“I’m tired of those,” I said. I was tired of playing Tom Rover, who suddenly lost his memory in the middle of the picture show and was out of the script until the end, when he was found in Alaska.
“Make us up one, Jem,” I said.
“I’m tired of makin’ ’em up.”
Our first days of freedom, and we were tired. I wondered what the summer would bring.
We had strolled to the front yard, where Dill stood looking down the street at the dreary face of the Radley Place. “I—smell—death,” he said. “I do, I mean it,” he said, when I told him to shut up.
“You mean when somebody’s dyin’ you can smell it?”
“No, I mean I can smell somebody an’ tell if they’re gonna die. An old lady taught me how.” Dill leaned over and sniffed me. “Jean—Louise—Finch, you are going to die in three days.”
“Dill if you don’t hush I’ll knock you bowlegged. I mean it, now—”
“Yawl hush,” growled Jem, “you act like you believe in Hot Steams.”
“You act like you don’t,” I said.
“What’s a Hot Steam?” asked Dill.
“Haven’t you ever walked along a lonesome road at night and passed by a hot place?” Jem asked Dill. “A Hot Steam’s somebody who can’t get to heaven, just wallows around on lonesome roads an’ if you walk through him, when you die you’ll be one too, an’ you’ll go around at night suckin’ people’s breath—”
“How can you keep from passing through one?”
“You can’t,” said Jem. “Sometimes they stretch all the way across the road, but if you hafta go through one you say, ‘Angel-bright, life-in-death; get off the road, don’t suck my breath.’ That keeps ’em from wrapping around you—”
“Don’t you believe a word he says, Dill,” I said. “Calpurnia says that’s nigger-talk.”
Jem scowled darkly at me, but said, “Well, are we gonna play anything or not?”
“Let’s roll in the tire,” I suggested.
Jem sighed. “You know I’m too big.”
“You c’n push.”
I ran to the back yard and pulled an old car tire from under the house. I slapped it up to the front yard. “I’m first,” I said.
Dill said he ought to be first, he just got here.
Jem arbitrated, awarded me first push with an extra time for Dill, and I folded myself inside the tire.
Until it happened I did not realize that Jem was offended by my contradicting him on Hot Steams, and that he was patiently awaiting an opportunity to reward me. He did, by pushing the tire down the sidewalk with all the force in his body. Ground, sky and houses melted into a mad palette, my ears throbbed, I was suffocating. I could not put out my hands to stop, they were wedged between my chest and knees. I could only hope that Jem would outrun the tire and me, or that I would be stopped by a bump in the sidewalk. I heard him behind me, chasing and shouting.
The tire bumped on gravel, skeetered across the road, crashed into a barrier and popped me like a cork onto pavement. Dizzy and nauseated, I lay on the cement and shook my head still, pounded my ears to silence, and heard Jem’s voice: “Scout, get away from there, come on!”
I raised my head and stared at the Radley Place steps in front of me. I froze.
“Come on, Scout, don’t just lie there!” Jem was screaming. “Get up, can’tcha?”
I got to my feet, trembling as I thawed.
“Get the tire!” Jem hollered. “Bring it with you! Ain’t you got any sense at all?”
When I was able to navigate, I ran back to them as fast as my shaking knees would carry me.
“Why didn’t you bring it?” Jem yelled.
“Why don’t you get it?” I screamed.
Jem was silent.
“Go on, it ain’t far inside the gate. Why, you even touched the house once, remember?”
Jem looked at me furiously, could not decline, ran down the sidewalk, treaded water at the gate, then dashed in and retrieved the tire.
“See there?” Jem was scowling trimphantly. “Nothin’ to it. I swear, Scout, sometimes you act so much like a girl it’s mortifyin’.”
There was more to it than he knew, but I decided not to tell him.
Calpurnia appeared in the front door and yelled, “Lemonade time! You all get in outa that hot sun ’fore you fry alive!” Lemonade in the middle of the morning was a summertime ritual. Calpurnia set a pitcher and three glasses on the porch, then went about her business. Being out of Jem’s good graces did not worry me especially. Lemonade would restore his good humor.