This Looks Like a Job for Clambake.

What were they doing playing soccer on these rolling hills, anyway?

“Honestly, kid, it’s ok. I’m gonna make sure nothin happens.”

Nuh uh, mister. If I squeal then they’ll beat me up and give me swirlies and purple nurples and wet willies and take my lunch and-

“Then that will be against the law, and I can-”

They’ll still have done it! And they’ll pants me and drag me around the track and tell everyone I pick my nose and-

“I can get them thrown in jail, where they won’t be able to do any-”

And they’ll spray me with stink juice and steal my clothes in the locker room and stab me with safety pins and break my glasses and-

“Just spill the damn beans already!”

Oh. Um, ok.

There’s a long silence. “Well?”

You don’t get it mister. They’re mean! They’ll do stuff like… like throwing apples!

“Throwing apples?”

Yeah, they steal apples or something off someone’s tree and throw them at you and then tell them that you did it! Like this!

Ow! yelps Max. I have to admit, it’s kinda funny.

“Right, St. Augustine, I get that they’re mean. But here’s what you don’t get. When I was a kid, everything you just said was small potatoes. So that means I know stuff that looks like Chinese Water Torture next to all that weak mess.”

He looks suddenly encouraged and vindictive.

“And I could use it on you, if you don’t talk!”

That deflates him. Fine, he mutters, it was… he glances sideways at the group of all-stars, who all mouth ‘you’re dead fruitcake’ or words to that effect at him. The one wearing number 19.

Max, still sore from the bump on the head, snaps, You playin’ wit us, birdbrain? Dere aint nobody wit dat number!

The kid retreats into the tree and throws another apple.

Ow!

I’m not paying attention. “Alright,” I point at the bear, “You’re coming with me. See how your parents like paying for this old lady’s window.”

I’m gonna kill that squealer, he mutters.

“What squealer? He said #19 did it. He plainly doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

I have a reading disorder, whines the tree softly.

“But I saw you flinch when he said it, and that’s all I need. Right Max?”

I’m gonna kill that little brat!

“Well, ma’am, that should take care of it. He’ll pay to replace your window.”

Naw, thas ok, she says. The juvenile delinquent and I both look at her like she’s gone crazy. Boys’ll be boys. Kids need their excercise, after all. S’only natural. Not like that little bat kid. He’ll come to a bad end, you know, playing those devil games on the internets and never getting out in the sun with the other kids who’d be his frens in heartbeat if’n he let em. She pats the bear on the head, and he winces. Look at this little man! His momma must be so proud! She hands him back his ball.
“If she’s anything like you, I bet she is. And I’m sorry for him.” But she doesn’t catch it, and I don’t catch him.

I’m back at the apple tree now, leaning against it. In the distance, I can see that those kids have snuck some cigarettes from somewhere. They’re switching between smoking, coughing, and ripping up someone’s flower bed. Model citizens, I’m afraid.

I really do have a reading disorder.

“A reading disordercalled being upside down, huh?” He nods. “Listen, kid, don’t get me wrong. When I was a kid, I woulda been over there with them. Or a few steps further on. You’re lucky, cause I’ve seen where their sort end up. I’m the one who puts em there, after all.”

Oh, he says. I can see he’s got no idea hat I’m talking about. It doesn’t feel lucky, though.

“No, I don’t suppose it does.” I really should get back to the station, but… “Here, toss me one of those apples.”

I used to have a pretty good throwing arm, as a pup. Lets see if I’ve still got it.

Ow! yelps Max.

I laugh for the first time I can remember.

The Final Word.

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