Authors: Stephen King
Anyway, mom didn't make trouble because she was sober. She said to the cop I put off packing his things because I didn't want to think this would really happen. Give me 15 minutes. The cop said that was quite all right and waited while she pack me a duffle full of clothes. He waited outside. Then she made me 2 PB&J sandwiches and put them in a lunch sack and told me to be a good boy. Then she started to cry and I did too. It was her fault I had to go away, everything was her fault, she was the one who gave the scorpion a ride and she was the one who kept getting drunk and blaming it on Cassie being dead, but I cried because I loved her.
When we went outside, the cop said I could probably call when I got to Speck House in Evansville. My mother told me to call Mrs. Tillitson next door and said to the cop it's because right now our phone isn't working. Which meant the bill wasn't paid again. Deputy Malkin said that sounds like a plan and told me to hug my mom. I did. I smelled her hair because it always smell good. It took about
2 hours to get to Evansville. I sat up front. Behind the front seats there was a wire thing that made the back into a cage. The cop said if I stayed out of trouble I would never have to ride back there. He asked me if I would stay out of trouble and I said yes but I was thinking that when you were riding to a foster home in a cop car you are in trouble already.
I ate 1 of the PB&Js and saw she put a devil-egg in the lunch sack too and that made me cry again, thinking of her hands doing that. The cop patted my shoulder and said it gets better, son. His little nametag said F.W.S. MALKIN. I asked him what F.W.S. stood for because I thought it was some kind of special job. He said it stood for his name, which was Franklin Winfield Scott Malkin but he said you can call me Frank, Benjy.
I wasn't crying then but he must have seen I was sad and maybe scared too, because he reach over and pat me on the shoulder and said you'll be okay, Benjy. There are lots of nice kids there. They all get along and if you mind your p's and q's, you will get along, too. I know all the foster situations in the tri-counties and the Specks aren't the worst. They are not the best either but we haven't ever had any trouble with them. Some of the things I've seen, you don't want to know. If you behave and go along to get along you will be fine.
I said I miss my mother. He said of course you do and when she gets her feet back planted on the ground, there'll be another hearing and you can go home. In the meantime, she can come on Wednesday evenings and any time Saturday or Sunday up to 7 oclock. Be sure to tell her that when you speak to her.
Only my mom never did get her feet back planted on the ground. She kept drinking and got a boyfriend who gave her crystal meth and when you get on that stuff you're feet hardly ever get to the ground because you are high most of the time. At first she come to see me quite a lot, then once in a while, then hardly ever, and then she stopped coming at all. The last time she come some of her teeth were gone and her hair was dirty. She said I hate for you to
see me like this Benjy and I said I hate it, too. I said you are a mess. By then I was a teenager, and teenagers say anything to hurt when
Speck House was out in the country. It was rickety but big like a mansion with rooms everywhere, 3 stories. Maybe even 4. It look good outside but inside it was old and drafty and leaky and cold in wintertime. Cold as a whore's fuck in a freezer, Ronnie used to say. But I didn't know it was old when I got there, I thought it was new because rickety or not it had bright red paint and blue trim. I found out pretty soon that the Speck foster kids painted it every year and got $2 dollars an hour. One year it was green with white trim and then yellow with green trim. You can see why me and Ronnie called it the House of Everlasting Paint! The year I left to join the Marines it was back to red and blue. Ronnie said it's only paint holding this rambling wreck together, Benjy. That was a joke, she was always joking around, but it was also true. I guess most jokes have some truth in them, and that is what makes them funny.
Deputy F.W.S. Malkin said the Specks weren't the worst or the best, and that turned out to be true. I was there 5 years by the time I was old enough to sign for the Marines and sometimes Mrs. Speck would slat me side of the head with a towel or dishrag, but she never hit me with her hand and she never hit one of the little kids like Peggy Pye who was six and had her eye put out by a cigarette. When she slat me side of the head I deserved it. I only saw Mr. Speck slat kids a couple of times. Once it was when Jimmy Dykeman broke a storm window throwing stones and once when he caught Sara Peabody dancing around Peggy and singing Peggy Pye, Peggy Pye, cross my heart and hope to die, Peggy Pye with just one eye. Mr. Speck slap her face for that. Sara was a mean girl, a bad person. Once when I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up she said I'm going to be a call girl and fuck famous men to get their money. Then she laughed like it was a joke so maybe it was.
The Specks weren't good people or bad people, just people
living on money they got from the state of Tennessee. They passed all their inspections. We went to school on the bus and always in clean clothes, and when I decided to join the Marines, Mr. Speck went with me to one hearing so I could get emancipated from my mother and another one so he could become my legal guardian. That way he could sign the paper and I could join at 17 and a half instead of waiting to 18. I thought my mother might show up at the emancipation hearing but she never did, and how could she when she didn't know there was going to be one? I would have told her but she was gone from the trailer park and also the apartment where she lived for a while with the boyfriend that turned her into a meth-head. After those 2 hearings Mr. Speck said to me God help you now you can do what you want, Benjy. I said I don't believe in God and he said you will, give it time.
What I learned in the House of Everlasting Paint: There aren't just 2 kinds of people, good and bad, like I thought when I was a kid who got most of his ideas on how people act from TV. There are 3. The third type of people go along to get along, like Deputy F.W.S. Malkin told me to do. Those are the most people in the world and I think they are gray people. They will not hurt you (at least on purpose) but they won't help you much, either. They will say do what you want and God help you.
I think in this world you have to help yourself.
When I came to the House of Everlasting Paint, there were 14 kids counting me. Ronnie said that was good because 13 was an unlucky number. The youngest was Peggy Pye, who still wet her britches sometimes. There were twins, Timmy and Tommy, who were 6 or 7. The oldest kid was Glen Dutton, he was 17 and went in the army not too long after I came. He didn't need Mr. Speck to become his legal guardian and sign for him, though, his mother did it because Glen said he would send her the lottment. Glen said to me and Ronnie, that bitch would sign me into slavery with the ragheads if there was money in it for her. Glen was big and curse all the time,
even more than Ronnie who could swear like a sailor, but he never bullied the smaller kids. He was a whiz of a painter too, always up on the highest scaffold.
When Deputy Malkin pulled his cop car into the driveway, I was almost blinded by what was next door. It was junk cars far as I could see, not just a few but hundreds. They went up this one hill and I soon found out they also went down the other side, getting older and rustier as they went. The sun was reflecting off all the windshields of the cars that still had windshields. Maybe half a klick down from the Speck House there was a green auto body shop made of corrugated metal. I could hear people inside running noomatic drills and wrenches. Out in front was a sign that said SPECK'S AUTO PARTS and SMALL REPAIRS and BEST BUYS LOWEST PRICES.
Deputy Malkin said that's Speck's brother's place, quite the eyesore isn't it. It's just outside the county zoning, which is how he gets away with it. Your Speck is just
the county zoning, which is why he had to put up a chainlink fence around the sides and back. I'm telling you so you won't look at all that fence and think you're going to a prison. That auto graveyard is a dangerous place, Benjy. Off limits for a reason. Don't take it into your head to go there, all right? I said yes but of course I did. Me and Glen and Ronnie and Donnie. Just me and Ronnie and sometimes Donnie after Glen left for the army, then mostly just me when Ronnie ran away. Sometimes I wonder where she got off to. I hope she's all right. It was sad without her. Maybe that's why I went into the Marines, but if I am going to tell the truth, I might have gone anyway.
The 5 years I was a Speck Boy was long enough to see the House of Everlasting Paint change color 3 times. There are some things that stand out from when I was there, like the time I got suspended from school for fighting when 2 boys called me Bang Bang Benjy, which had happened many times before but that time I got sick of it. They were bigger but I kept fighting even after one of them black my eye and the other one almost bust my nose. That one, his name
was Jared Klein, I got hold of his pants and yank them down so everyone saw his pee-stained underwear. He got teased about that plenty which served him right.
Another thing that stands out is when Peggy Pye had to go to the hospital with pneumonia. Then a week later, or maybe it was 10 days, Mrs. Speck got us all together in the living room to pray because she said Peggy passed on and went up to heaven to be with Jesus and now she could see out of both her eyes. Donnie Wigmore said I hope the food is better up there and Mr. Speck told him keep your smart remarks to yourself if you don't want me to slat you one. Anyway we prayed for Peggy's soul and Ronnie had to put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing at what Donnie said only she was crying too. Other kids were also crying because Peggy was everyone's “pet.” I didn't cry but I felt bad. Later on when me and Ronnie and Glen and Donnie were out in Demo Derby, Ronnie cried some more. Glen hug her and Ronnie said Peg was a sweetie wasn't she and Glen said yes she sure was.
Then she hug on me and I hug on her and that was one happy thing that come out of Peggy dying because I was in love with Ronnie Givens. I knew nothing could come of that because she was 2 years older and crushing big on Glen, but you can't help how you feel. Feelings are like breathing, they come in and go out.
Demo Derby was what we called the car junkyard behind the House of Everlasting Paint and next to Speck's Auto Parts. It was our special place. Being told to stay away from there made us want to go even more. Ronnie said it was like the Forbidden Fruit Tree Eve wasn't supposed to eat from in the Garden of Eden. Glen wave his hand at the rows and rows of junk cars with all those windshields reflecting and turning one sun into hundreds of suns and he said this is a whole motherfucking orchard, which made me and Ronnie laugh.
When we went there we would look for the best cars, like Cadillacs and Lincolns and Beemers, or once there was this old Mercedes limo with it's whole rear end gone. Glen always carry a
broom and whoomp the seats a couple of times before we got in to scare away the mice if there were any. Once he scared out a big rat. Donnie was with us and he said there goes Mr. Speck and we laughed fit to split. Anyway we would sit in those cars and pretend they were whole and we were going someplace.
We could get into the Demo Derby easy because there was a hole in the chainlink fence at the back corner of the playground and once Glen said who knows how many fucked-up foster kids have gone through this hole and where they are now. That made us all laugh but then Ronnie said probably noplace good. Donnie laughed at that too, but me and Glen didn't. I looked at him and he looked at me and we were both thinking “noplace good”!
Sometimes Glen would sit behind the wheel and pretend to drive and Ronnie would sit in the shotgun seat. Sometimes it would be the other way around, and when Glen was in the shotgun seat he might yell stuff like WHOA RONNIE DON'T HIT THAT FUCKIN DOG and Ronnie would turn the wheel and pretend to swerve. Glen would flop over with his head in her lap and Ronnie would push him away and say buckle your seatbelt dumbass.
I would always sit in back, with Donnie if he came with us but mostly on my own. Which I preferred. A couple of times Glen brought a can of beer which we would pass around until it was gone. Then Ronnie would give us Certs to take the smell off our breath. Once Glen brought 3 cans and we got a little bit high and Ronnie swooped the wheel back and forth and Glen said don't get pulled over by 5-0, girlfriend. They laughed at that but I didn't because my mother really did get pulled over by 5-0 and it was no joke.
Donnie smoked. I don't know if the same person who got Glen his beers got Donnie his cigs, but he kept a pack of Marlboros behind a loose board under his bed. He mostly did it out back by the kitchen, but one day he pulled out his smokes when we were sitting in a big old Buick Estate wagon and pretending to drive to Vegas where we would play roulette and shoot craps. Ronnie said
don't you dare light up out here where there's all these dry weeds and spilled oil. Donnie said what are you on the rag or something. Glen turned around and made a fist and said take that back unless you want to eat your front teeth. Later on, when I was in Fallujah, this one time I saw Sargent West shoot an RPG into an insurgent safe house in the part of town we called the Pizza Slice, and it blew sky-high because of all the ammo inside. Lucky we didn't all get killed because we weren't expecting it. That made me think of how Donnie also used to smoke sometimes in the supply shed, where the Specks stored all their paint. That was probably a lot more dangerous than out in the Demo Derby.
Donnie took it back but Ronnie punched Glen a good hard one on the shoulder. I don't need you to stand up for me Dutton, she said.
When Ronnie called you by your last name, you knew she was mad. She turned around to the back seat and said I don't need to be on the rag to worry about fire Wigmore because I got this. She held out her arm and showed the shiny burn scar there. We all seen that before. It went from halfway up her forearm just about all the way to her shoulder. Her parents got burnt up in a housefire, you see. Ronnie, she jump out of a 2nd story window just about in time with her arm burned and part of her leg on that side and her hair on fire. That's how she wound up in the Speck House of Everlasting Paint when her one relative, an aunt, said I am not taking her. The one time she visited Ronnie in the hospital she said I raised two of my own, both hellions, and that's enough. Ronnie said she couldn't blame her for that.