|Tough as Nails
Author: Raniki PM
Howard's father made him from scrap metal.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy - Chapters: 2 - Words: 3,375 - Reviews: 1 - Updated: 02-18-13 - Published: 02-16-13 - id: 3101571
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
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Howard and Marcus became friends mostly because proximity made it convenient. Two children can't live in the same building and not become friends, even with an age difference of six years because age differences only matter once puberty hits, when interests change and friendships disintegrate and the whole universe suddenly becomes unfair, cold, random, unfeeling. A big, hostile expanse of darkness where anything can flit in and out of existence for seemingly no reason at all.
But that was many years away.
For now, Marcus and Howard were friends. In a way.
Howard was two and, thus, not much of a conversationalist. But he followed after Marcus like a puppy, sitting close to him, trying to imitate his actions, mouthing along to the words Marcus breathed out, rapid-pace.
Marcus might have been annoyed, initially, with the baby shadow never leaving him alone but if he was, it didn't last long, not when he realized he could use Howard as an excuse to do many ill-advised things because a baby was more likely to knock things over and no one could blame a baby for doing anything because babies couldn't help it, just like mental people like Artie Laidler couldn't help it, or alcoholics, or druggies or the mob because in the talkies and the comics, the mob boss always said, "You leave me no choice," and Marcus can sympathize with that, sort of.
The adults grew wise to Marcus pretty fast and knew for a fact that it couldn't be feeble little Howard who was running around breaking things or stealing candy or scribbling on walls but the thing was, they couldn't prove it was Marcus doing it either, and that was all Marcus really needed.
"You're pretty dumb for a robot," Marcus told Howard, ruffling his hair, "but you come in handy."
"I don't like that Laidler boy," Martha told Marcus when he had come home carrying Howard on his shoulders. "His father's a recluse and he doesn't blink enough and he barely talks. You were babbling non-stop when you were two and he hardly ever says anything. Howard," she said, looking to him, and Howard bent down a little, trying to hide in Marcus' hair and doing a poor job of it, "how are you."
"Good," Howard said.
"How's you father?"
"I haven't seen him for a while. Do you have groceries at home?"
"Mrs. Edelstein made casserole."
Martha's mouth pinched at that, returning to stirring her stew, taking her eyes off him. "Marcus, just put him down and—you're tracking dirt into the apartment! How many times—"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, jeez!" Marcus said, kicking off his shoes.
He left them by the door and proceeded to take off his shirt because propriety wasn't necessary in one's own home. It was hot, a sticky sort of hotness that made breathing difficult and caused the air around you to wiggle and flow in waves.
Howard attempted to follow his example, but couldn't quite get his shirt up over his head.
"Take him back home first, quick, before your father gets home," Martha said. "You can't just up and kidnap that boy so you can cart him around wherever you go."
"C'mon, Howie," Marcus said, extending a hand. Howard held onto his index finger, and followed him out the door, sparing Martha one last look goodbye.
"Here's your kid," Marcus said, opening Artie's door because it seemed to always be unlocked, either because Artie wasn't the paranoid sort and didn't believe in closing himself off, locking himself away from the rest of his neighbours, or, the more likely scenario: out of laziness or forgetfulness, he simply forgot to lock up. "You're gonna get robbed one day, Mr. Laidler," Marcus said, like he often did.
Artie was sitting at the kitchen table, a notebook in front of him, a pen in one hand and a bottle in the other.
"Is he just gonna power down?" Marcus asked, leading Howard over to the table.
Artie took a drink from the bottle—wrapped in a brown paper bag for some reason, like hiding it from Howard would make a difference or maybe he was hiding it form himself, or perhaps because this was the era of prohibition, he was overly paranoid, so paranoid that enjoying moonshine in his own home was too much of a risk—and then, he lifted the pen to scribble off something he wrote, pressing against the paper so hard it rips. "Oh, no, he doesn't power down," Artie said, not looking at him, eyes on the notebook.
Marcus seemed excited by the prospect of that. He was probably dreaming up nighttime adventures, of opening a window and sneaking off into the night, never needing sleep, wandering quiet, empty streets, with flickering streetlamps lighting his way, mosquitoes buzzing around the lamps and then buzzing around him, following him on his journey to rediscover the city, because every place on earth was different at night, took on new forms and shapes and sounds and held new types of people. The people who came out at night would be eccentric and fun—they'd follow Marcus and his mosquitoes and they'd point out what there was to see.
"You mean he's always awake?" This was an important piece of information—and it was odd that it took two years to learn of it.
"Oh, no," Artie said. "He sleeps."
Marcus' shoulders slumped. "So he powers down."
"No. He sleeps."
And sometimes Marcus wonders if the unborn mechanical corpse he saw in that hollowed old garage two years ago was a dream, but since he was a child and since being a child allowed him to choose the fantastical over the rational, he always chastised himself and decided Howard was definitely a mechanical boy.
But it seemed Artie had forgotten what he had birthed—or, at least, what his tools had birthed—and was under the impression Howard was a real boy, with a soul and all, not just a metal Pinocchio without the conspicuous nose.
And, Marcus supposed, it'd be easy to forget what Howard was, since he had a real name and not something like A3B42, and he grew up and had eyelashes that looked like real hair, and talked and wasn't smart and was completely boring, just like anyone else.
"Okay then, Mr. Laidler," Marcus said, with the air of an adult humouring a child. "And bye, kid," he said, turning around.
Howard watched him leave, getting up to follow him to the door (always polite, although it was anyone's guess where this perceived politeness came from).
When the door closed behind him, Howard stared at it for the longest time.
Artie continued scribbling in his notebook. "You hungry, buddy?"
"Mrs. Edelstein made casserole."
Howard wasn't the type to complain about boredom, which was good, since Artie wasn't the type to indulge children who complained about boredom; Howard would amuse himself with whatever was around.
Presently, Whatever Was Around was the funnies in a newspaper clipping—they were coloured, and although Howard couldn't read yet, they were bright and full of movement and impossible things, and if there was one thing Howard loved, it was Impossible Things. He crawled over the newspaper, which was splayed across the stained hardwood.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Edelstein was talking to Mr. Hyde, one floor down. "He isn't the kind of man that can raise a boy on his own. Brought that boy home and then just ignores him. What's the point in that? He could've left him at an orphanage."
"Ah, Diane. What's the point of anything that man does? He works a few shifts in the factory, drinks Frank's bathtub booze, and then locks himself away. Nothing productive. Nothing good."
"I'm just thankful little Howard's got Marcus to play with. Has friends like a normal child."
And one floor up, Artie stopped his scribbling and showed Howard what he had drawn. "See that? I know you've never seen mountains like these, so I want you to look at this. What'd'you think?"
Howard bounced in spot a little, delighted, and took the little slip of paper from Artie. He'd take it to his little corner of the bedroom and place it under his cot with all the rest.