Billy Next Door

Billy had too much gel in his hair when I answered the door.  He was wearing a tie and holding his backpack like a briefcase.  He smelled of Doritos and dirty things, apologized if he was interrupting dinner.

"I’d like a moment with your mother," he said.

"My mom?" I asked. "Why?"

"Or your father," he said. "Whoever is home at the present time."

He was looking over my shoulder. He seemed to be on the clock.

I snapped my gum. “Ma!” I yelled, without taking my eyes off him. Then: “Why do you look like that?”

My mom came to the door, sighed hello to Billy, and told me to go finish my math problems. 

"Good evening," he began. "Lovely weather, isn’t it?"

My mom waved to Sam, the old man who sits across the street.  

"Things good?" she called out.

"I’m selling school supplies for school, Mrs. Flatow. Would you care to peruse the catalog?" He was already kneeling down, unzipping his pack. His hair grossly shined.

"Billy, what is this - I’ve got — "

"Mrs. Flatow.  As you know, I am a classmate of your daughter’s.  Additionally, I am someone who sits diagonally across from her desk. I know what she has. I know what she lacks."

My mom turned around to look at me. I pretended to solve problems on scrap paper.

Billy continued in a whisper. 

"Tonight’s homework is all about measuring angles and it is my educated guess that Sylvie has no idea what she is doing because she is without a protractor.  Mrs. Flatow, a protractor is a tool that measures angles. The red and black crossbar need to be lined up with the vertex of the angle. The vertex is the point where the two rays of an angle meet — "

"Are you doing homework without a protractor?" she asked.

"I don’t need one," I replied.  "She needs one," Billy shot.

I watched Billy conduct business with my mother. I watched three dollars leave her front jean pocket and I watched Billy thank her for her time.  

The next day, after my homework was finished, Billy and I sat on the curb’s corner throwing pebbles at pigeons. He had bought us blue raspberry airheads, my favorite. 

His hair was dry and tousled, his fingernails forever dirty.

Every time I got a pigeon to fly away, not just flutter, Billy would look at me and smile. 


Across the street, Sam would shake his head, not say a word.