Eight-year-old Todd and his new friend Situs carry their handmade poles and a string of small fish into the yard where Cynthia Paisler is hanging the wash. Ned and baby Levitt play in the grass near her feet. “Well, my mighty fishermen return victorious.”
“Ah, Ma, these ain’t so many,” protests Todd.
“But you two boys did well to get that many with the dry season already set in.”
“A lot of ’em are Site’s.”
That scrawny boy pushes his end of the string of fish into Todd’s hand. “Nah, you take ’em, Mrs. Paisler. I had the fun, and ‘sides, it’s your crick.”
“That is generous of you, young man. You can clean them later, Todd, but right now you both look hungry. Tell you what, if you’ll stir the tomato soup for me, you can sample some. And Frank bought us some soda crackers in town.”
“With the little holes?” Todd asks, eyes bright. “Great.”
“And you might take Ned in with you. This little guy is always ready for a snack.”
“Ah, Ma,” Todd protests, but Situs nods readily.
“I gots cousins about his size. I know just how to help him, Mrs. Paisler.”
She motions for Ned to run and join them. The three disappear into the house. In the kitchen, Todd drags his chair over so he can climb up beside the stove. But when Situs starts to pull a chair over, Ned stands in his way, wagging an accusatory finger.
“You’re the guest. You gotta sit there ‘n’ wait till Twig gets the soup sloshed into some bowls.”
Todd looks back surprised when Situs snaps, “I know how a guest’s supposed to behave. We get guests at my house, too, you know.”
“It’s okay, Ned,” Todd soothes. “Site’s more a buddy then a guest. Whyn’t ya both bring chairs over so we can show him the star?”
“We gonna have a star, Twig?”
“Twig?” Situs chuckles.
“Yeah, that’s his real name.”
“That’s my nickname, Dopey.”
“What star?” Situs asks to stop the brothers’ argument.
Todd lifts the ladle out of the pot and points as the boys climb up. “Soup makes a star when there’s tomatoes in there.”
Sure enough, as the soup reorganizes its simmering, the tomato froth roils in from the edges, forming a writhing star in the center.
“Jeepers, will you look at that?” Situs yelps.
“And Ma makes us butter worms, too,” Ned boasts.
“Butter worms? Yuk. You eat ‘em?”
“Show him, Ned!”
Rather than try to explain, Ned hops down and runs to the counter to wait for Todd to hand him two cracker squares from the cardboard box. Todd carries over the freshly churned butter and lets Ned dive in with his knife to set a glob of sweet yellow on one of his squares.
Carefully setting a second soda cracker square on top of the butter, Ned squeezes down slowly until yellow ‘worms’ ooze out of the tiny holes in the cracker, twisting and dancing as they rise.
“Wow!” Situs gasps, and builds and squeezes his own odd stack. The brothers laugh as Situs stuffs crackers and butter into his mouth and grins with glistening lips. “Best worms I ever tasted!”