Dunk the pail, fill it up, pass it on. Dunk the pail, fill it up, pass
The grueling task of bailing water out of the ship’s bottom takes on a
rhythmic, musical quality. One of the boys on the bucket brigade must
have similar thoughts, because he begins singing an old, familiar pirate
song. The others in the queue chime in, increasing the pace of their
work to match the song’s beat.
We’re making progress. The water level at the bottom of the boat,
which was up to my knees, is only ankle high now. The repair of the
bilge pump helped. Without the pump, our line could never have kept up
with the water gushing through the hole in the hull of the old vessel.
Someone nailed a tarp over the gap in a futile attempt to block the
incoming water, but it isn’t much help. Water still pours into the
galley through the sides of the tarp. The bobbing motion of the craft,
which made me sick earlier, is almost bearable now.
I feel a tug on my shirt. I look behind, and it’s Betty, water
streaming down her face from the hood of her poncho.
“Anthony wants to see you atop!” she yells into my ear, wiping the
water from her face with the back of her hand.
“I don’t know. He asked me to come and get you. You’ll need
She hands me a poncho.
I turn to one of the boys on break. “Aldo, take my place in line! I
have to go with Betty!”
Betty scurries up the wet metal steps the instant Aldo relieves me, so
sure-footed she doesn’t bother holding onto the banister. Having no
such skills, I clutch the guardrail with each step.
The moment my head lifts above the hatch, the driving rain hits me in
the face, compelling me to pull the face cord of my poncho tighter.
As I climb on deck, the ship lurches to one side, knocking me into the
ship’s rail. I reach for the railing, but my hand slips off the wet
surface. At that moment, a wave lifts the boat into the air, knocking me
off my feet and sending me sliding down the deck on my back. Luckily, my
right foot jams into a scupper, ending my trip down the boat. Before I
can get to my feet, another wave engulfs the boat. Completely submerged,
I lose my bearings. Then a hand grasps my collar and yanks me to my
“Hold on to the lifeline along the side and follow me!” Betty shouts
before releasing her grip.
Clutching the precious rope, I inch forward behind Betty, tilting my
head down to shield my eyes from the driving rain, which appears to be
coming sideways. I can’t believe the change in the weather. A half
hour earlier, the sun was shining. The squall came out of nowhere,
catching us by surprise.
Finally, I reach the stairway leading to the bridge. Gripping both
guardrails, I make my way upstairs. Another wave slams into the boat,
and my feet slide out from under me. Clutching the rails, I regain my
footing and scurry up the steps.
Once atop, Betty holds the pilothouse door open. Inside, Spike is at the
helm. Judy is sitting on the floor in the corner with her head resting
against the wall. She looks awful, all the color drained from her face.
Betty hands me a towel as I knock back the hood of my poncho.
“What’s the matter with you?” I ask Judy.
“Ooh, I’m so sick,” she moans.
“Leave her alone, and come here; she’s just seasick,” Spike says.
Then he turns to me. “Are you all right?”
“I’ve been better,” I reply as I dry myself. “How are we
“Not good. Going against the current is a slow process.”
“Why don’t you turn the boat about and head down river?”
“The current is so strong. I’d have no control of the ship. I’m
afraid we’d crash into the riverbank.”
I look out the window. “Do you think the storm will blow over soon?”
He shrugs. “It’s hard to say. Sometimes these squalls pass as
quickly as they come. It doesn’t matter, though. The river will
continue rising for hours after the storm ends.”
A wave lifts the ship and heaves her to the side, causing the wheel to
spin out of Spike’s hands. The vessel’s beam broaches the wave,
putting it in danger of capsizing. When the boat comes to rest, it’s
heading toward the shoreline. Spike grabs the wheel and swings the craft
around, narrowly missing the riverbank.
“That was close!” I exclaim once Spike regains control. “I thought
we were done for!”
“Let the stupid boat sink!” Judy yells from the corner. “Drowning
can’t possibly be worse than how I feel.”
“Listen, I have an assignment for you,” Spike says to me, ignoring
Judy’s outburst. “It’s kind of dangerous, but it’s also
important. We’re going to be coming to a spot on the river where the
riverbank rises almost to the height of the ship. The water near the
shore is very deep. I’m going to get the boat as close to the bank as
possible, say within five or ten feet. When we pass by that spot, I want
you to jump and try to land ashore. There’s a bridge spanning the
river just north of that spot. That’s the main road to a small town. I
need you to go to that town and get help.”
“Why can’t we just ride out the storm?” I ask. “I’d rather
ride it out with you, Betty, Judy, and the guys.”
Spike glances at Betty. “You see what I mean, Betty? Make one mistake,
and everybody second guesses you.” He turns back to me. “I’m sorry
I screwed up. I thought I could outrun the storm. The weather turned
faster than I anticipated, but now I need your help. There’s a
hairline crack in the hull, port side. It begins where the hole is in
the bow and heads astern. The ship won’t last long. One more good
wave, and it’ll come apart.”
He nods out the window. “Soon, we’ll reach a small island just past
that bridge I told you about. The island has a sheltered cove with a
nice sandy beach. My plan is to run the ship aground there. We’ll
disembark and try to ride out the storm on the island until you get back
with help. Try not to take long. The way the river is rising, the island
could be under water soon.”
Spike looks me straight in the eyes. “Are you going to help, or are
you going to be your usual self, on the sidelines looking in?”
I pause for a moment and then nod. “I’ll do it. Which side will I be
jumping from? Did you say port side?”
“No, starboard. Betty will go down with you and show you the way. You
better get going; we’re almost there.”
I reach into a locker and pull out a life jacket. As I’m strapping it
on, I notice a big grin on Spike’s face.
“What’s so funny?” I ask.
He shrugs. “Nothing.” His smile is noticeably wider.
I pull the hood of my poncho over my head, tie it in place, and follow
She leads me down the steps amidships, unhinges the rail of the gangway,
and turns to me. “Move back a little so you can get a running start.
I’ll signal when it’s time to jump. Try to jump as far as you can.
I’ll try to time my signal so you leap when the ship is at the crest
of the wave. Good luck!” She kisses me on the cheek. Her lips are ice
Moving back about ten feet, I crouch down to await Betty’s signal. I
make the sign of the cross and pray my jump will reach land. The raging
water sends shivers down my spine.
Suddenly, Spike’s joke comes to me. The life jacket will do nothing if
I don’t clear the river. If I don’t make land, staying afloat will
be the least of my problems. With that realization, I remove the
cumbersome jacket and drop it to the deck. It will only hamper my jump
“Now,” Betty screams!
Startled by her shout, I run and leap into the darkness. Unbelievably, I
land on shore, face down into the mud.
It takes a moment to gather myself. Wiping the mud from my eyes, I look
upriver for the boat, but it’s already out of sight. I pray for their
safety. It’s up to Spike to bring them through; it’s totally under
I pause to take stock of my whereabouts. I’m on a small piece of land
that juts out into the river like a peninsula, surrounded by water on
three sides. If I had landed a few feet to my right or left, I would
have fallen into the icy water. An embankment about eight feet high is
in front of me. The outline of the bridge, some two hundred yards to my
left, is barely visible.
Leaping to my feet, I climb up the embankment, not getting more than a
couple of feet up the muddy slope before I slide back down. The
riverbank is so muddy it’s impossible to get a hold. I try again, this
time reaching within inches of the top before sliding back down. Moving
back to the edge of the shoreline to get a running start, I make a mad
dash up the cliff, only to fall a few inches short once again. If only I
were a little taller. As I pick myself up and wipe the mud off my hands
and face, I gaze up at the summit and see a bizarre sight that takes me
A man is standing at the top of the cliff dressed in black, a large
Stetson on his head. How can he keep that hat on his head in such a
storm? He kneels down and, without saying a word, stretches his arm
toward me. Hesitating, I gaze at the stranger to get a better gauge of
him. Should I trust him? His face seems curiously familiar.
From a distance, I hear banging, like someone is knocking at a door. A
muffled sound of a boy screaming follows the noise. Has something
happened to the boat?
“Come on, give me your hand,” the stranger says in a deep southern
drawl. “I’ll help you up.”
I can’t afford to waste any more time. I grab his outstretched hand,
and he yanks me towards him. Digging my foot into the side of the cliff
and giving a final heave, I land on top, face down in the mud once
again. I hear a barely audible sound in the distance, like someone
singing, accompanied by garbled shouts. Again, I wipe the mud from my
eyes. The stranger is staring, smiling, his tanned face somewhat
familiar, and then it hits me: It’s the buckaroo, Buck Owens!
◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
Suddenly, I wake up from my nightmare, gasping for air. Despite the
coolness of the night, I’m soaked in my own sweat. I decide that’s
the last time I’m eating a whole bag of Chips Ahoy cookies with a
quart of milk before going to bed.
A moment passes before I become aware of the loud music coming through
my bedroom window from downstairs. It’s a Buck Owens record. I also
hear people shouting out their apartment windows.
“Turn the damn music off! Don’t you know what time it is?”
The clock on my end table shows 4:10 a.m. Who could be playing music so
loud at this hour?
Then I hear banging at my front door.
“Uncle Sal! Uncle Sal! Wake up, we need you downstairs,” my cousin
Vito yells for my father. “Please, Uncle Sal, wake up. We need you!”
Now fully awake and alert, I jump out of bed and run out of my room to
see what’s wrong. My parents and sister are already in the hall.
“What’s the matter?” my father asks Vito when he opens the door.
“It’s Spike. He’s sleepwalking. He’s locked himself in the
clubhouse and is blasting music,” Vito explains, rushing to get the
words out. “Mom needs you to come downstairs right away!”
“Just give me a second to get my coat, and I’ll come down with
you,” my father says.
I run back in my room for my jacket, throw it over my pajamas, and
follow my dad and Vito downstairs.
“Where in the world do you think you’re going?” my mother cries.
“Oh no, you’re not. It’s four in the morning, and you’ve got
school tomorrow. Go back to sleep!”
Just then, my dad comes out of his room and heads out of the apartment,
followed by Vito. I bolt after them before my mother has a chance to
protest any further.
When we reach the courtyard, Aunt Lucy and several of the neighbors are
standing in front of the clubhouse door. Inside, Spike has the
phonograph volume cranked. The song is the same country tune I heard
“What happened?” my father asks Aunt Lucy when we get there.
“I don’t know!” she shouts over the music. “I was sleeping when
I heard the music coming from downstairs. When I looked into Anthony’s
room, I noticed he wasn’t there. That’s when I realized he must be
the one in the clubhouse playing the record. When I got down here, the
door was locked, and Anthony wouldn’t answer.”
“Does anybody have a key?” my father yells at the people in the
“It’s bolted from the other side,” one of the onlookers replies.
“And the metal door is too heavy to break down.”
I run over to the other side of the building where a window affords a
view into the clubhouse. Pulling a garbage can under the window, I climb
on top to get a look.
Spike is standing on top of the coffee table wearing his pajama bottoms
and nothing else. He’s holding a broom, strumming the handle as if
he’s playing a guitar, singing along with the music playing on the
phonograph. He’s oblivious to anything going on around him, singing
that same self-deprecating Buck Owens song over and over again. Watching
Spike sing that song is somewhat of a surprise. Spike isn’t much of a
music fan; he’s one of the few kids who doesn’t own a record player.
“What’s he doing?” my father asks when he gets to me, followed by
After I tell him, he turns to Aunt Lucy. “At least he’s not doing
anything to hurt himself.”
“That doesn’t mean he won’t try. Remember the last time?” she
replies, not swayed by his reassurance. “Sal, we need to get in there
By now, more tenants of the building have made their way into the
courtyard. Many others are looking out of their apartment windows.
Despite the hour, it looks like everybody in both buildings is awake.
They’re discussing the event no differently than if it were two in the
afternoon instead of four in the morning.
“We should call the fire department,” one of the neighbors suggests.
“They can break down the door.”
“Someone, please call the fire department!” another yells up at the
people looking out their windows.
“I’ll do it!” a man on the third floor volunteers.
Within minutes, the firefighters are there. Betty’s father, Mister
Sargent, is one of the men who answers the alarm.
“What’s the matter?” the big, bulky firefighter asks as he comes
into the courtyard.
“It’s Anthony,” my aunt informs him. “He’s locked himself
inside and won’t open the door. I think he’s sleepwalking.”
With that, one of the other firefighters runs back to the fire truck and
returns with a sledgehammer. The sledgehammer does the trick. After two
blows, the lock splits, and the door bursts open. The disturbance of
smashing open the door does nothing to dissuade Spike’s singing.
It’s only when Mr. Sargent turns off the record player that he finally
As the music ends, Spike turns to stare at the man, a blank expression
on his face. He doesn’t appear to recognize Betty’s father. Mr.
Sargent takes Spike’s hand and helps him off the table. Then Mr.
Sargent takes off his rubberized jacket and drapes it around Spike’s
shoulders. With his arm around Spike, he escorts him out of the
clubhouse. As they walk out of the courtyard, I hop off the garbage can
and follow them out into the street.
Attracted by all of the emergency vehicles, the street outside is even
more crowded with bystanders than the courtyard. Fat Augie is part of
the throng, wearing a blue robe and smoking one of his huge cigars. Our
neighbor, Mrs. Maderno, peeks her head from behind Augie to get a look.
“Is he all right?” Augie asks Mr. Sargent as they walk by.
“Yes, I think he’s going to be just fine.”
None of my friends are around except for Twitchy, who never sleeps.
“Did you get the priest?” Augie asks, when he notices Twitchy.
“Father Diritto is on his way; he’s just getting dressed,” Twitchy
replies, his eyes blinking wildly. “He’ll be here soon.”
“La faccia del diavolo!” Mrs. Maderno shouts as Spike walks by.
“What did you say?” Aunt Lucy demands, having heard Mrs. Maderno’s
statement from behind Spike.
“Don’t pay her any mind,” Dad says.
“Did she just call my son ‘the devil’?” Aunt Lucy asks.
“Ignore the old fool,” Dad advises. “You need to take care of
Aunt Lucy points her finger at Maderno. “I’ll talk to you later!”
In the street, two fire trucks and three police cars are parked in front
of the building. An ambulance has just pulled up. The red bubble lights
flashing atop of all of the emergency vehicles reflect off the walls of
the apartment buildings and provide a strange, carnival-like atmosphere.
The entire avenue appears to be out of bed. Hundreds of people on both
sides of the street look out their windows. Two paramedics come out of
the ambulance, and one of them takes the firefighter’s jacket off
Spike and wraps him in a blanket instead. Then he bends down and puts a
pair of slippers on Spike’s bare feet. Spike stands there listless,
not acknowledging anybody, offering neither help nor resistance.
“I think we should take Anthony to the hospital overnight just as a
precaution,” Betty’s father suggests to my aunt.
“But he’s fine,” Aunt Lucy insists. “Anthony was just
sleepwalking. He’s probably very tired. All he needs is to go back to
bed and get some rest.” It’s more of an appeal than a statement.
Father Diritto arrives just as my aunt is finishing her remark. “Look,
Lucy, I’m sure Anthony is fine; it’s just a precaution. They’ll
check him out and make absolutely certain nothing’s wrong. I’ll go
to the hospital with him and stay by his side until you arrive later in
the day. I won’t leave him alone, not even for a minute. I promise.”
“Listen to the man, Lucy. He makes sense,” my father urges.
“But he’s fine,” she insists meekly, her lips quivering, her hands
“I’m sure you’re right,” Father Diritto answers, “but don’t
you think it’s better to play it safe?”
With that, she relents.
“I just need to get some information,” one of the paramedics says to
Aunt Lucy while the other escorts Spike into the ambulance.
While the paramedic takes the information from Aunt Lucy, Twitchy and I
approach the back of the ambulance. Spike is sitting on one of the side
benches, his head back, eyes closed, legs outstretched, hands clasped
over his stomach.
“Is he asleep?” Twitch asks me, his irrepressible eyes still opening
and shutting uncontrollably.
“Spike, are you all right?” I ask.
He opens his eyes slowly and turns to look at me, but he doesn’t say a
thing. He gives no indication of recognition as he closes his eyes
“Hey Spike, it’s me, Twitchy. Are you okay?”
Spike’s eyes open ever so slightly, the movement of his eyeballs in
Twitch’s direction barely discernible beneath his eyelids. His lips
contort into a faint smile.
“Hey, Twitch. How’s it going? You seen Rudy Kazoody?”
“No, Spike. I haven’t seen him,” Twitchy replies, his
ever-blinking eyes still opening and shutting incessantly.
“Well, I saw him tonight,” Spike says, turning his head to look
straight ahead once more, staring blankly at the side of the ambulance.
“You saw Rudy Kazoody?” Twitch asks, the oppressive blinking
Before Spike can respond, the paramedic and Diritto come over and get
inside the ambulance. Just as the attendant is about to shut the door,
Twitchy grabs ahold of it.
“Spike, I’ll come see you at the hospital later. Take care of
yourself. Remember what you always told me.”
“Hold on tight and fight as hard as you can,” Twitch and Spike utter
Twitch releases the door, and the paramedic slams it shut. Twitchy and I
stand motionless as we watch the ambulance pull away.
“Who broke the window in the clubhouse?” I ask Twitchy.
“What?” Twitch stares at me without blinking. “What the hell are
you talking about?”
“The other day, I noticed the window to the clubhouse was cracked. I
thought you might know how it broke.”
“Who cares about that stupid window?” Twitch’s eyes blink wildly
once again. “I think it’s always been cracked. Spike is being hauled
away in an ambulance, and you’re worried about a stupid, damn
“Spike’s going to be alright,” I reply. “Father Diritto said
he’s coming home tomorrow. He’s just going to the hospital to be
Twitch glares at me and then gives an incredulous shrug. The blinking
stops long enough to allow me to notice the moisture accumulating in his
“You’re such a jerk. Spike’s not coming home tomorrow.” With
that, Twitch turns and heads home.
“Joey, you better get upstairs,” Dad, says. “Tell your mother
I’ll come up in a little while. I’m going to stay a few minutes with
Curiously, when I arrive upstairs, my normally inquisitive mother
doesn’t bother to ask what happened. She simply tells me to go to
sleep, goes into the kitchen, and sits at the table to wait for my
father. With Twitch’s revelation about Spike not coming home
reverberating in my head, I walk to my room and slump back into bed.
There’ll be no more sleep tonight.
Excerpted from "Goodbye, Rudy Kazoody" by A.A. Freda. Copyright © 2016 by A.A. Freda. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.