The Pinballs

Betsy Byars

One summer two boys and a girl went to a foster home to live together.

One of the boys was Harvey. He had two broken legs. He got them when he was run over by his father’s new Grand Am.

The day of his accident was supposed to be one of the happiest of Harvey’s life. He had written an essay on “Why I Am Proud to Be an American,” and he had won third prize. Two dollars. His father had promised to drive him to the meeting and watch him get the award. The winners and their parents were going to have their pictures taken for the newspaper.

When the time came to go, Harvey’s father said, “What are you doing in the car?” Harvey had been sitting there, waiting, for fifteen minutes. He was wearing a tie for the first time in his life. “Get out, Harvey, I’m late as it is.”

“Get out?”

“Yes, get out.”

Harvey did not move. He sat staring straight ahead. He said, “But this is the night I get my award. You promised you’d take me.”

“I didn’t promise. I said I would if I could.”

“No, you promised. You said if I’d quit bugging you about it, you’d take me. You promised.” He still did not look at his father.

“Get out, Harvey.”


“I’m telling you for the last time, Harvey. Get out.”

“Drive me to the meeting and I’ll get out.”

“You’ll get out when I say!” Harvey’s father wanted to get to a poker game at the Elks Club, and he was already late. “And I say you get out now.” With that, his father leaned over, opened the door and pushed Harvey out of the car.

Harvey landed on his knees in the grass. He jumped to his feet. He grabbed for the car door. His father locked it.

Now Harvey looked at his father. His father’s face was as red as if it had been turned inside out.

Quickly Harvey ran around the front of the car to try and open the other door. When he was directly in front of the car, his father accidentally threw the car into drive instead of reverse. In that wrong gear, he stepped on the gas, ran over Harvey and broke both his legs.

The court had taken Harvey away from his father and put him in the foster home “until such time as the father can control his drinking and make a safe home for the boy.”

The second boy was Thomas J. He didn’t know whom he belonged to. When he was two years old someone had left him in front of a farmhouse like he was an unwanted puppy. The farmhouse belonged to two old ladies, the Benson twins, who were then eighty-two years old. They were the oldest living twins in the state. Every year on their birthday they got letters of congratulation from the governor. They were exactly alike except that one’s eyes, nose and mouth were a little bigger than the other’s. They looked like matching salt-and-pepper shakers.

Thomas J had stayed with the twins for six years. The twins had meant to take him into town and tell the authorities, but they had kept putting it off. First it was because he was pleasant company, later because he was good help in the garden.

When the twins broke their hips at age eighty-eight, Thomas J was discovered for the first time by the authorities. Nobody knew who he was or where he had come from. He was sent to the foster home “until such time as his real identity can be established or permanent adoptive parents located.”

The girl was Carlie. She was as hard to crack as a coconut. She never said anything polite. When anyone asked how she was, she answered “What’s it to you?” or “Bug off.” Her main fun was watching television, and she threw things at people who blocked her view. Even the dog had been hit with TV Guide when he stepped in front of the set when Sonny and Cher were singing “I Got You, Babe.”

Carlie had to go to the foster home because she couldn’t get along with her stepfather. She had had two stepfathers, but the new one, Russell, was the worst. He was mean to everybody in the family, but especially to Carlie. He resented everything she did.

Once he had hit her so hard when she wouldn’t tell him where she’d been that she had gotten a concussion. Even with a concussion she had struggled up and hit him with a double boiler. “Nobody hits me without getting hit back,” she had said before she collapsed.

Carlie was to stay at the foster home “until the home situation stabilizes.”

“Stabilizes!” Carlie had said to the social worker in charge of her case. “What does that mean?”

“It means until your mother and your stepfather work out their problems.”

“Whoo,” Carlie said, “that means I’ll stay until I’m ready for the old folks’ home.”

The first thing Carlie did when she got to the foster home was pull the plastic footrest up close to the TV. “Don’t talk to me when ‘Young and Restless’ is on,” she warned the foster mother, who was standing behind her.

"I just wanted to welcome you." Mrs Mason said. She put one hand on Carlie's back.

Carlie shook it off. "Welcome me during the commercial." She said.