The first time, the pavement was cold. This came as a disappointment because I'd thought about how the pavement would feel right before Terence hit me. I'd hoped it would be warm, just enough so that it might feel like a hug and provide a safe lull from the menace that hovered over me. But the pavement was cold. Cold against my left cheek. Cold against my left ear. Terence's foot pushed down on my right ear. C-Money and Francis shouted encouragement to him from a few feet away. I couldn't hear them that well. It didn't matter; their words weren't for me. I was pretty sure anyway. For a split second I thought maybe in their yelling and laughing one of them might have offered under their breath a sympathetic line, like, "hang in there." No, of course not, that would've been silly. I'm hopeless. I try to see the good in everybody, I guess. Guilty as charged.
The second time there wasn't any pavement, just mud. It happened on our school's soccer field after the big match. I was surprised by how quickly everyone packed up and left once the game was over. A hard rain motivates people. I tried to get a ride with the band captain, but he told me he didn't give rides to ninth graders. He also told me that he was in a hurry because he had to go have sex with my mother. I laughed like it was a funny joke. He just looked at me as if I was a crazy person and walked away. So the mud was pretty cold. A cold, wet late October mud. My left ear in the cold, wet late October mud, Terence's foot pressing down on my right ear, and the obligatory shouting and name calling from his friends. Pretty much was a repeat of the first time, except not on pavement, in mud. I also didn't for once think that either C-Money or Francis had said something compassionate to me. But out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Francis mouth to me "You want to go the mall?" I dismissed it quickly. Even if he did mouth that to me, it should have been clear to him that I was otherwise occupied and would not be able to join him. I do like the mall, though. I love its hustle and bustle and colorful displays. Some days, after I've finished my homework and put in an hour with my tuba, I go to the mall and wander. So as Terence pushed my face further down into the mud, and prepared to kick me in my sides, my mind wandered to the mall. I pictured myself riding the escalator. Serene music played in the background, something by Chris Isaak. I like him. He acts tough, but talks smart. Oh look, there's a sale at Chess King. Neat. I'm fond of Chess King. I need a two-tone denim shirt. Well, okay, that might be overdoing it some, but you can never have too many two-tone denim shirts, I say. I'm so fond of Chess King.
Francis wasn't there the third time. I had been walking with him right beforehand. He asked me about my tuba, and wondered if it was hard to play. But when he saw Terence and C-Money coming he ran off before they could see him. My right ear was against the ground this time. Variety is the spice of life, I suppose. There was nothing really special about the ground. It wasn't particularly cold or warm, it was just ground. There was a patch of brown grass in it, and whenever Terence grinded his foot against my head the grass blades pressed against my cheeks. They sort of tickled. I decided to focus on the tickle, rather than Terence's kicks. I tried to convince myself that this was just a game, a silly, rough game. So I laughed. Ha-ha. Kick. Ha-ha. Kick. I remembered how Uncle Dale used to play monster and chase after me and how when he caught me he'd raise my arms over my head and tickle my armpits. I loved it.
The fourth time was by accident. I had dropped the mouthpiece for my tuba, and it fell under a car. When I got on my knees to look for the mouthpiece the car door opened and Terence, C-Money, and Francis emerged. What luck. Terence pinned my head against the side of the car with his foot. The car was a Saturn. Maroon. The metal felt smooth and cool. C-Money did most of the name-calling and shouting. I didn't hear Francis say anything. His silence brought relief, like maybe he really was interested in learning how to play the tuba. Maybe he did ask me to go to the mall. Maybe he did say "hang in there" under his breath. But then Terence asked C-Money and Francis if they wanted "some of this," and I soon felt the thuds of different sized feet and styled sneakers. A few kicks had less oomph than the others. I hoped these were Francis'. When I came to, I found my mouthpiece in my coat pocket.
The fifth time was the last time. I was in Francis' living room. His mother had left us freshly baked cookies. Her note read, "Love you Fran". The cookies were tasty, but I hardly got a chance to eat any because Terence and C-Money and a new boy named Gerald showed up. Gerald had just moved to our district. When my homeroom teacher introduced him to the class she asked for a volunteer to help get him situated. I raised my hand, but Gerald chose somebody else. Francis' living room carpet had just been cleaned. I could smell the chemicals. Lemony. Terence's foot stood on my left ear. My right ear and cheek were pushed firmly into the lightly padded carpet. I could have used more padding. Francis's ear and cheek were against the carpet too. Gerald's foot was on his head. I wondered when Francis' mother would come home. I thought about her cookies. I could still smell the chocolate in the air. It mixed with the lemony carpet scent, and I closed my eyes and imagined I was in a bakery -- no, a donut shop. I love donuts. I'm not sure there is such a thing as a chocolate-lemon donut, but still the smell reminded me of a donut shop. Glazed donuts are my favorite. When I opened my eyes, Francis looked at me. Terence and C-Money and Gerald were all laughing and saying mean things, I'm sure; I stopped listening to them long ago. They started to kick us, and Francis's face became one big wince. "Roll into a ball," he said to me. Oh, I thought. So that's what he meant before. He never had any intention of taking me to the mall. I get it now. So I rolled into a ball, and quickly found Francis' advice to be wise. The kicks weren't quite as jarring, and I was able to cover up particularly sensitive areas of my body. Like my groin. Compared to the other times, this time wasn't so bad at all. I decided I could live with it if this is how it would be from now on. But Francis thought differently, I guess. He came to his knees, crying and screaming at Terence and C-Money and Gerald. I don't remember everything he said, but he used a lot of slang words. Terence and C-Money and Gerald appeared stunned. Then Francis grabbed the plate his mother's freshly baked cookies were on and hit it against the oak coffee table, shattering it into pieces. What was left of the plate, Francis held in his hand. He wielded it like a knife, and threatened to cut them, to "cut all you bitches up." The boys backed away, and then darted out the door. "I want to play the tuba!" Francis yelled, chasing after them. "I was born to play the tuba!" I grabbed a cookie from the carpet and put a chunk of it in my mouth: a tasty, tasty treat. I wondered what other kinds of cookies Francis' mother made. I hoped she made peanut butter cookies. I can't get enough of those. I pictured Francis' and me playing our tubas and eating his mother's cookies every day after school. Maybe she'd even start referring to me in her note because we'd be friends, Francis and me. Perhaps some days we'd go to the mall. We'd see a help wanted sign at Chess King and work there part-time during the holidays. I wondered what kind of employee discount we'd get. I'd take anything, really. I think some times their prices are too low as it is. It wouldn't matter, though, because I'd have a best friend. How neat would that be, to have a best friend? What relief that would bring. Francis, my best friend. My best friend, Francis. Who knows? It could happen; there's a first time for everything.
About the author:
Christopher Monks is indigenous to the isle of Komodo. He is three meters long and can run as fast as a dog. His razor sharp teeth and poisonous saliva make him one of nature's fiercest predators. He is also excellent at Boggle. It's best to let him shake up cubes. Take my word for it; it's important to him. To learn more, visit his website http://www.utterwonder.com.