Dead End

Being a dwarf isn’t all unicycles and bearded ladies. There’s a lot more to it than that. Trust me. Of course, the politically correct term is “little person.” Like that changes anything.

“Gabriel,” says Mr. Bones from across the kitchen, shifting from one foot to the other. “Just cause they ain’t going nowhere don’t mean we gotta lollygag.”

He’s pure energy wrapped in seventy-six-years-worth of wrinkles.

“I’m hurrying,” I say, working the lace of my shoe. He knows nothing on me works fast in the morning. Okay, except for my mouth and my brain, nothing on me ever works very fast.

“Oh, for chrissakes,” he says, opening the screen door. “I’ll be outside.”

Mr. Bones is my gramps. His real name’s John C. Pettibone, but my gram called him Mr. Bones because he’s thin as a skeleton. All skin and bones. That’s why I call him Mr. Bones, too, even though my gram and I hardly ever agreed on anything.

She died eighteen days ago and Mr. Bones has been tagging along on my on-the-way-to-school cemetery visits ever since.

You can tell how he misses her. The way his body gets. As if walking through that big black iron gate saps him of something. The way he starts to fold up into himself like a flower does after the sun fades.

Of course, if I ever called him a flower to his face, I’d be the one getting plucked.

He told me once about a railroad man he worked with who couldn’t get his elbow to stop itching even though he’d lost his arm in an accident. Missing my mom’s a lot like that. Like there’s this phantom part that’s still connected.

She died fourteen years, five months, twenty-one days ago. Or five-thousand two-hundred eighty-two days. But who’s counting, right?

“Hells bells,” he says, as I close the screen door behind me. He’s pacing back and forth, tapping a foot against the Dead End sign each time he walks by it. That’s right, someone put a stupid sign at the very end of the road just in case you can’t tell the way you were headed is done when you get to the bushes and the trees. “Figured they’d be sealing me up in my own box before you ever showed.”

“You didn’t have to wait,” I tell him, even though I’m glad he did.

“Ain’t that a fine thing to say.”

We cut across Beanie Gilbert’s front yard and onto Crescent. Beanie’s Mr. Bones’ best friend the way Swatch is mine. He lives right across the street from us, in the only other house at the end of Baty.

It’s six-forty-five, but the sun is already turned on and the morning air has that early June warmth to it that makes being outside the very best place to be.

Granville is twenty-three minutes wide. No matter where you start, no matter where you’re headed, the most it’ll take you is twenty-three minutes to get there by foot. And that’s in dwarf steps. Which means it’s really less wide than that.

You have to walk straight up the narrow dirt road that splits the cemetery, about two hundred yards past the gate, to get to my mom’s grave. It’s on the left side, three rows in, and not too far from the statue that’s at least four-times my size of this grimy angel with folded wings and the saddest eyes.

My mom’s headstone is just a slab of dull granite with her name carved on the front, along with the dates of her birth and her death, as if the rest of her life didn’t matter. I hate that part.

Right next to my mom is my gram. Her headstone’s nearly as tall as I am and it’s got Mr. Bones’ name scratched on it, too, even though he’s still on the living side of things. Five rows over, there’s an ancient oak tree that’s all shoulders and elbows. I’m talking the arthritic joints you see on people Mr. Bones’ age. Knobby and swollen. In the summer, at its leafiest, there’s just enough sunlight beneath the lumbering limbs of that tree to see by, just enough shade to keep a secret. One branch, as thick as I am, swoops out low over the ground. So low, that I can climb up into its crook.

Used to be just me and my mom every morning. Once my gram died and Mr. Bones started tagging along, Swatch started showing up too, like it was a group project or something.

Sometimes I miss the quiet. Sometimes I miss it so much it hurts. But, I have to admit, it’s nice having people want to be around you.

Unlike my gram, Mr. Bones has never been afraid to be seen with me. Even though people usually stop what they’re doing to watch. Like they think whatever makes me so different might be catchy.

It isn’t. I was just born this way.

Mr. Bones said that once God made my heart He couldn’t come up with a body big enough to hold it without making me into a giant and scaring everyone so He decided to make me a body that was just big enough for my heart and nothing more.

“That way,” Mr. Bones said, “nobody’d be afraid.”

Of course, we both know better than that.

(excerpt from YA Novel Mr. Bones)