Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Yaaay!" (1957, a short story out of Minnesota)

(1957, Downtown, St. Paul, Minnesota)

On the middle of the street next to the park that summer, Mike Rosette and I had our first and only fight. Downtown, near the State Capital Building was just a handful of aging dwellings, one long gray painted building that looked more like a woodpile (where Mike lived), and a park across the street like a trench scraped to the bone, just packed earth (further down, was the Mississippi River, and the levees); St. Paul, back then was a dull, conservative city, possessing little to nothing, not even loud noises. To Mike and me, it was alive though, if only because of the fact that the city was our stomping grounds, we rode our bikes throughout the city like the Lone Ranger and Tonto. And the old empty houses that were ready to be torn down, was our battleground. We ran through them, as if we were wild Indians. We both went to the same school, St. Louis, down on Cedar and Tenth Street. About four blocks away from where Mike and Colleen Macaulay lived, the best looking girl in class, I was infatuated with her—and so were half the other boys in class.
It was starting out to be a very hot and dry summer, since there had not been rain in three weeks. We were all nearby the park, and Colleen showed up, three teenagers stood across the street. Then suddenly Mike and I noticed the three boys were watching us, and Colleen, who had an armful of groceries. They were laughing not loud but laughing about something Mike said about Colleen, that she thought she was high and mighty because the teacher in our classroom favored her over everybody else, and I shouldn’t bother with her—she didn’t hear that but the three boys did.
“What was that he said about your girlfriend?” One of the big boys asked. Then his friend said to me, “Come on over here, kid!” and I moved over three feet or so—they had moved from across the street to the middle of the street now—there was something curious in his voice also—insistent and he whispers in my ear, “You should fight him, stand up for your girl.” (Although she wasn’t my girl, she wasn’t anybody’s girl.)
I didn’t have time to wonder or speculate, because suddenly Mike stooped before me, I could have moved but I didn’t, “They just want you to beat me up; they want to see a fight, that’s all, put on a show for them.”
“There’s your girlfriend, don’t be a coward, a chicken…!” said one of the three boys.
Colleen was puzzled on what was going on, she hadn’t heard what Mike had said, but had just stopped to say hello. Now Mike was looking at me with that expression on his face, that said, “Don’t get pulled into this.”
I was eleven years old then; I didn’t know triumph; I didn’t really even know I was going to fight over a girl. Then without warning, I hit Mike, and pushed him to the ground, and was about to slaughter him with my fists and the guys were coming on faster, saying: “Hit him, get him, punch him,” and all sorts of things…
“Chick!” Mike said. Colleen had put her groceries down, and she was walking slowly towards me, “This is what they want you to do, it’s just a game for them.”
“He doesn’t matter,” one of the voices said, “Hit him a good one!”
There I was crouched over him, my hands in a fist form, a fierce sun overhead, and Colleen, just staring at me and Mike, and I looked up at the three boys—then there was a moments hesitation, it was as if I had gained my senses back, grabbed Mike by the arm, and helped him up. The boys said a few words, then they were gone, as if the show was over, why stick around. Mike and I watched them go. I was happy it didn’t ruin our friendship, and Colleen asked, “Was this about me?”
“Nothing,” I said, “it was over nothing,” but she of course knew different. I brushed Mike off, as Colleen just looked at me, as if I was her hero. I figured she didn’t know anything about it—I mean, didn’t know the complete truth, and so why not leave it that way.
Then I said, as the Lone Ranger might have said, “Yaaay!” and Mike and I ran to our bikes, jumped on them as if they were horses, and headed on down to the Mississippi Cliffs, to kick some bums in the feet, to wake them up in the caves and have them chase us. It was a wild summer.

No: 712 (1-23-2011)