by Ron Van Sweringen
Manny D’Angelo, dropped the air mattress on the roof. A pillow followed on top of the mattress. “Hot as heck,” he groaned, his fifteen year-old body reflected in the moonlight, naked except for his jeans. He looked over the edge of the roof, five stories down to Demato Street, in the center of Little Italy. People were resting on their front stoops and he could hear faint radio music wafting on the hot sultry air. “One hundred and one,” he recalled the weather man saying that day, “and more expected tomorrow.”
He ran his hand through his black curly hair, feeling just the hint of a breeze. Better than the stifling apartment he shared with his mother and sister on the 3rd floor. No breeze came in there, even with every window open, the only relief provided by an old electric fan whirring away, day and night. The heat wasn’t the only reason Manny wanted to sleep on the roof. He craved privacy, something he got precious little of. His bedroom in the small flat was just a nook off the hallway, with no door.
His twelve year old sister, Angie, made uninvited explorations into his space whenever he wasn’t there. Pleas on his part for her to stop made no difference. “She’s spoiled rotten,” he said to himself. Complaints to his mother also seemed useless, her usual response: “She’s a little girl without a father, don’t pick on her.”
“What about me?” Manny wanted to shout, “I don’t have a father either!” The truth was, Manny’s anger was caused by the man who had deserted them all by disappearing one day without a word. Manny hated arguing with his mother. He knew how hard she worked to support them and he loved her deeply. Still, he couldn’t help the feelings of anger and resentment that being abandoned burned in him. “One day he’ll come back,” Manny thought, lying on the air mattress looking up at the inky black sky studded with stars. “But I won’t need him then.” He raised his arms, pretending to hold a rifle aimed at the heavens. Pow, pow, pow!
“Did you hit anything?” A voice in the darkness startled him and he whirled his head around. It took him a few moments to make out a figure standing at the far end of the roof. For an instant the thought flashed through his head–it’s an Indian. Manny pulled himself up to a sitting position as the figure slowly approached. High cheek bones and a wide forehead under black pigtails, tied with ribbons, shone clearly in the moonlight. Painted stripes of green and yellow covered his cheeks and circles of black and white adorned his forehead and chin.
Manny was dumbstruck and felt a chill when he noticed the large eagle talons the Indian held in his hand. Turquoise beads and small silver bells around his neck tinkled when he lifted the talons and spoke.”My brother the eagle soars high above. He tells me that your bullet has found its mark and wounded one of the stars.”
Manny thought he was either dreaming or going crazy. He put his hand on his thigh and pinched as hard as he could. The pain was sharp and he groaned out loud.
“No, you are not in the place of dreams,” the Indian said, “you are in the living world, but your cruel intentions have crossed the sacred barrier. You have done a shameful thing by wounding one of heavens children.”
Manny considered running, but instinct told him he could not escape the stranger by fleeing. At that moment Manny’s voice returned, although his throat was dry, making talking uncomfortable. “Who are you?” he asked, barely above a whisper. “What are you doing on this rooftop?”
“I am called ‘Spotted Owl,’ one who sees in the night,” the Indian replied. “I was drawn here by your anger which burns like a red ember. It is your anger that allowed your cruel intentions to cross the sacred barrier. You must now be held responsible for the damage you have caused.”
“But that’s crazy! I was only making believe I had a rifle,” Manny exclaimed. “I didn’t really mean to shoot anything.”
“That is where you are mistaken,” Spotted Owl replied, pointing the eagle talons at Manny. “Your cruel intentions, fueled by anger, made the bullets real enough to hurt as you have been hurt.” Manny sat staring at the apparition before him dressed in buffalo hide and feathers, like something out of a western movie matinee.
“If what you say is true, what can I do to make up for it?” Manny asked, hoping for a way out, other than jumping off the roof.
“You must convince the wounded star that you no longer carry anger in your heart,” Spotted Owl answered. “Then you will be forgiven.”
“That does it,” Manny shouted, staring up at the stars with tears in his eyes. “How can I do that? It’s impossible.”
There was no answer; Spotted Owl was gone. Manny searched the empty roof in the moonlight, but he was alone. After a while he lay down on the air mattress, staring up at the black sky. A slight breeze blew across his face and he whispered softly to the stars,” I am sorry that I hurt you.”
A little while later Manny witnessed something marvelous–the trail of a shooting star arching high above him, its tail sparkling like a million diamonds.
For the first time in a long time, peace flowed through him.
You can find more of Ron’s short stories here in KRL’s Terrific Tales section.