Become a Fan
By Barrie J KIBBLE
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Boy overcomes bully
SCORING GOALS. © 2003 B.J.KIBBLE
8:00 am. The bells rang loud and clear through the halls of Butte County Middle School. Billy Briscoe slammed me against the lockers outside classroom 5B.
Spitting bits of onion ring, he whispered, “Ten dollars, Reed you slimy weed, or end of the day -- out back.” He wiped saliva from his lips with his dirty shirtsleeve. “Then I’m gonna stomp your bones.”
Today, he seems twenty-foot taller and wider than me. His boa constrictor fingers tightened around my skinny neck, choking away my short life. The trapped blood boiled in my head until I thought it would explode like a melon struck by a dumb-dumb bullet.
“Okay okay. You’ll get your money.” When it comes to tackling a Big Foot, I’m no hero. Trouble was, I didn’t have the cash: Worst was, I didn’t know how to get it.
Gary Tate waddled up to me. My best friend grinned like he’d scoffed another box of doughnuts to widen his too fat frame. He sniffed; he’s always sniffing as if he has a permanent cold. Gary could sniffle for an American gold medal at the Olympics, if he ever found time between snacks.
He said, “Don’t worry about that creep. He’s a bag of wind.”
“That bag of wind is going to flatten me.”
“So what you gonna do, run?”
I shook my head. “I ain’t losing face in front of Chrissy.”
“Man, you won’t have a face when Briscoe’s finished. Pay the guy.”
“Will you lend me ten bucks?”
He laughed from his sneakers up. “Yeah, right. I’m falling over them.”
10:00 am. Morning break and I’m hiding in the bathroom. Billy Briscoe’s giant fists loom in my mind. I wanted to sign up for the witness protection program.
I caught Melvin Grimmond at the door and tried to sell him my schoolbooks. Melvin was the thick-spectacled, studious looking nerd you’d think would buy dirt for a garden from a fast talking salesman. He wasn’t having it though. He told me -- TOLD ME! -- that nasties like Briscoe need cutting down to size. He said I should make a stand and land the first punch. I snatched his glasses and huffed on them, then planted them back on his egg-shaped head. He wandered off, feeling his way along the green tile wall with two thin, bone-white hands.
10:30 am. English. Chrissy Pasternack turned and grinned at me from the front of the class. She thinks I’m her hero. I am, but I’m also the strong silent type. Rescuing cats from trees is as dangerous as my life should get. She doesn’t know this yet. She has heard about the fight and is sure who’s going to win. I know who's not going to win, but I didn’t let it show in my daft smile. I tossed her a wink. Mr. Franks, the teacher, gave me 200 lines for my misplaced affections. I thanked him. I wanted to ask him for ten dollars -- I didn’t.
12:30 p.m. Gary has another brainstorm during lunch. I should stow away on a ship to Iceland, or hijack a bus to Iraq where it’s quiet. I thanked him. I’m feeling generous. I’m convinced that thanking everybody will force God into bringing an avenging angel upon Briscoe. He doesn’t, and as I’m lobbing a ball into the side of the goal net from thirty yards, Briscoe’s on the sideline. Face grim and contorted, he’s chewing something with a bone in it. I’d like to think it’s chicken, but it’s probably the remnants of some poor kid’s arm or leg.
His sidekick, Oscar Lemming (his parents obviously had a natural instinct for animal similarities) was on tiptoes, big eyes wide. He smiled gleefully at me. He likes to watch a good fight. It’s on-the-job training for every bully’s apprentice.
Chrissy waved from behind the goal. I pumped my chest up, threw my head back and waved like a hero on a podium. Heck, I’m suddenly worried about my stick insect legs in my large shorts. She doesn’t care. She thought all heroes were entitled to one drawback.
The skinny Lemming bounded over. He clenched his puny fists, an attempt to look tough, but he couldn’t blow up an empty potato chip bag.
“What do you want?” I snapped.
“Billy’s upped the ante to twenty bucks.”
His grin split his freckled face in two. “Not a problem, we trust.”
Instead of the ball, I’m going to kick him. He seemed to read this. He backed off, turned, stumbled and then ran back to his keeper.
Chrissy is now waving like a lunatic. I, of course, wave back like an all-action-hero. Huh, more like a maniac heading for the ER.
Another precise kick and yet another ball glides into the top of the net. A confirmation that I’m better at soccer than dying. It’s good to be good at something. I want to play for the US team in the World Cup. Chrissy wants me to join the Marines, become an officer, win a crate of medals and live in a smart condo with two toy poodles -- and her!
Briscoe, on the other hand, wants me for dinner.
1:30 p.m. Gary’s final suggestion during Math class is supposed to be fail-proof. I will collapse and be carried off to the hospital earlier than planned. I asked him, quietly gnawing my bottom lip, what about tomorrow and the next day and so on? He shrugged and slipped another gobstopper in his ever-open mouth from a rustling bag under his desk. Mrs. Donnelley caught me delving in for one. Guess what? I got detention, but it was an extra hours reprieve from a beating. Perhaps Briscoe would have a sudden bout of amnesia or read a book about Mother Teresa during this precious sixty minutes. If I had the money, I’d buy him a copy.
I tried to avoid clocks for what remained of my life on earth, but I did know it was a free period. Chrissy found me skulking in the alley beside the gym. I told her I was training my mind for the big event.
She rolled her bright blue eyes. “Oh, Paul, I picked the right guy. You know that don’t you?”
“I know.” I replied, rather flippantly. “But right now, I’m not feeling too well.”
She toyed with a strand of her straight black hair and studied the ground. “Real heroes always feel the pressure before they go into action. Carpet Deme.”
She hugged me as though I’m soon to die. She is right. Chrissy Pasternack is always right, her mother is always right, her father is always right. I wanted to tell her that the phrase is Carpe Diem – seize the day, but my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth and my stiff lips were welded shut by her unexpected kiss.
Naturally, my body turned to jelly. If you knew Chrissy Pasternack so would yours.
Final period was Art. Miss Turner constructed an abattoir out of Kleenex boxes and red poster paint. She called it “The animal death house. A metaphysical image of senseless slaughter.” Whatever that means. Anyway, it doesn’t matter since most of us think she’s a sad alien. I finally decided that the rotten mess would uncannily resemble me in an hour or so.
Briscoe sat behind me, taunting me about the march of time. The lesson brought out the worst in him. Suddenly, kids had splats of red paint on their clothes and hair. Briscoe got detention. Got detention!
When I get to heaven, via Mrs. Turner’s slaughterhouse, I’m going to tell God that life isn’t fair.
End of school. Briscoe opened the door for me to the bad boys’ class. He smiled like a hungry lion. My face was a cross between a grin and something you look like when your parents have found an old school report card you swore was lost in the mail.
Mr. Partridge was the teacher who had to stay over. This was the type of man who believed all kids should be locked up until they’re thirty and then, and only then, should they be released upon society. He is not pleased with overtime. He is determined that both of us do something constructive and are suitably miserable while doing it. This man is economic with his time. I thanked him like an idiot as he shuffled paper.
He gave me a thunderous look and banged the sheets on our desks. “If you don’t complete this… it’s punishment every night for both of you until Christmas is cancelled.”
As Partridge walked back to his desk Briscoe nudged me.
His features were torn. A terrified face like an evil guy wears just before he dies at the end of a film. “I can’t do detention again. My dad’ll beat me. He’s always looking for an excuse.”
Partridge shouted, “Shut up and get on with it.” He leaned back in his chair, his well-worn shoes on the desk and closed his eyes.
I peered at the paper. It was an IQ test. I filled it in quickly. It wasn’t difficult. Even Chrissy could have done it.
To my shock Briscoe shook from head to toe, his face was chalk-white. As he nervously stretched his thick arms out and then pulled them back I saw the bruising, which I used to think he got from fighting and not from his dad.
I slipped him my paper. The relief on his face was a fireworks party.
Partridge stood up after fifteen minutes, wrung his hairy hands and waved us forward. “Time’s up.”
No doubt he wanted to go home and give pointless tests to his wife, his kids, and his pets. We placed our papers down.
He frowned. “Clever pair, aren’t you.”
We shrugged in unison. He let us go.
Outside, Briscoe bowed his head and scuffed the floor with a heel. The squeak of rubber resounded in the deserted corridor. “You’re okay, Reed. Anytime I can do you a favor, let me know.”
My heart burst in my head and I blurted, “I don’t want to fight you, but I will if I have to.”
He turned to me, looking bigger than ever. “Friends then.”
We shook hands. He almost crushed mine, but I smiled like a man saved from a firing squad.
Through the glass double doors I saw Chrissy on the steps, chewing her nails. I grabbed Briscoe's arm, gently. “There is one favor you could do for me.”
“When we get near those doors, let me shove you and you run off.”
He narrowed his eyes. This was a worrying turn of events, and the image of Miss. Turner’s Kleenex box massacre curdled my brain.
I gave a nervous nod toward the exit and Chrissy. “My…my girl thinks I’m a hero.”
“Sure, buddy.” He poked me with a gigantic finger. It knocked me back a step. “But don’t tell anyone. You gotta promise. I got a reputation.”
“I swear on my new soccer boots.”
He liked my answer.
It all played out well. Briscoe should take up acting. He fell like a stuntman and nearly overdone it with flailing arms and loud groans before he ran off. He enjoyed the actors’ role. It was the first time I’d ever seen him laugh.
Chrissy hugged me like I had returned from a foreign conflict. She told me she loved me. UGH! Then she waffled on about how easy it was for heroes to keep poodles.
As I walked out the doors with her arm locked around my waist, all I saw were the crowds packed into the stadium. All I heard was the ear splitting cheers as I walked onto the field ahead of my team.
Gary stood at the school gate, wide-eyed with a mouth full of leftover sandwich. He looked surprised, as if he’d expected a cripple. I told him I didn’t want to talk about what happened since it was too horrific. I swore them both to secrecy. Chrissy thought this a heroic and mature approach and expected no less of me. She even said she would try to like soccer.
I glanced back. Briscoe waved at me and then slapped Lemming on the head. When, and if, I can get away from my international soccer career, I’m gonna go see Briscoe at a theatre, or take in his latest film. I hope his dad recognizes the talent his son has and gives him a break. I hope Gary realizes what he is doing to his body, and gives himself a break. I hope Chrissy sees what sort of guy I am, and gives me a break.
Every budding hero needs a break, occasionally.
Site: Emporium Gazette
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|Reviewed by Debra Conklin
|You're a wonderful storyteller, Barrie. Your characters are real and you can easily visualize the entire story. Great job!
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|enjoyed the read|
|Reviewed by Lisa Young
|Loved Scoring Goals, Barrie, especially the part about Gary could sniffle for the American gold medal if he found time between snacks. Interesting, nostaligic, and humor filled story. Nice way with words. Lisa