A Person in a Name
Thomas stared down at the chipped plate that held his food. There was a wash of eggs, fluffy and golden, next to a thick mass of crudely cut and grilled potatoes. Something wet leaked from beneath the eggs and made its way slowly toward the pieces of potato.
Thomas swung his feet, which only just reached the ground of the long bench that served as his seat. He chewed quietly on his lower lip, his front teeth sticking out just a bit from years of the habit. He dug a fork into the eggs and came away with a chunk, though he only set it back down and looked around through tired eyes.
All around the large room were narrow tables and long benches, each filled with a handful of children. The twins that had arrived with Thomas were sitting in a corner laughing. They had bits of egg stuck to their plump, flushed faces and one was attempting to get a piece of potato into the other’s ear. The girl that had been in the carriage with Thomas was calmly eating, occasionally exchanging words with a couple of young girls that sat near her. Her face was beginning to lose some of its redness and she looked much less distraught than she had the previous day. Thomas looked down and narrowed his eyes, gingerly placing a hand on his stomach.
“You don’t look so good, Mike,” said someone nearby. Thomas looked up through mostly closed eyes and nodded slowly.
“Wh-who’s Mike?” he asked. A boy approached him. He looked older, just into his teens, with a ruddy, thin face and tussle of black hair. He was lanky and walked with wide steps as he made his way over to Thomas.
“Mike’s Mike,” the boy said, pointing at Thomas. Thomas opened his mouth for a moment, only to close his eyes and squeeze the bit of his shirt over his stomach.
“Whoah, whoah,” the boy said, holding out his palms to Thomas. “No need for all that. You need something, just ask. Here.” He pinched his lower lip and let go a shrill whistle. A towering man lumbered over. Thomas looked up and recognized him.
“What is wrong now, David?” the big man said. The older boy winced, then motioned his chin at Thomas.
“The boy here needs something cool for his troubles. Bring us a glass quick-like.” The big man nodded and stepped away. The boy dug his hands into the pockets of his trousers and took a seat next to Thomas.
“Kids here call me Bones. Big guy is James. He’ll take care of you for real simple things. He’s a real simple guy and all.” Thomas nodded. In a moment James returned, carefully carrying a thick glass of water. He set it down in front of Thomas, who picked it up and took a long drink.
“Can you say that you are fit or is there more that you need? I must clean up as some are beginning their mess as is custom.” He turned and looked around the room.
“Leave us be, thanks for your troubles,” Bones told the large man with a wave of his hand. James politely nodded a couple of times and waddled away. Thomas coughed and took a deep breath.
“So you gonna be all right there?” Bones asked.
“Y-yeah,” Thomas said.
“That’s good then. Sick is no way to start the day. What’s got you anyway?” Thomas finished the glass of water and loosened his grip on his stomach.
“I don’t know. I j-just, I get nervous sometimes, and when I get sick, I get, I mean when I, when-”
“Whoah, whoah, Mike” Bones said. “You just take it easy. Don’t think anyone comes to this place feeling so good.”
“Wh-where did you all come from?” Mike said, trying to take his mind off his ailment. Bones thumbed his chin and glanced around the room.
“All over, really. All over. The big sands set us off this way. It’s not so good out East you know.”
“You all Oakies?” Mike asked.
“Nah, just some. Tough times. They said this town opened up for some like us, no matter what got us here. You?”
Mike shook his head as he spoke. “Well, we, my parents, they had a place in Kansas, but-”
“That’s fine enough for me, I don’t ask too much. Don’t matter much now. We’re all stuck here.” Bones leaned forward on the table and crossed his fingers.
“Maybe so.” Mike’s eyes began to close.
“Let me point you around, keep you awake,” Bones said, setting a hand on Mike’s back. He pointed a thumb at a nearby table with a few girls. “That one girl in the middle, she’s news. Came with you I figure. Haven’t been acquainted. Little one next to her with the brown hair is Sally Schwille. The other little gal with the lighter hair’s Picadilly.”
Bones pointed to a table of boys. “That’s most I run with over there. Good guys. One on the end with the brown bowl top is Charlie, Charlie Morose. Angry-looking kid next to him with the bad face is Jay the Rope. Curly-haired one with the thick brows is Tholamew Graves, and skinny little blonde next to him is Sticks. Bigger guy with his back to us is Matt Stacka Wood. Just call him Stacka.”
Mike looked around at the rest of the room. He didn’t recognize any of the names from the day before. “The others?” he asked. Bones was looking over at his table and noticed Jay motioning for him to come back.
“Ah, I’ll tell you some time. You come by to shoot with us when you’re feelin’ better. Here,” Bones said, pulling something from his pocket. He set a large, glimmering marble on the tabletop next to Mike’s plate, resting it in a groove in the thick planks. Mike looked down into it, its form mostly green with a bright yellow and green twist running through its center.
“Thanks,” he said, though Bones had already stood and begun to walk away.