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DUTTY THE UN-INVISIBLE BOY

CHAPTER I

The Invisible Boy

 

     Dutty Livingstone thought he was invisible. That might seem a little hard to believe. A ten-year-old boy who thinks he’s actually invisible. But he did. 

     It started after Uncle Eli and Auntie Rose moved in a few months earlier. One day she casually declared that he had become invisible.

     “It happened after your mama died,” she said. “I’m sure you noticed. People couldn’t see you. You started to fade away, and soon enough, no one could see you at all. Now you’re completely invisible.”

     He looked at his hands, his ragged shirt, grubby knees, and down to his bare feet.

     “Invisible? But I can see me, and you can see me,” he said, thinking he had found a flaw in her argument.

     “Oh, I can see you, and Uncle Eli can too. We’ve all been cursed,” she said with a snort that sounded like Dutty’s cow Mrs. Baggert. “And now it’s our miserable chore to take care of you. No one else wanted you anyway. Not that we wanted you either. Lord knows if we didn’t have to see or hear you it would be fine by us.”

     “Fine by us,” Uncle Eli repeated, without looking up from his newspaper.

     Miserable chore? That didn’t sound right. His mother always called him her greatest joy when she’d tuck him in at night. The only thing Auntie Rose ever tucked in was the top of her ratty pink underdrawers when they got caught in the belt on her frumpy skirt.

  

     “We’re all you have,” Auntie Rose reminded him. “And you are mighty lucky to have us is all I have to say.”

     Of course, that was not all she had to say because she never stopped bossing him around and telling him how worthless he was. 

     “We feed you, clothe you, give you a roof over your head, all out of the goodness of our hearts. And at great expense too. You eat enough for three boys!”

     Now there were a lot of things wrong with that speech. First, they would need to have hearts to have any ‘goodness’ in them. Second, during the months Dutty had been living with Mr. and Mrs. Buzz, they never gave him so much as a button to wear. The few clothes he owned were just about worn to tatters. 

     And the feeding part? They didn’t feed him. He fed them! He was the one who worked all day alone in the garden. He cooked all the meals and served her like she was Queen Mary of England. He couldn’t put a single bite of food in his mouth until they had their fill. Dutty got the scraps and leftovers, but only after he had washed every last dish, fork, knife, spoon, and toothpick.

     The real laugh was the part about putting a roof over his head because it was his house. Although, after months of living with these people, he wasn’t sure that was true. Almost every trace of his life here with his parents had disappeared. It wasn’t hard to believe he had disappeared too. 

     All Dutty had left to remind him of his mother was a little locket. His Pa had given it to her one year on the occasion of their wedding anniversary, so it reminded him of his father too. Dutty kept it hidden away from Auntie Rose. Every so often, he’d take it out to look at it—to feel the delicate filigree with his fingers, and then put it next to his heart as it had once been near hers. 

     Today, he was ‘mighty lucky’ to have a few more things to do for Auntie Rose.

     “Now, take my dress and sew that hem up good and neat. TINY stitches. Not those wide stitches that unravel two days later. And don’t even think about stealing any of that thread to use for one of your silly toys or contraptions you’re always wasting your time making. I see you sneakin’ about to fiddle with them when you should be doing your work!”

     Around here, there wasn’t any work that wasn’t Dutty’s work. Auntie Rose never lifted a single bony finger unless it was to dab some rouge on her sour skinny cheeks, or to grab a switch to whack him because she didn’t think he was moving fast enough. Auntie Rose wasn’t even his real aunt. She just made him call her that. Despite her name—Rose—she had nothing the least bit in common with a rose, except maybe the thorns.

     That might have been funny if it weren’t so true, he thought as he finished everything on Auntie Rose’s long list. He lit the kitchen lamp and threw two logs in the stove to heat up the potatoes and cabbage. He’d have to hurry to get supper fixed before Uncle Eli got home. 

     All too soon, Dutty heard the rattling car as it sputtered to a stop, and after a long minute, Mr. Buzz pushed through the screen door and hung his cap on the hook just inside. He wore the same old suit and tie he wore every day. He imagined the outfit made people think he was important. Not likely, if Dutty was any judge.

     They might think he was rich, though. Well, richer than them. He had a 1915 Model T Touring car. Even though it was 1919, and the Great War was over, there still weren’t too many people in this part of Massachusetts who owned cars. They were for ‘rich people,’ like Mr. Melgren at the bank. A few farmers had motor trucks, but most people still relied on horses, or mules and wagons. 

     Uncle Eli shuffled over to the table without so much as a glance at Dutty. The man’s head drooped from a long neck, his hair slicked back with Pomade. The ends of his long, upturned mustache were waxed so heavily they looked like candle wicks. This evening Uncle Eli seemed exhausted. But then again, he always looked that way. Perhaps it was driving the car that made him so tired. Or maybe it was the fifteen steps he walked from the gate to the house. Hard to say.

     Auntie Rose emerged from her room, stretching to recover from her afternoon nap, or maybe she was having one of her spells. She paused by the door, hands on her hips, watching as Uncle Eli lowered himself into his chair with an enormous groan.

 

     “Ughhhh, what - a - day,” Uncle Eli said. He emphasized each word separately as if it were draining just saying them.

     “What’s the matter with you?” Auntie Rose growled.

     “What d’ya mean? I was busy in town. Working on some opportunities. Talking to the locals. Can’t expect me to stay around here all the time, can you? Nothing to do here but watch the flies land on the cow dung.”

     “Talking to the locals, were you? You mean, at the bootleggers.”

     He gave her a sidelong look. “That’s where you pick up the best tips. Keep your ear to the ground. Look for opportunities, woman—like this one,” he said, giving a quick nod in Dutty’s direction. “Besides, a man deserves to have a drink now and again.”

     “Well this here opportunity ain’t panning out exactly like you thought. Do I need to remind you Eli, the money from selling the horse is near gone?”

     Dutty still hadn’t gotten over the sale of his horse, Buster. One day he was there, the next day he was gone, and there didn’t seem to be a thing Dutty could do about it. 

     “Ahh, don’t you think I know that?” Uncle Eli grumbled. “Give me a little peace after a long day.”

     “Long day? Try watching over this worthless boy, like I have to.”

     “I can’t imagine…” Uncle Eli muttered.

     “What did you say?” Auntie Rose snapped back, but Dutty knew she’d heard that.

 

     “Nothing.” 

     “Do you know how hard it is standing over that brat all day? And, speaking of him, Ralph Stanley!”  

     Uh oh! 

     “Where is our supper?” 

     He snatched the pot from the stove and scurried to the table. He hated the way Auntie Rose called him by his real name. His parents and friends always called him Dutty. The only time his mother had called him Ralph Stanley was when she was cross with him. These people were always cross with him, so they called him Ralph Stanley, or kid, or worse.

   

     “Sorry, Auntie Rose. I was making sure the potatoes are salted just the way you like them,” Dutty said politely, as he always did, in hopes of not getting yelled at or getting a beating.

     He heaped food onto their plates, and then filled their cups with water as the sound of their noisy chewing and clattering spoons filled the room. This was the closest thing to quiet Dutty ever experienced while the two of them were still in the house.

     “Now Rose,” Uncle Eli said after several minutes, “you know the doctor told you to cut back on your salt because you’ve got the high blood.”

     He said it just as polite as you could want, looking up for only a second before returning to his meal. He didn’t notice the change that came over her face, but Dutty did. She pursed her lips. The veins in her neck bulged. She glared at Uncle Eli till her eyes glowed red!

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