Arlen Needs a Home by Mary Ellen Gambutti

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Saturday morning before Easter, 1958, Dad helps a little boy, who holds a brown paper bag, out of our Buick. Mom and I have stepped outside to greet them. Dad introduces Arlen to Mom and me. He is from the big stone orphanage next to our elementary school. We’re all smiling and saying hi, and I see Arlen’s two front teeth are missing, like mine. He’s so little, probably six like me and his voice is small and southern. He talks like other kids in my class; the ones I’ve met of the fifty.

I got my long ringlets cut off in New York after kindergarten, because Mom said it would be hot down here. Dad is Air Force, and left for Tokyo after we moved to Victoria. He stayed there for ten months, while I stayed here with Mom to go to school. Now he’s back until we move again. Maybe Arlen will stay with us.

Arlen and I take turns riding my new blue J.C. Higgins Dad got me. We play with my Fox Terrier, Rascals. Mom calls us in for baloney sandwiches and glasses of milk. Later, she cooks supper. We say grace, and eat like we’re family. I’m happy, and Mom and Dad and Arlen look happy.

At bath time, Mom helps me. Then Dad helps Arlen run his water to take his bath. Arlen brushes his teeth with the toothbrush from his paper bag. He also has P.J.’s and a small square blanket in his bag, but Mom says he can wear the pajamas with cowboys she has for him. He climbs into the pull-out couch she made up for him with sheets, blanket and pillow. We say goodnight, and I get into my bed and wish. I’ll never be lonely if Arlen lives with us.

Dad takes pictures of Arlen, me and Mom in our Easter clothes, standing beside our brick duplex. There’s even a picture of Rascals with us kids. Big baskets with green synthetic grass hold foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies, and dressed up cloth bunnies; a girl for me and a boy for Arlen. We hold our baskets up for the picture. His plaid shirt tail keeps coming out of his trousers. Maybe, if I wish hard enough–I know Mom would take good care of Arlen. She could buy him clothes for church, school and play. We could be like brother and sister.


When I turned six, Dad told me I was adopted as a baby. He stood at the head of my bed, and Mom stood at the foot, and he said I had no one. He said the people I came from died, that he and Mom wanted a baby, so they brought me home to their apartment in South Carolina. Dad said my big baby doll should be named Michael, the name he said he would have given a baby he wanted to keep; the boy in the crib next to me in the infant home. I wondered if Dad meant he wanted the boy instead of me.


After Mass, we eat bacon and eggs, then our chocolate bunnies. We hide and hunt plastic eggs filled with jelly beans. I love Arlen, and hope he’ll live with us. We might have wished it together.

But, Monday morning Dad and Arlen get back into the Buick. Mom says he must return to “the home,” and tells me to say goodbye. My hot tears fall, I feel confused and disappointed Arlen isn’t staying. “Arlen’s sad. It’s not right to send him back,” I say. My parents don’t explain. And I worry, What if I have to go to the orphanage? What if it doesn’t work out for me, either? Why did Arlen get put in there? Is Arlen’s family dead, too?


Mary Ellen Gambutti’s stories appear, or are forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, Remembered Arts Journal, Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, Thousand and One Stories, Halcyon Days, NatureWriting, PostCard Shorts, Memoir Magazine, Haibun Today, Amethyst Review, Soft Cartel, CarpeArte, Borrowed Solace, Mused, Drabble. Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back is her short memoir. She and her husband live in Sarasota, Florida, with their rescued Chihuahua, Max.

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