Max and the Midnight Fiddleheads
AFTER dinner, Max sat restlessly by the kitchen window waiting for the sun to set. It took a long time now with May's lingering days. Finally, when the vivid oranges collapsed into a thin purple line, the rim of night stretched across the sky. It was time. He had raced 20 yards toward Mr. Rosiello's, when the screen door slammed behind him.Skip to next paragraph
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It had been about 10 days since his Italian neighbor announced, "Talking Moose is coming to town! He will be at my house next Friday after sunset. He wants to meet you."
Max knew nearly nothing about Talking Moose - except that he sometimes came to Hallowell to see relatives.
"He is one of the few full-blood Wabanaki Indians," Mr. Rosiello said. "You will be lucky to meet him."
During the last week, grand visions of a tall, rugged-faced man with strange speech and a powerful presence developed in Max's imagination. All the Indians Max knew from movies and books merged into one, real man. Meeting Talking Moose would be the event of Max's life. But, this morning, when he eagerly told school friends about it, Jason retorted, "Talking Moose? My dad says that's just a made-up name. His name's always been Louie. Anyway, he's just a basketmaker. And he works over at Elvin's every summ er - been pickin' corn there since before we were born."
Now, as Max rounded Mr. Rosiello's porch, doubts churned in his mind. From his porch rocker Mr. Rosiello waved hello. "Maxie! Talking Moose has to guard his fiddlehead field against trespassers tonight - it's fiddlehead season, you know. We're going with him."
Before Max could ask "What are fiddleheads?" Mr. Rosiello rocked up to a standing position, threw Max a wadded sleeping bag, and strode right past him, calling, "Moose!" When Max turned around, he met a heavy-stepping man with deep, close-set eyes, and straight, black hair. Three wood-splint baskets dangled from his arms. But when the Indian's eyes met Max's, he seemed shy and said softly, "I'm Louie."
A long pause swelled between them. "This is Max," said Mr. Rosiello finally, "the boy I told you about."
I thought he would at least wear a leather shirt and silver rings, or feathers, thought Max. He just looks regular in those old jeans and turtleneck. He felt all his precious expectations drain away. Disgusted with himself for believing Mr. Rosiello, he thought, that crazy man always sees things no one else does with those glasses of his. Now he sees "Talking Moose" when everyone knows it's just Louie.
Y now, Max wouldn't trade one of his holey socks to know what fiddleheads were. But Mr. Rosiello was already following Louie toward the vacant lot. And soon Max was traipsing behind. As they made their way down to the river, Max heard Louie telling about his uncle's fiddlehead field.
"It was always a secret field until now. My ancestors picked fiddleheads there for centuries. But now fiddleheads have become white man's food. Twice this week someone picked the field clean. Must be folks selling to the big supermarkets. I heard they get $3 a pound. So now I have to guard the field."
As they hiked south along the river, the long forgotten smell of crushed, damp grass rose from Max's steps. He suddenly realized he couldn't wait for summer. Feeling unexpectedly better, he thought about guarding the field. Movies began to run wild through his mind, and Max saw himself waving a thick branch as he ordered rowdy invaders off the field. His usually squeaky voice would turn deep and menacing as prankster-kids ran away before he could lecture them. Then he conjured up a minor skirmish between
himself and two or three out-of-town rogues. He wouldn't hurt them, but, after all, he did have four karate lessons under his belt. OK, thought the pumped-up Max, I'm ready for THIS adventure.