The reading boy has a dried-milk mustache
and dirt under his fingernails.
He pushes his pointer finger across the page, reads
haltingly, his boyvoice a monotone, gives each word
He hasn’t got the hang of phrases.
Joe and his aunt trade off reading; they’re on page 89;
it’s taken weeks. He reads: “Lassie ... trotted ...
from ... a ... thicket ... and ... came ... to ... the ... shore.”
His aunt reads: “Lassie trotted ... from a thicket ...
and came to the shore.” “See,” she says.
“‘The’ doesn’t mean anything all by its lonesome.
Same with ‘from’ and ‘to’—to what?
They’re just scratches on the page if they don’t link
up with some partners. Look at the chunks, Joe.”
He sighs, finger tapping on the next word.
She can’t help but go on, “You can tell what words
go together, kind of like jello and bananas,
mashed potatoes and gravy,
corn with butter and salt.”
He nods and reads, finger inching: “She ... was ...
moving ... more ... slowly ... now ... for ... the ...
pads ... of ... her ... feet ... were ... bruised ...”
When it’s her turn, the aunt reads quickly,
nearly singing the words: “The current caught her
as a piece of paper thrown from a moving train
is snatched by the wind...”
Joe glances out the window and sees not
the apple trees or the green hills,
but a fast, cold river, the drenched and
frightened collie, and another boy named Joe
who lived in a faraway land.
The aunt reads many pages, and when she hands
the book to him, he shifts his faraway gaze to her
and says, “I have to know.”
She wants to tell him not to look ahead,
not to spoil the book because she thinks
that’s not right, that you have to earn
the ending, happy or sad.
He finds the last page and reads: “... his ... father ...
and ... mother ... happy .... Joe ... bowed ...
his ... head ... to ... the ... dog, ... and ... forgot ...
them.” The boy pauses, then continues in a rush:
“‘You’re my Lassie come-home,’ he crooned.”
Joe looks at his aunt with a dreamy smile and says,
“I knew she’d come home. Now I have to find out
how she got there.” He turns away
from her, flips back to the middle of the book,
pushes his finger across the words,
and reads in silence.
© by Judy Brackett.
Used with the author's permission.