A voice yelled, “I’m not going and you can’t make me!” A door slammed. Something screeched. Mike sat bolt upright. He was on a bed with only a bare mattress, no sheets or blankets.
A boy was pushing a chest of drawers against the door, the feet screeching across the floor. He saw Mike, yelled, “Don’t just sit there. Help me.”
Mike stumbled off the bed, a bit too dozey to argue. He started towards the boy, then stopped. “What are you doing? Why do you want this in front of the door?”
“I’m blocking the door so they can’t make me leave. I want to stay here.”
“Who’s making you leave?”
The boy stopped pushing but only because the dresser was now fully in front of the door. He was breathing hard. Someone knocked. A woman spoke, pleading.
“Bert, I don’t want to leave any more than you do, but we have to, you know that. This house isn’t ours anymore and so we have to leave. Please, Bert, don’t make this any more difficult than it already is.”
Bert didn’t answer. Instead, he strode across to the bed, plunked down on it, crossed his arms and kicked his feet back and forth. “No!”
Mike sat down beside Bert. “Why do you have to leave? Was that Aunt Edna?”
Bert looked at him, puzzled. “Where did you come from? Who’s Aunt Edna?”
Mike heaved a sigh. “I don’t know. I’m just here, that’s all. My name’s Mike. And Aunt Edna is someone I met. That sounded like her.” Mike was confused. Where was he now? It looked Nathaniel’s bedroom, and Molly’s and Agnes’s, too, except the furniture was different. If it wasn’t Aunt Edna knocking on the door, then who was it?
“Why do you have to leave?” he asked again
Bert was silent for a bit, then he heaved a big sigh. “It’s all because of the depression. Father’s business went broke, so he couldn’t pay the bank what’s owing on the house and last week the bank manager came and said the house was theirs now and we had to leave.”“Oh,” Mike said. He didn’t know what else to say. He couldn’t imagine his family being kicked out of their house. Where would they go? And if his father wasn’t working, who would buy him the expensive, brand-name sneakers he wanted? Or pay for his hockey gear? Or give him his weekly allowance?
“Where do they want to take you?”
“To my grandparents’ farm. They live in Manitoba somewhere but I don’t want to live on a farm. My friends are here. I won’t have any friends there. And I’ll have to milk cows and feed chickens and I’d rather play with my friends.”
“But if you stay here, who will you live with?”
Bert swung his legs back and forth, pouted, sighed. “I dunno. I can’t stay with any of my friends, they’re no better off than we are. Everyone’s father is out of work these days. They’re riding the rails or standing in lines at soup kitchens. Hey! Maybe I could ride the rails, go all the way to British Columbia or somewhere.”
“You still wouldn’t have anyone to cook supper for you. And what about all those strange men? Could you trust them?” Mike’s parents had been very strict about “street-proofing” him – never trust a stranger.
Bert’s shoulders slumped. “I dunno.”
“I think you should go to Manitoba with your parents. Who knows? Maybe you’ll make some friends there. Maybe living on a farm could be fun.”
“It couldn’t be any worse than here.” Mike looked around at the room, bare of everything except that chest of drawers and the bed they were sitting on.
“Is your Dad out of work, too?” Bert asked.
Mike paused. “Ah, no, he’s still, ah . . . working.”
Just then, they heard footsteps coming up the stairs. A woman’s voice, “ Please, Bert, we have to leave now,” followed by heavy pounding on the door and a man’s voice, “Delbert Harris, you open this door right now! I’m not putting up with any more of this nonsense.”
Mike and Bert looked at each other. “I think you’d better go. I’ll help you push the chest away.”
Bert sighed in defeat. “Okay.”
The door flew open as soon as the chest was moved away. The man grabbed Bert by the arm. “Come along. Mr. Oglesby is getting impatient. We have to get out of here now.”
Bert turned back to Mike. “Bye. I hope your Dad doesn’t lose his job.”
“Me, too. Good luck.” He gave Bert a thumb’s-up.
His mother looked into the room. “Who are you talking to?”
“Mike, over there, on the bed.”
She looked straight at the bed but Mike could tell from the puzzled look on her face that she couldn’t see him.“I don’t see anyone, and you don’t know a Mike. Now stop this foolishness and come on.”
Bert and his parents went down the stairs. Mike sat back on the mattress. He heard voices downstairs as he closed his eyes. Then nothing.
To be continued . . .
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