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SPAGHETTI ARMS AND THE MEATBALLS
MARK H. NEWHOUSE
DEDICATION: To all the great Central Islip students who inspired me, and to all the Spagetti Arms who are fighting Meatballs of their own. You are not alone.
There is someone walking behind me. I’m used to having eyes in the back of my head in order to survive as a sixth grader in my new school, but walking to our apartment building with all the alleyways is still a pain. Any alley could hide an ambush. My dad doesn’t call me Spaghetti Arms for nothing. I wouldn’t hurt a firefly. My little brother says I couldn’t even if I wanted to. More on that later, but for now it is getting dark and I know someone is walking behind me. I don’t want to turn around.
“Oh it’s you,” I gasp, relieved it is only Virginia Johnson, a blond-haired sixth grader in Mrs. Silver’s class who lives nearby, but who I’ve hardly ever talked to.
“Hi,” Ginny says, a tiny gap between her upper front teeth showing as she catches up. “You’re late today?”
“I stayed in the school library.” I don’t tell her why. I’m surprised she noticed.
“Oh. Don’t you usually walk with your little brother?”
She noticed that too? “I had work on a report. Joey walks with his friends now.” I don’t want to tell her I was hiding out in the library.
She is still wearing her safety patrol belt and badge. “Safety Patrol meeting,” I ask. Maybe after the teachers get to know me better I’ll be asked to be a patrol?
“I just saw your ‘friend’ a few seconds ago.” Ginny usually smiles any time I’ve seen her, but she’s frowning and checking ahead of us.
I feel an icicle race down my spine. She can’t know. Can she? Is she deliberately trying to taunt me?
“He was with Jay and that meatball Mike who is like his lap dog.”
“Where? Where were they?” My mind is racing. What if they’re here? I know Walter lives somewhere close, and Jay lives in the next apartment building from me. I have no idea where Mike lives, probably in a sewer. He looks like a giant rat, with huge, reddish, pouchy cheeks and a nose that looks like it was broken in a dozen fights. They were why I had stayed in the library. And now they’re here? And even this girl knows? Oh why did we move? I have to think. She’s looking at me.
“They were headed for the park I think.” Ginny taps her front teeth with her finger.
Why am I noticing that?
“Maybe they were just headed for Jay’s apartment?” I can hope, can’t I?
“Maybe, but be careful,” Ginny warns, her pale blue eyes looking over my shoulder as if she expects Walter and his gang to come charging out any second. “Walter beat up a fourth grader last week when he wouldn’t fork over his lunch money.”
I’d heard Walter did that to little kids. He hadn’t tried it on me yet. I guess he was too much of a coward to mess like that with another sixth grader. “Thanks.” What am I supposed to say? I don’t want everyone knowing how scared I am.
“That’s what friends are for.” She gives me a little smile. “Well, I’m home.”
“See you later,” I say, half-wishing she’d offer to walk the rest of the way with me. “Thanks again.”
“No problemo,” she says, and just as she is about to enter her building calls, “Tell Jeff I said hi.”
Jeff? Is that why she talked to me? The only things Jeff cares about are his computer games and model rockets. I feel oddly disappointed, but what did I expect? No girl could be interested in a…coward. When I look back, Ginny is gone. I feel kind of sad about that.
Would Jeff be interested in her? He calls me Einstein, and I call him Frankenstein because he always has these wacky ideas, like putting live fireflies in a rocket. He thinks we’ll be able to see the rocket at night if the fireflies blink on and off. I think it’s kind of cruel, but do fireflies feel pain? Frankenstein laughed when I asked him that. I told you I wouldn’t hurt a firefly.
I shouldn’t have been thinking about Ginny, Jeff, his dopy rockets and fireflies. I should have been thinking of another way to walk home.
There are no trees left on the street where I live so they popped in a little park in the center of the tall, brick apartment buildings. Big mistake!
When the oak trees are full of leaves, they make the paths below them dark, almost like its night by five o’clock, and you have to stay on the gray, concrete, paths because the ground with its patches of tall grass is littered with dog poop. That’s something I just don’t get! I’d never let my dog poop on the grass (if I could have a dog), without picking it up, so why do so many people just leave it everywhere? The point is you have to stay on the concrete so there’s no place to run if the walkway is blocked.
I wake up from my thoughts about Ginny and Jeff when I see the trees above make where I’m walking almost into a kind of big tent, really dark and spooky. It hits me like a brick that this would be the perfect place for an ambush.
When I have that thought about the ambush, it is like a witch’s long fingernail is scraping slowly down my skin. I’m about to run when I see a large shadow standing in the exit. It can’t be!
I make to retreat and spot Jay’s red baseball cap. He is the only kid brave and stupid enough to wear a Red Sox cap in Queens. Mets and Yankees or die!
I’m trapped. Surrounded by piles of dog poop, I might escape, but at what cost? I keep praying I am just being paranoid.
“Surprise,” a voice like gravel says from right behind me.
I know the voice. I don’t want to turn, but what choice do I have? I now see two figures silhouetted in the other opening. Crap! I can’t move. I can’t breathe. Try something! Anything!
“Hi Walter! And is that Michael with you?” I am trying to sound unafraid, but their timing is perfect. The only escape is through the dog-poop-slippery grass.
“I said one day I’d get you,” Walter says, stepping out of Mike’s huge shadow. It was almost like he’d been part of Mike’s body but is now separating from the mother-ship and inevitably moving within fist-striking range.
“Shield’s up,” I’m silently imitating Captain Kirk of the Enterprise. But there are no shields, no force fields to protect my frail craft, this body that never felt a fist slamming into its fuselage at my old school in Sunnyvale, New Jersey.
I try to think, but nothing prepared me for the paralyzing fear rushing into my brain and knocking out all thought processes. I’m about to get killed and there isn’t anything I can do about it. Where’s Superman when you need him? I’m becoming irrational as Walter is taking hours to get here. Will you hurry up already? Let’s get this business over with so I can go home and lock myself behind my door for the rest of my miserable life.
“You’ve been a pain in my butt ever since you got here.” Walter is grinding his fist in the palm of his left hand like he’s crushing a bug. ME!!!
Mike is right behind him. No way to just shove the shorter Walter out of the way and barge past. I’m doomed, so I risk asking the question that’s bothered me for all the time Walter’s been picking on me. “Hey, Walter,” I say, hoping I don’t sound high-pitched like a girl, “Why do you dislike me? I never did anything to you?”
Mike has a dumb expression on his bloated, red face as if he wants to know the answer too. He looks like a big, dumb bulldog waiting for a command. Jay is silent, his eyes not revealing his thoughts. Of the three, he looks the most dangerous, like a razor sharp switchblade just before it springs open and guts you. No warning sound. Not even a movement of his ice cold eyes.
“Seriously, why do you dislike me?” I’m buying time trying to out-think them like Einstein would.
“Because you’re alive,” Walter says his voice raspy like sandpaper.
I’m about to say that’s not a good reason when I see his hand move.
I try to back away, my arms jumping automatically in front of me. The fist strikes and I feel as if the whole inside of my stomach has been punched in. Tears fill my eyes as I grab my tummy. I try not to cry, but it feels like my ribs have crashed through my back and I now have spikes like a stegosaurus sticking out of my flesh. They’re extinct. I’m about to be.
“One little slap and you’re crying like a baby?” Walter’s voice is like ice. “I’m sorry that hurt,” he says as he smashes his fist into my gut again. “Maybe that will make it better?”
I let out another cry of pain, drop to the ground and roll onto my side on the hard concrete. I’ll play dead like a possum. Maybe he’ll get scared and--
“Get up, you chicken,” Walter roars, his feet on either side of my face like he is going to stomp me with his sneakers. Cruddy sneakers too.
“Leave me alone,” I whimper.
A hand grabs my arm, jerking me to my feet. Mike is holding me up, my bony arms pinned behind my back. I’m going to get clobbered good while Mike is holding me so I can’t fight back. Good-bye Mom and Dad, I say silently as Walter readies his fists for his human punching bag.
It’s weird what you think of before you get clobbered. I am about to get my lights punched out and I’m thinking of my little brother. I’m thinking how I didn’t say good-bye to Joey, or tell him I really don’t hate him. I’m also thinking about the trees overhead. They’re kind of pretty I think as the sun is about to be extinguished on me forever.
“Hold him tight,” Walter orders. “He’s wriggling like a scared little worm!”
“I got him,” Mike says, pulling harder on my arms so I can’t fall or fight back.
Jay is behind Walter. I see his cap and narrow eyes. “It’s enough for now,” he says so softly I can hardly hear.
How can he sound so calm? He sounds like a killer in the movies. The calmer they are, the more scary they seem. Killing raises no emotions in someone like Jay.
“I’ll say when it’s enough,” Walter hisses, raising his fist again. “You know that. Right?”
Is he talking to me? I’m in pain. I don’t know anything. Mike is breaking my arms, his fingers are pinching deep into my skin as he is holding me up.
“You don’t want to hurt him too bad or his parents will call the cops,” Jay says. “You proved your point. Let the little crud-head go.”
“Shut up,” Walter hisses and grabs my collar with his steely fingers. “You want me to finish this today, don’t you, Hamburger?”
“I’m not Hamburger. It’s Burger, David Burger.” I’m correcting him? Now? Maybe it’s for the headstone I’m getting when he finishes killing me? “Here lies Burger, Dave. Beaten to a pulp in his grave.” I’m insane! He’s bashed in my skull and now I’m completely bonkers!
“You’re Hamburger to me,” Walter says, his face is bad-breath distance to me.
“Get it? Hamburger…dead meat.” He laughs maniacally at his own joke.
In a sick way I find it funny too. Even as I’m getting the crap beat out of me, some sick idea tells me that if he has his way now he’ll satisfy his bullying lust and never want me again. He’s an animal that will no longer bother with small fry when it can go for something with more meat on it. “Why don’t you leave me alone? What did I do to you?”
“Wrong answer, Hamburger.” He pulls back his fist and his face twists as if he’s the one in pain.
Thank goodness it will be over soon.
“Let go of him,” a voice comes from somewhere behind Walter.
“Go home. This isn’t girl’s business,” Walter hisses.
“You gonna hit me too? You fighting girls now?”
I see Ginny walking up to Walter, who looks wild-eyed, but suddenly slowly lowers his fist. “Come on dammit Ginny, you know I’m not going to hit you. Just get the hell away from here and I’ll let him go in a minute.”
Like I believe him? I’m surprised he hasn’t swiped at Ginny. Do bullies have rules they obey?
“I’m not leaving,” Ginny says. I notice she is taller than Walter. I wonder if I’m taller than her. I know I’m almost as skinny. “Skinny Ginny,” I used to call her in my brain only a few weeks ago. Now she looks like an angel.
“Suit yourself,” Walter interrupts my thoughts, “I don’t give a damn who watches me fix this little dirt-bag.”
I’m wriggling, trying to break Mike’s grip on my arms. He’s much too strong. That’s why he’s called “The Enforcer” and I’m called…you know…’Spaghetti Arms’.
Jay was standing next to Walter. There was no expression on his face. I thought he was going to knife me at any second with those unblinking cold eyes, but he only said, “Walter, I said it’s enough. You can get him later again.” Jay aims his eyes at Ginny.
Holy macaroni! Is he interested in her too?
“I can’t do this in front of no girl,” Mike suddenly says releasing my arms and letting me fall to the ground.
“Hold him up,” Walter shouts. “What the hell are you afraid of?”
“She’s going to tell! What do you think she’s standing around for?” Mike starts walking toward Jay who is standing behind Ginny. “You got him good already. Wait until we got no witnesses. You can clobber him as many times as you want.”
“I said hold him up!”
Walter is confronting Mike and Jay so I creep backwards and get ready to make a run for it.
“She’s not going to tell. She wants to watch,” Walter says, giving Ginny a twisted smile.
“Three against one, you cowards,” Ginny replies, her blue eyes boring into Walter’s face. “What’s wrong with the three of you? Beating on one little kid? You’re just a bunch of cowards! You should be ashamed of yourself…all three of you!”
Little kid? Is that what she thinks of me? I’d almost prefer being beat up.
Walter steps toward her, his hands tight fists and his face trembling with rage. “You want some too? Maybe they won’t shut you up, but I will.”
So much for rules for bullies. I get to my feet. My stomach hurts like crazy and my legs are like rubber bands. “No you won’t! “ I hear an insane clone of me squeal in a trembling voice. “You leave her alone.”
Walter’s face is total disbelief. “Are you kidding me? You’re telling me what to do?” He steps toward me fast. “I thought you learned your lesson, Mr. Brown-nose big-mouth fairy!”
That’s some combination of names, I think, until I see his fist in front of my face. My glasses are his target. I raise my arms and wait for the cracking sound.
The fist never lands. When I look up, Jay is holding Walter’s arm up backwards in the air. “Not now, I said,” he barks at Walter. “Get outa here, Hamburger,” he says to me. “Get out now.” How can he say all that without one sign of emotion and still be holding Walter’s shaking fist. He’s strong!
“Let go of me,” Walter screeches, trying to pull his arm free from Jay’s powerful grasp. “I’ll kill you kid the next time! You won’t have no damn girl to save your skin!”
“Get outa here,” Jay says again. “I’ll let him go if you don’t run now.”
“What about her?” The insane me is picking one heck of a time to be a knight in shining armor. Sir Spaghetti Arms?
“Just go. She’ll be okay.”
Ginny nods. “Run home.”
“Thank you,” I say, relieved she has released me from my knightly duty to defend her from these goons.
“I’ll get you! I’ll get you good next time!” Walter is screaming. “Let go of me, damn you Jay!”
When I clear the shadows of the park, I turn back. They are all gone. It is like it never happened. No Walter, no Jay, no Michael and sadly, no Ginny. The only sign that it had happened was the terrible pains in my stomach and the awful embarrassment I feel because a girl saved my life.
I still have three blocks to walk. Trust nobody.
I can never let my guard down again. No walk home will be safe. I can never just stroll along and daydream or smell the roses. In my gut, which is still aching, I know that one day Walter will find me again, and I will feel his fists pounding my face. And there is nothing I can do about it.
END OF CHAPTER 3- SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? WRITE ME A COMMENT AND YOU MAY WIN A FREE PERSONALIZED BOOK AND MY THANKS FOR HELPING ME.