Moses and Joe

“What kind of a name is Moses O’Reilly?” said Joe Babylon. I didn’t answer him because I was too scared to talk. I was only ten years old, off my parents’ property, alone, and he, an Afro-American, looked to weigh two-hundred pounds, my slight frame no match for his. “Well, aren’t you gonna answer me? Are you Irish or Jew?” he said.

“Neither.” I shouldn’t have told him my name. I was telling the truth, but he wouldn’t believe me. I think that day he was just out to get me. Though Joe Babylon had never before laid a hand on me, this time I didn’t see my parents until the emergency room, my arms bloody from pummeling, my face gashed, though none of it hurt all that bad. Blacks and whites didn’t get along very well in St. Louis.

I am neither Irish nor Jew. I am one-hundred percent Hungarian, adopted by an Irish-Jewish couple who happened to give me a name that does not sound one way or the other. I still blame them for my winding up in the emergency room that night. Had Joe Babylon thought my name was Rick Jackson, I don’t think he would have laid a hand on me. But it doesn’t matter now, because I’m plotting my revenge.

We grew tomatoes on the other side of the fence that separated our yard from the alley, and there was no way to pick them without going back there. Honestly, I was scared to do that, because Mr. Babylon might have been nearby and I knew he hated my guts. I deemed it wisest to have someone else do the dirty work. I had a few options. One is our maid’s son. She’s always at our house and consequently, he is too. Innocent little black kid. Thing is, I’d hate to see something bad happen to him—if I were a little less caring I’d send him (he’s about fourteen) out back with a bibi gun to shoot Mr. Babylon. But I don’t know if that’s a great idea.

The second option is my babysitter. She was twenty-six years old and from Ireland. Straight off the boat, practically a leprechaun, with her accent, freckles, and red hair. I used to make fun of her accent, but in truth it was endearing. I’d also pay her to do certain things for me-not much, just a little from my piggy bank, to which my father and grandfather contributed monthly.

I paid her a dollar to make my bed on multiple occasions. She never told my parents, just gladly did the job, and did it well. I paid her to do other things. I’m sure I could get her to shoot Joe Babylon with a bibi gun–don’t you think I could? I guess first I’d have to acquire (at least borrow) the bibi gun. I don’t think I know anyone who has one, unfortunately. I believe somewhere in the countryside there is a little bibi range, though that is far away and I can’t drive. Hmm. Maybe the babysitter would pick it up–she drives. We could pay the guy ten bucks to lend one to us, which I’m sure he’d do. Then I’d just give her an extra-huge tip for getting it for me—well, really, for her.

Four months later, all this had been done. I took the babysitter route because I thought it was safest. I think I made the right move. And she even did it for five dollars-half of what I’d thought it would take. This is what happened: I asked the babysitter, whose name is Joan, if she’d retrieve the bibi gun from the range (I called first and asked permission). She agreed to do it for two bucks because it was on the way from her house to ours and thus was convenient. But I wouldn’t tell her why until she produced it.

Being a responsible person, she produced it very quickly. I dutifully paid her and asked in the most straightforward possible way: “Will you shoot Joe Babylon with it for an additional three bucks?”

Of course, she is not evil, so she had some thinking to do before she acquiesced. But acquiesce she did, under the condition that she would shoot him only in the thigh, as to spare him serious injury. She agreed to the condition that I’d only pay her after the deed was done. I couldn’t have been happier with the arrangement.

It took two pellets. The first missed altogether, ricocheting off the sidewalk and killing a pigeon overhead. The second she got him from her car as he walked to his front door—hit him square in the thigh. I’m sure he was bruised pretty bad, by the way she reported his pig-like squeal. Thank the good Lord she hit him. He still deserves Hell, but I’ve done my part.

The last time I saw Joe Babylon, he waved to me from the sidewalk. I’m sure he recognized me, as I was wearing a hat that I’ve always worn, have often been seen wearing, and have never seen on anyone else. I was riding my bicycle past his house, going to a little Korean-owned grocery store to buy ingredients for dinner–we were making spicy chicken and rice with okra.


Projected Letters is a literary magazine dedicated to publishing the best new and established writing from around the world.