My Blog

The gathering for the Sobel barn clearing was in full swing that evening. The conversations and laughter were too loud. Most the neighbors were drunk on Pa Spbel’s latest batch. Jack Espinoza felt trapped with his back pinned to an outer wall of the Sobel household. The heat and humidity were down, but the mosquitoes were dining well off his exposed arms. Mandy Sobel stood before Jack. Mandy towered over him by nearly a foot. She had captured her prey for the night, and wasn’t risking a possible escape. Even if Jack saw a glimmer of hope to slip by his teammates’ sister, her bare arms were more muscular and thicker than his thighs. He feared for his life if he were captured again following an escape. Better to sit tight and await rescue, he decided. God had to be watching, and wouldn’t allow this torture to continue. Jack was being polite by meeting Mandy’s eyes as she droned on about her problems with loneliness. He found it hard to stomach her rotting teeth and acne-ravaged face for long. His eyes darted about in search of a savior while thinking; God, this fruit dropped off the ugly tree where someone left it on the ground to die and tot. Worse, she’s as dim-witted as her brothers.
“Hey Mandy!” called out a woman’s voice. “Come carry this picnic table over to the pit so we can eat.” Jack used Mandy’s brief inattention to side-step to his right. He didn’t get far. Mandy fisted his shirtfront. She threw him against the wall again before spitting, “You stay put. I ain’t finished with you.”
Jack waited till Mandy had her hands full with a loaded picnic table before he whirled left to escape. He came up short when he found the girth of coach Moseby blocking his path. Moseby was carrying a glass jar half-full of a clear liquid which smelled highly flammable to Jack.
“Greetings, Mr. Espinosa,” the coach boomed. “I won’t keep you long. I understand your need to escape. Mandy ain’t a filly you want to tangle with. I ain’t so sure some incest wasn’t involved in the making of that child. Something ain’t right with her. Not that everything’s correct family-wise with these hillbillies.
“I just want to talk to you for a moment for the sake of the team.” Jack glanced back to ensure Mandy remained occupied before moving closer to Moseby. He was disturbed to realize Moseby was drunk when his coach bent closer and continued. “You’re my kind of player, Jack. You’re going to be a team leader. You think you’re up to the task?”
Jack felt highly uncomfortable. Drunk men in authority were not something within his positive experience. He fell back on common sense. He decided being agreeable never got anyone in trouble. Jack nodded enthusiastically. He hoped to please the man and escape before Mandy returned.
“Good, good, Jack,” Moseby slurred before throwing his enormous arm over Jack’s shoulder to pin him down. “I knew you were the kind of level-headed young man I could trust. Now here’s my problem. That hot-headed Monty Willings is right about one thing. He’s been this group’s leader since childhood. It doesn’t matter that he’s gained their respect through bullying. Most of this team still look up to Monty. I can’t have you two splitting them apart with your fighting. I’ve already explained the situation to Monty. I told him that you and Ward would probably be our offensive backs and leaders.
“Having you two carry the load on offense, leaves me short-handed on defense. I had to promise Monty his middle linebacker position as well as being the defensive leader. Monty agreed to go along with this, but he still feels embarrassed about wetting himself when you frightened him after practice. He feels he’s lost the respect of his teammates. He wants you to apologize to him in front of other players.”
Jack didn’t understand or agree with this. “But … but …” he protested while squirming to be released. He began to panic when he spotted Mandy returning.
“A simple I’m sorry is all you need do to help your team, Jack,” Moseby assured him. “He’s right over there in the rear of that buckboard. He can’t walk. He hurt his knee when he tripped over you. This is the perfect time. Jimmy O’Brien is over there. Just go over and apologize with Jimmy-O present. That should satisfy Monty. Go on. Be the bigger man, and sacrifice for your team.” Moseby urged when Jack hesitated.
Okay, handsome, I’m ready,” Mandy called out as she neared.
“Go!” Moseby hissed while pushing Jack toward the nearby buckboard. “You do this for me and the team, and I’ll cover for ya here.”
Jack was stumbling toward the wagon when he heard Moseby say, “Mandy, dear. I can’t believe how much of a woman you’ve become. You’re over eighteen now, right?”
Jack’s stomach was already rebelling when he saw two girls standing next to the buckboard talking to Monty and Jimmy-O. His stomach flopped again when he recalled Moseby’s claim of incest and he realized one of the girls could be Mandy’s mother/sister. Moseby’s “filly” comment made more sense as Jack drew closer and saw the girl’s faces were horse-like with their large noses and buck teeth. Their shaggy hair, Adam’s apples, and over-sized dresses didn’t increase their appeal. Jack was beginning to wonder how much he was willing to sacrifice for his new team. He was risking his life and the possibility of establishing a reputation for poor judgement in girls for a group of teens he didn’t know.
“Hey, Espinoza,” hailed Jimmy-O, “Come meet the Sobel sisters. Candy and Sandy.”
Jack missed a step when the large girls turned to face him while stretching their lips into smiles that revealed rotting and missing teeth. He would have used his quickness to make a hasty retreat, but Monty sat up and spotted him before collapsing back into the wagon. Jack didn’t wish to be seen as a coward. He sucked it up and marched forward with the eagerness of a convict facing a firing squad. He decided the firing squad would have been preferable when he got within arm’s reach. One of the girls grabbed him in a back-cracking hug before proclaiming, “Hi, I’m Candy! You must ne that new kid everyone’s talking about. You’re dark and handsome. You remind me of that motion-picture actor, Rudolf Valantino.”
Monty groaned as if he were in grievous pain before complaining, “He ain’t nobody famous. He’s one of those foreign emigrants like the field hands your pa hires. He probably swam across the river to escape Mexico’s poverty.”
What Monty had obviously intended as an insult was more painful to Jack in deeper ways.
“That’s why I like him. “ Candy squealed. She crushed Jack in a death grip. “I had a thing with one of Pa’s hired hands a few years ago, but he quit one night and ran away without his pay. But you can’t do that, Jack. You live here, right? We’ll be seeing each other every day in school.”
Monty was rolling with laughter while Jack squirmed to break Candy’s stranglehold. Jack announced, “Yup, every day in school and every weekend on the football field. Coach Moseby just made me a team captain.”
“That’s not what Moseby told me!” Monty yelled while sitting up. He struggled to get out of the wagon.
Monty squealed before collapsing while grasping his knee in pain.
It was Jack’s turn to grin. The equally frightful Sandy rushed to coddle Monty’s head in smothering sympathy. Jack’s elation was complete when Candy released him to join the Monty empathy parade.
Jack spied a solution to his other problem. He announced over the girl’s cooing, “Monty, I came to apologize for beating you up this afternoon, and scaring you into wetting your pants, but you appear too busy to listen. I’ll just have to do it some other time, and tell Moseby you weren’t interested.”
A muffed protest rose from the buckboard. Jack turned to see Monty fighting off the tentacles of Sobel arms confining him with their desperate needs. His grin widened. He was about to leave Monty to his fate. Then he decided Monty hadn’t suffered enough. Moseby wouldn’t be satisfied unless he did this right.
Jack glanced over to ensure Jimmy-O was listening. He raised his voice to be heard above the drunken chatter and laughter to announce, “Monty, I apologize for the beating I gave you this afternoon.
“I mean, I understand your frustration and fears. You’ve been a leader on this team for so long, and to have that threatened by someone new who is not only physically superior to yourself, but is obviously more intelligent must be a real shock. I can understand your fears and need to retaliate in an attempt to protect your position. You don’t frighten me. I believe we can both act as team leaders if you’re mature enough to act in the team’s best interest. For the sake of team unity, I apologize, Monty. I hope this will appease your hostility toward me, and we can move ahead as teammates.”
Jack could tell by mid-apology that Monty wasn’t appeased. Monty’s face had grown as red as his hair. His mouth was contorted in ugly spasms as if trying to catch up with his mind to verbally vent his exploding rage. Jack smiled at Jimmy-O’s odd grin and nod in his direction.
Jack moved off toward the fire and outdoor tables when a holler about dinner and a bell rang out. He had to bob and weave to keep from being run over by the stampede of Sobel sisters scrambling for food.
Jack stood in line. He swatted bugs while waiting his turn to in the line to grab an army mess plate from the stack. He fought his way into the jostling line of hungry diners around the spit awaiting their slice of Mabel, an ear of corn, and a slice of freshly-baked bread.
Jack elbowed his way into a spot at the nearest table, hoping the fire would keep the mosquitoes at bay. His poor luck prevailed.
No sooner had Jack gotten his legs beneath the table to take a seat when Mandy squealed behind him, “Oh, there you are. Why did you leave me at the mercy of that horrible troll, Principal Moseby? He’s all hands. I barely escaped.”
Jack was contemplating that revolting scene when Mandy slammed an open bottle of Cole down next to his plate, and continued, “Here, I brought you this Coke as a present. It’s nice and cold. We keep them in a bucket in our well. Don’t drink it too fast. We don’t have enough for everyone. I’m giving you mine.”
He briefly considered being polite, and offering to share when he recalled Mandy’s rotting teeth. Jack snatched the cool bottle from the table. He drank it so fast his throat hurt.
“You’re no gentleman,” Mandy protested. “What if I wanted some of that?”
Jack went on to prove his unpleasantness by releasing such a mighty belch he drew the applause of his surrounding diners. His rudeness was inadequate to stem Mandy’s onslaught. Mandy wrestled a space beside him before setting her heaping plate to his right. She announced, “I don’t think you deserve it, but I’ll sit next to you rather than with my friends. Ya know, Jimmy-O has had his eye on me for years. I finally invited him to the Sadie Hawkins dance last year to slow down his advances. I was hoping he’d invite me to Homecoming, but he invited that horrid Susan Lewinski instead. Jimmy-O and I don’t talk much no more.”
“I can’t image why,” Jack muttered while covering his mouth with his corn ear, hoping to muffle his words.
Mandy’s ears proved sharper than expected. She replied, “I know. I’m better looking than Susan.”
I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met Susan Lewinski,” Jack replied before looking away .Mandy had begun to pick at her face in aggravation.
Moseby’s booming voice from the head of the table attracted Jack’s attention from his woman woes.
“I don’t trust these damn Democrats, F.D.R. the Huns, or Hitler,” Moseby was protesting to all who’d listen. “So what if France and England are stupid enough to agree to protect Poland? Their leaders are cowards. They’ve let Hitler walk all over them. We can’t get involved with Europe’s problems again. Too many of our boys died in the last war, and it is obvious Hitler means to take over Europe in revenge for the Versailles treaty that idiot Wilson signed in nineteen. We should have just wiped Germany of the map while Pershing and our troops were already there. Now we’ll have to go clean up their mess again.”
The surrounding eaters erupted with concerns over another world war, and their memories of the last one. Would there be another conscription where all their boys were forced into the armed services? Would the Army take all their animals for the war effort again while paying only half the animals’ value? Yes, all their crops had been sold, but it was hard to replant and harvest when all the men were gone. Women couldn’t do all the work and raise a family at the same time. The conversation ragged back and forth. Jack knew little of world politics and stayed out of it. Moseby continued “What are we doing placing embargos on Japan for their invasion of Manchuria? What’s our interest in China?
“These bleeding-heart Democrats want to save the world using our tax dollars and the blood of our boys.” Moseby ranted until some of the women were weeping over their lost relatives during the Great War.
Jack didn’t care about being drafted into the military at the moment. His current concern was escaping the ugly anxiously squirming at his side. He yearned for draft if they’d come drag him away this very night. Sooner would be better. Mandy chewed with her mouth open. She wasn’t above barking at people across the table while chewing. The air was swarming with flying food scraps. Jack almost felt sorry for the mosquitoes vying for the same air space.
Someone smacked Jack’s left shoulder, scaring him toward Mandy.
“Hey, teammate!” A male voice beckoned loudly behind Jack. “Why don’t you make some room for a fellow Warlock?”
Jack recognized Monty’s voice. He turned to find Monty piggy-back on his brother’s back. Billy was holding two plates.
“Yeah, Jack,” Mandy squealed with delight. “Make some room.” She grabbed his arm before nearly pulling Jack into her lap.
That tore it for Jack. “Take all the room you want,” he announced while fleeing the scene so fast he tripped over the bench seat.
“Don’t go,” Mandy pleaded while reaching out to help Jack to his feet. Mandy’s voice was so close to his ear that Jack dared to look up. His head snapped back when he found himself nose to nose with Mandy’s puckered lips. To his revulsion, there was a yellow corn cornel stuck to her upper lip. Jack gagged and bolted despite Mandy’s bruising grasp on his arms.
Jack wasn’t without feeling s or manners. He felt pity and remorse when he glanced into Mandy’s large, sad eyes as he left to find the Sobel parents to thank them for the invitation and meal. “Sorry, I gotta go. My ma doesn’t know I’m here. I’ll see ya at school. I guess.” Jack told Mandy.
Jack found the Sobels and thanked them. Moseby grasped his arm as he passed, and said, “Thanks for apologizing, Jack. You’re a loyal teammate. You’ll make a great leader who your teammates will respect and follow...” Moseby released him before standing and giving Jack a smart military salute.
Jack thought he’d gotten the better of the apology deal to Monty when he passed by his table to find Mandy with a Greco-Roman wrestling hold around Monty’s torso. His smile widened when he recalled Monty’s lack of mobility, and realized that he’d made the whole situation possible for the bully.
Lightening lit the skies as Jack made his way back to the dirt road toward home.
He was thankful for the dense tree cover that formed a tunnel over and around the road when the air grew frigid and the skies opened up in a heavy downpour.
Jack put his head down. He hunched his shoulders when the darkness and cold winds reminded him of the Texas weather just before a tornado.
He put aside his fears as he thought of how his day had gone so far. His first thoughts were ones of loneliness. He missed his old life surrounded by friends during times of trouble. He missed being their leader. He was also thinking that maybe he’d allowed his pride and vanity to influence his decisions. Jack decided Monty Willings was a bully who needed put in his place, but he wondered if maybe he hadn’t gone too far with the naïve farm boy who’d never encountered the reality of street life and the real world outside a secluded farm.
Jack was reminded of his constant feeling of being surrounded by immature teens who didn’t seem to understand how cruel human beings really were. It was something which had bothered him since moving from Texas. He couldn’t comprehend how his neighbors could walk around with their heads in the clouds, not seeing their surroundings, and realizing the world was full of bullies like Monty Willings from which they had to protect themselves. Coach Moseby, a war veteran, seemed to be the only person he’d encountered who understood the dangerous world as it was. Jack reburied these feelings as unproductive in his new environment. They only brought out his hostility, and even now were making him feel bad about his day. God, he missed Texas and his old life.
Jack was thinking of his current lack of vigilance when he heard rustling in the undergrowth to his left. He recalled that Michigan had daggers not inherent to Texas. Michigan forests were crawling with black bears. He put down his head and began running.
Jack nearly jumped out of his skin when a deer suddenly leaped across the road.