We Hid Jonah by June Wolfman

Noah and his buddies are innocently playing video games when their peace - and innocence - is interrupted by their friend Jonah.

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We hid Jonah. Saturday, three of us, me Ben and Leon, were gathered in my room playing video games when Jonah climbed up the treehouse and along the branch and knocked on my window - the usual entry. I opened the window and immediately saw that Jonah was crying. I'd never seen Jonah cry. Another thing I noticed was a big red, swollen handprint on his cheek.

"Hide me, Noah," Jonah said.

"Hurry," I said, and pulled him into my room.

Jonah sat down heavy on my bed, the springs creaked, his backpack pulled him slightly backwards. The backpack gave me the idea that Jonah was not running from a bully; he was running away from home.

"What happened," Ben asked, pausing the video game.

"My Uncle Jack is visiting, that asshole," said Jonah.

"Did he hit you?" I asked, looking at the handprint on Jonah's face.

"I don't want to talk about it. I just can't go home," Jonah said, and he wiped tears from his face, shed his backpack and stood up.

"Where should we hide him?" Ben asked.

"Ummm... there are a million places here in your room," said Leon.

My room is a safe haven. You see, a few months ago, I recovered from leukemia, and during the time I was ill, my parents created a fantastic room for me in the attic, and a treehouse in the tree leading up to the room. The room is the size of a small Dollar Store. There are a zillion places to hide someone. I have huge drawers under my bunkbed, two chests for my sports stuff, a cargo net hanging from the ceiling that you can climb into and hide amongst pillows like some kind of giant hammock. If we weren't such big kids - I'm almost eleven - we could play a hell of a game of hide and seek in my room.

"Let's get him and his backpack into the cargo net," I said.

"What happened?" Leon pressed.

I picked up Jonah's backpack because Jonah's hands were shaking.

"My uncle... he... um... he sort of... well... he sort of touched me. When I told my father, my dad slapped me. He didn't believe me. Uncle Jack is staying for two more days. You have to hide me for those two days. I absolutely can't go back there."

We all circled Jonah.

"You mean your uncle hit you?" I asked.

Jonah leaned from left foot to right foot and back. He said, "No, it was like that scouts leader two years ago."

"Crap," said Leon, "Don't worry. Noah's parents never snoop around up here."

"First of all, let me get your backpack up in the net," I said. "Sheesh, what's in it?" It was like he put rocks in it.

"Some clothes, toothbrush, comb, laptop... and just stuff," he said.

We searched my room's ceiling, the net, for the best place to stash Jonah's backpack. We picked a spot. I climbed the netting, Jonah's backpack on my back. My legs ached from the extra weight. See, I'm not so strong yet, since the treatment. I swung up top and gathered pillows and put them under and over the backpack.

Ever since the doctors told my parents I might not make it, they never look for trouble. They don't ask about my grades or make me clean my room. Jonah's backpack was fine there. Would Jonah be okay up there?

"So, your dad just thought you were making shit up?" Ben asked.

"Dad said, 'That's a filthy lie,'" and he slapped me so hard my neck cracked. See my uncle and I don't get along. He took my room to stay in. He messed with my dog. He mocks me. So, my uncle and I have been at it since he came. Guess my dad thought I was getting my uncle back. Guess that's what he figured anyway..."

The backpack was safely stored, so now we had to hide Jonah up there.

We heard a doorbell.

"Quick!" I whispered, "Climb up there, fast!" I gave Jonah a quick boost and he scrambled up and put pillows under and over himself.

"Excuse me," we heard Jonah's father saying downstairs, "but have you seen my son?"

"Hi Mr. Leonard," my mother said. "No, I haven't seen him. Is there a problem?"

There was talking that was less loud. We couldn't hear it.

"Put on the video games like normal," whispered Ben.

We did. We all sat around my huge monitor. You get huge monitors when you get leukemia. We heard steps on the stairs coming toward my room. I could tell it was two adults. Damn, I thought. My dad is not home, so that must be my mom and Jonah's dad!

We played the game and acted all into it.

"Kill the blue wizard," yelled Leon... for show.

The door opened.

"Hey guys," said Jonah's dad, "have you seen Jonah?"

"No," I said. "Is everything okay?" I asked that because it would be weird if I didn't ask it. Jonah's dad had never been in my room. He looked all around.

He rubbed his hair and his beard.

"Well, if you do see him," he said, "tell him Uncle Jack left, and tell him I'm an asshole." Then, Jonah's dad started to cry, which made me scared as hell. I didn't know grownups cried.

There was silence for what seemed like a long time. It dragged and dragged on. Jonah's dad just stood there crying. Jonah wasn't having it, I guessed, so I just waited for Jonah's dad to leave already.

Then we heard Jonah cry softly up in the cargo net.

"Son, let's go home," said Jonah's dad, looking up to where Jonah was.

Jonah climbed down. There was a shadow of a bruise on his cheek. I clambered up into the cargo net and lowered Jonah's backpack.

After the adults and Jonah left, we all played video games again, but we kept messing up. I got killed several times on level 4 and I'm on level 6 already. We wanted to talk about it, but we didn't want to talk about it. So, we just played like shit. Everyone went home. And that is the day we hid Jonah.

47 comments:

  1. This is a great coming of age story, June. I have never seen anyone write on such a topic so succinctly. All characters and their inner conflicts are covered in so few words. I am in awe...

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  2. An excellent snapshot in the life of a child. Foremost was the endearing first person narration in the voice of an eleven year old. I could readily accept that a child was recounting an event in his life. Child-thought was everywhere: “…there are a million places (to hide someone) here in your room…” not understanding that Noah’s room couldn’t possibly withstand the scrutiny of a curious adult. Also, speaking of his PC, Noah notes that “…you get huge monitors when you get leukemia.” A child’s simplistic logic is poignant and again, endearing. He cites as one of the benefits of leukemia the fact that his parents don’t harass him about grades or cleaning his room. All of which is true, but which misses the “grown up” point that Noah’s life is imperiled. Noah’s casual relationship with the real world is evident; he is more aware of the vagaries of “the Blue Wizard” than he is of the fact that adults cry. It was gratifying that Jonah was in the end vindicated by his father’s belief in him. A very clever literary device was the backpack, onerously but inexplicable heavy – did it contain a weapon? I think so. In all events, June left it for the reader to provide the answer. Really wonderful story, June!

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    1. You were right about the contents of the backpack! Thank you for appreciating the story! I am grateful Bill.

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  3. Powerful because it's so simple: 'If we weren't such big kids - I'm almost eleven...' A lovely, clean piece of writing. No padding, just insightful storytelling - well done!

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    1. Thank you! I so appreciate it!

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  4. The story was beautifully written. It was engaging. I felt like the backpack, in a way was a character. "Some clothes, toothbrush, comb, laptop... and just stuff," it makes the reader think about what "the Stuff" might be. Is it something for protection , food a turtle. Who knows. I love that it showed the unflinching friendship of youngsters. They were ready to hide him before they even knew why. Because they are 11 and its what you do for friends. The blue wizard trick was truly something my boys would have tried if they had been in that situation. You caught exactly how they would have acted. You did a wonderful job , of putting it out there that one of the children had lukemia but didn't make that the story. Excellent , thank you!

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    1. Thank you so much! I feel like you get the age of the kids!!

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  5. Beautifully written. It is easy to feel how the kids felt - their solidarity to hide Jonah and their frustration that his father didn't believe him. Their sense of justice and knowledge of right and wrong, their determination to do what they can do stop it. But I particularly liked the ending: the constant messing up while playing the video games, the desperation to talk about what happened and not knowing how, while their parents remain oblivious. Wonderfully done.

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  6. Wonderful portrayal of a child’s situation that is so commonly hidden and leaves lasting scars or continued behavior.
    Probably banned in Florida!

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    1. Ohhhhh Florida….help us all!

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  7. The writing is succinct, the word choice parsimonious.
    The protagonist is a nearly eleven year old boy and his point of view is conveyed with realism.
    So much narrative is conveyed off page in backstory references, e.g. the leukemia, the boy scout leader, the uncle…
    The dialogue and action has the verisimilitude of real boys.
    Great job!

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  8. This story made me want to smile and cry at the same time. It has wonderfully woven multiple backstories that are heartbreaking, but at its heart this story gives hope in how well young people can act and adults can grow. I will think about this story for a very long time.

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    1. My goal is smiling and crying :) Thank you!

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  9. June, you have always been able to get into the adolescent brain. Your writing is lean and swift with many little hooks that capture and expand the reader’s knowledge of the traumas embedded in these young lives. You don’t explain or analyze. I love the how the boys don’t hesitate to help their friend who has the courage to leave his house. I love that the father cries and apologizes and the son forgives. Young people want to forgive
    The hanging hook for the reader is that trauma of some kind will happen again.
    Such a good job, June.

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    1. Thank you! I don’t know who wrote this comment, but you know my writing theme, and I appreciate your view of it! Thanks very much.

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  10. A very powerful story you have written, June. I’m still sorting through all its layers. Everything about this is realistic for kids this age. You got into their minds to see through their eyes. I felt like I was in the room with them, watching and listening. You made that happen in very few words! Did you take a class taught by O. Henry?

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    1. I love O’ Henry! Thank you, Rick!

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  11. This is such good writing June! I love the vivid descriptions of everything and how accurately (atleast from my pov) this portrays this age group. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thank you for reading. So glad you found things to enjoy!

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  12. So amazing that so much emotion can be conveyed through a short story. I was left in tears. The writer beautifully portrayed the experience of 11 year old emotions and was able to show the depth of this father son relationship in one interaction. I can’t wait to read the next one!

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    1. Thank you for reading with an open heart ❤️

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  13. Warmest congratulations for the enthusiastic – and well-deserved – reception you received for your story, from an appreciative and grateful fan base of readers and writers. It is particularly gratifying inasmuch as you are a relentless booster for other writers and ALWAYS find something positive to say about an other’s literary efforts. (Even onerously flagged stories like mine. Sorry, Charlie, I couldn’t resist and I’m only teasing.) Your story packed so much emotion in such a small space; like Adam said, “…succinct…” and even “parsimonious.” When I read stories like yours and other writers’ work --- Doug Hawley’s “Smart Car;” Mark Williams’s “Slow for Change,” and Rozanne’s Trilogy to cite only recent examples, it not only fills me with pleasure, but it also makes me want to aim higher and polish my craft and be a better writer. Thanks so much, all of you!

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    1. Bill, kind words from you means so much to me. Many, many thanks!

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  14. Good story and well-written. The juxtaposition of Jonah fighting a monstrous uncle and Noah battling a monstrous disease is especially poignant. May they both survive.
    —David Henson

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  15. What a heartwarming tale of friendship and support, showing the strength of bonds in difficult times. The care and concern for Jonah's well-being, along with the unity among friends, is truly inspiring. Despite the challenges, the solidarity among the group shines through, highlighting the power of companionship.

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    1. Thank you for reading, Sin! I appreciate your thoughts!

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  16. I never thought of it that way…but you are right. Thank you!

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  17. Wow, you packed so much into only a few words! You drew us into the kids’ World so fast. What a beautiful story! Lauren

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  18. What I love about this is the simplicity of the voice. You don't use a single word in excess and its told with a down-to-earthness that makes it so readable. The ending with the kids playing video games rather than talking about the horror of what happened to Jonah is perfectly done. I'm a big fan of this sparse, no nonsense style of storytelling (currently reading Job Fosse - who does similar - and loving it).

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  19. June – this is fantastic. It bursts with realism, even while crowded with crisis and drama. Noah, the narrator’s voice is so basic and essential that the story smoothly unfolds over cancer, child abuse, family fights, and violence, without a burble. it is so compact! The setting in a room of 4 pre-teen boys, playing virtual reality games while confronted with the harsh sides of reality is super poignant. You always say love your characters, and this story really shows your love of these characters! I love them too. They are most excellent friends. Like four soldiers in a foxhole in battle, they are fighting off the world, while being forever changed, and bonded together by it.

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    1. Hilary, I love your comment. You are so kind. Thank you!

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  20. What a great story! The ending felt so real -- temporary peace but nothing really settled ("So, we just played like shit"). I think you had a lot of empathy for the boys.

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  21. The effects of abuse reach far beyond the abuser and the abused. Well written.

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    1. It’s kind of you both to read! Thank you for your comments!

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  22. Simple stories can still be powerful.

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    1. Thank you, Brian. I had worried that the story was toooo simple. Thank you for your comment.

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  23. Fantastic story, June! You had me with three simple words, "We hid Jonah." The subsequent descriptions, dialogue, and back story were equally sparse, yet spot on. I won't repeat what others have written, but totally agree with their assessments. Well done!!

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  24. Well done! I want to hear more.

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  25. Thank you, Jason

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  26. Thank you, Jason

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