It was a slap that could have been heard halfway across the island. As it was, Greg was only half a block away, on his bike, delivering the Newport News. His bike was a midnight blue, three-speed Bianchi Sport with handbrakes. It was a final gift from his grandmother and Greg treasured it. As he rode closer, he could also hear the arguing and the swearing.
“ . . . and a two-bit bitch!” from the man.
“I’d already told you to leave; so just get out and take your crap with you, you bastard!” from the woman.
Another slap from the man that connected more with Greg than it seemed to with the woman. Greg yelled at the man to stop. At the same time Greg kept accelerating. He jumped the curb with the bike, jerking on the handlebars and lunging his pudgy weight upward at the last instant, allowing the rear wheel to hit the curb and bounce over it and onto the sidewalk.
Just as Greg regained his precarious balance and started pedaling again, the man turned towards him, yelling, “Get out of here you little son of a bitch!”
Just before he rammed into the man, Greg responded, “Leave her alone!” Then screamed, “Stop hitting her!” It was at that moment that they connected.
Greg had aimed his bike straight into the man who, only at the final instant before impact, had turned half around. The man took the blow off to his right side, mostly on the back of his leg and buttocks. The momentum of the bike and Greg’s weight, a hefty one-fifty even at only thirteen, knocked the man into the Corvette parked at the curb. It was probably the man’s car, judging by the clothes thrown into the passenger seat. Greg fell off to his right, absorbing most of the fall with his right arm and shoulder. There would be bruises, bumps and abrasions he would come to appreciate only later with the sting of hot water and soap.
The woman was not hit at all, not anymore and not by Greg either, but she screamed the loudest all the same. Her voice was too shrill and anguished to make out the words, but her anxiety seemed sincere, although in Greg’s mind, misplaced. She ran over to the man, now pushing himself away from the car and kicking at the carcass of the bike that lay between Greg and him. The woman was asking him how he was and if he was all right, over and over.
It was obvious that he wanted to take out after Greg, even though he was a kid, but the woman was hanging onto the man’s left arm, guiding him across the sidewalk. They passed Greg, still prone and dazed, the woman not even wasting a look on Greg or his wounds. The couple walked through a small, white, picket gate and into the house where the door had been left open.
Greg finally gathered himself enough to stand and then to retrieve his bike. The handlebars were twisted and the front wheel was bent, the tire flat. Half of his paper route was scattered across the sidewalk and into the bushes on one side and off into the gutter on the other. It took about ten minutes to gather the copies of the News, replace a few broken rubber bands, and place them all back into the pack hanging off the rack over the rear wheel. He knew he couldn’t ride with the flat and the front wheel all twisted askew. It would be too clumsy walking the bike home like this, so Greg shifted the canvas bag to the front, over the handlebars. He straightened the bars as best as he could, straddling the crooked front wheel and leveraging his weight to realign the handlebars. One handbrake was broken.
After this Greg started walking the bike home, knowing that he would later have to finish his route on foot, crisscrossing Balboa Island more than a dozen times. As he turned the bike around and started backtracking towards the corner of Park Avenue and Onyx, Greg looked back over his shoulder at the house where the man and the woman had disappeared and not returned. The door was now closed. “Dumb bitch!” was Greg’s comment, said aloud as he violently bounced the bike down the curb and onto Park, which he crossed obliquely.
Didn’t she say she wanted the man to stop? Wasn’t that all that he, Greg, had done? These thoughts went unanswered then and, although Greg didn’t realize it at the time, they would trouble him for the rest of his life; much like women in general.
Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school (remember the hormonally-challenged?) English teacher living in Moreno Valley, California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather be still tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.