Ketchup Sandwiches

by Regis Boff

It was fifteen nine-year-old steps to get to Bobby’s house from my back door. He was my best friend. Our houses had six empty feet dividing them. We would talk at night from his bedroom window to mine using empty cans strung with waxed string flown taut between our rooms
Bobby’s father was a stupid, violent fucker who beat his wife, Sally. Lunch at his house was prized. Sally would feed us white bread sandwiches with butter and sugar on them. Sometimes she would use only Heinz ketchup. We all wore Heinz plastic little pickles on our caps. Heinz owned Pittsburgh. It boasted 57 varieties of product. It turns out this was a lie, but our town had a feudal brand loyalty, so we lived the fiction. I would play with Bobby nearly every day. Whichever of us was up first would count his steps to the other’s patio and sing at the door, “Calling on Alfy” or “Calling on Bobby.” Alfy was my name then, short for Alfred.
Bobby was small and skinny.
Bobby had a brother Jimmy. He was older than us. Like Bobby, he was small. In Pittsburgh, you could not have a bully who was smaller than you. I was much bigger, Jimmy made me his chicken.
One year he began stealing my hat and pushing me down on my way home from grade school. I would come into our kitchen hatless wearing muddy tears.
My father worked night turn processing checks for Mellon Bank. He would wake up around when I arrived home to make me supper. My mother was a manicurist. I had perfect nails.
Jimmy would throw my hat on our side of the patio so dad would see. He would go and pick it up for the next day. One rainy afternoon my father dragged me the nine adult steps to Jimmy’s door. He screamed that I was ready to fight him. Jimmy laughed from somewhere inside. He did not come out.

He stopped stealing my hat. My father settled into his disappointment and me into my shame wordlessly like sons and their fathers too often do.

I grew fast while Bobby and Jimmy seemed to stop like photographs.
A year later I threw Jimmy down a hillside and broke his leg. I came straight home afterward to tell my father. I was sick to my stomach about what would happen to me. He was sitting in his chair with his face covered reading a newspaper. I told him. He lowered the paper and said, ” It served him right.”
After I left Pittsburgh, I rarely returned home. My life was running from there.

On one return visit, I ran into Jimmy leaving his house. We were grown men. We sat for a little while and talked about how it was growing up. He had advanced into a nice man. Bobby was dead.
As we said goodbye, I grabbed his hat. I later tossed it out the window on the turnpike.