Matt stuck the small painted boat under his t-shirt so no one could see it and ran the five blocks to the 20th Street bridge. He was hoping Mom wouldn’t happen to come looking for him. He knew he’d get a good smack upside the head if she didn’t find him busy with the job she’d given him.
Seeing no one else around, the eight-year-old boy hurried to the middle and the bridge and pulled out the boat he’d made. He looked down at the stream not far below. Spring flood waters had swelled the narrow river and were hurrying it along to the forks where it would join another a hundred miles away.
He took a last look at the boat he’d made. Okay, it was nothing special, but he’d shaped and painted it himself. He’d screwed a metal plate on the bottom to keep it right-side up and painted a sailor on the deck. Now he gazed soberly at the little sailor’s face. “I can’t go off and see the world, but you can.” He held the boat over the rail of the bridge and dropped it into the water. As he watched the current carry it away, he murmured, “I can’t run away, but you can.”
He turned around and trudged back home, hoping there might be something in the house to eat.
He slipped into the kitchen quietly so his mother wouldn’t hear him and opened a few cupboard doors, looking for some cereal or a piece of bread to ease his hunger pangs. He was peering into the fridge when his mother suddenly grabbed his arm in a painful grip and yanked him away.
“There you are, you lazy little brat. Where’ve you been? You were supposed to clean up the garage and when I looked you were nowhere to be seen. And where did those paint cans come from? Have you been messing around with paint? All I need for you to get your clothes all splattered.”
“I’m starving, Mom. Just let me grab something to eat and I’ll go clean up.”
She gave him a good shake. “I’ll starve you, you empty-headed little loafer!” She threw him against the side door. “Now get back out there and Do something!”
Matt’s eyes filled with tears as he walked back to the garage. The pain deep inside threatened to choke him. But then he thought of his little boat and smiled. It had gotten away. Someday he would, too.