It was so embarrassing when Dad went up and started messing with Mr. Bilson’s front door.
Mom was making us go for a walk. Dad wanted to be fixing the brakes on the car, and I was in the middle of a Warcraft battle. And Holly—it didn’t matter what she was doing. She was five, and five-year-olds whine about everything, even the fun stuff. She could be at
The only one who thought a walk sounded like fun was Mom, and she didn’t come with us.
So we had gotten about four houses down the street when Dad saw that weird Mr. Bilson’s front door handle was falling off. It was crooked and barely hanging on, but I doubt Mr. Bilson even noticed, because he didn’t go outside. His front lawn had gone to seed and was almost as tall as Holly. The tiny house had equal patches of brown and gray, so it was hard to tell which color it had been most recently. But it must have been the brown, because it was peeling off in long strips like my skin did that one time I got a really bad sunburn at my friend Jake’s house. Jake has a pool. Anyway, the only reason I knew that a person even lived here is because my parents complained about the state of his house a lot.
So we were passing Mr. Bilson’s house when Dad noticed the doorknob. Without a word to anyone, he walked right up to it and started trying to fix it. I guess he was still hankering to fix something. Still, I hoped to God no one I knew would walk by and see us in Mr. Bilson’s yard. All the kids knew he was totally weird. Holly pulled up a golden stalk of grass and ran her fingers up it, popping all the seeds off. She held the seeds in the palm of her hand and blew them away. It looked as good an activity as any while Dad messed with a doorknob he couldn’t fix because he didn’t have any tools with him anyway. I pulled out some grass and joined Holly. Sometimes five-year-olds aren’t all bad.
“Who’s there?” The voice came from inside, but was strong enough to make all three of us jump. The door swung open, and Dad stood there with the doorknob loose in his hand.
“Oh. Hi, Frank,” Dad said. He lifted the knob up. “I saw you were having trouble with your doorknob. I thought I’d try to fix it for you.”
Mr. Bilson stood there eyeing Dad. He was short—shorter than Dad, anyway, and Dad isn’t real tall. He was solid, though. Stocky and strong looking, like he’d once been real muscular but some of those muscles had gone to fat. He didn’t have much hair left and was obviously sorta old, but he didn’t stoop over like most old people. He stood up real straight. He was dressed better than I would’ve expected a guy who never left his house to dress. He was wearing a long-sleeved yellow button-down shirt and brown slacks that had sharp creases in them. His house may have been falling down, but at least he dressed nice, which is more than I can say for my folks. They both work from home, and I’ve never seen them in anything but jeans.
“Where are your tools?” Mr. Bilson finally spoke. “You’re not going to get very far that way.” He turned and went back into the house. We all stood there, not sure if we were supposed to follow him or go away. Even Dad didn’t know. He stood there with the knob still held up in his hand and his eyebrows lifted. He rolled his eyes at me and was about to put the knob back down when Mr. Bilson came back with a toolbox. It looked like it had been bought new and had never been used. It was covered in dust. He set it down at Dad’s feet.
“There you go,” he said.
“Uh… thanks,” Dad said. He was committed now. He knelt down and opened the toolbox, ruining the perfectly even coat of dust.
Mr. Bilson just stood in the doorway, watching Dad as if he’d better do the job right or else. I was trying to decide if I had to stay when I saw the knives.
They were along the back wall of what I guess was Mr. Bilson’s living room. There had to be twenty or twenty-five of them, all mounted on the wall with a notecard underneath each one, like they were all real important and this was a knife museum or something. I wanted to see them better, but Mr. Bilson was in the way. Then I saw that he was watching me. My face got all hot and I looked away.
“You want a better look?” he asked.
I did, but not bad enough to go in his house. I shrugged and looked away to show him I didn’t care. I could go to the knife shop if I wanted to see cool knives.
“You should see what’s on the other walls,” he said mysteriously.
I looked at Dad, but he was fishing around noisily in the toolbox. Holly was now lying in the long grass and looking up at the sky, singing a soft song. She was probably pretending she was a princess or something, like she always did. I looked back at Mr. Bilson.
“Okay.” I said. Dad shifted his body so I could pass, and I knew that he’d been paying attention to the conversation even though he hadn’t looked like it. Normally that would be annoying, but right now it made me feel better. When I brushed past his warm flannel shirt I felt safe, and I was relieved he was right there. I’d make sure he was in my sight the whole time, just in case.