Once upon a time there was a little boy. The boy lived with his mom and dad, but he belonged to himself. In the mornings, he woke himself up and made a warm fire in the wood stove then made himself a bowl of Raisin Bran. He was a funny little boy, he always waited until it got soggy and soft like oatmeal before eating it. On school days he said goodbye to his dad as he left for the office. He said goodbye to his mom as she sat at the kitchen table listening to Kenny Rogers. Then, on the school bus he read books to himself just like his mom taught him when he was little. He loved stories about far away lands.
That night while he was watching Captain Kirk explore a new planet, his mom and dad were in the living room shouting at each other again. He couldn’t even hear what Mr. Spock was saying.
“The last beer is mine,” she said.
“No, it’s mine, you’ve already had eight,” his dad said, standing up.
They both turned to him, and the boy’s dad yelled. “Put on your shoes! You and I are leaving. This is the last straw!”
The boy’s mom yelled too. “Put on your coat! You’re coming with me! He’s too drunk to drive. We’re going to see Grandma.”
But neither of his parents could drive anywhere because the boy had hidden the car keys inside a coffee can full of shells from when his grandmother took him to Maine. Besides, the boy wanted to stay right here. He was already seven years old, and he belonged to himself. So he went to his own room and went to bed. As he fell asleep, he heard his mom and dad arguing about who lost the keys.
The next morning, he put the beer cans in the recycling and wiped the table with a Handi Wipe. Then he packed his little fishing pole and went for a bike ride. Down the dirt driveway to the gravel road he went. Then he turned his bike toward the rising sun. In the tree a red-winged blackbird screeched at him from a white pine tree. “These are my babies. This is my forest. Go back to your house, little boy!”
“No, bird,” the little boy said, “I am a boy and I belong to myself. You can’t tell me what to do.”
His bike had big fat tires, so he went where he always went, a happy little road in the woods with grass growing in the middle. A squirrel chittered from his nest in a big oak tree. “MY acorns, MY tree, MY forest. Go away!”
“No, squirrel,” the little boy said, “I am a boy and I belong to myself. You can’t tell me what to do.”
When he got hungry, the boy who belonged to himself dug up some grubs and put one on the end of a fishhook. But the fish belonged to themselves too and they only stole his grubs. Soon he became sleepy in the summer sun and fell fast asleep. He was woken up by a big thump against his back that almost knocked him into the water. It was a little furry dog.
“Whose dog is this?” the boy wondered aloud.
“I am Biscuit, I’m a puppy, and I belong to myself,” he said, sitting down next to the boy.
“I am a boy, and I belong to myself,” said the boy.
Just then the end of the boy’s fishing pole twitched. He had caught a fish! The fish looked big and delicious, but the boy didn’t know what to do. He had no stove or even matches for a fire.
Biscuit said “Come back to my doghouse. I have a stove. You can cook your fish there.”
They walked to Biscuit’s house, a large lean-to under a shady elm tree. Biscuit started a fire, and the boy fried the fish in a big black pan. Biscuit went outside to his garden and brought in carrots and potatoes and put them on to boil. Together they enjoyed a big feast and then told each other stories in the shade of the big tree.
“I have to go back home,” the boy said.
“Come again another day,” said Biscuit, wagging his tail, “and I can teach you how to play fetch.”
When the boy got home his mom and dad were sleeping. The boy cleared the afternoon’s beer cans from the table. He wiped the table and then put the kettle on for tea. His mom and dad always liked to have tea with lots of cream and sugar when they woke up from their afternoon nap. He liked to do things for them when they woke up too. They were quieter and remembered to say “thank you” when he did things for them.
The next day the boy woke up early. There were bottles all over the table again. They smelled awful, like vinegar and dirty feet. He gathered them up and put them in the garbage. That day in school, his friend Lisa talked about her family’s vacation at the beach and how they played and played together. It sounded fun. His friend Mark talked about his dad and mom taking him to see a ballet in the big city. He wanted to feel happy for them but all he felt was mad that his family never did anything fun.
After school he walked to Biscuit’s doghouse.
“Why do you look so sad?” Biscuit asked, as they ate peanut butter from a jar.
“My parents never do anything fun with me,” said the boy.
“We can have fun,” said Biscuit, “Come outside and we’ll play fetch.”
Biscuit jumped up and down and wagged his tail so fast when he said this. He picked up a stick in his mouth and dropped it in front of the boy. The boy picked it up and threw it hard into the woods. Biscuit ran as fast as the wind and brought the stick back. After the fifth time, the boy felt less mad.
When they took a rest the boy said, “I don’t feel mad anymore.”
“I know,” said Biscuit. “Every time I ran after a stick, I took a little of your mad with me and buried it in the trees. Then I brought back some happiness for you. That’s why I ran so fast. It’s best when it’s still fresh.”
They played all day until they were both so tired, they fell asleep in the sun. When they woke up, it was time for the boy to go home.
“Come back anytime you want to play,” said Biscuit.
When the boy got to his house, he could hear his mom and dad in the living room laughing and laughing. He took a deep breath. “I hope it’s the kind of laughing that stays laughing, not the kind that turns into crying and yelling,” he thought as he opened the door.
“Get me another beer,” his dad said to the boy.
“One for me too,” his mom said.
He went to the kitchen and looked in the fridge. There was only one beer left and he was worried. That was not enough for both of them. Who should get it? He stood and thought for a minute then opened the kitchen door. He went outside to the garage out back and closed the door behind him. He took a deep breath and opened the can. Down the floor drain it went, glug glug glug. Then he threw the can in the garbage and rode his bike to the library. His mom and dad could take care of themselves.