(RoTuN)Clifford K. Watkins, Jr., is a thirty-two-year old writer/poet/ rapper/lyricist/spoken-word artist originally from High Point, North Carolina....read more He currently lives in Jacksonville, Florida.
IT WAS A WARM SEPTEMBER AFTERNOON when the Middleton High School Buffaloes walked out of the gymnasium toward the activity bus. The Middleton talk-radio sports personality, Billy Strange, predicted that the Buffaloes would finally break their ten-year losing streak against the Baine County Bucaneers from the adjacent county. The players were excited to finally get to play in their first game of the season after enduring spring practice and two-a-days in the unforgiving heat and humidity.
Even sports reporters from the larger metropolitan areas of the state predicted that the Buffaloes would make a serious run in postseason play. The Buffaloes were anchored on defense by sophomore defensive tackle, Simon Moss, who made a big impact during his freshman year, recording 80 solo tackles, sixteen of which went for a loss. Simon was only four months shy of his fifteenth birthday, but he could bench press over 400 pounds and ran a 4.8 in the forty. For his height and build, Simon was unbelievably fast from sideline to sideline. Simon stood six-foot tall and weighed 270 pounds, with a nineteen inch neck.
On offense, the Buffaloes featured star tailback, Medford Alton, another sophomore who placed third in the 100 meters at the state track meet during his freshman year, and already had the state long jump record of twenty-five feet. Alton was 6’2 and weighed 220 pounds, often drawing comparisons to Eric Dickerson for his upright running style. The local media were enamored with the young man’s smile, and his laugh reminded everyone of Eddie Murphy.
Aside from the sophomore players in the spotlight, the Buffaloes returned fifteen starters from the previous season’s six and four squad. Most of the alumni were hopeful that it would be the year that the Buffaloes would break their losing streak with the Baine County Buccaneers. The losing streak against the Buccaneers went back ten years, and all of the coaches had constantly reminded the players that it was time to break the losing streak. The last time that the Buffaloes had beaten the Buccaneers, head coach, Crawford Adams, was a senior in high school, playing defensive back for the Buffaloes. Back in 1980 when the Buffaloes dropped their first two games before running the table and winning the state championship, Crawford Adams had been the town hero, returning a ninety yard fumble recovery for a touchdown in the final three minutes of the game. During his senior season at North Middleton College, Adams had intercepted seven passes, four of which were returned for touchdowns.
Adams was a fiery coach who wore his emotions on his sleeve, and the players absolutely loved him because he had played defensive back in college, starting all four years at cornerback. In college, Crawford’s nickname had been “Killer.” Crawford was a small man by any standard, standing only 5’6 and weighing 160 pounds, but what he had lacked in size, he made up for with speed and tenacity.
Simon sat on the activity bus thinking about all the hype he had gotten in the papers and it made him nervous. His hands were sweaty and his mind was racing with negative thoughts as he looked toward the practice field, remembering the first time that he met Coach Crawford.
After his eighth grade year, Simon was befriended by Coach Crawford while kicking extra points on the Buffaloes’ practice field. Crawford had heard how dominant the kid was at the middle school level, and was somewhat skeptical about the boy’s age. The first weekend after school turned out, Simon Moss practiced kicking field goals while Crawford circled the track. Having never been to see the Buffaloes play, Simon had no idea who Crawford was.
As Simon jogged into the end zone and in between the goal posts, he heard someone shout his name.
“Yeah, who are you?” asked Simon
“I’m Coach Crawford.”
“I’ll be your head coach when you get to the varsity level.”
Crawford looked at the young man’s physique and figured that he had probably failed a couple grades. Simon looked at Crawford thinking to his self that the coach resembled Burt Reynolds, and tried not to laugh, thinking about his father’s Beuford T. Justice impersonation.
“Well, I think that I’d like to give varsity a try this summer.”
“Do you think that you’re ready to play varsity?”
“I was born to play this game!”
“So, how old are you, big guy?”
“I’ll be fourteen in January.”
“You’re pulling my leg, right?”
“No, I’m thirteen; I started school in the first grade because I could already read and write.”
“So, you must be a pretty good student?’
“I like to read and make up stories, but I don’t do well in school.”
“I didn’t much care for school, either!”
“Well, I got a date with a hot one tonight, so I better get going. Hey, Simon, you got a girlfriend?”
“No, not yet. I’m still getting past the cooties phase. I went from hating girls to wanting to have sex with them in the blink of an eye.”
Coach Crawford smiled as he turned toward the gymnasium, scratching his head and laughing.
Simon remembered what he said to Crawford about girls, smiled and looked at the floor shaking his head. Simon rested his head on the seat in front of his, and tried to visualize his self getting off of the ball quicker than Michael Dean Perry. Then Simon envisioned himself over the center in a sideways stance like his hero, Joe Klecko. Simon always told everyone that he was going to have the toughness of Klecko, and the speed of Gastineau.
As Simon opened his eyes, the bus came to a halt. The assistant coaches took their bags off of the bus and headed toward the visitor’s end zone to chat with the opposing coaches.
Crawford didn’t allow a sound on the activity buses in route to the games. If anyone opened their mouth on the bus prior to the game, they’d be running the hill behind the school until their tongue fell out the next Monday. Crawford stood up with a scowl on his face and told the team that it was their year.
“Forget about all the guys before you. This team has talent and depth at every position. I’ve had lesser teams in the past that I knew not to expect much from. I’m hard on you guys because there’s no reason why we can’t run the table. I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I know that this squad has the ability to be something special. I want everyone here to go over their assignments in their head. We’ve put in the work in the off season, so there’s no excuse for senseless penalties. Back and receivers. We’ve done countless ball-handling drills; there’s no excuse for putting the ball on the ground. If you fumble the ball, you’ll run that damn hill until I get tired of watching you gasp for air. Lineman, there’s no excuse for holding or jumping the gun. We want to hit the opponents, not grab and dance. This game will be won at the line of scrimmage. Don’t fool yourselves; this squad you’re facing tonight has excellent team speed. Without question, we’re going to have to be more physical than they are. We’re going to ram the damn ball down their throats. Simon and Medford. Forget about all that bullshit in the papers. We are a team. There’s no room for individuals; this a team sport. Without your teammates, you’re nothing. We have to function as one. Simon, play your gap; stick to your assignment. Don’t pull that shit like you did in the Jamboree and not play your position. There’s no room on this team for players that don’t want to follow the game plan. Davis, Eason, Marcus and Ellis. You guys have to communicate out there; we can’t have dissension among the ranks. Medford, Hayes, Johnson and Sprat. There’s no reason to reverse the field. This game is going to be a north-south game! Okay, men, let’s go into the locker room and focus on the task at hand. Remember, we are a family out there!”
The players exited the bus carrying their pads and helmets as the fans began to fill the stadium. The Baine County band was playing “Eye of the Tiger” moving in unison to the music. The welcome smell of freshly cut grass was in the air as gnats and mosquitoes swirled around the stadium lights. The Baine County stadium was much larger than the one in Middleton, having a ten-thousand seat capacity.
Simon sat staring at his jersey number, 73, imagining that he was Joe Klecko. He remembered how his defensive-line coach, Darvis, told him that someone would write a book about him someday. Simon was ready to unleash all of his nervous energy on the first person he hit.
The team sat in the locker room waiting for Coach Crawford to call for the kickers, backs, and receivers. Simon, sitting on the cold concrete, had butterflies in his stomach as he stretched out on the floor, trying to relax. Simon again visualized himself getting off of the ball like Michael Dean Perry. Simon was a bundle of nerves by the time coach Crawford called for the rest of the team. When the team started out of the cool, dimly lit locker room, Simon’s heart was racing and his legs began to tremble.
Simon began talking to himself under his breath as the team lined up to do their stretches. “I’m ready to do this? What? Are you ready? Yes, I’m going to kick some ass! No one can stop me! I’m ready to go, baby!”
As Simon was stretching out on the ground, Coach Crawford began whispering in his ear.
“Simon, you’ve got to play your gap. You don’t have to make every tackle, understand?”
Simon nodded his head, and Coach Crawford slapped him on top of the helmet.
“Go out there and get ‘em, boy! You once told me that you were born to play this game, remember?”
“Well, this is your moment to shine!”
After the team finished warming up, they headed back to the locker room to use the restroom and to say the team prayer. After assistant coach Darvis led the team in Prayer, coach Crawford started punching the lockers until his fists bled, screaming “I want this damn game more than any other game that I’ve ever participated in, as a coach or player! I want to kick some Buccaneer ass! This one, god damn, I’m hyped. I wish that I was out there knocking heads with you tonight, boys!” As blood trickled down coach Crawford’s hands, and his face turned flush red, he looked at the team with fire in his eyes.
The team rose to their feet screaming, holding their helmets in the air, and walked out of the dimly lit locker room into the visitor’s end zone, waiting for their eyes to adjust to the bright lights. The senior captains led the team onto the field, down the middle of the cheerleaders and onto the visitor’s sideline. The referee called for the captains and both teams sent three players to the center of the field, where they all shook hands.
“This is heads, and this is tails,” said the referee.
The referee flipped the coin as heads was called by the Buffaloes’ captain.
Simon was happy because he knew that he was going to get his first series out of the way. Up until the first play, Simon was always extremely anxious. Simon paced back and forth as the kick-off team went onto the field.
The Buffaloes kicked off and the deep man received the ball on the eight yard line, returning out to the twenty, before being taken out of bounds by a host of Buffalo defenders. Simon took a deep breath on the sideline, and then exhaled as Medford Alton clinched his fists and brought them down on Simon’s shoulder pads.
“Go get ‘em Simon!”
Simon ran onto the field and the Buffaloes’ crowd began to cheer. Simon got into the huddle as the linebacker made the call.
The Buccaneers came out in an I-formation and the quarterback started barking out the signals. Simon was over the center, a shade to the left. Simon watched the center’s hand, and blew by the center before he could react, hitting the fullback head-on causing the fullback to hit the quarterback, who fumbled the ball while trying to hand off to the tailback. The ball rolled around and was recovered by the Buccaneers’ tight end, resulting in a five yard loss. On second down, the right guard attempted to cut block Simon as he pursued down the line to assist two other Buffaloes on the tackle. The play resulted in a three yard gain. On third down and twelve, just as the ball was snapped, Simon split the double team and swam past the fullback to sack the quarterback for a six yard loss. The crowd went wild!
It was fourth down and the Buccaneers were in their punt formation. The Buffaloes were going to set up a right return. As the ball was snapped, Simon rushed up the middle, narrowly missing the ball as it came off the punter’s foot. Simon jumped up and raced down field wanting to help set up the wall. Just as Simon got a full head of steam, the whistle blew.
A few seconds after the whistle blew and Simon stopped, one of the Buccaneer defenders flew head first into his left leg, breaking his femur bone, sending Simon to the ground with a blatant cheap shot. Simon was dazed as his teammates urged him to get to his feet. Simon knew that his leg was broken because he heard it snap like a stick. Simon was in a lot of pain, but he didn’t cry or complain. He took it like a man, and pulled his head upward with his facemask, listening to number five on the opposing team. “Yeah, I got that bastard, he ain’t shit!” Coach Crawford quickly raced onto the field and squatted down over Simon to prevent him from seeing his leg.
“What happened, Simon?”
“One of the guys cut me low after the whistle blew; I never saw it coming. Promise me one thing, coach?”
“You write down number five’s name on a piece of paper!”
Simon sat up talking to Coach Crawford, listening to a few members of the crowd mock him. Simon’s father came down onto the field as Coach Crawford continued talking to Simon about the first time that they met on the practice field. Simon followed Crawford’s conversation, but all he could see was the defender, and his voice echoed in his mind. “Yeah, I got that bastard, he ain’t shit!” Simon wanted to try and hop off of the field, but coach Crawford held him down until the paramedics came to lift him onto the cart. Simon’s dad was beside himself.
“It’s okay to cry, Simon!”
“No dad, I would rather die than give ‘em the satisfaction!”
As Simon was wheeled off the field, the crowd cheered, but all Simon could see was the face of the player who had blatantly hit him low after the whistle.
Simon was put into the ambulance and the medics smiled at one another. The medics shot Simon up with pain killers, but the pain was getting more intense as the adrenaline wore off.
The thought of such embarrassment had never crossed Simon’s mind as he listened to the medics talk amongst their selves.
“So, that’s the superstar we’ve been reading about in the paper, huh?”
“Hey, give the kid a break.”
“Well, it doesn’t look like he’ll be leading the Buffaloes into the playoffs this year.”
As the ambulance rode up the hill into the parking lot adjacent to the field, Simon could hear the crowd cheering. He wondered what was happening, thinking to himself that his life was over. “How can I ever face people again after this? Sheesh, I never imagined this happening to me in a million years. Damn, my leg hurts.”
One of the medics turned to Simon to ask if he wanted to go to the Baine County Hospital.
Simon thought to himself for a moment, and finally said no. Simon told the driver that he wanted to go home to Middleton.
It was a rough ride back to the hospital in Middleton, going through town, the pavement was rough and it seemed like the ambulance hit every bump on the road. Simon grimaced every time that the ambulance hit a bump.
By the time Simon was rolled into the hospital, he was in agony. But still, he never cried or complained. He lay flat on his back replaying what had happened, over and over in his mind, oblivious to pain or emotion. After being shot up several times while waiting for a surgeon, Simon slipped into unconsciousness.
The operation on Simon’s left femur bone lasted nearly five hours. The doctors tried twice unsuccessfully to reset his leg, but finally on the third time, it worked. At one point during surgery, Simon began to regain consciousness on the operating table and could hear a drill, then went back under. When Simon awoke at 5 AM, he was alone in a dark room, only vaguely remembering what had transpired the night before. He tried to move, but the pain in his leg was almost unbearable.
Simon wanted to scream, but he figured it wouldn’t do much good. After lying in darkness for nearly two hours, the door to his hospital room finally opened. Simon squinted, trying to make out who was at the door, while his eyes slowly acclimated to the light.
The doctors inserted metal pins into Simon’s leg that were going to eventually start pushing out after six weeks, along with a metal rod in his femur bone. Simon started putting the pieces together in the dark room, finally remembering what had happened. Simon could see the player in his mind that had speared him low after the whistle. “Yeah, he was wearing number five. I remember, now!” That bastard speared me low after the whistle. Son of a bitch!”
After being in the darkness for what seemed like an eternity, a nurse finally came into the room wanting Simon to urinate.
“Here you go, honey. Now you’re gonna have to urinate into this container, or else we’re gonna have to cath ya.”
In addition to being asked to fill a piss bottle, the nurses made Simon breathe into a silly tube. Simon spent two months in bed without ever venturing outside, often losing feeling in his lower leg. The doctors described the loss of feeling as unexplainable nerve damage. At one point, Simon wondered if he’d ever walk again, much less play football. After six weeks, the pins that were holding the bottom of the femur bone in place started to push outward.
Simon had to endure a second minor operation to remove the pins. When the doctor brought the pins to Simon, he wanted to do something special with his keepsake. So, he had his father find someone to mold the pins into a small medallion surrounding a 1913 Buffalo Nickel that Simon had found years earlier while metal detecting with his father in front of an old shack in Hinesville. Simon’s father did just that. Simon would wear the necklace for fourteen years before ever taking it off. Simon never played football again.
After his junior year of high school, Simon’s parents died in a fiery car crash outside of Westonburg while returning home from his father’s company picnic. Simon had planned to ride along with his parents, but he had a stomach virus that confined him to the bathroom for most of the morning. Being an only child, Simon’s parents were his whole world. He had been very close to his parents, especially his father, who had never missed one of Simon’s football games since he was eight-years-old, back when he played peewee football with the twelve-year-olds.
Having expected his parents home from the picnic, Simon began to worry when the sun went down, because he knew that his father never missed Tuesday Night Fights with Shawn O’ Grady & Al Albert. As the fights went off around 11 PM, Simon was very worried. Simon picked up the phone to call his grandmother, but there was no answer.
“Sheesh, I wonder where in the heck they’re at? Dad never misses Tuesday Night Fights.”
Simon turned the channel to the news, and his mouth dropped. The reporter was standing in front of a charred vehicle that resembled his father’s work van. The reporter on the scene confirmed Simon’s worst nightmares when she said that three adults in the vehicle had been killed when a van apparently had a blowout and spun out of control, resulting in a six-car accident. Simon stared at the screen, unable to move. At that moment, Simon knew why his grandmother hadn’t answered the phone.
“Dear God, they took granny to the picnic." Simon sat staring into space, remembering the time that he and his father had found the Buffalo Nickel and tears rolled down his cheeks as he wondered what he was going to do without his mom and dad. Simon pulled the medallion out from under his shirt and kissed it, as a mixture of tears and snot rolled onto his lips. Simon would never be the same.
Simon stood in the cemetery as his mother’s coffin was lowered into the ground, listening to a preacher ramble on about the mercy of God staring into nothingness as his uncle Ray put his hands on Simon’s shoulders. The whole ceremony was a blur. Simon wanted to stay in Middleton, but his uncle Ray was his only relative. Ray insisted that Simon move down south to Rock City, where he could start anew. Two days after his parents and grandmother were laid to rest in summer’s Memorial Garden; Simon packed his clothes into an old laundry bag and left Middleton for Rock City.
In some ways, it was a relief to be away from the town where he’d become the butt of a joke. Some people called Simon a coward for not returning to play football. Simon wanted desperately to return to the gridiron, but the loss of feeling in his leg would come and go for two years.
Simon left the small town for life in the city with his uncle, Ray. Simon was a shell of his former self. Having lost his passion and his family, Simon spiraled out of control, eventually becoming a member of the most feared gang in the city: The Northshore Killers. Simon soon learned the code of the street, and eventually his reputation would become legendary. For several years, Simon’s life was a blur of murder, drugs and chaos.
Shortly after arriving in Rock City, Simon would meet a guy named Red that introduced him to the underbelly of society. Red was a member of the Northshore Killers, a street gang with nearly a hundred members.
One night while standing outside of Uncle Ray’s trailer, Simon was confronted by two guys that asked him why he was standing on their corner.
“Hey, man, what you doing on my curb? This is our spot!”
Simon, thinking that the guys were joking smiled and turned to walk away. As Simon walked toward Uncle Ray’s trailer, the smaller of the two punched Simon in the back of the head. The larger man pulled out a 25-caliber handgun. Simon had never been in a fight up until that moment. The larger guy towered over Simon, turning the little gun sideways extending it toward his head. Simon was very afraid, yet he stared into the larger man’s eyes without blinking.
“You ain’t scared, man? I could pop your big ass right now, you bitch! What’s up?”
Simon thought to himself for a second, and then he turned his head and began to speak. “Put the gun down, and fight me like a man! I’m not afraid of you! Put the gun down, and we’ll see who is a bitch!” Simon continued to stare into the larger man’s eyes, never once blinking.
The smaller guy started toward Simon swinging his fists. Simon quickly sidestepped the smaller guy and landed a right hand flush on the guy’s face, knocking out three of his teeth, sending him face-first into the pavement, as blood poured from his mouth. The guy would lay motionless on the pavement for several minutes as his body involuntarily twitched. The larger man circled to Simon’s left and starting throwing haymakers. They stood toe to toe for two minutes until Simon was caught with a solid punch square in the face. Simon went down to a knee as blood flowed from his nose and tears streamed down his face. The larger man started talking smacked as Simon rose to his feet.
“That’s all you got boy? I’m gonna kill your ass!” As the larger man reached behind his back for the gun, Simon rose to his feet with the catlike quickness that had once made him the talk of Middleton, and started swinging his hands as fast and as hard as he could, landing several punches to the taller man’s head, sending him down onto his back. While Simon was beating the larger man into the pavement, the smaller guy rose to his feet and pulled out a knife. As he walked up behind Simon, blood poured from his mouth. Sensing that the smaller guy was about to stab him in the back, Simon rolled off of the larger man who was bleeding out of the back of the head, gasping for breath with a broken rib that had punctured a lung. Simon looked right through the smaller guy who closed the knife and tried to run, but Simon was too fast for the guy to get away. Simon grabbed the smaller guy by the hair of the head as he ran up from behind, pulling a handful of the guy’s hair out, yanking him to the ground. The guy begged for Simon to have mercy on him, but Simon was no longer there.
“Man, please, don’t kill me!”
“What? Are you talking to me? I don’t remember that game.”
Simon walked toward the larger man, oblivious to the smaller guy dead on the ground with a crushed skull. Simon limped toward the trailer as the larger man tried to catch his breath and slipped into unconsciousness.
Simon went through the trailer and out the back door to get uncles Ray’s wheelbarrow. Simon loaded the guys onto the wheelbarrow and pushed them down onto the main highway and flipped their bodies onto the pavement.
Simon pushed the wheelbarrow into the bushes and waited for a car to come racing around the curve that set adjacent to the neighborhood. Within minutes, a large semi came raced around the corner and over the bodies. The truck locked its brakes and strewed the bodies all over the highway. Simon turned the wheelbarrow around and pushed it through a patch of trees, over a ditch, and down the road. Simon stood in the gravel driveway staring at the moon as it was eclipsed by a face in the clouds. Rinsing out the wheelbarrow, Simon could hear sirens in the distance coming closer.
“Gee, I wonder what happened.”
The sound of sirens always made Simon think back to the charred van on the Channel 6 News. Sitting in darkness, he fell fast asleep.
The next morning when Simon woke up, there was dried blood in his nose and he had swollen knuckles. Uncle Ray, noticing Simon’s knuckles, asked him what he’d been doing.
“I’ve been thinking about boxing”
“Boxing, eh? Your daddy was a good fighter, you know? Heck, Simon you’ve been through enough already without using your head as a punching bag. You’re a smart kid. Go back to school! You can stay here as long as you like, rent free, but you need to find something to occupy your time. Hell, it’s not good to spend so much time alone.”
“Heck, I like being alone. I’ve never had many friends. Hell, dad was my best friend. Other than dad, there was Coach Crawford.”
“See what I mean? Hell, go back to high school. As much as you read, you’ve got to know a little something. I didn’t want to mention this, but two guys about your age were killed trying to cross the highway last night.”
“Where at?” asked Simon.
“Heck, just a piece down the road. A big rig ran over two of ‘em.”
“Sheesh, I bet that was a mess.”
“Yeah, no doubt it. You should be careful out there; you’re not in a small town anymore. Kid, this is the real world. Rock City is a far cry from the laid back town of Middleton. Heck, it’s probably good for you to see how other people live outside of a rural place like Middleton.”
“Do you think we could move back to Middleton one day?”
“Heck Simon, you’re old enough to do what you want. I just figured getting away from Middleton for a while would do you some good.”
“I know things haven’t been easy on you, kid. But hey, I’ve got work down here in Rock City. I wouldn’t be able to make a living in Middleton. Hell, there are always people in need of a handy carpenter. I’ll continue to pay the taxes on the house in Middleton, so if you’d like to go back, the house will always be there. Okay?”
“Yeah, that’s cool!”
“I always promised your daddy that I’d look after you if something ever happened, and that’s what I aim to do. Well, I got a job putting an addition on a house down in Wakefield, so I probably won’t be home until late. Do you need anything, aside from deodorant?”
“Hey, man, I don’t stink.”
Simon and Ray shared a laugh as it began to rain. “Damn, I hope we don’t get rained out! Well, I better get going. I’ll see you later, Simon”
As Simon flipped through the pages of Sports Illustrated, someone knocked on the door. Simon walked toward the door thinking that maybe Ray was messing with him.
“Who is it?”
“It’s the police!”
“What do you want?”
“We’d like to have a word with you.”
Simon opened the door to find a young man standing on the wooden deck, smoking a filtered cigar with dreadlocks in his hair. Simon laughed at the guy, wondering who he was.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Red. So, what’s your deal, man?”
“What do you mean?”
“I saw how you handled those guys out in the street last night. You are one heavy cat. So, where’d you learn how to fight like that?”
Simon thought for a second, and then it dawned on him that he had been out in the street. He looked at his swollen knuckles and squeezed his nose in between his thumb and index fingers. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Man, don’t bullshit me; you’re a stone-cold killer. I have never seen anyone so ruthless!”
“So, what do you want with me?”
Red took a deep drag off of his cigar and blew the smoke into Simon’s face. Simon balled up his fists, thinking that Red was going to fight him. Red stood up and told Simon to relax, as he pulled out a large roll of money. “I’m not a fighter, kid. I’m about making them dollars. Besides, I don’t want any part of your crazy ass.” Red asked Simon what he was doing in Rock City. Simon replied by saying that he’d come to live with his uncle after his parents were killed in a car wreck.
“Damn, kid, that’s a tough break. So, what are you gonna do with yourself?”
“Hell, I don’t really have anything to do. I was thinking that I might head up north to my hometown after a while.”
“So, you got a place up there?”
“Yeah, my parents’ house is up there in Middleton.”
“Middleton? Where in the hell is that?”
“It’s just a small town in the middle of nowhere.”
“Would you like to join me and some friends for a drink?”
Simon thought to himself for a moment, and then said that he didn’t drink alcohol. Red smiled and shook his head. “Well, you could always smoke a little herb.”
“No, I don’t smoke either.”
“Damn, you are one clean dude. Well, if you change your mind, we’ll be down on Ferris Street behind the green house around seven. All right?”
Red walked down the steps onto the gravel driveway, whistling as he walked with a b-boy limp. Simon watched Red walk and shook his head, wondering why anyone would walk in such a way. Simon went back into the trailer and fell asleep on the couch watching television.
Simon could see himself standing in the graveyard, listening to the barking dogs when his father’s charred body rose from behind a tombstone, and his head rolled onto the ground. Simon woke up in a cold sweat, trying to catch his breath as his heart raced. As Simon tried to gather himself, the phone rang in the kitchen. Simon walked into the kitchen as the floor creaked with each step he took. Simon looked down and realized that he was wearing a new pair of sneakers that were a couple sizes too large. Simon shook his head as he grabbed the phone from the wall and pressed talk. “Hello.”
“Hey, boy, it’s Ray. I’m gonna go out to eat with my ex-girlfriend. Would you like to tag along?”
“No, I’ll probably hang around the trailer. I’d just be in the way.”
“Yaw have fun. I’ll see you later tonight.”
“Hell, I’ll probably spend the night with Melanie. I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon, okay?
Simon hung up the phone and walked into the living room, remembering how happy he had been when his parents were alive. Simon took out his wallet and looked at the old photograph of his mom and dad on their last anniversary, thinking back to the day when they were driving in the work van through Dunson creek. The windshield wipers had quit working in a rain storm. Simon’s father tied two pieces of rope to the wipers and each of them took turns pulling the wipers up and down with the aid of the rope. Simon smiled as he reached into his shirt to look at the medallion that his father had made for him. Staring at the Buffalo Nickel, Simon could feel the pain in his left leg throbbing like a toothache. Simon wiped the tears from his eyes and walked outside to sit on the porch. Sitting on the porch, staring into the clouds, Simon could see his parents’ faces move across the sky. And he could hear his grandma’s voice reverberating in his mind. For the first time since his parents’ passing, he felt calmness come over him. As he was basking in the moment, Red came walking up the gravel driveway, whistling like he didn’t have a care in the world. “What do you want?”
“I came to get your ass, friend. Hell, there’s a party going on. Ain’t any need in your ass sitting here staring into the sky like a lunatic. Get your ass up!”
“I really don’t want to go to a party.”
“Man, please, go head on! What are you going to do, sit in this trailer for the rest of your life? Hell, let’s get your ass drunk.”
Simon and Red walked down the street, across the road and into a park where kids were playing Red Rover. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Simon right over!” Simon could see himself running with all of his might, wanting to break through the arms, but he was never strong enough, and always fell backwards. “Simon is a sissy!” Simon and Red walked through the park and could see a yellow house sneering from the hill. The smell of alcohol and marijuana filled the air. There was a line of strangers waiting to be flipped upside down to drink from the tap. Simon tried to make sense out of what was happening, but his reality kept spiraling out of control. “Damn, Red, what the hell is happening here?”
“Man, we’re surrendering ourselves to swirling perspective.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“I don’t know, but it sounds good.”
Simon shook his head, looking around the park, but he was all alone. “Red! Where the hell did you go?” Simon looked down at his waist and felt cold steel pressed against his flesh. He pulled a 38-caliber hand gun from his waist, trying to make sense of what had happened. Simon looked at his feet and noticed that he was wearing boots. “I want to go home! I miss my mom and dad.”
“What are you looking at? Bring it, dawg.”
“Don’t hit me daddy, no! I’ll run faster. I can do better.”
Simon walked out of the park holding the gun, screaming at the top of his lungs, listening to his mother whispering as he banged on the closet door. “Let me out of here.” Simon put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger but it wasn’t loaded. Simon hurled the gun into the air, not knowing where he was. “What is happening to me?”
One evening while sitting in a smoke-filled room surrounded by strangers, Simon looked at the television as a football player lay on the ground writhing in pain. “What the hell’s going on?”
Holding a joint up to his nose, Red inhaled and said “Damn, this must be some good shit! Ray moved out west to live with Melanie five-years ago. Man, your ass must really be torn up!”
Simon looked down at his white arms and didn’t know what was happening. He walked into the bathroom and stared into the mirror, noticing a receding hairline and a red scar that ran from his left eye down to the corner of his mouth. Simon limped outside onto the porch and broke down crying. He reached down into his shirt and pulled out the Buffalo Nickel.
One day in the summer of Simon’s twenty-eighth year, he returned home to the yellow house in Middleton to find closure. But what he found was a bag in the closet that had a blue jersey and a small piece of paper with the number five written on one side, and Ricky Scott written on the other. Then in a flash, it all came back to him. Simon remembered everything in a rapid-fire surrealistic sequence. He could see himself on the field looking up at number five as his voiced echoed in his mind. “Yeah, I got that bastard, he ain’t shit!”
In an instant, Simon was the little kid locked in the closet, screaming as his mom read her poetry. Simon tried to run, but his father was always too fast.
“You won’t embarrass me again in front of my co-workers. Son, you’re better than that.” Simon crossed his arms over his face, while his father beat him for not running fast enough.
Simon wept as he stood over his mother’s grave, remembering the darkness, trying to escape the closet.
Early one summer morning, Ricky Scott and his wife were walking their dog, Pudgie, through the park in Middleton. As they held hands, basking in the dawn, a gunman came up from behind, first shooting Mrs. Scott in the back of the head, killing her instantly, and then shooting Ricky Scott in the abdomen. As Ricky laid bleeding and screaming for help, a large man wearing a jacket and sunglasses slowly walked toward him with a noticeable limp. As blood gushed from his abdomen, Ricky pressed his trembling hands onto the wound and started to speak.
“Please, don’t kill me! I have three children.”
Simon slowly removed his jacket, staring down at Ricky whose eyes widened in terror!
“I was just a kid, man! That was a long time ago!”
Simon just stared blankly, looking right through Ricky. After Ricky began to sob, Simon looked down at him and smiled, tilting his head from left to right. “Yeah, I got that Bastard, he ain’t shit!”
Middleton Park, Ricky Scott’s corpse was found on the 45 yard line of Baine High’s football field, wearing a blue #73 jersey with a buffalo nickel in his throat. Pudgie, the cockapoo, was later found in Coach Crawford’s doorway, dangling from a shoestring noose with an envelope in its mouth. Crawford’s eyes watered as an acidic-vomit taste filled his mouth and he began to throw up. Crawford’s hands trembled and saliva dangled from his mouth like outstretched chewing gum, gagging on his hands and knees, as he continued to dry heave. Crawford held his nose and took the envelope from the dog’s mouth. Before opening the envelope, Crawford knew that Simon had written the letter. Tearing into the business envelope, Crawford’s entire body trembled as he sensed a pair of eyes running up and down his body. The unraveled letter consisted of two words: Thank you! Crawford cut down the dog and took it to the backyard where he buried it along the fence line adjacent to the woods. As Crawford was packing the last of the dirt over the dog’s grave, he caught a glimpse of Simon as he momentarily transcended the shadows and limped back into darkness.