Several seconds ago Joey Barr told you he’s going to fight you after school for looking at his girlfriend.  You wanted to deny it—a weasel move on your part—but you just became mute and looked away while the skin on your neck got very warm. (You hate being a weasel.)

You were looking at Joey’s girlfriend.  She’s beautiful in a middle school way.  You didn’t wonder why she’s going out with Joey when you looked at her, but you think about it now because this fucking thug is causing you a lot of mental terror—and in math class!—and he only had to say two sentences: “You looking at my girl? You’re dead after school.”

It has been roughly twenty minutes since Joey’s threatened you. During that time, every word from the math teacher regarding the conversion of fractions to whatevers has been hijacked by the stories you have been creating in your brain. In one scene, you’re trapped in a ring of 50 other eighth-graders, face down in the dirt, while Joey sits atop your back, smashing each side of your face with dirty fists. Students are shouting—most want you to get up and fight back. Some cheer on Joey.  You lie there unable to move. 

In another scenario, you leave school and run as fast as you can, run all the way home without looking back. You’re safe, but that will only last for a night. The next day you’ll be met at the front of the school by Joey and the swarm of students who will surround you, and then you’ll be beaten before school—and your clothes will be ruined, and you’ll have to wear them in school all day.  Your parents will somehow get involved when they see the dirt smears and torn clothing. Your mother bought the shirt and pants for you, and she works so hard, so goddamn hard to give you things most kids have, but she sometimes comes up short because your father buys too much booze, and then he takes his own failures out on her, and she doesn’t complain, but you hear it all from your room. 

Your heart breaks for your mother.  You can’t do much to defend her from your father. You’ve tried to get between them a few times, but you are a boy.  And you felt terrible because he is your father.  You are so worked up about your life at home and your clothes and your mother that Joey Barr is now on his back, flailing on the floor, trying to block the legs of your chair as they strike his head again and again. You will hit him until you can no longer swing the chair or until your teacher—shrieking for you to stop—is able to pry himself through the tight circle of students watching it all.

Dave Donovan
Dave Donovan

Dave Donovan lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and has been teaching high school English for too many years. When he is not trying to find something meaningful to do, he is usually using his rowing machine or watching NHL videos with Auggie, his Jack Russell terrier.