Bum by David Magill

Travel Essay of a 3 yr old:      I was 3 years old and everything scared the hell out of me. My mother, my father, my sisters, the old parking lot behind our house that never had any cars in it, the front steps, with their cracks and tufts of weeds sprouting through them; most everything frightened or confused me. I just didn’t understand anything I saw. Nothing made any sense to me. I was bored, scared, and most of the time, lost. Lost in that 3 year old’s world, a world where our first memories start to form and we show signs of our first attitude towards life.

I remember my mother putting on my shoes. She always made sure I had my shoes. She never spoke about it or warned me, but I knew if I didn’t have my shoes on I was in trouble. I don’t think I put my own shoes on until I was eleven years old. Then the day came, a few months before I turned four, when I walked out of the house without my shoes. I remember being cold, but I kept on going without my shoes. I felt free. It was early October and I decided I was going to go trick or treating early, maybe get a jump on the candy collecting business. I figured I would tell people I was a bum, because I didn’t have my shoes. My father always talked about bums and said they would sell their shoes just to get some wine, so I thought that I could pull it off if I told people I was a bum. I felt like a bum, there on the sidewalk with no shoes and a paper grocery bag. I started out towards the main street and about halfway down the block I realized, in a 3 year old kid’s kind of way that I wasn’t scared anymore. I was free. I was shoeless. I was going to get some candy and I was going to be a bum for the rest of my life because a bum didn’t have to have shoes and a bum could walk down the street any time he wanted to. There I was, the 3 year old bum. Free at last.

I was almost there. I could hear the traffic on the main road. I could see the cars racing towards the freeway. I didn’t know how to run away or what it meant, but I guess that’s what I was doing. I never made it. I heard my name being yelled from behind me and I froze. I was suddenly scared again. I tried to run but I didn’t have any shoes. My mind wouldn’t tell my feet to run without shoes so I stood there on the corner waiting. Waiting to die, I figured. It doesn’t take much for a 3 year old kid to think he’s going to die. So I waited. The voice, again. Not as loud this time, and not as scary. Mrs. Bassley? The wicked witch that my sister’s warned me about? She was the last neighbor on the block and had a teeter-totter in her front yard that was never used. She was old; my sister’s said she was 200 years old, and they said she was a witch. She didn’t sound like a witch. I kept thinking about the Wizard of Oz and she kept saying my name and I figured if she didn’t sound like a witch she couldn’t be a witch, so I turned around holding my bag out in front of me and I said “Trick or treat!” She laughed. A quiet, gentle laugh. Then I knew for sure she wasn’t a witch but she looked like she could have been 200 years old so I asked her, “Are you 200?” Again, the laugh. It calmed me. I wasn’t scared anymore. “200? 200 what, David?” My parents called me David. It seemed to me like only really old people called me David. “David? Where are your shoes?”  I paused slightly, dropped the bag in front of me and burst out “I’m a bum and bums don’t have shoes!” She laughed again, that same calming laugh. I thought that maybe when I turned 200 years old I could laugh like that. “You look like a thirsty bum to me, how about some hot chocolate and a ride on the swing? I used to have a grandson that looked a lot like you. But that was a long time ago, now.” I followed her into the yard and decided that being a bum was alright, walking through the cool grass without shoes, riding on swings, and drinking hot chocolate. I couldn’t wait to go home and tell my parents that I was a bum for a whole day and I was going to be a bum again tomorrow, too.

I walked home an hour later, shoeless and happy, no more fear, no more trouble, and old Mrs. Bassley said I could come back and be a bum anytime I wanted as long as I told my mother first.

Two weeks later my mother told me I couldn’t go to Mrs. Bassley’s anymore and when I asked her why she said, “Because Mrs. Bassley went to heaven and you can’t go there yet, honey.” When I asked her when I could go there and drink hot chocolate in the grass without any shoes she said I would have to wait until I was very, very old. I was a long ways from being 200 years old like Mrs. Bassley and I figured I would miss that place a lot until then.

I still miss it. Every time I see a teeter-totter I feel like a 3 year old bum drinking hot chocolate and wondering when I’ll be old enough to die and see Mrs. Bassley again. I think she probably misses me, too.

BIO: David Magill, born in Kansas City, Missouri, moved to Minnesota as a young boy and grew up on a hobby farm in Afton. He has been married to his wife, Patti, for 23 years.
His work has recently been published in Metonym,The Esthetic Apostle, and Cagibi.