[R.John Xerxes Piche is founder of Love Bunni Press, author of The Diane Files and Uncertain Nervous Systems, watcher of spaghetti westerns and publisher of Blister Packs. Copyright, all rights, all ANYTHING belong only to him.]
I was in the second grade and it had been a rough year. I had looked forward to Easter break since Christmas. The vacation was only a few hours old. I had spent most of the day inside playing figures, battling Stormtroopers with flying Wookies. With a half an hour before dinner would be ready, I went into the damp spring evening to kick at puddles and stab sticks into the mud. Consciously, I tried not to sink my sneakers into the slop, but was unable to resist. I was bored, but enjoying myself.
Phil Stitt lived next door. A few years younger than me and always dressed like an extra kid from the Brady Bunch – you know tight pale shorts and generic blue sneakers. Phil thought that he was an Indian. He truly believed that his humorless father and ill tempered mother discovered him in the rotted out hollow of the dead stump in his backyard. He truly believed that he had been left in a swaddle of blanket by some Squaw, unable to raise her newly born son.
Part of his mythological origin was an invented religious cosmology that deified logs, large sticks, and other broken branches. Each piece of dead wood either protected him or bestowed upon him magical Indian powers. Whenever he was playing outside, whether it be a pick-up kickball game or a disorganized game of guns, he always hugged to his chest some awkward chunk of timber.
That night he came staggering down his driveway, his white shorts a size too small, pinched his pale legs and made his legs resemble fat little bockwurst. His arms held up a thick branch. He cradled it against his tight fitted, faded yellow day camp hand-me-down t-shirt. He was singing an imaginary Indian War Chant imploring the Bark Gods to protect his troop movements and bless his evening war path. When he saw me across our two yards, he stopped in mid-step.
I had been standing holding a pointy stick of my own, punched into the mud next to a puddle pooled in a sunken slab of sidewalk. I called out to him, raising my hand so he would see me.
He let out a low pitched EEK! And let the branch roll from his arms as his fingers pitched it up. It smacked the lawn with a splashing thump. He pivoted on his heel, then bolted up the driveway. Seconds later, he returned with a new lump of wood, this one water-logged and squirming with slugs. He lifted it above his head as he shouted out some nonsensical intruder alert in his made-up Indian vernacular, then as if casting off a heavy barbell he pushed the log to the ground. Then he squatted down to pick up some of the gravel on his broken asphalt drive way, aimed and lobbed it at me.
With two front lawns and at least one huge spring-budding tree between us, I was in little peril. While the rocks fell in a wide mud-slapping radius around me, I took to returning the volleys. Phil was shouting his war cry as he weaved back and forth, ducking and dodging rocks that landed feet in front of him.
Out of the bed of Day Lilies my mom had just planted, I found a rock almost the size of my own fist. Without particular force and with absolutely no aim, I send this rock flying in a high pitched arc. Caught in the slow motion thrall, Phil and I, both, watched the awful, branch shattering trajectory of this unstoppable rock. It peaked flawlessly and came straight down on Phil Stitt’ nose, hitting his face with a grotesque flesh-breaking whack.
Shocked by the unexpected direct hit, I bolted into my house to hide. I could hear behind me, Phil’s panic turn into a death wail of tears and hyperventilation.
My mother was in the kitchen stirring a big vat of boiling spaghetti. The kitchen windows were sweating steam under the lace doily curtains. She looked up as I ran past, anything moving that fast always signaled trouble. Just as my mom called after me, the phone BRAAAAANG’d, angrily.
Sitting on the landing halfway between floors, I could hear Phil’s mom screaming obscenities, both through the walls of our home from next door and through the ear-muffled receiver pressed to my mom’s ear.
Seconds later my mom called me down to hear my side of the story. While she understood it was probably an accident, she was not at all happy that we were throwing rocks at each other in the first place. “How is that fun,” she wondered. She continuously failed to understand that it was always more fun when we were filthy dirty and in the middle of trying to kill one another. She wanted me to march right over the Phil’s house and apologize for what I had done.
After some whiney indignation, I stepped over the pricker bushes between our yards and stood on the concrete slab of the Stitt’s front porch. I knocked softly. The door swung open and Phil stood there behind the screen door. His nostrils caked with blood boogers, his chin smeared by rough towel swipes, his faded yellow shirt tie-dyed in dark gore, and his white cloth shorts splattered with errant drips. His mother leaned over him, her claw digging into his shoulder.
“DO YOU SEE…” she growled through clenched teeth and jerked Phil back and forth, so his hands bounced against the screen door.
As she continued, she yanked Phil back and forth as if he were a rag doll propused to punctuate her seething anger, “LOOK! Look at what you’ve done! Are you fucking proud of yourself, you little shit?”
I looked down at my sneakers. Phil’s mom screeched, “Look at him! Look at what you did!!” She waved the blood sopped bath towel, “This towel is RUINED because of YOU! Are you going to pay for it, you worthless little bully!?!”
“Sorry? You think a sorry is going to make one bit of difference?! Goddamn motherfucker!” her face went purple from the lack of oxygen.
“It was an accident,” I pleaded.
“SHUT UP!” She spit as she flung Phil behind her almost sending him to the floor.
“Get off of my property!”
The door slammed in my face.
I turned and went home.