mockingbird chapter 10


«Make us up one, Jem,» I said.

«I’m tired of makin’ ’em up.»

Our first days of freedom, and we were tired. I wondered what the summer would bring.

We went to the front yard, where Dill stood looking down the street at the dark face of the Radley Place. «I — smell — death,» he said. «I do, I mean it,» he said, when I told him to shut up.

«You mean when somebody’s dyin’ you can smell it?»

«No, I mean I can smell somebody an’ tell if they’re gonna die. An old lady taught me how.» Dill sniffed me. «Jean — Louise — Finch, you are going to die in three days.»

«Dill, if you don’t shut up, I’ll knock you bowlegged. I mean it, now-»

«Stop, Scout,» said Jem, «you act like you believe in Hot Steams.»

«What’s a Hot Steam?» asked Dill.

«Haven’t you ever walked along a lonesome road at night and passed by a hot place?» Jem asked Dill. «A Hot Steam’s somebody who can’t get to heaven, just goes around on lonesome roads an’ if you walk through him, when you die you’ll be one too and-»

«How can you keep from passing through one?»

«You can’t,» said Jem. «Sometimes they stretch all the way across the road, but if you have to go through one you say, ‘Angel-bright, life-in-death; get off the road, don’t suck my breath.»

«Don’t you listen to him, Dill,» I said. «Calpurnia says l hat’s nigger-talk.»

Jem frowned darkly at me, but said, «Well, are we gonna play anything or not?»

«Let’s roll in the tire,» I suggested.

Jem sighed. «You know I’m too big.»

«You can push.»

I ran to the back yard and pulled an old car tire from under I he house. I rolled it up to the front yard. «I’m first,» I said.

Dill wanted to be first because he just got here, but Jem awarded me first push with an extra time for Dill, and I folded myself inside the tire.

Jem didn’t like that I’d contradicted him on Hot Steams, so he pushed the tire down the sidewalk with all his force, Ground, sky and houses merged into a mad palette, my ears were throbbing, I was suffocating. I could not put out my hands to stop, they were blocked between my chest and knees. I could only hope that Jem would outrun the tire and me, or that the lire would bump into something in the sidewalk and stop. I heard him behind me, running and shouting.

The tire bumped on gravel, rolled across the road, crashed into a barrier and popped me like a cork onto the ground. I lay on the ground, unable to move, and heard Jem’s voice: «Scout, get away from there, come on!»

I raised my head and stared at the Radley Place steps in front of me. I froze.

«Come on, Scout, don’t just he there!» Jem was screaming. «Get up and get the tire!»

When I was able to move, I ran back to them as fast as my shaking knees would carry me.

«Why didn’t you bring the tire?» Jem shouted.

«Why don’t you get it?» I screamed.

Jem was silent.

«Go on, it isn’t far inside the gate. Why, you even touched the house once, remember?»

Jem looked at me angrily, ran into the Radley yard and brought the tire back.

«See there?» He said triumphantly. «Nothin’ to it. Sometimes, Scout, you act so much like a girl.»

There was more to it than he knew, but I decided not to tell him.

Calpurnia appeared in the front door and said, «Lemonade time! You all get in out of that hot sun before you fry alive!» Lemonade in the middle of the morning was a summertime ritual.

After he drank his second glassful, Jem announced, «I know what we are going to play. Something new, something different.»

«What?» asked Dill.

«Boo Radley.»

It was clear that Jem wanted to demonstrate his fearless heroism, to show that he wasn’t afraid of Radleys in any shape or form.

«Boo Radley? How?» asked Dill.

Jem said, «Scout, you can be Mrs. Radley-»

«I don’t think I will. I don’t think-»

«Still scared?» Dill said.9

«He can get out at night when we’re all asleep…» I said.

Jem hissed. «Scout, how’s he gonna know what we’re doin’? Besides, I don’t think he’s still there. He died years ago and they stuffed him up the chimney.»

Dill said, «Jem, you and me can play and Scout can watch it she’s scared.»

I was sure Boo Radley was inside that house, but I couldn’t prove it, so I didn’t say anything.

Jem parceled out our roles: I was Mrs. Radley, and all I had to do was come out and sweep the porch. Dill was old Mr. Radley: he walked up and down the sidewalk and coughed when Jem spoke to him. Jem, naturally, was Boo: he went under the front steps and shrieked and howled from time to time.

Every day we added new dialogue and plot, polished and perfected our small play.

I reluctantly played various ladies who entered the script. I never thought it, as much fun as Tarzan, and I played that summer with great anxiety despite Jem’s assurances that Boo Radley was dead and nothing would get me, with him and Calpurnia there in the daytime and Atticus home at night.

Jem was a born hero.

It was a melancholy little drama, made from bits of gossip and neighborhood legend: Mrs. Radley had been beautiful until she married Mr. Radley and lost all her money. She also lost most of her teeth, her hair, and her right forefinger (Dill’s contribution. Boo bit it off one night when he couldn’t find my cats and squirrels for his dinner.); she sat in the living room and cried most of the time, while Boo slowly destroyed all the furniture in the house.

The three of us were the boys who got into trouble; I was the judge, for a change; Dill led Jem away and crammed him beneath the steps, poking him with the brushbroom. Jem reappeared when needed in the shapes of the sheriff, various townsfolk, and Miss Stephanie Crawford, who had more to say about the Radleys than anybody in Maycomb.

When it was time to play Boo’s big scene, Jem would go into the house and steal the scissors when Calpumia’s back was turned, then sit in the swing and cut up newspapers. Dill would walk by, cough at Jem, and Jem would fake a plunge into I fill’s thigh. From where I stood, it looked real.

One day we were so busily playing Chapter XXV, Book II of One Man’s Family, we did not see Atticus standing on the sidewalk looking at us.

«What are you all playing?» he asked.

«Nothing,» said Jem.

«Give me those scissors,» Atticus said. «Does this by any chance have anything to do with the Radleys?»

«No sir,» said Jem, reddening.

«I hope it doesn’t,» he said shortly, and went inside the house.

We went to the back yard. Dill asked Jem if we could play anymore.

«I don’t know. Atticus didn’t say we couldn’t-»

«Jem,» I said, «I think Atticus knows it anyway.»

«No, he doesn’t. If he did, he’d say he did.»

I was not so sure, but Jem told me I was being a girl, that girls always imagined things, that’s why other people hated them so, and if I started behaving like one I could just go off and find some girl to play with.

«All right, you just keep it up then,» I said. «You’ll find out.»

I wanted to stop the game not only because of Atticus’s arrival. That day when I rolled into the Radley front yard, I had heard a low sound, so low that I could not have heard it from the sidewalk. Someone inside the house was laughing. But I said nothing about it to the boys.


next page