Friday’s Story #10
By Keith Wilcox
It was recess at Edgewood Middle School and most of the boys were either playing basketball, waiting to play basketball, or sitting on the grass watching basketball. September was the month that basketball was popular. In August it was soccer. Max was one of the boys playing the game and so was Dave. The rules for a pickup game of basketball between 13 year olds are always arbitrary; enforcement of penalties and free-throws is a peer reviewed process. Higher social status means a free pass to commit fouls. Max was not an unpopular kid but not nearly popular enough to get away with beaning someone in the head with a ball. That’s what happened after he got elbowed in the neck by Dave. Without thinking he turned and, from three feet away, drilled Dave in the forehead with the ball. Dave’s head snapped back and Max saw his face contort in a brief mental snapshot before the ball bounced to the ground and Dave stumbled backwards. For a short moment Max was proud of himself for having such good aim, but that didn’t last long. Dave was holding his head and looking at Max with murderous intent. There was nothing to say because they both knew what came next. Dave was going to rush at Max and tackle him. Max hadn’t ever been in a fight and neither had Dave which is why both of them paused. They knew what was expected of them. Neither one could believe this was happening. But then it happened!
Dave rushed at Max and, without thinking, Max turned around and ran for his life. He instinctively knew that if he was going to get into a fight that the grass was going to be much better for his skin than cement. Max was much faster than Dave which was good for Max but bad for spectators whose entertainment had suddenly decided to run away. Max didn’t have to turn around to feel the entire male population of the school running after him, and Dave. Max was starting to get comfortable running at a nice steady pace that was just a little faster than the fastest Dave could muster. But then Max realized he was about to run out of playground and he needed to turn around. He quickly turned his head to assess his chances of making the turn. He could run into the building from the side entrance or he could try to turn around. He wasn’t going to hide; there was no place to go! The boys had blocked his return rout. Max stopped, and turned around; Dave was there at the front of the pack. It seemed to Max that his running away had galvanized Dave’s support base. It was going to be all the boys vs. Max. Nothing to do now but fight, Max thought.
As he faced Dave, and Dave was out of breath from the chase, Max took the advantage. He ran at Dave from 10 feet away. Dave was winded and expecting Max to be scared. Max was scared but also instinctive. Max shoved Dave and Dave fell to the ground and Max stood over him. The crowd said “oooooohh” and Dave got to his feet with clenched fists. Max’s first instinct was to run, but there was nowhere to go so he was making it up as he went. Dave was clearly about to hit him – Max could tell. Max clenched his fists and brought them up to his chin like he saw boxers do on television. But he didn’t use them. Instead he jabbed Dave with his lead foot, jabbed him right in the gut. And Dave folded over with the wind knocked out of him. Things weren’t going well for Dave. Max was beginning to enjoy himself. This wasn’t nearly as difficult as he thought it would be.
Dave got to his feet once more. This time he was crying. Tears were balling up in his eye-sockets and he was pink in the cheeks. It was frustration. Max knew frustration like that; it had happened to him once in church when he disagreed with his pastor and the pastor had humiliated him with bible verses in front of the congregation. Max had been certain of his own conviction, but the frustration of not being able to formulate himself had caused him to burst into tears. The pastor then mistook his tears for repentance and gave him a fatherly hug, thus adding insult to injury. The spectators in that instance, the congregation, had thought Max’s tears were a little boy’s expression of remorse. They were not. Max hated his pastor for his smugness. He hated his pastor for exploiting that moment to go in for the kill. Max was not going to subject Dave to the same humiliation. He had nothing against Dave other than a momentary impulse to drill him with a basketball for a foul. Max faced the crowd of boys who had massed around to watch the fight and gave them all the middle finger. Then he pushed his way through them and walked back toward the basketball court. That made him the bad guy.