I was tooling around on my bike in my new town of Brighton. These were the days when mostly kids rode bikes and pretty much everyone else walked or drove or took the trolley, at least in the States. So, I was on my bike in one of the many church parking lots on Church Street, humming on my way to the children’s library and trying to go as slowly as I could without having to stop or touch the ground with a sneakered toe. It was a sunny summer day. Out of nowhere, one might say, Pooch Mueller was suddenly with me, circling me in his little Schwinn. I might have smiled. I was sweet at the time. And I didn’t, being new in town, possess a key piece of information – that Pooch Mueller was the meanest kid in Brighton Center, possibly even beyond. Pooch got right to the point.
“Your mother,” he said, “is a French fuckin’ shit.”
I knew what to do. I was very well read. I knew that boys in young adult books stood up for their mothers. In fact, I knew that there wasn’t any question that I must stand up for my mom, whose native language was indeed French and who still had a trace of an accent. I don’t even think I would have behaved differently had I been in possession of another bit of information that every indigenous boy held in his heart — small, dark-haired, white-faced Pooch Mueller was not only the meanest but also the toughest kid in Brighton Center and possibly in Newton and Watertown as well. “Get off your bike,” I said. So there in the church parking lot we put down our bikes and put up our dukes.
Have you ever turned a corner on a seemingly benign March day only to be taken by surprise by the last gasp of furious winter winds? Or been suckered by a wave as you’re standing in the shallows? Or, driving, got blinded by a setting sun so bright you have to pull over?
Mild echoes, these, of what I experienced in the parking lot of the Elliot Church on Church Street in my new town of Brighton as I put up my dukes. Or, more accurately as I began to put up my dukes. My dukes, in fact were only halfway up when the young pugilist Pooch Mueller, the meanest boy in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, hit me full in the face with a fierce flurry of rights and lefts. His small hard fists blurred as they shot out at my round astounded head. We, Pooch and I, for those few moments, lived in two different temporal worlds; I was not just astounded by his speed, I was deeply disoriented, so much so that at first I felt no pain. At first.
Pooch paused for a moment to see how things were going and then, apparently pleased, he hit me maybe fifteen more times. I could see that he wasn’t tiring and that this was likely to go on for some time and I began to grow despondent when I heard a voice, saying, “Hey fellahs, what’s going on?” The very tall Brian Quigley, three years our senior, thus sixteen, was walking by and saw my plight at once. Brian Quigley was not only very tall, he was very kind, and he also had this habit of talking like boys in boys’ books, thus the “Hey fellahs, what’s going on?”
We stopped at the sound of his voice — I being hit, Pooch hitting.
“Say, guys, why don’t you wrestle instead of box?” Brian Quigley suggested. I don’t know why, perhaps out of respect for Brian’s age and his height, Pooch agreed to wrestle instead of “box.” The end of the story is that I spent the next thirty minutes of my life lying on the sidewalk in an uncomfortable but relatively painless headlock, full of gratitude that the fists had stopped flying. And Brian Quigley walked off whistling “Johnny Angel” on this beautiful summer’s day.
There’s a postscript. Pooch later served in Vietnam where he picked up a heroin habit and died some years later from a hotshot of bad heroin. I don’t think I was the only kid in the Brighton Center area to experience an unseemly rush of pure joy on hearing this news — what Pooch was, I expect, expecting when he put the needle in his arm for the last time.
Alec Solomita’s fiction has appeared in, among other publications, The Adirondack Review, The Mississippi Review, Southwest Review, and Ireland’s Southword Journal. Recently, he’s published poetry in 3Elements Literary Review, Literary Orphans, Silver Birch Press, Turk’s Head Review, Algebra of Owls, and Driftwood Press. He lives in Somerville, Mass.