“It’s difficult to get traction at first, but soon we’re in this wobbling gallop down the avenue. It doesn’t occur to either of us to duck into any of the stores along the way. At this point, we don’t feel in danger – I mean he’s way behind us – but after a few blocks with him still hanging on in the chase, it seems like we should probably split up, just to limit the creep’s options.
“So now we have a choice: either run deeper into the neighborhood or out across the Weeds, which is what we called the wider fields of undeveloped land that borders the main avenue of our neighborhood, Monticello Beach.
“So, Marc is like, “I’m going this way,” and he hangs a left and disappears into the maze of little houses separated by narrow streets-without-sidewalks that make up the neighborhood; I cross the avenue at a diagonal and head toward the Weeds, in the direction of PS 277, where Marc and I are both in fifth grade.
“I felt that I knew the terrain behind our school well enough to make my escape by hooking around the rear of the low lying, block-and-a-half long building and then just disappearing around the far side, through the playground.
“So, when we split, the guy chasing us hooks a right and hangs on after me and its bad luck and all, but a fair split on the chances…anyway…I’m not worried when he keeps on after me.
“He’s thirty-five if he’s a day. No thirty-five-year-old alcoholic smoker is going to catch an eleven-year-old kid. Especially given the lead Marc and I have on him from the start. I mean he was more than half a block away from us when we first heard him screaming.
“I mean, what was he thinking? What an asshole. Like we’re going to just stand there while he’s cursing and running at us? If he had just walked up to us without saying a word, we’d have never seen him coming, but he yelled like an idiot from a distance, like a total schmuck, so we ran, which I think is totally reasonable. What else could he have expected?
“So, I’m sprinting around the corner of the rear of the building and I’m making for a rough maze of bushes that forms a staggered border that separates school property from the Weeds, but I haven’t considered the depth of the snow that’s sitting back there in erratic drifts.
“A series of storms had dumped something like twenty-two inches of snow on our small costal Brooklyn enclave by this time, and the harsh winter wind coming off Jamaica Bay had only served to sculpt ranges of deep drifts back there that had quickly slowed me from enjoying a light-footed sprint across a manageable snow pack to a labored slog through an unbroken field of white.
“So now here he comes around the corner and he meets with the same problems, but he’s able to hurdle what I can only fumble over and soon there is no doubt that he is getting closer. I can feel the weight of him closing the distance between us as we navigate the snow drifts.
“He has an adult’s stride and in this kind of snow that gives him the edge over my shorter faster legs. This guy really wants at me, too, if he’s hung on this far. Of course, he’s not yelling anymore – he stopped that bullshit before Marc and I split – but I can hear him breathing now, heavily, grunting as he steps over drifts that I’d just plowed through moments before. So, I know he’s closing on me.
“I can’t make it to the maze of bushes. I know that plan is unworkable now. I can’t divert my course at all. A straight line is all I can manage. If I try to move diagonally across the softball field toward the bushes, it will slow me down, just even a little bit, and I know it, and then he’ll be on top of me in half a minute.
“So, I’m thinking I might need a plan B.
“If I can just reach the monkey bars at the far end of the softball field, I can get those bars between me and him and then maybe even talk to him, calm him down a little bit. At the very least, he won’t be able to get at me. This is what I’m counting on now as I round the softball backstop, fumble out of the drifts and strive to reach a field of snow in the playground that is more level.
“I immediately start to accelerate on the flatter snow pack. Steps to go. The wide, tall, boxy set of metal bars feel in reach, but he’s just steps behind me now.
“And then one of his hands gets a hold of my shoulder. I slide out from under his grasp, but I know I have to do something. The monkey-bars are just yards away, but with him breathing down my neck, I feel he’s about to jump right on my back and lay into me at any moment, so I put my hands up and shout “listen, listen…” and I start to turn around – my forward momentum flagging as I do – saying “Wait…wait!”
“That’s when he reaches me and punches me in the side of the head so hard I see a sharp blinding flash of light and I hit to the ground in a blur.
“Wait,” I say again, my head still lost in the echo of the punch.
“Now he kicks me. Right in the chest, really hard with this heavy boot. I make a sound. I don’t know where the sound comes from. I don’t choose to make it. It just comes out of me when he kicks me.
“Now he circles me. I curl up.
“And it’s really quiet, too. Almost calm. His feet crunch slowly in the snow and stop and then silence.
“Now a force in my back breaks me out of my tucked pose. I roll over on my back and curl up again.
“He circles. Finds a target in my stomach to stomp and stomps it.
“I make noises. Sort of moaning like noises, but I’m not moaning. I know I’m not. I’m just trying to breathe easier. I keep hyperventilating in short jags that clear each time he kicks or stomps me.
“Never kicks me in the head, though, that psycho. This means he doesn’t want to kill me, just really, really hurt me. It took years for me to figure that out, but, I mean, while its happening, I am absolutely sure that this lunatic is going to kill me.
“The sun is on the way down by now and the place is so secluded, the attack can safely continue at its leisurely pace for a while longer and does. He never says a word to me the whole time. He just lets his kicking and stomping do the talking for him.
“I keep rolling around in an attempt to avoid the blows, but it’s hopeless. This psycho owns the moment. Just keeps circling and kicking. Circling and stomping. With all his might, too. I feel his exertion. He’s already out of breath from the whole long chase before the kicking started, so here’s another physical exertion that this miserable fuck probably isn’t used to.
“It’s fatigue in the end that makes him stop. I’m sure of that now. Back then I was just glad that he stopped.
“So now I lay there on my back, perfectly still, staring up at the sky, listening as his boots walk away, moving in reverse along the course of our recent chase scene. When his feet disappear into the distance, I start to concentrate on my own breath. In-out. In-out.
“I need to concentrate on something. Something other than what just happened. I feel the deep cold of the snow all along my overheated back. I consider the shapes of various clouds as they go drifting by. I take in the general silence – the solid nothing of it.
“The sun was already on the way down and the sky pretty gray when this all started.
“It’s dark when I finally get up. I don’t even remember standing. At some point I just kind of lurch up I supposed, because suddenly there I was, standing.
“I live just a few blocks away, so it’s not a long journey, but I can feel something off already.
“The first thing that I notice as I pass through the playground adjacent to 277 is that my side is beginning to really hurt when I breathe in deeply, which I’m doing a lot as I kick my way through random snow drifts scattered along the path on my way to the avenue. It’s got much colder, too, which really doesn’t make things any easier.
“Arriving home, I come in, give my mom a quick wave and make a B-line for my room upstairs. This is routine. Collapsing on my bed once I’m safely inside is not.
“I couldn’t know at the time that it would take, like, the better part of a year for that sharp pain in my ribs to go away. Over the weeks and months that follow, I just get used to it and it isn’t until nearly all the seasons cycle around again and I’m slipping back into that same winter jacket and I realize that the pain isn’t there anymore. I realize that I can inhale deeply without a bit of an ache in my side.
“It’s gone away – that whole fucking miserable soreness that dogged my every move for an entire year – it’s suddenly just gone, just like that, on its own.
“I mean, I don’t actually note it’s leaving, but it certainly isn’t there anymore.
“And that’s just the way things lined up. It all started with a bus passing. Simple as that. The bus is passing, the window is open, the guy’s head is lined up in the frame of the window…and Marc and I have two perfectly balanced, hard packed snowballs.
“I shrug in my defense. That’s all I can say.
“I mean, when reality lines up like that – when perfect opportunity meets up with ultimate intent – you gotta take that shot. Right? I mean, who knew the guy’d be a maniac?
“Just one perfectly lobbed semi-solid snowball goes sailing through a passing bus window, smashes a guy in the face; very simple event, happens somewhere in the universe every day, I’m guessing – but then you never can tell on any given day what kind of reaction you’re going to get when the universe lines up in any particular way.
“Anyway, I’m still convinced that Marc and I played our parts in the scheme of things that day; I mean no matter how disruptive the consequences might have been going forward – I gotta admit – I’d throw it again.
“It was just too perfect a moment to not do it, don’t you think?”
This was the first time there was a moment of pause between the two strangers since they sat down next to one another.
One was an accountant on “a business trip to the big apple,” and the other was a professional stand-up comedian “returning to the scene of the crime.”
The average flight time from LAX to JFK is five hours and change.
Air pockets like snow drifts lay between.
Christopher Clements August 29, 2018
Word count: 1925