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Snakes, Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

As he rushed in the back door, the screen door slammed.  He opened the cupboard and placed the hammer back on the shelf—he grabbed his books and rushed into the kitchen.  His mom looked up and smiled at him as she kept peeling potatoes in the sink.  His mind wandered to the cold metal hammer lying on the shelf covered in blood with bits of skin and a few strands of hair in the claws.  

            “See, I told you that the shot today wouldn’t hurt…and you wanted to stay home to avoid the nurse. “ His mom smoothed his hair and held his chin for a moment.  

Unable to reveal the pain, he smiled and floated out of the room.

            The sound of whispers and giggles filled the empty space known as the “old” gym.  Some kids were happy to be out of the classroom, to waste time, to not have to listen to Mrs. Martinsen’s old- lady voice for a few minutes of an endless day in an endless week in an endless year—Second grade.The county nurse has arrived and it’s shot day.

            “Viola Beyer”, that’s what her name tag proclaimed.  Everything about Viola exudes white: white tights, white shoes, white dress and a white cap.  She did not smile and she used her inside voice, the voice Mrs. Martinsen said they are supposed to use when they were in the classroom and not on the playground.

            He stood in line behind his cousin Candy and in front of buck-toothed Brenda waiting for the nurse. Alphabetical order, they always stood in alphabetical order.  His palms began to sweat and his heart beat faster.

He watched the first student take a seat next to the table where the cold little bottles and plastic syringes were all lined up like soldiers ready for battle.  Bryan was first. He watched Mrs. Beyer prepare the injection.  She skillfully held the little bottle in her left hand as she jabbed the needle into the bottom of the bottle.  She drew out some of fluid.  

            The boy felt his face turn red.  Heat overwhelmed him.  Bryan glanced up and laughed giving a little head nod.  The boy smelt the alcohol, a clean smell not altogether unpleasant but he knew that this smell preceded the “little prick” that followed.  The boy’s arm hurt.

            Finally he melted into the chair, looked up at the gymnasium windows and tried not to make eye contact with any other student especially Brenda with bad stringy hair.Does she ever wash it; does she even own a comb?  She irritates me and now Viola Beyer irritates me.  Mrs. Beyer grabbed his arm and he felt the soft cotton ball with the cool alcohol wipe over his skin. He held his breath.   I have to pee.  I feel pain in my stomach.  I feel light headed.  I feel the needle go into my arm, pain exploding, I think I am dying.   “You’re done,”  Mrs. Beyer proclaimed.  

“No more shots for two years”…that’s what his mom told him that morning as he tried to convince her that he was too sick to go to school.

The bell rang.  Sounds echoed as students darted through the halls.  The heat of the afternoon sun and the smell of fresh fall air hit the boy like a prisoner being freed from solitary confinement.He smiled as he walked away from the school building.  The afternoon was his— the trees he wanted to climb, the games he wanted to play, and the stories he needed to tell.  As he walked down the cracked sidewalk he kicked the leaves releasing a musty smell that almost made him sneeze.  Kids ran by the boy but he did not hear their laughter or the sound of their voices. They aren’t real.  He saw the sidewalk ahead of him but the scene froze.

            Pain shot through the boy’s body and his books hit the ground.  His knees hit the concrete as he braced his body from the fall.  Blood began to flow from his upturned hands and his shot-injured arm exploded with pain.  He looked up to see Brian’s face.

            “Hurts don’t it?” he blurted out through an evil grin.

            “Get up you big baby ‘for someone steps on you.  Did you piss your pants when the nurse gave you that shot this morning?”  He stared at him, he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t respond, he couldn’t move.  The boy tried not to cry.  I can’t give this asshole the satisfaction…Bryan will tell everyone tomorrow in class that I cried.  

            “Screw you, you little pussy, get up and go home to your mommy.   You’re going to cry… come on you little pussy, cry for me, cry for me…”Bryan kept taunting him but he couldn’t hear the words even though he could see his lips move.  The voices in his head consumed him.

            Because he didn’t get a response, Bryan ran off.  Cars drove by but no one stopped to help the boy.I hate Bryan, I hate school, I hate my teacher, and I hate this town with people who drive by a person in need…without stopping.  All goes quiet.  

He felt himself drift off into the clouds, in a space he went to when he was bored at church, waiting for the last hymn so he could go get some juice and donuts in the church hall and run around with the other kids before Sunday school started.  It is the quiet place he escaped to when his Dad came home drunk and cussed at him. “You are such a disappointment as a son.”  It’s where he went when his Mom yelled, “The garbage needs to be taken out!”  or “ Someone needs to go to the basement to get me a bucket of potatoes to peal for dinner.”  The boy never responded but found himself retreating inside or above, unaware.  But this time was different; he was organizing the hate into small dark spaces.

            He crept into the house, closing the door quietly.   He could hear the TV blaring from the living room and the stale smell of his mom’s Pal Mal cigarettes.  He opened the cupboard in the entry shed.  He didn’t know what he was looking for. He grabbed the handle of the hammer and placed his books on the tool shelf quietly shutting the cupboard door and slipping out of the house.

            He ran down the street and climbed his tree. Perched in the branches, he knew he was safe; the place above everyone.  He waited.  He could hear the voices in his head as he focused on the dense collection of leaves that enveloped him.  The voices yelled and some used bad words, some begged, some command.  Am I a bad boy?  Do my parents love me?  Who cares if I live or die?  I hate you.  

Safe on his branch, he began to relax into his “after-school” time and slowly he daydreamed.

I’m swimming in the lake and I feel the June sun, boats speed past me making waves that move my body weightlessly and free.  I smell the barbeque and the chard odor of hamburgers; I hear the sound of beer tabs popping open and my Mom’s high-pitched laughter.  Dad is pulling her out of her lawn chair and she reluctantly dances to some whinny country western song blaring from the 8-track tape player on the dock…then Mom throws her beer in his face and yells something about not wanting to fall into the water and mess up her hair.  I smell the pungent odor of beer.

             I’m riding horses at my Uncle Bud’s farm, playing in the hayloft.  “Don’t be afraid of Sandy, he can sense if you are scared, hold the reins tight, show him where you want to go.”  I’m up so high on the horse and I’m going toward the pasture.I decide where to go, I’m driving this horse.  I can see my sisters sitting on the fence, waiting to take their turn on Sandy, Dad ‘s sitting on the back of the pickup truck tail gate smoking a cigarette, smiling at his son, proud of me for doing such a good job riding the horse like the big kids do.  I smile and a warm feeling wells up from inside me, I’m glowing but then the horse stops, he puts his head down and begins to scratch the ground with his hoof; he’s making sounds that vibrate on my butt.  Is he mad at me?  I pull the reins and try to get him to go again.  Dad is up and running towards me just as the horse kicks up its hind legs and propels me off, straight over his head and hitting the ground.  I look up just as Dad reaches me, his voice full of disappointment and he begins to repeat the horse-riding list of directions…again.  I hear nothing.

He didn’t hear Bryan climbing up the tree.

            “Hey pussy boy, be careful or your ass will fall off that branch.”  

            He turned around just in time to see Bryan at the bottom of the tree beginning to grasp the bottom limb on his way to is branch.  He watched his every move.  Bryan skillfully grabbed each branch and swung himself up the tree like a monkey.The boy waited.