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AMERICAN STORIES - The Pipe

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Our story this week is called "The Pipe". It was written by Cathleen Weathersby. Here is Shep O'Neal with the story.

Mr. Dow's store was widely known throughout the neighborhood. It sold many different things. Both old and young came here to shop for special items. They could find key chains, large and small wallets to hold coins and paper money, packs of playing cards, pins and sewing needles, cigarettes and pipes, and a great many other items. They were nicely placed on the shelves.

Every day after school, little Joey came to the store to look around. He loved to look at the pipes. One pipe especially caught his eye. He kept staring at it every time he came back to the store. He could not take his eyes off it. He imagined that some day he would be a grown man and could smoke a pipe, just like this one.

He did not remember his father, but he knew his Dad smoked a pipe. Joey reached out and touched the pipe. He ran a finger along its stem. He kept thinking that when he was old enough, he would go to work and his mother could stay home. He would not have to wait three hours after school until she came home from her job. He would leave his job and go straight home. His mother would be there, and supper would be ready waiting for him. After supper they would talk. He would sit back and smoke his pipe as his father did. It was a warm picture of the two of them and their life together. It was an exciting dream. Oh, why, he wondered, did it take so long to grow up and take his father's place?

He looked around the store. Nobody was looking. He put the bowl of the pipe in his hand. He just wanted to get the feel of it, nothing more. He looked at it with intense pleasure. He was lost in his dream, wishing he could be like his father, a father he tried hard to remember.

Suddenly he was shocked out of his dream. He heard footsteps behind him. He was frightened, he turned around quickly; it was Mr. Dow, the friendly store owner. Joey was unable to move. "Hello, Joey." Mr. Dow said and kept on working. Joey struggled to answer but could not get his voice up. He swallowed and smiled weakly as Mr. Dow walked away.

Joey's thoughts became unclear. Did Mr. Dow see the pipe in his hand? Was he suspicious? Suddenly the store seemed extremely warm. Joey watched his feet begin to move and take him out of the store. What he was doing was not clear to him. He felt the cool air outside and it was good, yet he felt an emptiness inside himself. Like one walking in his sleep, he moved toward the playground. He looked around and saw the empty swings; he slipped into one and leaned against its chain. The cold metal links hurt his side.

Sitting on the swing, he gave the ground a push with one foot. A sharp pain caught him in the stomach. He almost cried but he stopped himself. He knew it was the pipe he felt. He had walked out of the store with it. A feeling of terror now raced through him. He had betrayed his mother. He had not obeyed one of God's commandments. Had he been seen? He had stolen, but he had not really meant to steal. It all happened so quickly. He had wanted only to grow up. But now he did not feel grown-up at all. The swing slowed. He did not want to swing, but he continued to sit there because he had no other place to go.

Joey shook in the cold of the evening air. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pipe. He held the bowl of the pipe in his hand and stared at it. He could not get his thoughts straight. Nothing seemed right. Everything was wrong. He looked carefully around the playground. No one could be seen. Joey looked down at his dirty brown shoes, and wondered if Mr. Dow had called the police. They would come looking for him. Where were they? He raised his head high enough to see between the trees to the street. No police car was in sight. Perhaps the police were waiting for him at home. Maybe a police car was parked in front of his house. All sortts of thoughts raced through his head. He could say he did not take the pipe. No one had seen him do it. No one would ever know that he had stolen it. Still he himself would know that he did and God would know.

Joey swung high in the air and leaned back. He wondered if God ever forgot about little boys' taking things, especially when they had not meant to do so. Joey at last stopped the swing's movement. Usually he liked to swing high in the air, higher than anybody else in the world. But now he did not want to swing at all. He felt sick, his head ached and his sweater seemed too tight. He was sure he even looked different.

Joey looked at the ground and tried hard to clear his thoughts. He could hide the pipe. He could throw it away. He could send Mr. Dow the money for it. His thoughts went around in the same circle again and again. He felt sick all over.

The sun was slipping down through the trees and it was time to go home. Time was running out. His mother would look at him and she would know. She always knew. A hot tear ran down his cheek. She trusted him, this was the first year she had left him alone for three hours between school and the time she got home from work. She had to work. He knew that. She had to work to buy his clothes and to pay for their food and for a place to live. He remembered the nice way she said, "You are a little man now, Joey." It made him sad when his mother's words came back to him, she trusted him.

Remembering this, he felt as if someone had stuck a sharp stick into his side. Her trust in him was all what he could think about now. It drove everything else from his mind. She trusted me, he kept saying to himself. She trusted me; this was most important. Next to this, the pipe and its magic power meant nothing. His dreams of growing up meant nothing.

Joey looked at the long shadows coming toward him. He now knew what he had to do. And he was in a hurry to get it done. He jumped out of the swing and started running. When he took the pipe, he left the store with slow unsure steps. Now his feet were quick, decisive, taking him straight back to the store like an arrow. He ran along the sidewalk, pulling in the cold air through his open mouth. He was out of breath when he reached the store.

Mr. Dow was just inside the door, the big man smiled. Joey wished he had not. Somehow, that friendly smile made it more difficult for Joey to do what he wanted to do. Joey was lost for a moment. His feet felt heavy. Suddenly, blindly, he held out the pipe. His voice struggled to come out from deep inside a painful chest:

"Mr. Dow," he said at last, "I didn't mean to take it."

"Thanks, Joey." Mr. Dow said as he gently took the pipe from the boy's outstretched hand.

"How about staying around and helping me close up shop?"

Joey felt Mr. Dow's big hand on his shoulder. And Joey felt his shoulders had become a little broader and stronger.


You have heard the American story "The Pipe". It was written by Cathleen Weathersby and adapted for Special English by Harold Burman. It was published in "The Anthology of Short Stories" (copyright by Robert Oberfirst, all rights reserved). Your narrator was Shep O'neal. For VOA Special English, this is Susan Clark.

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