be touched by rain I would die.
Die. Just like that. Poof! Dead. There. I told you. That's why I carry this. I have to." I stared at him for a full minute then went and lay down on my bed roll. He is crazy. I think Charly and I have made ourselves a loony man of a friend.
It is raining today so we are not going anywhere. Charly doesn't know why but he sayed "Well, we need some rest anyway." I think Wayne is a coward and liar.
It hasn't stopped raining so Wayne decieded to give me "lessons". Like in school. I said I didn't need lessons but he gave them to me anyway. Since he had no paper he made me use this. Ugh. He made me practice words over and over. Words I will never in my life use like Glateator and Pneumonia. And he made me do arithmatic. I hate arithmatic.
45 1/4 + x = ?
1,567,890 - ? = 30,987
564 3/8 + 782(51)- 22 = ?
It hasn't stopped raining but Charly got impatient so we're leaving. I have to carry Wayne's library because Wayne has his hands full of that stupid red umbrella.
It is dark and we are travelling. Charly is sleeping and I would be too except Wayne is noisily walking around the traincar and keeps peering nervously out the open doorway. It's still raining.
We made a hut by a junkheap. It is cold and wet and I keep sneezing.
A week or two later,
I haven't written for a while because I have been sick. It was a nasty cold and flu and I layed in a pile of blankets shivering for a long time while Charly and Wayne brought me hot water and food. Now I'm the one who's being the nurse. Wayne is sick but not too bad. It's Charly I'm worried about. He shivers until his teeth and bones rattle like the end of a snake in a desert, and he won't eat anything. He can't even sit up. And the fire is battling for life as well.
The next day,
Charly is worse. He threw up the soup I made. Wayne is gone looking for shelter.
Another day I don't know when,
I think Charly is going to die. I don't know what to do. I'm so afraid and Wayne has not come back yet. I am heating stones by the fire to put on Charly's chest but it takes so long to heat up and I'm tired and hungry. Charly hasn't spoken all day and he keeps weezing and coughing like an old man. Don't die Charly. Please don't die. I can't live without you.
Where is that fool Wayne?!
Today Charly woke up and said, "Where's Wayne?" then he fell asleep again. At least he can talk but where is Wayne? Don't ask me! I do believe he has gone and got himself killed, and if he has it is the smartest thing he has ever done.
P.S. He left his umbrella.
There is so much to write I do not know where to start. I guess the most sensible place is the beginning. So.. there I was. In the cold alone with a sick and dying brother. Then it began to rain and rain and it poured down like a waterfall on Charly and me huddled in a leaking tent of rusty metal. It was when Charly woke up and began to cry, "I'm wet! I'm wet!" when I remembered Wayne's umbrella. I found it and put it over Charly, then I went outside. I needed to find Wayne. Whether he was dead or alive I was determined to find him. I ran through the woods and ran and ran. I was running too fast to see where I was going and my foot got stuck in a hole and when I tried to wrench it out I twisted my ankle. I felt a pain like fire shoot up my leg and I fainted. When I woke up my face was in the mud and my ankle felt a thousand times worse. I screamed for help. Again and again and started to cry. Here I was alone with a probably broken leg and Charly was alone dying and it was all my fault. But I was not going to give up. I screamed again and yanked at my leg and screamed and yanked. Suddenly there was someone beside me. "Shut up, Alice" said Mr.Someone "You're not helping." And then I felt my leg being pulled out of the hole and I fainted again. I woke up to him slapping my face and saying, "Alice? Alice?" I yelled to let him so he'd know I was awake again and I said, "Charly? Is it you?"
"No," said Someone, "It's Wayne."
Wayne picked me up and started walking. I realized it was raining. "Wayne! Wayne!" It's raining! What are you doing? You're going to die!" He looked down at me and said, "You're right Alice. You're right. It is raining. But I'm not going to die."
I fell asleep last night so now I will finish the story. Wayne took me to his uncle's house. He had left to find a place to stay and he found his uncle's house. He was so sick by then that he fell asleep and did not wake up for two days. When he woke up he told his story to his uncle. They went back to look for Charly and me and split up. Then it started raining. Wayne hid under a tree to wait out the rain when he heard me screaming. He wanted to help but was afraid of the rain. When I fainted and my screaming stopped he thought I had died. Then he ran out into the rain to find me. And he did. Charly and I are now at Uncle Lester's house. That's his name by the way- Lester. Charly is still sick but getting better. He doesn't cough anymore. This morning when I woke up I went to talk to Wayne. He was sitting outside watching the sunrise. "Wayne" I said, "why did you come out when you knew you would die?" He turned around and looked at me. Then he walked away. "Wayne!" I yelled and ran up to him. "What happened to your umbrella?" He grinned and said, "I don't know. It wasn't with Charly when I got him. I don't know...it doesn't matter does it?"
I guess it doesn't.
This morning at breakfast I asked Uncle Lester how long Charly and I could stay with him. He said, "Little lady, until the rain falls red." I think that means forever. Then he turned to Charly and said, "and Sir, iff'n you don't got too many plans I was wonderin' if you would mind helping me around this here farm for say- a few dollars a week." Charly almost fainted. So I guess we're staying here now. Charly, Wayne, and me.