Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: My Best Friend
There is something about trains. The sound they make. The way they go by, one car after another after another after another. Every car different but somehow the same. And the tracks go on forever, connecting places, connecting people. Wherever you are, you could go to the nearest railroad track right now, and if you followed it long enough, you would find me.
There is another thing to know about trains. They are large and dangerous. They would crush you if they could, but they are confined by those two narrow strips of steel. Trains are like fire. You don't want to get in their way.
My grandfather left me his HO scale model railroad when he passed on. One locomotive, seven cars, and sixteen feet of track. That's another reason I like trains they connect me to him, wherever he is. You could say that my railroad, the Madham Line, is almost the most important thing in my life. Next to Andy Morrow, my best friend.
A guy like Andy might have more than one best friend. He is so popular that there are at least five kids at school who would probably claim him. But if you asked Andy who was his best friend, he would say, "Dougie Hanson, of course." And that would be me.
I'm a quiet kid, pretty much invisible except if you happen to notice me standing next to Andy. We grew up together, Andy and me. Next door, actually. We met at the age of one year and three months. Our birthdays are only seventeen days apart. We are like Velcro, like two poles of a magnet, like peanut butter and jelly, like superglue. We are best friends by every definition. Best friends. Best. Friends.
It doesn't matter to Andy Morrow that I have crooked teeth and poor coordination and wear stupid clothes. It wouldn't matter if I had a nose like a pig and smelled of Limburger cheese. Andy would still say, "Dougie is my best friend."
True, Andy might spend more time with other kids who claim to be his best friend. He might hang with the other football players, and his friends on the student council, and his golfing friends, and his theater friends, but he always comes home at night and opens his bedroom window and calls out across the low picket fence, "Hey, Dougie!"
And if my window is open, and if I'm awake, we talk.
It does not matter that we don't spend as much time together as we used to. I tell Andy all about the new tank car I bought for the Madham Line. I might talk about my mother's latest crossword puzzle, or a book I read about black holes, or a math test I took in school, and Andy would listen. That is what best friends do.
And if Andy wants to talk about the school play he is starring in, or his latest football game, or a girl he met...I'll listen to him, too.
It does not matter to Andy that we live in completely different realities. I'm Andy's best friend. It does not matter to Andy that we hardly ever actually do anything together.
Why should it? We are best friends, me and Andy. Best. Friends.
Copyright © by 2005 Peter Hautman
Chapter Two: Stella
Andy. Best. Friends.
My full and proper name is Douglas MacArthur Hanson. I am named after Douglas MacArthur, the famous general, who was a second cousin of my father's great-aunt. Everyone on my father's side is named after some famous person we are supposedly related to. My father's name is Henry Clay Hanson. Henry Clay was a politician who died before the Civil War. He was my grandfather's cousin's great-uncle. Or something like that. It goes on and on. Since my grandfather's name was George Washington Hanson, I guess I'm related to the father of our country too. Anyway, I'm glad I got named after a general instead of a politician. I think it makes me sound more respectable.
Usually when I meet someone for the first time, I tell them my full and proper name. Then I say, "But you can call me General." Some people find that amusing. Andy always laughs. Sometimes he calls me General, just to tease me. I don't mind. I kind of like it. I am very easy to get along with.
My mother would not agree with that. She finds me difficult. In fact, she thinks that I am troubled and disturbed. I find it troubling that she finds me disturbing, so she must be right.
I look at my alarm clock: 1:17.
"Dougie, you up?"
I roll out of bed and crawl to the window.
"I'm up now," I say, resting my chin on the windowsill.
"How's it going?" Andy is sitting in his window, his long legs dangling over the spirea bushes.
"I was dreaming."
"What were you dreaming?"
"I don't remember. Hey, was tonight your play?"
"Yeah! It went great. I didn't miss a line. But you're gonna like this Melissa's skirt came off."
"Yeah! See, I'm Stanley Kowalski, and Melissa is playing Stella, my wife? And in this one scene she's really mad and she spins around fast and the bottom of her skirt gets caught on a nail sticking out of this table leg and it comes right off." He laughs. "She was wearing blue panties."
I have a very vivid imagination. I can see it in my head just like a movie.
Andy says, "But she was really cool. She grabbed the skirt and pulled it back on and just kept going with the scene. The audience didn't laugh or anything. You should've been there."
"I don't really like plays," I say. "A bunch of people talking about nothing."
"Well, you would've liked this one. You should've heard Melissa after the play. She was so mad at the guy in charge of props, I thought she'd rip his face off. So what did you do today?"
"Still working on my bridge." I am connecting East Madham to West Madham with an eleven-foot-long suspension bridge. I've been working on it for months. It's really quite amazing.
"How's it going?"
"I've finally got the towers built." The entire bridge is scratch-built from matchsticks, string, and glue. Andy always teases me about that.
"Aren't you afraid it's gonna catch on fire?"
We laugh. Andy and I had some bad luck with fires when we were kids. We're more careful now. I always scrape the phosphorous tips off all the matchsticks before using them. I have scraped the heads off 112 boxes of stick matches. There are 200 matches in a box. In case you are slow at math, that's 22,400 matches in all.
"I figure the bridge will be ready for its inaugural crossing in about three weeks. Everybody in Madham will be there. You want to come?"
Copyright © 2005 by Pete Hautman