Young Ones at Play
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by Richard Dani
(Author's Note: PG-13 for some violence and foul language. Nothing too severe.)
Mr. Anders, 6th grade teacher at Rudibaker Middle School, thinks it’s like riding a bike and drags on his first cigarette in nearly five years. It tastes awful but the nicotine feels like a kiss from an absent lover.
Then, he starts to talk. More to himself than the officer on the other side of the table who appears to be having trouble keeping his eyelids open. “It was a normal day, ya know? No different from any other. I woke up had a bowl of raisin bran and hopped in the shower. Nothing different. It was all the same—the same as any other fucking day. Ya hear about people who say they knew something bad was gonna happen the second they got out of bed—ya know, but that’s just bullshit. I had no clue…no warning.”
Mr. Anders finishes off the cigarette in three thirsty drags and taps it out in the ashtray. He points to the officer’s pack and the cop just nods in a lazy fashion. Mr. Anders grabs for one more and continues to talk. “When I got to ‘Rudi,’ that’s our nickname for the school, I went inside and signed in. I said good morning to the secretary and grabbed the walkie-talkie just like I do every goddamned morning. One of my jobs is to stand outside and watch the kids come to school. I get paid a little extra for it, but nothing to brag about.”
“I’m not outside maybe five seconds before I see this group of kids marching down the street. This one kid is small, I mean really small compared to the rest of them. I believe he’s in the fourth grade. He’s a bit of a wise ass I’ve heard. Anyway, he’s walking behind this sixth grader, Malcolm who has a reputation from being a bit of a tough guy, but I’ve never had a problem with him. Sure, he shows up late to class once in a while and he could try a little harder to do his work, but he’s always been respectful—at least to me.”
“Anyway, I can see this fourth grader mouthing off. He’s right behind Malcolm and he’s chawing at ‘em. Every time that little shit opens his mouth the rest of the crowd bursts out laughing and Malcolm’s face just gets angrier and angrier.”
“So, I start heading over to break it up before it turns into something ugly, but I guess I was a little slow. Malcolm turns and punches this kid right in the face and it looked like a hard shot because that little brat’s head rocked way back on his shoulders.”
“The punk deserves some credit. He didn’t go down. Nor did he cry. He just hauled off and threw a right hand of his own. It didn’t hit nothing but air, but it took a lot of balls to throw it.”
“By the time I reached the group, Malcolm had yanked a pencil from his pocket and he was threatening to stab this kid in the face. The fourth grader stood his ground though and kept calling Malcolm a wussy and saying stuff like Malcolm punches like a girl and crowd continued to laugh. They wanted to fan those flames, ya know?”
“Fortunately, I stepped between the two kids just as the fourth grader was lunging forward to throw another punch. I put the little one in a bear hug and told Malcolm to back off, which he did. Like I said, I never had any problems with him.”
“So, I’m clinging to the fourth grader and trying to force him towards the school, but the whole time he’s shouting insults at Malcolm like, “big lips,” “shit pants,” and at one point I think he called Malcolm’s momma a whore. Well, to kids that’s like the atom bomb of insults and I guess Malcolm just couldn’t ignore it.”
“And BAM! It happened.”
“The thing is, I didn’t really see it. There was a flash of an arm and I felt something brush against my shoulder, and then I heard this sound. It was sorta like when you stick a knife in a melon. Ya know, like a wet ‘thunk.’”
“And suddenly the fourth grader was screaming as if someone stuck a hot poker up his ass. At first, I thought maybe I was squeezing him too hard and that I had hurt him somehow. So I started checking his shoulders to see if I had accidentally separated one.”
“And that’s when I saw Malcolm. He was dancing around like he won the heavyweight title. He was shouting, “Fuck with me and see whatcha get. Huh, punk? For the rest of your life people are gonna call you pecker face. Ya know why, huh, ya know why? Because just like my dick you only gots one eye.”
“With that the crowd erupted and some boys started slapping Malcolm on his back. I looked at the fourth grader’s face and saw it for the first time. Christ it was gruesome. The pencil, Malcolm’s pencil, was the sticking out of the kid’s left socket. Blood was pouring out of the wound along with something that looked like a jelly. I guess that came from inside the kid’s eyeball when it was punctured.”
“I don’t really remember what happened after that. The principal showed up I think, but don’t hold me to it. I guess I went into shock because the next think I knew I was here and you were asking me what happened at school.”
“Mmm-hmm,” the officer replied while rubbing his forehead and casting an I-don’t-really-give-a-shit glare at Mr. Anders. “Do ya what started it?”
“No, not really. But if I had to make a guess, I’d say it had something to do with respect, which is all that matters to these kids. Ya know? They don’t have anything else. It seems like most of ‘em would die to get it.”
“Yep,” answered the bored officer. “And a lot of them do.”
With that, the cop stood up and exited the room. He had forgotten his pack of cigarettes for which Mr. Anders was more than grateful. He pulled out another and lit up.
He still was too numb to move.
If you have no questions or fears about your abilities, then you will learn nothing from your mistakes and know nothing about your limitations.