Issue 159: 2018 06 21: Kids in America

21 June 2018

Kids In America

With apologies to Mark Twain.

By Neil Tidmarsh

So there I was, ‘bout midnight, standin’ in the pumpkin patch out back of Tom’s Aunt Polly’s house, throwin’ stones at Tom’s window to wake him up.  Soon enough, up slides Tom’s window and out pops Tom’s head.

“That you, Huck?” says Tom, whispering but kind of loud all the same.

“Hush a bit there, Tom” says I.  “I know you like a show, but I don’t want nobody seeing us an’ draggin’ me back to the Widow Douglas and all.”

“What?” Tom hisses out louder’n ever.  “You’re running away?  Again?”

“Sure am,” says I.  “Reckon I’ve had just ‘bout enough of the Widow trying to sivilize me.  So here I am, saying goodbye to my pal Tom Sawyer afore I lit off downriver, putting St Petersburg, Missouri, way behind me just as fast as I can.”

“Now you hold on there, Huckleberry Finn,” says Tom, “cause I’m coming with you!”

Tom’s head disappeared for a moment, then out came Tom, fully dressed, out of his window and down the drainpipe.  “I’m running away too,” he says.  “Cause I’m scared.  Really scared.”

Now, this weren’t like Tom.  Tom, now, he likes an adventure, a bit of fun, he likes a big show and a big drama.  But he ain’t never scared.  He’s as brave as a Sioux chief.  So I didn’t believe him at first.  “What’s this, Tom?” says I, laughing.  “More of your play acting?”

“No.  I’m really scared.  This ain’t no country for kids no more.  They’re locking kids up now, I tell you!  Taking them from their ma’s and pa’s and putting them in cages!  In prisons!  And leaving them there!  I tell you, I’m running away before they come for me and take me away from Aunt Polly and lock me up in a cage!”

Well, I still laughed.  “Come on, Tom, quit the play-acting; that don’t happen in the USA.  I mean, even when they took me away from my pa, ’cause he was a drunkard an’ all and beat me black and blue, they didn’t put me in a cage.  They sent me to live with the Widow Douglas, who’s kind enough, I s’pose, even if she does try to sivilize me.  An’ you an’ your brother Sid, they let you live with your Aunt Polly, didn’t they, and ain’t she just the sweetest and kindest lady to look after poor orphans who don’t have no ma and pa?”  But I could see ol’ Tom grittin’ his teeth, and I began to believe him.

“Listen” he says.  “You ain’t seen the newspapers this week, cause you ain’t interested in sivilisation.  But it’s true, I’m telling you!  An’ any country that takes kids away from their ma’s and pa’s an’ locks them up in cages ain’t sivilized no more, an’ I don’t want to live here no more, and I don’t want to be locked up, and I’m scared!  So let’s git goin’ South down the ol’ Mississippi jus’ as fast as we can, like you says!”

Well, that put the wind up me, all right, so off we went, runnin’ for the river so fast I reckon not even a wild mustang could ‘a caught us.  We stopped to get our breath jus’ past the schoolhouse, and Tom looks up at it and I could see his face goin’ even whiter in the moonlight.

“An’ there was somethin’ else this week,” he says.  “Somethin’ at school.  The teachers, they’re getting’ in new big medical kits, army medical kits, full of stuff soldiers carry into battle with ‘em.  Stuff to stop ‘em bleeding to death when they’ve been shot, stuff like – what do they call ‘em? – tornikets or someth’n’, an’ cow-gul-ants, an’ vented seals for chest wounds.  An’ that’s not all – all us older kids are bein’ given bullet-proof shields made of Kevlar, to fit in our school-bags.  I tell you, goin’ to school these days is almost as scary as being locked in a cage!”

Well, I scratched my head at that, real puzzled.  “I don’t understand, Tom. School ain’t a battlefield, is it? An’ you school kids, you ain’t soldiers, are you?”

“Huck” says Tom, “you’re real lucky you don’t go to no school, so you don’t know nothin’ about all this and ain’t been in the danger which regular kids who go to school are a’feared about every day.  Grown ups and big kids going mad and grabbing armfuls of guns and shootin’ up little kids and teachers in school jus’ like they was hunting rabbits out in the woods.  I tell yer, things ain’t sivilised no more.  I know you an’ me, we moan all the time about sivilisation, but I’m beginning to reckon there’s a lot to be said for it, after all.”

Tom falls silent, so off we sets again, an’ he don’t say another word for a long time, like he’s deep in thought.  Well, we arrive at the river, and I splash out through the mud an’ the water to get the raft from where I hid it under some willows, an’ bring it round, and there’s old Tom waitin’ with a funny an’ serious an’ almost grown-up look on his face.

“Well, Tom, what’s worrying you now?  Here we are at the river, here’s the raft, let’s be on our way down the old Mississippi!”

Tom looks funny at me.  “There was something else this week ‘bout kids.  Up in Washington, the House of Representatives have been jawin’ about robot children, ‘bout whether they should be allowed into the country, from Hong Kong an’ China an’ Japan where they’re built, somethin’ ‘bout passing a new law, the – what do they call it? – “Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Paedophile Robots” act, or Creeper Act for short.”

I didn’t understand a word he said, not bein’ schooled like other kids.  I laughed. “Robot kids?  What do grown-ups want with robot kids?”

Tom looks at me even funnier, like he’s going to be sick or somethin’.  “Well, Huck, I don’t fully understan’ it myself, but… it’s grown-up stuff, somethin’ bad an’ monstrous that wicked grown ups get up to.  It’s somethin’ I don’t want to think about, don’t want to talk about…”

I jumped onto the raft.  “Come on, Tom, we don’t have to worry about all that.  Come down river with me, an’ we’ll always be kids!  We won’t ever be grown-up!  We won’t ever have to worry about any of that wicked stuff!”

But Tom shook his head.  “I’ve decided” he said. “I’m not going to run away with you after all.  I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to run away and be a kid forevermore; I’m going to stay here and grow up and put things straight in the grown-up world. There’s a lot of work to do out there, Huck, a lot of battles to be fought by grown-ups, for the sake of kids like us an’ other grown-ups who are just as in need of help as us kids.  That’s what sivilisation is, Huck, and I think it’s worth fighting for.  So I’m going to stay here and grow up and fight for sivilisation.  I’m not going to run away.”

By this time the raft was drifting way from the bank, with me on board and Tom on dry land.  “Good luck, Tom!” I shouted.  “Good luck!” I waved to him, and he waved back, silent like, then he turned away from the river, and began to walk back towards the town.  Then the ol’ Mississippi took the raft and away I went, into the night, down the river, and I couldn’t see Tom no more.



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