Metal scratched across the tile floor, with a blur of activity and then the loud thump of a desk hitting a desired target. The teacher, standing at the chalkboard, spun around and gave an audible gasp. There was a pause of disbelief and then immediate action as Mrs Cranston began running towards the mound of chaos wrestling on the floor. The blond haired boy on the bottom, clearly disoriented after being hit by the desk, struggled to focus. The boy on top pounded excessively into his mark when he was abruptly pulled off by two large men who had rushed into the room. They locked his arms in a hold behind his back and began shoving him out of the room and down the hallway. But the boy didn’t care about the impending consequence; nothing much seemed to matter one way or the other.
Had the day begun with the warmth of sunshine slipping in between the blinds and perhaps even the smell of a home cooked breakfast downstairs in the kitchen, it might have ended quite differently. Had the day begun with his mom or dad creaking open the old bedroom door and chirping “Good morning! Time to wake up,” he would have been able to find some control. Or, while the whimsy of dreaming was still fresh, had someone even taken a minute to recognize that he was in the house at all, or told him that he had better hustle or he would miss the bus that was sure to be rounding the corner in 14 minutes—had any of those circumstances occurred—his day would have ended differently.
Instead, that morning the house was quiet. The sun did not crinkle through the blinds because the old aluminum bar from the mini blinds had broken last winter. A blizzard blew the wet snow so hard that water seeped into the framework and warped the wood to the poi snt that the blinds bent and broke the first moment Ben pulled on the loose strings. In its place hung a large black garbage bag Ben had used push-pins to attach at all four corners. The window pane was original from the houses construction in 1972, and when the wind blew, the air seeped through every nook and cranny, causing the large garbage bag to expand and collapse like giant lungs taking a breath.
Ben sat up slowly, ultimately deciding that he would in fact go to school today, not because he wanted to be there, but because he did not want to stay home. His feet slid over the bed and with one final neurotransmission, he was up. He pulled off his flannel pants that were a gift last Christmas from some secret Santa organization. They were elastic at the waist, so they fit better than most of his clothes. He grabbed his jeans off the floor beside his bed and brushed them off carefully from yesterday’s use. He would need to try and wash them this afternoon when he got home. With spring rushing in, perhaps the sun would stay up just long enough to dry the jeans out completely before evening. He pulled his jeans up without having to unzip or unbutton them, and the belt that was already in place hung loosely while he yanked off his white Hanes shirt and reached for a t-shirt from his childhood wooden dresser. The t-shirt was solid navy blue, slightly wrinkled, and as it slipped over Ben’s head he could smell a deep musky scent. It had either been thrown in his drawer still damp or the overall smell of the old dresser was now starting to taint his clothes. He scurried to the only bathroom in the house and searched under the sink for an unused bar of soap. He pulled it from the box and rubbed it all over his clothed body hoping that the fresh scent would overpower any less desirable smells.
After cinching his buckle closed and reaching for his brown backpack, he slid on a zip-up cotton jacket and trod down the stairs and into the kitchen. Hunger pains tore away at his core. He scanned the counter for something to eat, and when a second look revealed nothing other than a bag of rolls, he advanced. Ben had stopped by The Bread Hut two days ago to purchase the day-old bread that they sold at half off. The cashier must have felt sorry for him, because when he pulled change from his pocket she had insisted that he take it for free.
Now, with one roll in his fist and another in his pocket, it was time to go. He had to rush because the bus should be at the corner within two or three minutes. He slipped his feet into his oversize boots. They had been his dad’s and were still a little too large, but his dad wasn’t working these days and Ben kept on growing, so his options were limited. He walked by the couch and gazed down on the comatose body that lay in the same position as last night: face down, with one leg hanging onto the floor, and the hand still holding an almost empty bottle of beer. Ben reached up and brushed his fingers gently over the bruised sensitive skin around his eye; he’s better off asleep Ben thought. He pulled open the front door to his house and then pushed on the rickety storm door. It cracked loudly as it swung open and then clamored shut as he jumped down off the stoop and headed to the corner. He took a final bite of his first roll and chewed it quickly and then reached for the second one, consuming it as the bus pulled to a stop in front of the corner.
Once at school Ben wound his way through the noisy halls, keeping low as to try and not draw attention. Junior High was busy and chaotic in the mornings, and students were drawn to each other like cats attacking a Christmas tree. Rustling each other’s hair, pulling down on one another’s backpacks—one kid even began climbing up the side of the lockers to get a better view at his friends as he shot a couple pencils down with perfect aim. Ben noticed one pencil fly over to the side of the hallway and stooped over in mid step, scooping up the pencil and sliding it into his pocket.
He turned down one more hallway and into an open doorway, noticing immediately the decibel changes once inside the classroom. At his seat he pulled out his notebook and set his new pencil next to it on his desk. His stomach grumbled. He felt angry that his father had not made it to the store over the weekend. It didn’t seem like he had even made an effort to leave the house except to the corner drug store for beer. But this thought was replaced by a flood of memories that ached and burned deep inside him. There had been a time when his mother was home in the mornings, and she would come in and wake him while breakfast was cooking downstairs. His dad had worked construction and would be gone in the mornings, but would come home sweaty and content from a hard day’s work every evening. It had seemed good. Normal. The clamor of a bell shattered his thoughts, and as if wolves had circled in to feed, a rush of activity filled in around him.
“Hey butt face! You trying to improve your looks because I think that bump under your eye might actually make you look better!”
Ben looked up from his notebook and glanced at the source of these scathing remarks. He clenched his jaw as he glared at Cole. Cole had a group of boys surrounding him at his desk and Alexis Benson hanging over his shoulder. Cole reached up and swept his hand through his shiny blond hair and grinned up at his friends who were laughing with approval over his witty remark. Alexis looked down and leaned back into her seat behind Cole, clearly uncomfortable with this game he was playing.
Ben breathed slowly in a calculated manner, through his nostrils, paying close attention to the oxygen traveling up into his sinuses. He could feel his lungs expand and registered the muscles tensing through his limbs. If he wanted to, he could jump up over the desk and leap onto Cole right now. He could feel his fist making contact with that soft baby face and visualize the look of panic that would accompany the blows. There was at least three minutes before Mrs Cranston walked into the room to start her lecture on President Lincoln and abolition. Ben fed his wants further by imagining himself standing with his desk lifted high over his head and smashing it down onto Cole’s head. He could show him what it felt like to be black and blue.
“Butt face, you in there? Or do you like staring at me like you’re a girl or something!”
That was it. He felt pressure as his palms pressed into the old wooden school desk. He leaned forward, deciding that pummeling Cole with the desk would be his desired method of revenge.
“Good Morning Class!” Mrs Cranston came bounding into the room as if on a mission.
Ben eased back into his seat quickly and an adrenaline dump of hormones rushed through his veins with the teachers unexpected early appearance. He looked in Cole’s direction staring intently. He thought he could maintain control. He thought that maybe he could blow this off like he did when his father’s fist connected with his face, or the way he repressed the thought of his mother never coming home anymore. Then, a whisper through the lips of that snake next to him breathed the words; “You are a DIRT BALL.”
Had the day begun with sunlight filtering through the blinds and just the slightest recognition from his mother or father, just one single “Good Morning,” and his day would have ended quite differently. That would have been enough.