Little Rob in our neighborhood wanders over to any dad--head under the hood, yanking on a lawnmower, smoking on the front lawn with other men. Rob's looking for his father--his own divorced his wife, and Rob lives with her and his grandmother, her Italian better than her English, her hands full with a wired little monkey of a grandson: I've never seen anything climb a tree faster than Rob, especially when a dog barks suddenly--he's a nervous little guy. But I've seen him settle disputes among the kids, the only grownup in the bunch.
He made us a little metal catch-all dish at the park's day camp: smoky turquoise and green and cobalt blue, with little sparks of gold where he'd randomly hammered at it to chart a lopsided starry sky glazed like an archaeological find, a small treasure we keep on the shelf above the kitchen sink and fill with loose buttons and paper clips and spare change and a stray baby tooth. My son admires him, I think: somehow free without a father, and old in his head--but his older brother is a real hoodlum, gone for days sometimes, tolerant of the little kids but a little scary. Not his brother's friend, even though I've heard that the mere mention of his name sends schoolyard bullies packing.
I saw Rob and my son and another boy walking up the street, their arms around each others' shoulders, like the boys in Stand by Me who go over the river and through the woods to see the dead boy, not such a long walk after all to the lonely place where they end up.