SOME COLD WAR BLUES: A Short Story, Episode Six

   Before Peter could rein him in, Andy grabbed three snowballs, dashed across the alley and heaved two of the snowballs at the opposing fort. “Hey,” someone yelled from behind the opposing fort, and Andy was peppered with snowballs as he pitched his last one and scampered back across the alley.

   “Jeez,” Andy said. “They got six guys over there now. Davis ’n Lopinski are over there too.”

   “We need a flag of truce,” Peter said. None being available, he yelled, “Hey, no fair. You got more guys than us.”

   “So what?” The public school kid again.

   “And you’re bigger,” Peter said.

   Peter had as usual honed in on his adversaries’ vulnerability, in this case their sense of fair play. The enemy troops huddled, deliberating, then sent Ed Lopinski over, the smallest, most awkward, most disliked kid in the neighborhood.

   “Come on, Lopinski,” Andy said in disgust.

   “We’ll take turns makin’ ammunition,” Peter said. “Three defenders and two makin’ snowballs. Jack, you and Lopinski make the ammunition first.”

   Jack worked sullenly beside Lopinski as Andy, Larry and Peter exchanged snowball cannonades with the opposing fort amidst laughter and merry shouting. He hated Peter just then. Sticking him with Lopinski like that. But he would show Peter. He would show them all if given half a chance. And why should he do what Peter told him to do anyway? For some reason he didn’t understand, he was suddenly thinking about Ralph, thinking about Ralph standing there at the curb holding the shovel out to him and saying, “Com’ere and get the God damn thing. Why can’t you do anything right?” Disregarding Peter’s orders, Jack grabbed some snowballs. His first shot almost knocked Mike Gorski’s stocking hat off.

   “Hey, you’re supposed to stay here with me,” Lopinski whined.

   “Yeah, Jack,” Peter said.

   Jack said nothing but kept defiantly flinging snowballs across the alley.

   “Okay, Jack,” Peter said ominously.

   Jack acted as if he hadn’t heard. So let Peter try to punish him somehow, maybe get the other boys to give Jack the silent treatment for a week or so, make Jack so miserable he wanted to die, then suddenly befriend him again.

   “Well, let him then,” Jack thought.

   The battle ebbed and flowed for a quarter of an hour. Each side took care to keep replenishing its ammunition. On Jack’s side of the alley, a rough democracy prevailed as each boy automatically began to take his turn away from the fray to make new snowballs. Even Peter took his turns, and Jack felt like he had won a little victory.

 Frankie Ryan showed up. Andy, who lived next door to Frankie and bullied him mercilessly, told Frankie he couldn’t play, that he would make the sides uneven. “You’re a crybaby anyway,” he said. But Peter, unable to pass up the chance of grabbing an advantage, allowed that Frankie could at least make ammunition for them, though he would be forbidden to throw any snowballs. And Frankie was happy to do what Peter said, glad to be admitted to the group in even the most servile role.

Jack was disgusted. “That ain’t right, Peter,” he said with clenched teeth. “We got one more guy now.”

“Yeah” Lopinksi said, “you got one more guy now. That’s no fair.”

Lopinski rushed to the snowball pile, knocked Frankie Ryan down, smashed as many snowballs as he could and skittered across the alley toward the other fort.

 “Traitor!” Andy yelled at Lopinksi.

Lopinksi stopped in the middle of the alley and turned to throw a snowball at Andy when Peter caught him full in the face with a hard-thrown snowball and knocked him down. Snowballs pounded the fallen boy. Andy rushed him, rubbed his face in the snow, and kicked him in the side for good measure. Cries of “Traitor!” filled the air. The combatants in the Gorski fort, perhaps not fully understanding Lopinski’s intent, failed to come to his aid. Nobody liked Lopinski. After Andy let him up, he hobbled off toward home, crying and utterly defeated.

There was a lull in the battle. Both sides stopped to rest and replenish their ammunition. Jack noticed that Peter was not speaking to him. The silent treatment had begun. He moved away from Peter and looked around the side of the fort across the alley. When he saw what was on the other side, his stomach churned.

“Hoods,” he said, the word almost catching in his throat.

“What?” Peter said.

“Hoods.”

“Oh, shit,” Peter said.

Tim Dietrich and the public school kid had left, and three strangers had imposed themselves on the opposing fort. Perhaps they had been walking down the street, looking for trouble as always, seen the war in progress at the back of the Gorskis’ house and became the Gorskis’ unwelcome allies. They were big,  mean-looking boys, on their way to becoming what the newspapers called “juvenile delinquents” and the neighborhood kids called “hoods,” the kind of boys who would swagger down the street and chortle with malice as they watched a group of playing kids a block away see them coming and scatter like rabbits. They were older than the other boys. They did not wear galoshes. They did not even wear gloves. Their leader had a bullet head, and one of his buck teeth was chipped off at the end.

It was now Jack, Andy, Peter, Larry, and Frankie Ryan (who hardly counted) against the Gorskis, Mike Davis, and the three hoods, six to five, really six to four since Frankie was almost useless. When Peter rose to cry “No fair!” he was blasted with snowballs.

“It’s the Alamo,” Peter said.

Jack remembered that every man in the Alamo had been killed and was amazed that he was not afraid anymore.

The snow was getting icier, harder. The sky was dark. It looked like it might snow again soon. They heard Andy’s mother screeching, calling him home. She would be standing on the front porch, indignant as always, her eyes bright with purpose, like a chicken bawking at an intruder in the barnyard. She was the only fear Andy knew.

“Sorry, guys,” Andy said, “I gotta go.”

When he jumped up to run home, he was bombarded with snowballs.

“Wait up,” Larry Zarda said. He looked back guiltily at Peter and Jack. “Geez, guys,” he said, “it’s probably lunchtime, I gotta be home for lunch. Maybe we better retreat.”

Jack watched Peter’s fear struggle with his friend’s image of himself as one of the glorious Alamo heroes.

“No,” Peter said, “We’ll stay. We’ll make ’em think you’re runnin’ for help. Run off in different directions.”

Larry and Andy scooted on their way.

“Tell Big Bob ta hurry!” Peter yelled after the running boys. He hoped the Gorskis would think Big Bob was coming and tell the hoods just who Big Bob was. Big Bob could make mincemeat out of all three of those hoods single-handed. And Peter had a sudden crazy hope that Big Bob would any second come loping around the corner of Jack’s house down there below the fieldstone wall, like the cavalry coming to save the wagon train.


By Max McBride
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