Geoff Balme: Dizzy Looking Up
The sky was so high and so blue we got dizzy staring up at it. Contrails criss-crossed like giant, white, pick-up sticks. Stumbling out into the sun after so many hours of nothing but being fat-assed on the sofa, eyes vacantly glued to the Jerry Lewis Telethon, where Charo had played guitar and seemed to almost fall out of her dress, we were dazed. The mosquitoes honed in on our pale ankles. We studied the familiar red and orange marigolds, batches of dead grass uncollected from the mowing, and the juicy red berries from the yew bushes anew.
“We’re the fuckawee, ha ha ha,” Brit said, practicing a favorite joke.
“That’s not funny anymore,” Lauda said.
“I don’t get it,” Ray-Ray said.
“Maybe you’ll get it when ya playin’ bingo by yuhself!” Brit said.
“Wassat mean?” Lauda asked and I wondered too.
“He plays bingo by himself!” Brit waved over toward her brother.
Ray-Ray scrunched up his nose, eyebrows wrinkled together, “Cause you wouldn’t play!”
We made our way down the unkempt sidewalk and into the chained-in street-corner playground with the broken swings and the off-kilter carousel. The little kids, Roger and Kiki, came along.
“Litter bug,” Lauda said as she kicked at the McDonald’s bags and wrappers near the rusted trash barrel. We climbed onto the flat, diamond-plate, steel carousel and started it spinning, each clinging to a welded post. Ray-Ray laid on the center and stared directly up. Each revolution had a strong tug where the lowest point of its uneven course took it, like a warped record.
“We’re the fuckawee!” Brit laughed again.
I tried to laugh at her jokes, catch her eye, but she didn’t seem to much care what I thought. She was perfectly fine amusing herself.
“Why do you keep saying that?” Lauda asked.
I kicked at the ground to get the wheel spinning as fast as I could.
We enjoyed the spinning world for a minute or two.
“Kiki and Roger sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G . . . ” Brit suddenly sang and putting up her hands—supporting herself by entwining her legs round the bar—she and Lauda began patting and clapping palms.
“Shuddup!” Roger squawked.
“First comes love then comes marriage . . . ” Lauda joined her in the shout-along. They did a kind of criss-cross, both palms together, then clap.
“Then comes Roger with a baby carriage!” Lauda and Brit clapped their hands laughing, their faces pinched up with the effort.
Ray-Ray continued staring up at the clouds smiling. Kiki looked from face to face.
“I hate her!” Roger said. And then, with a bit less assurance, “She stinks!”
Kiki started crying. And as the carousel slowed down she got off at the low point a little hard and wobbled on short kid legs away to a pile of sand and plopped down.
“You didn’t need to say that!” I said to Roger.
“Brit didn’t need to say what she said!” he protested.
I hit him in his belly, but not hard, just to make the point, “Say yuh sorry.”
Roger leaned back and swung, hitting me hard in the face, for a second the pain brought a cloud to my senses. I jumped off the carousel, gained my feet. He was surprisingly strong for his age, and this violent reaction took me entirely by surprise.
“There’s more where that came from, Bum!” he yelled. Bum being the universally adopted derogatory for my name, Baum.
“You’re gonna get it now!” I said through the hand on my cheek.
Roger’s jaw drooped a bit, and he jumped off the carousel and ran, but he ran into the fenced in playground, rather than out of it, encouraging me to imagine I might trap him. Though I ran after him, I was fat. I couldn’t catch Roger and he knew it. Everyone laughed.
Then he stopped, “Lookit!”
He pointed into a juniper shrubbery alongside the little playground by the see-saws and there I could see a massive wasp nest. I smacked him when I caught up with him, like stealing a basketball, but the ball was his head. My open hand across his ear resounded with a satisfying pop!
“Ow!” he cried, but continued pointing, this was important.
We watched the white-faced wasps buzzing in and out of their paper ball nest, and we didn’t need to discuss what must be done.
Standing far back we began to pelt the nest with rocks and watched as the terrifying insects swarmed and vibrated angrily on the gray surface of the ragged structure—the stuff of nightmares. Ray-Ray joined us and we boys cheered at our good hits. The stones ripped right through the gray paper, exposed the inner ranks of holes, each full with fat, pale, horrendous wasp babies, which we sent crashing to the ground. The wasps buzzed angrily, circling wider, looking for a foe to engage. And then Kiki was among us, she grabbed up an abandoned and broken toy motorcycle, and walking right up to the wasps’ nest, swiped at it with the stupid toy motorcycle.
“Kiki!” I yelled, amazed by her ignorant brazenness, but too late, wasps were on her, and she covered her face and began to scream. It seemed impossible that she’d done that. We were frozen watching her, everything in a kind of dramatic slow motion, our cameras running twice the film.
“We’re gonna be in trouble,” Roger gawped at me.
And then Lauda and Brit ran to her, pulled her away from the nest, brushed wasps off her and dragged her to us, the wasps followed, and we ran as fast as we could. I remember swatting at a few, the whole world a kind of blurring of chain link fence and scraggly unkempt yard shrubs as we fled, but I managed to not get stung.
“Them wasps are mean ones, the white-faced ones are the worst,” Ray-Ray said, nodding, authoritative.
I nodded but I’d seen some impressive wasps, big ones, with steely blue-black bodies and thread-waists. I’d seen some around a wood pile with shockingly long “stingers”. I’d seen a massive yellow and black beast digging a hole, buzzing around that hole menacingly, as big, it seemed as Kiki’s hand. Wasps were terrifying, and had an agenda. Sometimes it seemed like it was just us against them.
Roger disappeared. The girls were mad at us, gave us severe looks as they went inside with Kiki. They came back out with bomb pops, but just for them.
“We got pops,” Brit said needlessly.
“We can get pops too,” Ray-Ray said and it was probably true.
“Oh yeah?” Brit seemed to challenge.
Kiki didn’t come back out, Mrs. Eklund was fussing over her stings. The girls had interrupted Mrs. Eklund’s stories, The Edge of Night.
“You guys be crocodiles,” Brit said.
And so, under the jungle gym Ray-Ray and I crawled in the sand on our bellies being crocodiles while the girls above us dangled their legs and screamed as we reached for them. We were going to eat them.
I caught Brit’s foot and as she pulled away she left behind her shoe. It was black with a lavender inside and sported a flower on the toe. I was disappointed there was no girl attached to it. I pretended to eat the shoe and then handed it to Ray-Ray. He growled and seemed to imagine chomping on the shoe as well.
“Wait, time-out!” Brit cried, and climbed down the jungle gym, sock-foot, shoe-foot, sock-foot, shoe-foot and ran into the house.
We waited patiently, looking up at Lauda, who aimed her big brown eyes down at us studiously, as if trying to comprehend why boys would roll around in the dirt and eat girls’ shoes. Then Brit came back, the screen door clattered in its frame behind her as she climbed back up onto the colorful metal bars and dangled her legs again.
“OK,” she said cheerfully.
“We’re gonna eechoo up!” Ray-Ray said.
I added a roar, hoping that would satisfy the gravity of the situation.
“Eeek!” Brit said.
For a while I thought that it might happen, that the girls would fall and I would eat Brit or Lauda all up. I thought Brit would be better, but I was determined to eat Lauda if she fell to me. I was going to eat one of them. Eventually, Brit allowed herself to be pulled down. She dangled for a bit screeching, and finally, let go her monkey grips and fell into our crocodile mouth arms, extended, and opening and closing like crocodile jaws. She shrieked some more and we held her while she kicked her feet.
I hadn’t thought the game this far through, ended up with a mouthful of sand. It turned out we couldn’t really eat the girls, of course, the result was less than satisfying. The game had been kind of better as a stand-off. Plus, Brit could easily slap her brother around, and he surrendered when she sat on him. I didn’t feel encouraged to be a crocodile anymore, laying in the dirt with Ray-Ray defeated by the girl who apparently changed her mind about being our victim.
While I had been coughing sand and spitting and Brit had been conquering her brother, Lauda climbed down and ran into the house, flicking the porch light on. Just then I realized it had started to get quite dark. Lauda leaned into the screen and looked out at us for a moment, as if to assure herself that she wasn’t going to miss anything else interesting, and then vanished for the evening.
“Don’t even think about it!” Brit hissed at me as I tugged gently at her remaining shoe.
Then—the crocodiles proven to be harmless—we drifted over into the little graveyard in the Maguire’s back yard, fully grown over with weeds, many of the stones long ago toppled over by big kids. The railings were still in place on three sides, and we sat on these.
“Maybe spirits of dead people are here,” Brit said.
“We could do an Indian dance to wake them up,” Ray-Ray said, hopping in a small circle, a bit like Chief Jay Strongbow on the “warpath”.
“What would it be like to get possessed?” Brit wanted to know and opened her bright eyes wide, raising her arms and moving about like a robot. I wanted to try that too, so I raised my arms and opened my eyes wide, and Brit cracked-up. For a moment I felt great for making her laugh, but I soon got that it was only because she thought I looked like an idiot. In the distance we heard the mournful firehouse howl, the eight O’clock whistle, it was time to go home.
I wolfed a bowl of Quisp, watching The Rifleman spinning and firing his lever-action rifle—bad guys shot all over the place. I dreamed of that lever-action Winchester such power.
“How can you get so filthy dirty every day?” Mom said with despair nearly every evening.
“He’s a kid, June, kids get dirty,” Dad chuckled.
“Every day?” she looked at me and I shrugged.
She made me promise I’d not get so dirty. I rushed up the hill and up Eleanor Drive to the bus stop, where we lined our brown-bagged lunches, one line for the boys one for the girls, representing the all important age, gender, and popular ranking. While our bags held our places, we played tag.
Some days someone would donate a piece of fruit to put under the bus tires so we could indulge in the resulting mashed mess, it being obviously representative of someone’s head crushed to pulp. Most mornings I had a particular head in mind. Often enough, heads of girls I thought were pretty, girls I’d stare at for most of the bus ride: pale, slender Vicky Amaral or perky and bright Patty Reynolds. These were girls who lived nearby and never gave me a moment of recognition. The fantasized violence made me feel powerful, awfully guilty, and wonderfully excited.
I was in love with Miss Cardin, our teacher. She was beautiful and I rarely took my clueless, greedy eyes off of her. She wore her brown hair big, and her sweaters and skirts tight. I studied Miss Cardin’s rump moving slightly but vigorously as she wrote our vocabulary on the board. Reaching high up on her toes, and coming down and jutting her rear out toward the side as she reached the bottom. Would she play on the jungle gym, dangling her legs, imagining me a crocodile? The class was arranged boy-girl, each boy surrounded by a square of girls, so that the girls would not talk too much to each other, or so we were told. The girls in class often dressed in fancy outfits, but I only had eyes for Miss Cardin.
I knew she caught me cheating on the multiplication tables, I could see her eyes leave me, look away during my one-on-one test. But she didn’t call me out when I’d obviously read an answer off my palm. I had my hands up on my face pretending I was thinking hard. It was only a couple that were tricky, seven times eight, who would imagine fifty-six. It was such a weird confusion of numbers: five-six from seven eights. She letting me get away with a small infraction made me feel closer to her. My fantasies about her included Japanese monster movies, and I Dream of Jeanie. I imagined a captured Miss Cardin in my fancy bottle, or she being in my Gargantua paws, screaming as I lifted her to my immense greedy mouth, a lovely monster’s snack.
My classroom job was cleaning the sink and I took great care in its spit and polish. I wanted her to be impressed so I wiped every last drop, and left the steel parts glistening. Miss Cardin often hugged me with appreciation. She smelled great.
At the end of the day we waited in a crush at the classroom door, and when the principal called the bus numbers over the intercom we rushed in a stampede for our seats. You learned not to get too close to the buses because there were evil kids who would spit out the windows onto other kids. There wasn’t much time to rectify this offense and the giggling spitters could quickly hide themselves, making it hard to know for sure who it was. I imagined that those kids would go to prison one day or maybe just die young.
Ray-Ray and Brit Cannon, as well as Lauda Quattrocchi (we were told it was Italian for four roaches), went to catholic school and so I didn’t see them during the school day. I’d occasionally catch them in their uniforms and it was stunning to see Brit in hers.
Ray-Ray practiced the organ every afternoon, which I also found endlessly fascinating. He hated it. I dreamed of pushing those keys and making those amazing sounds. It seemed like wizardry to me.
Then it was time for Ray-Ray’s paper route and I helped unwrap the papers at the drop and distribute them for a few bucks a week.
“There’s Angel,” Ray-Ray said quietly as one of the big kids walked toward us at the end of our route. He was alone and switched to our side of the road.
I hiked the paper satchel up on my shoulder and kept my hand on the money in my pocket.
“We know you,” I said with as scathing a voice as possible when Angel got close to us.
He grinned at us, “Oh yeah? Who am I?”
“Yaw Bobby Angel!” I yelled at him. And Ray-Ray shot me a puzzled look. I felt a hot rage building in me and I yielded to it.
“I’m not Bobby,” he said and lowered his glasses, showing me his eyes.
“Yaw Bobby Angel! And my dad said if I see you I should tell you that he’s gonna find you and have you put in prison!”
“I’m not Bobby!” he said turning his palms up and pushing his glasses back up.
“We don’t have any money for yaw drugs, Bobby Angel!” I hollered as loudly as I could. A man several houses away looked curiously down the road toward us from his driveway.
“I’m not Bobby Angel, sheesh kid, what’s your deal?” he said, stalking off.
After a few steps Ray-Ray said, “You know, not everyone with glasses is Bobby Angel.”
We walked over to and climbed down the stairs of the open basement where a house had once stood but had been demolished on Howard Avenue. We thought the place magical. Who ever saw a basement with no house?
“Wasn’t that Bobby Angel?”
We sat down at the white-topped, rusty, metal table in the center of the foundation and pulled out our horse chestnuts which had been stuffed into every available pocket. The big kids sometimes got high in here and it was a mess of old magazines, food containers and filthy rags.
“Naaa, I dunno know who it was. I thought it was, but it wasn’t.”
I felt certain it was the same guy I’d seen throw a snapping turtle at the girls when we were down at Middle Dam Pond, maybe a year back. He walked around with that charcoal-colored beast hanging by its tail, like a flat, baby dragon, its hard mouth open, creamy white inside. Bobby kept leaning back and selecting a girl to throw it at, like a softball pitcher lurching forward and letting it fly underhanded. The girls screamed and scattered as the turtle hit the ground on its haunches, but the girls didn’t leave. As usual it was only the turtle that mattered to me, it was terrified and tried to jump at Angel as he ran over to pick it up again.
Angel was an asshole. A drug dealer. My dad told me to let him know whenever I saw him. But now all I was really sure of was Bobby Angel wore glasses and had straight dark hair.
We decided on the best of our horse chestnuts. Later we would run string through them to make clackers. The strongest nuts smashing others and allowing for bragging rights.
“Why are some chestnuts poison?” I asked Ray-Ray.
“I dunno,” he shrugged, “guess God likes it that way.”
As we crossed the playground with the tilted carousel and the destroyed wasp nest—we kept our distance but eyeballed it carefully—we sang:
“Let the sunshine in, face it with a grin, the Maguires never win, so let the sunshine in!”
“Why the Maguires?” Ray-Ray said, suddenly defensive of Roger.
“The Eklunds then,” I said.
“Let the sunshine in, face it with a grin, the Eklunds always win, so let the sunshine in!”
Ray-Ray laughed, “Kiki and Roger.”
“Eklund and Maguire,” I mused, their last names respectively. They were the little kids, a couple of years behind us. Brit sometimes babysat Kiki.
Brit, while close to us in age, was twelve and this entitled her to lord over her brother Ray-Ray at eleven. In fact, we both often did as Brit demanded. She usually had the best ideas, like going swimming up at Fones’ Pond where we found all the huge bullfrog tadpoles and I saw her in her panties as she changed behind the jewel weeds, or the time she decided we should all hike down to Battez’s corner store and buy penny candy. I didn’t even mind buying a lot of it for her, she easily convincing me to buy mostly her favorites, Swedish fish and Turkish taffy.
At church I watched Ray-Ray follow the priest around in robes. It was the most serious I saw Ray-Ray being, and church, any church, was so alien to me that I found it dramatically fascinating. We knelt, then we stood, then we sat again. At one point the priest wanted us all to shake hands, and I was suddenly shaking hands with none other than Andy Lebrun, who was dressed in a suit and standing between his parents. Andy lived just across the street from our bus-stop and sometimes came over just to kick my lunch bag out of line. He had even once jumped on me unexpectedly and punched me in the ear after getting off the bus, pretending with con-artist smooth that it was just a joke, but my ear had swelled painfully. He also tirelessly abused Ray-Ray at their school. Though Brit often exacted a powerful shin-kicking revenge for that. Church-Andy smiled at me as he shook my hand. I am sure I smiled back, but I felt the unease of being duped.
“Our sins are black marks on our souls,” Ray-Ray explained to me as we hunted crayfish in the Brook.
It was a river to us, rolling past our houses and through the woods down to Pearce’s pond. We were experts at collecting the little crustaceans which endlessly fascinated us. We’d sometimes stage duels with them, getting them to lock claws. They always seemed far less interested in doing that than we expected.
“I don’t understand,” and I didn’t.
“We have souls, our souls have to be clean to go to Heaven,” Ray-Ray tried again.
I also didn’t understand Heaven, though, I’d heard of it, of course, as well as God and Jesus, but none of it made any sense to me beyond mom telling me God was punishing me anytime I fell or got injured.
“Andy shook my hand at church,” I said as if it were a question.
“Uh, yeah, we have to, . . . brotherhood, you know, we’re supposed to all be family.”
As I tipped over a flat rock a cloud of silt floated by and a massive crayfish held its claws out toward me, its tail ready to flick and move it rapidly backwards, it was beautiful.
“God doesn’t want us to hate each other,” Ray-Ray said.
“I hate Lebrun.”
One day while studying the brook after school, we realized we were looking at a lot of red surveyor’s tape and clean wooden stakes driven into the ground. We began stripping the tape and breaking the stakes off. In a few days time, tractors arrived and began clearing the forest. We rushed there after dinner and opened the air stems on the tires and put pebbles in them and screwed the caps back on to deflate the tires. We shoved sticks and dirt into the ignitions. We saw ourselves as protecting the animals. Much to our dismay, the developers leveled the woods and built houses anyway.
Time went by. We grew a little, but nowhere near as much as we hoped.
On the other side of the new development was a dump we’d go to frequently to look for snakes. They seemed to like best to lay coiled under old car hoods or doors. Ray-Ray liked dumps because he believed in scavenging good stuff, and there was a complex magical order to his expectations that involved things like the weather and horoscopes. His favorite dump was up by Ice House Pond.
“Whatever you want, you can find it there,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Once I was hoping to find a record player, and then on that same day, I found a good jobber up there.”
I saw that record player, it was a broken piece of junk, but he was able to get it working. A small amount of garage tinkering and there it was. He was able to play some old Spike Jones records his father kept. When the gunshot sounds—so prevalent in Spike Jones’ music—happened, we’d pretend to shoot at each other.
One evening after Ray-Ray turned twelve, we decided to camp in the backyard at my house as a kind of celebration of his burgeoning adulthood. We notified the relevant parents and collected our packs, which were full of useless junk—a mylar “space blanket”, a magnetizing device—allowing one to magnetize the end of a screwdriver—a variety of dull pocket knives, a selection of Wacky-Pack stickers, a rubber nose, a pair of rubber ears, a topo map of Warren County Pennsylvania (we were in Coventry, Rhode Island), an Edmund Scientific catalog, my Audubon Guide to reptiles and amphibians, and Ray-Ray’s copy of Greek Gods and Heroes by Robert Graves—and set our sleeping bags on the flattest ground in the grass of the backyard.
Of course, we spent most of the night blabbing, telling terrible jokes and sleeping poorly on the hard ground.
“What’s it like to be twelve?” I wanted to know.
“Great. Everything’s better,” he said seriously.
My parents had helped me pick out a birthday present for him and it ended up being a baseball mitt even though I’d never seen him play baseball. No matter what I said Dad couldn’t imagine a boy who didn’t want a baseball mitt. Ray-Ray had thanked me for it just the same, but I felt terrible watching my best friend unwrap this dumb gift.
“Is Brit thirteen now?”
“She will be in three weeks”
“A teenager,” I thought, awesome.
I couldn’t wait, I was months behind Ray-Ray, wouldn’t be twelve for ages yet, it killed me to be so far behind, still a kid. Plus, I rarely saw Brit anymore, her interests had taken her beyond our neighborhood afternoons of floundering about, no longer riding on the little park carousel, or having us be her crocodiles. Then, while staring up at the stars, I saw something odd, a white streak of light that flashed and ended so precisely and so rapidly it took my breath away. Then, after a while, there was another, interrupting our discussion. Ray-Ray had no idea what the occasional short streaks of light were either. As the night wore on and we counted dozens of these bright slashes in the sky, we decided that it must be some kind of lightening bug, flying high up, but we did not rule out the possibility of other insects, bats, very reflective ducks, or especially UFOs.
Fishing at Ice House Pond with Ray-Ray, we caught pumpkinseeds, though we saw some other kinds of fish as the sun struck obliquely into the series of puddles that had once been a larger pond. Someone had released all the water, pulling the wooden slats out of the dam, leaving behind a series of rivulets and smaller pools. This vandalism had happened long enough ago that the dry pond had mostly turned into a field. We set-up our fishing poles next to the largest of the pools.
Ray-Ray gasped and stood up, “Bobby Angel.”
“What?” I swung my head around in time to see Bobby Angel, and another big kid called Ricky Augustine coming out onto the dry hummocks of the pond where we were stationed with our can of worms.
Oddly, Andy Lebrun was also with them. I stood up and shaded my eyes as the boys marched steadily toward us, Augustine and Lebrun grinning madly as Bobby Angel lead the way.
“Hey!” Angel yelled to us, like an enthusiastic aunt on the holidays.
Ray-Ray kind of waved.
“How’s the fishing!” he hollered with a big grin.
I realized now how I’d forgotten him. I’d totally forgotten his long sunken face, shining clear skin, toothy, with a light fuzzy mustache. His big black glasses magnified his startling, nearly divergent, dark eyes. Those eyes!
Ricky Augustine was as broad as my Dad’s VW bug, fifteen years old, a famously mean kid. Augustine had once shot every living creature he had come across with a coveted Sheridan Blue Streak at Middle Dam one afternoon. He bragged about killing everything with nine pumps. As he came across me fishing that day, he dropped a handful of dead bullfrogs he’d been dangling by their legs and snorted, “Have a frog, kid.” Each of those poor critters with its head hammered in by a .20 caliber pellet. Their perfect leaping legs no longer tucked under, their determined angular jumping posture replaced with painfully akimbo, splayed dead ruin. Flies landed on their drying pale bellies. I had wept for them.
Augustine now walked over to Ray-Ray’s fishing pole with a half grin on his porcine face.
“Lemmee help yuh wit dis,” he said and grabbing the tip, he bent it down and snapped it. “Oops, ah, man, dey don’t make ’em like dey use-ta, huh?”
Andy started snickering and Angel looked at their faces and licked his lips. Then Augustine kicked our worm can into the water.
“C’mon man!” Ray-Ray said, slumping his slender shoulders, “what’s that for?”
“Whaddaya gonna do ’bout it?” Augustine suddenly bellied up, shoving Ray-Ray, adopting a severe face meant to cow us.
“I know who you are,” I heard myself blubber. Bobby Angel’s psychotic glare too close to my face for comfort.
“Oh yeah, Bum? Who ah we?” Andy said. His imitation of Augustine was light. Next to the big kids Lebrun was really a pipsqueak, a rat flocking with feral dogs.
I wasn’t talking to Lebrun. My only concern at the moment was Angel. Ray-Ray had focused his attention on the broken Zebco he’d just spent all his birthday money on at Benny’s. And then Augustine started bellying Ray-Ray toward the water, herding him with shoves and brutish laughter.
“I know who you ah!” my face was hot and I felt angry tears welling up.
“Aw lookit, he’s gonna cry,” Andy pointed and laughed. “We ain’t even done nuthin’ to ya yet.”
Andy was relishing this momentous encounter, teamed with the big kids, wanting badly to impress his betters. Bobby Angel just stood staring, like he wasn’t there any more, like he’d left his senses. He’d walked all the way out here and forgotten why. He looked a bit like a lizard in a filthy t-shirt, one of those Old World chameleons, each eye rotating independently.
“Yaw Bobby Angel, an’ yaw goin’ ta prison as soon as my dad finds ya!” I hollered and pointed directly at Angel’s smoothly shining face.
Lebrun put his arm around my shoulders and half turned me away from Angel, as if we were buddies and he had to tell me something in private, then with his other hand he punched me in the gut. It was a pathetic hit, I felt nothing, but I buckled anyway. Angel was looking at me. Lebrun was kind of leaning on me. I saw a fish, a modest largemouth bass easily distinguished by the unmistakable dark line on its side.
“A bass!” I pointed awkwardly, suddenly forgetting about the low-end assault taking place.
Lebrun hissed with disgust as he let me go, “shuddup.”
“Yaw a drug deala, . . . ” I blubbered, returning to the litany my old man had taught me, “and my dad tole me to let him know whenever I see you that he’ll be lookin’ for ya,” I held my stomach.
“Ooh, Bum’s dad’s gonna get ya!” Lebrun shrieked with laughter.
“C’mon, let’s get outta here,” Angel croaked, suddenly coming back to life. His magnified eyes rolling about as if watching for hawks.
Augustine finally shoved Ray-Ray into the rivulet that lead to the hole we were fishing. Ray-Ray splashed in and got soaked up to his ass.
“Bastids!” Ray-Ray yelled.
“What’d ya call me?” Augustine said, adopting the same bully posturing a second time.
“Let’s go!” Angel hollered and started marching off.
Augustine picked up and threw Ray-Ray’s Zebco into the pond like a spear, it disappeared into the middle of the pool with a smallish kersploosh. Augustine and Lebrun giggled viciously.
Hot tears ran down my face as they walked away, Angel in the lead moving rapidly.
“Fuckin’ babies,” Lebrun yelled over his shoulder.
Ray-Ray came out of the water with the worm can and even managed to salvage a handful of very clean and agitated worms, wiggling about like the end of a flag in a storm.
I wiped my nose, snot on my sleeve, “Assholes.”
“See, I told ya that wasn’t Bobby Angel that time,” Ray-Ray smiled at me. He found his rod tip, and tangling the line around his hand he managed to retrieve his pole from the pond. He examined the tip of his rod and pushed it back together as best he could.
“Those guys’ll go to prison,” I said, feeling something caught in my throat, a sticky sob. “Or someone’ll kill ’em.”
“God’ll punish ’em,” Ray-Ray said distractedly. “Wait’ll I tell Brit about Lebrun.”
I thought about having shook Lebrun’s hand at Our Lady of Good Council while Ray-Ray was doing his alter-boy work. I thought about those kids hocking loogies out the bus windows into the girls’ hair and guffawing, enjoying the pain they caused others. I thought about Brit kicking Lebrun’s shins in.
“Don’t tell, Brit about it,” I said suddenly.
“Why not?” Ray-Ray nearly spat. “She’ll kick his ass!”
I suddenly didn’t want the protection of a big sister. I wanted Brit to be something else, someone who liked me, someone I could share my candy with. Brit was in my fantasies. I wanted to be bigger, older.
“If I had a gun, I’d shoot those guys,” Ray-Ray said, squinting.
I frowned, “I was thinkin’ a takin’ karate.” We had both just been studying an advertisement in the circular we delivered on the paper route.
“I know a guy who knows a guy—has a place,” Ray-Ray nodded.
“My uncle’s a black belt!” It was something my mom told me frequently.
“Cool, where’s he at?”
After a while Ray-Ray and I had had enough of fishing and hiked back home, cutting through forested edges, roadsides and backyards. All along the way testing our strength by holding sticks for one another to break with the karate edges of our hands.