FLASH Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 10
B was a boy who lived in the same housing project as you, in the duplex next door to yours, with his three sisters, and younger brother. He was the oldest child of a single, catholic mother.
There were woods along three sides of the curved, loosely rectangular-shaped housing project property. Through the eastern, lightly wooded edge there was a cow pasture with an electric, barbwire fence. By skillfully straddling/crossing the electric fence, and then carefully crossing the pasture on whatever firm footing your feet might find, you came to a firmer, hard-packed trail that swooped down to an old rickety, wood and wire fence that ran along the edge of the woods. The gate was chained and padlocked, but it was a simple thing to climb over. Then, crossing a shallow, usually dry creek bed, you found yourself on the black cinder running track that circled the high school football field. You walked the crunchy track past the goalpost to a short, steep rocky road leading up and out of the football field to the back of the high school. That was how you made your way to school every day for four years. If it had rained, crossing the cow pasture became an iffy, messy affair. At those times you would walk the much longer route using the sidewalks next to the streets. Up to Swanwick and then turn left and take the sidewalk.
The woods on the northern edge were denser. Your duplex backed up on these woods. There were only a few trodden paths that descended through the tangled, wooded hill to the little tapered meadow below that lie sandwiched between Hopi’s creek and the woods. There was more than a little poison ivy in those woods, which is probably why no one had ever bothered to forge more than a handful of paths.
Further east along the northern edge, there was a slight opening in the woods, a natural break between the trees that was a seldom-used hint of a road down to the pasture. Another electric fence separated the level backyards from the wooded hills that sloped down to woods and the pasture beyond. When it snowed in winter, you and the other neighbor kids would sled down that hill, sometimes even zipping under the electric fence on your saucers and runner sleds. The whole enterprise of being a kid is sometimes marked by the most foolish and risky of behaviors that your parents seemed oblivious to. You would sled for hours until your muscles ached, your clothes covered with patches of crusty, icy snow, and your skin glowed red from the cold air. Your cheeks burned from prolonged exposure to the fine, misty spray of snow that would shoot from the front of the sled as you zipped down the hill, hoping to successfully navigate the break in the woods without crashing into a tree.
The western edge of the property was a densely wooded and steep hill that nestled against a road whose name you don’t remember. There was a dirt-packed trail that meandered over boulders and thick, gnarled tree roots, that lead down to that road with the little overpass bridge that crossed Hopi’s creek. You would sometimes catch crawdads from that creek. You remember cooking some once or twice, but the crawfish were so small and it was a lot of work for a few spoonfuls of meat. It felt like hillbilly lobster. Crossing the asphalt road, you climbed down into Hopi’s creek again where there were tall weeds, loud skittish frogs, and lily pads. And then, crossing the creek a final time on treacherously mossy stones, there was a grassy meadow known as Hopi’s field. On the far side of the meadow were Hopi’s woods.
You guess Hopi was a farmer who held a fair amount of property, but you don’t remember ever meeting or even seeing him.
The southern edge was the shortest edge of the misshapen rectangle and it curved around to meet the western edge in a long, lazy arc of an asphalt road. Trees lined both sides of the road, their branches formed a green tunnel that the road ran through. You remember skateboarding down that asphalt road, around that curved road, silently praying an oncoming car wouldn’t flatten you. Skateboarding fast was easy. Stopping a skateboard was something you never quite figured out how to do other than by just jumping off the dang thing.
The neighborhood kids were always playing outside – this was before computers. You would find scrap lumber somewhere and build shabby treehouses in the woods on the northwestern corner of the property. You gathered felled trees in Hopis woods and made log cabins; the gaps between the scrawny logs were so wide you could see right through the cabin! You played bone-jarring games of football in the yards behind the duplexes on the southwestern corner of the property, or flung Frisbees back and forth in the street until the light got so dim, it became almost impossible to catch the flying discs.
Everyone there was poor. Some were on public aid. It wasn’t a pretty place. There were petty squabbles and disagreements. Occasionally there were fights. One day B and you got into a fistfight. You can’t remember why. You were in his treehouse that sat an entire foot and half off the ground and was just beyond the chain-link fence that separated the woods from the backyards. He got the better of you. You were never much of a fighter. Truthfully, you deplore violence and would rather walk away than fight. Getting punched or kicked hurts! But you had a fragile, blossoming ego to preserve, so even as you limped away, bleeding, you had shouted some childish threat. “I’m going to kill you B!”
You were 16, and you had an after-school job at an appliance/furniture/TV store in town. When you walked home from work the day after the fight, several of the kids in the neighborhood were buzzing around in the streets. They asked you if you’d heard about B. You said, “No, has something happened to him?”
B had wanted to go swimming. He’d asked his mother’s permission. She said no. Then B went into his bedroom and blew out his brains with a shotgun. You never even had a clue that he owned a shotgun. Or was it his mother’s? You remember the man that lived in the adjoining duplex was there in B’s room, cleaning it for the grieving mother. Why did B kill himself? Surely it wasn’t just because she told him he couldn’t go swimming. Surely there was more to the story, facts that the neighbors weren’t privy to. So many questions, so many secrets.
You walked to the downstairs window where the man was still scrubbing the mess from the walls and floors. You remember looking in through the screen. A small fan was trying to circulate air out of the room to help with the smell. You can still recall the tiny, pink flecks of blood and brain embedded in the wall. It was sad. His sisters and brother had to live with that loss for the rest of their lives.
You do not know what to do with those feelings and questions you had. Did your fight somehow influence his decision? Had he felt guilty? Maybe, most likely in fact, you had nothing to do with his decision. Or had he just been flirting with the gun that day? To this day you still do not know what to feel or think about B.