The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen (10 page)

BOOK: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
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“You’re welcome,” she said with a smug little grin.

“No,” I said. “No way. We’d have to
. In front of the
entire school

“Not if we do it first thing in the morning, before the other kids show up,” Farley said. “We can store everything in our lockers and bring it to the depot after school.” He started jotting down figures. “They empty the bins on Tuesday and Thursday nights, so if we do rounds on Tuesday and Thursday mornings –”

“Not doing it.”

“Come on, Henry, it’s easy money!”

“No! We’d look like total dorks.”

Alberta snorted. “No offense,” she said, “but you guys are GWF fans. You’re
dorks.” Then she picked up
her plate, held it up to her face, and licked off the remaining gravy, I kid you not. “See you later.”

She started to walk away, then stopped. “Hey, what has eight teeth and an IQ of 73?”

We shrugged.

“The first two rows of a wrestling crowd.”

I waited for it again.


, F

I’m going to write it down to make it official: I will never, ever,
, stoop to garbage-picking to make money, no matter how much Farley begs and pleads.

Which he is doing right now, in English class.


That was for Farley’s benefit because he keeps trying to read over my shoulder.


That was also for his benefit.

, F

I’m so angry, I’m vibrating.

I showed up for my session with Cecil after school, and this skinny lady with short curly hair and bulgy eyes and a yellow T-shirt that said
Up with Life!
stepped into the waiting area. “Henry Larsen?” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m Carol. Follow me.” And it wasn’t till I was trapped in her office that she told me Cecil was home with the flu, but I could talk to her instead. I said, “No, that’s okay,” but she just launched right in. She looked at my file, and then she said, “So your brother shot and killed a young man, then took his own life.… Right, I remember hearing about it on the news.”


Then she started scanning through her papers, barely even looking at me, and when she
look up, she looked at my wobblies!! And she said, “Your file mentions that you’ve been putting on weight since this tragedy occurred. Do you use food as a comfort mechanism when you’re feeling depressed?”


My furies exploded. I launched right into Robot-Henry. “On My Planet. Wobblies Are a Sign. Of Status and Wealth.”

The expression on her face was priceless. Like she’d just swallowed a red-hot chili pepper.

“Why are you talking to me in that voice?”

“What Voice? What Do You Mean, Earthling? Explain Yourself or I Will. Zap You with My Ray Gun.”

She looked like she was going to poop in her pants. She started edging toward the door, and I couldn’t help myself, I started robot-walking toward her. “You Can Run, Earthling. But You Cannot Hide.”

Carol threw open the door and bolted down the hallway. I could hear her talking to the receptionist at the front desk. I picked up my backpack and walked out of her office. Carol froze when I entered the waiting area. “You Are. A Shitty, Shitty Therapist,” I said in Robot-Voice. Then I left.

Next time I see Cecil, I will make it crystal clear: I talk to no one but him.

He may be a dud. But he’s


I can’t believe Cecil wrote about my wobblies in his file!!!!

, F

An omen is a sign that something lousy is about to happen. For example, some people believe that if a black cat crosses your path, or if you open an umbrella inside, or if a bird flies into your house, it will bring bad luck.

I had a kind of omen today. Except mine wasn’t a bird in the house.

Mine was a woman in the apartment.

It was close to suppertime. I’d gone out for a long walk by myself to Jericho Beach, which is about a fifteen-minute walk from our place, partly because Dad had started working his way through the second half of that bottle of Jack Daniel’s, and partly because I’ve decided I should try to get more exercise to deal with my wobblies. When I opened the door to our apartment, I heard a female voice.

My heart did a somersault. I almost said
but even before I could form the word, I knew it wasn’t Mom.

It was Karen. She was sitting on our couch, with her feet on our coffee table, wearing a low-cut black top that revealed way too much boobage. Dad sat across from her in his matching leather La-Z-Boy. They were each holding a glass of Jack Daniel’s on the rocks.

“Henry, hi!” my dad said when he saw me, like everything was totally normal, like this wasn’t totally messed up. “Karen dropped by with some of our mail.”

“The postie put it in my box yesterday instead of yours,” she said.

“She’s been telling me all about her work in the movies. She’s a hairstylist.”

“Well, I work mostly at a hairdressing school now,” she said. “But I still occasionally do movies.”

“She’s met a lot of celebrities,” Dad said.

“Didn’t Mom want us to call her?” I asked.

Dad looked at me, puzzled. “No, I don’t think so. Hey, get this, Karen’s met Tom Hanks –”

I turned around and walked out.

My furies crashed over me like a tidal wave. I was seeing black spots in front of my eyes. I was so mad, I forgot to grab my shoes, and I didn’t realize it till I was standing outside the building in my socks, getting soaked because it was pouring rain. I turned to go back in, but I
go back in because I’d left my key sitting on the hall table. I thought about buzzing our apartment, but that would totally defeat the point I was trying to make by storming out.

Five words ran through my head in a continuous loop:
How stupid is my dad??
Couldn’t he see what Karen was
doing? Couldn’t he see that she was trying to sink her claws into him ’cause Mom wasn’t around?

Then five new words took their place:
It is freezing out here!!

“Henry – what is wrong?” It was Mr. Atapattu, coming up the walk, carrying a bunch of grocery bags.

My teeth were chattering so much, I couldn’t answer.

“Get inside,” he ordered, opening the door. “Did you get locked out?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Without your shoes?”


“I saw your father’s truck out front. You couldn’t buzz him?”

I just looked at my feet. My socks were oozing water.

Mr. Atapattu studied me for a moment. “Well,” he said. “I’m glad you’re here. The elevator is out of service again, and I could really use a hand with these bags.”

I helped him carry his groceries to his apartment. “Thank you,” he said as he opened his door. “Will you have a cup of tea with me? I made more
last night. And I can get you some dry socks.”

I didn’t want to go into Mr. Atapattu’s place. But I was freezing. And I couldn’t go home. And I couldn’t go anywhere else without shoes.

I looked into his face. He didn’t look like a child molester or a murderer, and even if he was, well, it would serve Dad right.

So I said, “Okay.”

Mr. Atapattu’s place reeks of curry, which doesn’t surprise me since I can smell it in my bedroom all the time. It’s not a bad smell, it’s just intense.

I peeled off my wet socks at the door. He showed me in to the living room, which is like a mirror image of ours only much more colorful, with bright patterned cushions and lampshades and rugs. “Sit, sit,” he said. He hurried into his bedroom and returned with a thick pair of woolen socks. It was kind of weird, putting on an almost-stranger’s socks, but I did it anyway. My feet immediately started to warm up.

“Here, put on my Slanket as well,” he said, and he handed me a big red blanket with sleeves.

“Did you buy this from the Home Shopping Network?” I asked.

“Yes. I am never disappointed with their products.” He smiled broadly, letting all of his teeth show. “Notice a difference? I’m also using
Thirty Second Smile
to whiten my teeth!”

I put my arms through the Slanket. It was definitely cozy.

Mr. Atapattu went into the kitchen to make tea. Unlike our place, his walls were covered with framed photos. I stood up to have a closer look. A lot of them were of an older woman who – there is no nice way to put this – was seriously ugly. I’m talking warts on her face and even a mustache.

My new cell phone started to ring. I knew it was Dad. I was mad at him, but I also didn’t want to give him a heart attack. So I waited till it stopped ringing, then I texted him:
I’ll come back when she’s gone

He texted me back:
You are being silly

No, U r being silly
, I typed.

Mr. Atapattu came back in just as I was putting away my phone. He set a tray down on the coffee table and handed me a small cup with no handles. “Chai,” he said. It smelled spicy.

“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing at a photo of a young couple. She was wearing a colorful sari-type dress, and he was in a white shirt without a collar and matching white pants.

“That’s my wife and me, on our wedding day,” he told me.

“That’s you??” I said, leaning in for a closer look.

He laughed. “Yes, that’s me. Shocking, isn’t it, that I was once young and handsome.”

“Where’s your wife?”

“She died five years ago. Cancer.” He was quiet for a moment. “That’s her, a year before she died.” He pointed at the photo of the woman with the warts and the mustache, and yes, I felt like a jerk. Mr. Atapattu sighed heavily. “She was the love of my life.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I had a sip of my tea. It was sweet and delicious. “What about the car?” I asked, pointing at a photo of Mr. Atapattu standing in front of a yellow cab.

He grinned. “Chandrika.”


“I named her after my favorite Sri Lankan female cricket player. Chandrika was my livelihood. I drove her for Black Top Cabs for over twenty years.”

“Are you retired?”

“I suppose I am. I have chronic back pain. So I sold Chandrika’s license to a friend of mine.”

“Do you miss driving a cab?”

“Oh, yes. I loved it. I met many interesting people. Once I even drove Daniel and Henrik Sedin to a restaurant.”

“Daniel and Henrik Sedin from the Vancouver Canucks?”

He nodded. “They were very good tippers. But enough about me,” he continued. “Tell me all about you.
What are your favorite subjects? Do you like sports? That kind of thing.”

So I told Mr. Atapattu a little bit about school and Reach For The Top. And I told him that I like watching the GWF on TV.

“I watch the GWF, too,” he said, which surprised me. “My favorite is the Exterminator.”

“The Exterminator? Are you kidding me?”

So we argued about the merits of the Exterminator versus the Great Dane for a while, and it was actually a really good discussion. Then suddenly, out of the blue, he said, “Is everything okay at your place?”

“What do you mean?”

“I found you outside in the pouring rain in your socks. And you didn’t want to buzz your father, even though he appears to be home.”

Oh. “Everything’s fine,” I said. “Honest.”

As if on cue, my phone bleeped. It was a text from my dad:
Coast is clear

I put down my cup and reluctantly took off the Slanket. “I have to go now. Thank you for the tea.” I headed for the door, passing a weird contraption sitting in a chair.

“What’s that?”

Ten Second Abs
. Another Home Shopping Network purchase. Personally I find it too difficult. You are welcome
to borrow it, if you like.” He said this without once looking at my wobblies.

“Okay,” I said. “Thanks.”

“You can come over anytime, Henry,” he told me as I left, carrying the
Ten Second Abs
machine in one hand and my wet socks in the other. “And keep the socks.”

“What’s that?” Dad asked when I entered the apartment.

I didn’t answer. I just put down the
Ten Second Abs
machine and waited for him to apologize.

He didn’t. “Am I getting the silent treatment?”

He was.

“Henry, she was just dropping off our mail.”

“Whatever. I never want to see her in our apartment again.”

“That’s not up to you. For crying out loud, we just talked for a while.”

“Well, you seemed to be having an awfully good time.”

“Actually, I was. It was the first adult conversation I’ve had in a very long time.”

“You talk to Mom a few times a week.”

Dad looked away. “Those conversations are different. They’re very emotional, Henry.”

“Plus you work around adults every day.”

“Yeah, and aside from ‘Pass me the hammer’ or ‘Work
faster, Larsen,’ there’s not a lot of chit-chat. Most of the guys don’t even speak English.”

“She’s trying to steal you away from Mom.”

He sighed. “Henry. Nobody’s going to ‘steal me away.’ But I think we have to be realistic here.… ”

“Realistic about what?”

There was a pause. “Nothing.”

“No, say it.”

“Nothing. I’m going to start supper.” He turned and walked into the kitchen.

“She’s coming back!” I shouted after him.

“Did I say she wasn’t?” he hollered back.

“No, but you’re thinking it!”

Now it was his turn not to answer.

, F

7:00 a.m.

I’ve got a brilliant idea. And it is all thanks to Hayley Mills. She is the star of the original version of a movie called
The Parent Trap

I was having another sleepless night. Finally, at 4:00 a.m., I gave up trying to sleep and went into the living room. I started channel-surfing, and I came upon this movie.

BOOK: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen
8.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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