SOME Cold War BLUES: A Short Story, Episode Eight

He knew he should go on home right now, but he did not want to go home, did not want to spend an endless afternoon in the house doing chores or watching television with her, waiting for Ralph to come home and watching cowboy movies where the same old cowboy jumped off the same old rock onto the unsuspecting horseman below. More than anything, he wanted to stay right there, in the fort, no matter how cold it got. If only they would not charge him. If only they would just give him up for dead. Or maybe Big Bob would happen to come by to help him. But he saw through the eyehole that the hoods and Gorski were talking, and Gorski was surely telling them that Jack was alone. None of them was paying any attention to him. He leaped up with two snowballs. They had only begun to react to the movement in their peripheral vision when he caught the chipped-tooth bullet-headed hood on the side of the head and Gorski full in the face. The hood grabbed the side of his face, bent over for a moment, then looked up and across the alley at Jack.

“Motherfucker!” the hood yelled and he led the others in a headlong rush across the alley at Jack, who backed across the MacDonalds’ yard toward his house, throwing as he retreated. Gorski and the hoods plowed through the front of the fort, kicked and stomped it into powder and clumps, grabbed as many snowballs as they could carry, then turned to deal with Jack, who was still moving backwards toward the edge of the MacDonalds’ yard.

Misjudging where he was, Jack fell backward off the wall that separated the MacDonalds’ yard from the Kryzanowskis’. The fall knocked him breathless. He floundered helplessly in the snow, like a turtle flipped over on its back. The hoods and Tom Gorski stood at the top of the wall hurling snowballs down on him. The snowballs were icy. Some had rocks in them. Several hit Jack in the face before he could gather his senses enough to cover his face with his arms. He heard one of them say, “Let’s just beat the fucker up.” His back porch seemed too far away to ever get to. He wondered if this was how Saint Stephen the martyr had swooned when the pagan mob had stoned him to death.

Somehow he was able to roll over and lurch to his knees. He heard a thud as one of them jumped down off the wall. If they ever got him down, they might never let him up. Then somehow he was able to run, the hoods pursuing him. Tom Gorski stayed on top of the wall. When Tom saw what was happening in Jack’s backyard, he ran home as fast as he could and watched the rest from his kitchen window.

Jack fell as he reached the back stairs to his house. He started crawling up the stairs. A sharp, hard-thrown rock gashed the back of his head. He wondered if he had lost his stocking hat. It was the only one he owned. His mom would be mad at him for losing his only stocking hat. A ball of ice speared him in his hand as he reached for the knob to pull the screen door open. He managed to open the screen door and then the inner door and dive into the enclosed back porch. But before he could close the door, a huge clump of ice bounced off the door, hit him in the face and crashed into the porch, scattering in chunks all over floor. He slammed the door to the outside shut and bolted it. The doorknob turned furiously. The door banged against the bolt. They were trying to come in after him.

Several cars had driven through the alley during the morning, and their tires had churned up slabs of hard-packed snow. A row of large icicles hung from the Kryzanowskis’ garage. The hoods broke off the icicles and gather the slabs of snow. He heard them shout “Come on out, ya little pussy. Ya chickenshit, come out. Come on out, chickenshit.” He crouched in a corner, flinching as the brittle icicles crashed and the slabs of snow pounded against the back door.  A window shattered. He wondered if they would tear the very house down to get at him. His nose was bleeding all over his only coat. Then he heard another kind of thud, a pounding, coming from the inside of the house.

“God damn it!” he heard her yell. “What’s goin’ on?”

She came stomping out into the porch from the kitchen. She had just gotten up out of bed, perhaps only after the icicles and the slabs of snow exploding against the house had roused her. She had not even put on a robe over her shorty pajamas. The broken purple veins in her thighs pulsed madly. Her breasts flopped as she stepped.

“Do you know those boys?” she screamed at him.

She was squinting out the shattered window. She could hardly see without her glasses.

“Well?” she screamed and turned on him as if she would hit him. She had not bothered to put her false teeth in. She seemed like a monstrous avenging angel.

“Well?” she screamed again. But he could not muster a word, not utter a sound. Then she saw that his nose was bleeding. Her angry eyes seemed to bulge and she turned back to the shattered window.

“You boys go home!” she screamed as Jack wondered how he had brought this terrible thing upon himself.

An icicle smashed against the window she was looking out of. She hustled toward the door, slipping and skidding across a puddle left by the melting ice, almost falling down. She snatched back the bolt and flung open the inner door, leaving only the screen door between her and the hoods.

“You little bastards get outta here or I’ll call the police!”

A snowball spattered against the screen door, spraying her with snow.

“You little bastards!”

Her scream was as shrill as a whistle, the whole neighborhood must have heard her, and before Jack could believe his eyes, she was out the door and after them.  Barefoot, toothless, half-naked, caterwauling all the way, she charged down the back porch steps and through the snow in hot pursuit. And the hoods threw no more. They dropped everything, turned tail and ran, not looking back even once, putting all the territory they could between themselves and that screaming mimi, her cries terrorizing their hearts and minds as no police siren had ever done, while the shivering, weeping, bleeding boy on the back porch writhed in shame, waiting for her to stomp back inside, dreading to behold the twisted face of his deliveress. He wished himself dead, wished he could do himself in right there on the porch, but he knew from his catechism class that suicide was the most grievous sin of all in the eyes of the Lord.





By Max McBride
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