Scooter’s People by Jason M. Thornberry

I was eleven when Scooter’s people moved next door. Scooter’s father, Butch, was a plumber and a cowboy, volunteering with the sheriff’s mounted posse unit. Linda was Scooter’s stay-at-home mother, looking after a pregnant springer spaniel. Krista and Thomas were Scooter’s teenage siblings. I was too young for their company. Four years old, Scooter was too young for mine.

Scooter never wore shoes. Or a shirt. From hairline to toenails, he was sunburnt. His nose was a leaky faucet. Scooter wore brown eyes; his orange hair scooped into exclamation points. He hung out with my stepmother in the backyard garden, quizzing her.

“What’s that?” he asked, grubby finger extended.

My stepmother—I called her Moms—sighed: “That’s another tomato.”

Scooter put the finger back in his dripping nose. “What color is it?”

The tomato, like the others he’d asked about, was red. Moms said it was yellow.

“And what’s that?”


“What color is it?”


Moms was silently deputized as Scooter’s babysitter. “And,” she said, “he won’t leave me the hell alone.”

Aside from Scooter, his people kept to themselves. Linda rarely went outside, feeding her expectant dog, ensuring its comfort on a blanket in the kitchen. Its name was Molly. “Molly’s more pregnant every day,” Scooter said. Away in his work truck or off riding a feisty orange stallion, I seldom saw Butch. Plotting my course through the sixth grade, I had little reason to contemplate his precarious finances. I learned, years later, Butch could barely afford their new house.

When I visited that house, the teenagers steered clear of their parents and each other.

Krista was fourteen and a valley girl. “You know, she said, “like the song.” When I got her to find it on the radio—a Frank Zappa novelty tune—I realized she was right. “Totally right,” she corrected me. Krista wore baggy sweaters (bright burgundy, indigo, hot pink), matching lipstick, and wide hoop earrings; her blonde bangs teased, the rest cut squarely above her shoulders. My crush on Krista developed as quickly as the Polaroid of her in my head. But she already had a boyfriend. “Plus,” she said, wrinkling her nose, “you’re, like, in elementary school. Gag me with a spoon.”

I went outside to check on her older brother. Thomas was fifteen with a cowlicky brown mullet and Scooter’s freckles. He wore a greyish knitted poncho sweater and batted a hacky sack in the backyard. When I said hello, Thomas responded with Sean Penn’s nasal surfer brogue from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He passed the sack to me, and I swatted it with the side of my foot. “No way,” he said. “Where’d you learn to kick like that?” I played soccer. “That’s totally awesome,” he said. We hackeyed the sack back and forth a few minutes.

“Y’wanna try summa this?” he asked, opening a pouch of chewing tobacco resembling used coffee grounds. He dropped some into my hand. I wondered if he’d let me be his friend now. “Y’gotta stick it right here,” he said, pulling down his lower lip where he’d preserved a pinch of the brown stuff against his gums. My lip bulging, I struggled to keep the damp tobacco in place, tasting it, feeling its warmth from his back pocket.

We returned to our game, bouncing the sack on our knees, passing it, dropping it, retrieving it, keeping it aloft. After a few minutes, I felt strange. Thomas said, “Aw, that’s the buzz, little man.” I tried to spit like he did but accidentally swallowed the tobacco instead. He clapped me on the back as I gagged. “S’all right. Next time, dude,” Thomas said. I went home, embarrassed and sick to my stomach.

Initially reclusive, Scooter’s people were generous. When Molly gave birth to a large litter of puppies, they gave us one. We christened him Bandit because of his markings—a brown mask across his eyes. He was Moms’s favorite.

Bandit visited Molly and the other pups, returning with items he’d found in the house. I don’t know how he got inside, but I’d see him happily gnawing one of Linda’s large white bras beneath our kitchen window. He stole Linda’s black wig but didn’t like how it tasted. Moms lowered the matted clump into a wastebasket beneath the kitchen sink, rinsing puppy saliva from her hands. Another day, Bandit dragged home a two-pound roast bigger than him. Our other dogs took turns licking the boulder of meat as it thawed beside a baby tree in our backyard.

I was thirteen when Butch’s plumbing company went belly up, and he skipped town, taking the rest of Scooter’s people with him.



Jason M. Thornberry’s writing appears in JMWWSouth Florida Poetry JournalLos Angeles Review of BooksNorth Dakota QuarterlyHarbor Review, and elsewhere. He was recently nominated for Best of the Net. Assaulted by strangers, Jason suffered a traumatic brain injury. Relearning to walk and speak—and navigating post-traumatic epilepsy—Jason earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University. He’s currently seeking a home for his first novel. Jason lives in Seattle with his wife and dog and teaches writing at Seattle Pacific University.