It wasn’t that he didn’t like his job; in fact, he’d be the first to admit he’d been damn lucky with his daily delivery route. A steady supply of dried kindling was always in demand to those bound in a treeless city. For three years he’d provided the kindling runs. He knew the exact date he started. It was his thirteenth birthday. His father had given him an old push wagon that day and said, “Son, you ain’t really going to amount to much. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t saying you’re a dimwit, but you got some serious limitations.”
The man paused as his son’s lower lip began to tremble. “Listen here, stop that! There ain’t no reason to get all weepy over this, I’m going to help you; that’s why I’m giving you this here wagon, to give you a way earn an honest day’s wage.”
Mortimer McNettle had earned an honest day’s wage ever since. In fact, over the past three years he’d built himself quite a successful route. Surely his late father would be surprised that someone with such serious limitations could be so successful. His New Babbage clientele included many of the finer homes in the city; the wealthy owners knowing he would never peddle just any old scrap wood; his was always well-aged wood, split thin and bundled dry.
So, for all his success with the kindling business, he had to wonder why he wished he were just about anywhere else but here.
“I can’t really say why I’m so bored,” he said to Ralphie not long ago. It was early in the morning, over at the millworks, where he and the other kindling boys gathered the broken cedar shingles the mill couldn’t sell. “I just feel like there’s more to it than running kindling. I see them big houses and I think to myself how I want to be the one living inside them. Those should be my houses.”
Ralphie seemed to be doing his best to ignore Mortimer.
“I run the wood right inside those big, fancy, homes” Mortimer continued. “I ain’t never stole nothing. But I see what they’ve got. And some of the girls I’ve seen in those houses—sweet, holy Builder, Ralphie, even a shrimp like you’d puff up like a peacock.”
“Listen, Mortimer, I’m not really your friend,” said Ralphie, “You’re a crazy git that undercuts all the rest of us. Truth be told you’re a real prick, so don’t burden me no more with all this personal crap about being bored.”
Had Mortimer the benefit of hindsight he’d likely not have beat Ralphie to the degree he did. But he had that volatile temperament, of the kind where he angered easily. When he was in one of those rages, he’d often snap to violence. With Ralphie that morning he knew he went too far; he didn’t really intend to put that sack of festering turd in the hospital. On the upside, however, it bought him a hell of a lot more respect amongst the other kindling boys.