She came in one misty spring morning without fanfare just the slide step-clunk, step-clunk of a girl swinging her right leg in a brace to slide- step-clunk. Probably polio but nobody knew. But this day marked a turning point in his adolescent life.
Her name was Carly, and she was the shy, quiet type. She sneezed as she stepped-slid-clunked to her desk. She sat right down but had to lever her leg into place. Then she loosened the side brace hinge to bend her knee and with both hands, pulled her leg under the desk to sit like all the other kids.
He glanced at the usual suspects. A furtive look, as he'd known since seventh grade not to maintain eye contact with any of them (especially Mike) for more than a second. Nick, Mike, and Dave, were watching Carly with lasering eyes. He expected a snicker, a chuckle, a mutter. They were silent as they scoped the handicapped girl. This was big. He knew how big.
Charlie Bagely had been Igor since the seventh grade. He had a mild case of Scheuermann's kyphosis resulting in a small hunchback. It wasn't much. Didn't even need bracing according to his physician and definitely not surgery. Yet Charlie was short and pudgy and it was a lock when Nick noticed his difference. The difference that now defined an eighth grade boy. In the oceanic expanse of young adolescent conformity, Charlie was a black fly in the silky white ointment. But he wasn't alone anymore.
"I wonder if Brace-leg rusts if she's out in the rain too long," Dave mused to his locker goons Nick, and Mike.
"Yeah I bet she needs to carry around an oil can," Mike smirked back.
"You're an idiot sometimes." Nick snapped. Dave, just chuckled.
Charlie was a little disappointed in the nom de guerre assigned to Carly, by Mike and his henchmen. He'd hoped for something nastier. This was just a description. It wasn't an insult! Not like Igor. But he noticed the sea change since Carly had arrived. The daily fusillade of insults and childish pranks to Igor had dropped down to just an occasional musket shot. Rarely was he the focus of an escalation of verbal torture. He hadn't even have to do the Igor walk that Mike used to make him perform, especially at lunch in the cafeteria on a daily basis.
"Igor, get me my tray!" Mike would bark. "Yes Master." Charlie would reply and bring the tray to Mike's table with a slow swinging bent gait, one arm swinging loosly to the side. Kids would laugh. Charlie, feeling humiliated and helpless, would want to die. He'd often skip hot lunch and sneak his cold lunch in the restroom. What it lacked in olfactory and auditory ambiance for munching his salami sandwich it at least provided the tiniest improvement in self respect.
He could live with spending less time down range from Mike and his thugs. His biggest fear was how long would this last? The rest of the school year or just a week?
His answer came all too soon. Less than two weeks from the day Carly showed up, the 'gang' had lost interest in her. Their snickers, name calling and derision didn't seem to upset her. She ignored them and went about the business of junior high. Mike, for once, had failed to ignite a brush-fire of scapegoating among his fellow eighth graders. They would go with the show to a point. But to pick on the crippled girl crossed even their line. But there was always Igor for a laugh.
"Igor come here!" Mike called out in a singsong voice. "Igor come here!" he repeated. Charlie felt a chill like he'd never felt before. They were in the locker room after P.E. The teacher was in his office talking to two students who'd gotten in a fight during gym dodge-ball. Mike was sitting on the exposed toilet taking a crap.
Charlie stared at Mike. Nick and Dave, both clad in gym towels moved menacingly towards Charlie. "What?" Charlie asked.
There were 19 boys in the locker room. You could have heard a jock drop. Charlie walked over to Mike. "Igor, this toilet's busted."
"Huh?" Charlie replied.
"Huh?" Mike parroted back. "Igor it wont flush anymore, but I dumped a turd the size of a coney island dog in here," Mike cracked while staring between his legs at his production. Kids were laughing now every so softly they could hear every word.
Charlie just stood there. He wanted to run. Never stop. Something very malicious was going down. This was new. Scary.
" Igor, I need you to move my turd to that toilet." Mike commanded quietly while gesturing to the toilet next to him. "Then you can flush it for me."
The snickering and snorting was louder. Charlie felt the hot rush of embarrassed blood in his face. Mike stood up. Mike stepped aside and locked his stare onto Charlie. "Do it you little hunched back, fucker!" Marco snarled. Charlie did it, while all the boys roared and laughed behind him.
In third period Social Studies the next day, Charlie couldn't stop staring at Carly. She was, along with being an unfortunate victim of polio, a very attractive girl. Long thin dark brown hair, pouting lips, an oval face , and pale skin, and almond shaped brown eyes. Her garb looked like something the Amish would even find out of style. Long gingham dresses that appeared to be 6 generation hand me downs starting on a Conestoga wagon out of Missouri. And she wore laced leather boots. One, of course, had metal braces riveted to it. She looked old fashioned and yet the clothing suited her well, it seemed to add a mystique about her, and added to her beauty.
The bell rang. Fourth period Science was next. Up the main hallway then down the west wing. Charlie lingered behind. Normally to let Mike's goon squad get a good head start. Today it was different.
The kids flowed into the hallway like book carrying salmon into a stream somewhat heavy with the odor of floor wax. Carly was step-clunking up the gentle ramp to the west wing intersection. Mike and his boys were against the ramp wall idling and being smart asses. Charlie came up quickly behind Carly. He timed her step-clunk for the step with the good leg. When Carly's good leg was just up and she was balanced on her braced leg, he swiftly kicked (it was more forceful than your basic junior high hall tripping) her leg and send her sprawling to the floor face first.
Carly made a horrible thump and her books shot out of her hands when she reflexively tried to protectively extend her hands and arms.
Kids were yelling. Mike saw the whole thing. "You little fucker! you fucking asshole!" he shouted as he rolled in on Igor with both fists flying. He beat Igor about the head and face and neck. Nick swooped in and tried to fire a stomach shot in, but Mike had this show. He was pounding Igor into tears.
Mr. Norman, the shop teacher, lumbered down the ramp to break it up. Later, while having a smoke in the faculty room, he told a couple of teachers how damn strong that Mike was. And how he might have saved Charlie Bagely's life.
"Why did you do this Charlie?" the Principal asked. "Why did you hurt that poor young girl?" Charlie had no response. He was sobbing. His face had been tended to by an angry school nurse who really would have preferred Charlie to just sit and bleed for awhile. Nothing was broken. Tomorrow his eyes would begin to swell and blacken.
Carly was checked out by the nurse too, and in a much more caring and concerned way. The nurse told her husband about it all that night, and mentioned how surprised she was that the poor crippled girl never cried once. What Had gotten into that boy anyway? He was always so quiet and unassuming.
She wasn't injured but her parents were called anyway about the incident. They showed up in a smoke belching 82' Ford wagon, a 20 year old beater with a homemade metal roof rack on top. Both were dressed in even older more worn out clothes than Carly's. Maybe they were hillbillies.
On the last day of school, the day after graduation, kids roamed around aimlessly and ignored the teachers. Charlie sat under a white birch tree, behind the wood shop. He was reading 'Harry Potter and chewing stick after stick of double mint gum, for lunch. He never heard the slide- step-clunk.
"Hi" Carly said.
"Umm hi" Charlie replied with eyes like a deer caught in a hunters headlights.
"I know why you did it" Carly said softly.
Charlie said nothing. He looked down and stared at page 111 of the latest Harry Potter book. But the words made no sense. He saw letters that he knew formed words that he knew but he could not comprehend them.
"It wasn"t cuz you hated me."
Charlie tried to read the words backwards to see if that worked.
It was cuz nobody laughs at you when you're bleeding huh?
"It was nothing personal, I'm sorry." Charlie whispered.. he was watching the 'gang' who were sitting in the playground ready to eat their lunches.
"What's going on?" Carly asked.
"I'm just tying up some loose ends, end of the year and all." mused Charlie as he stared hard at the group of boys.
Charlie sat quiet as Mike and his Hench men sat around getting ready to eat their lunch. Charlie knew he'd have to make a run for it, his escape route was neatly planned out before school, he went to the office to gather up lost books and bring them to the library, and waited for the late bell to ring, before he instituted his plan of action, he walked slowly toward the lockers, specifically #322 opened the locker ever so gently and pulled out Dave's Lunch box, opened it up and unwrapped the plastic wrap around his steak and onion sandwich, he quietly pulled out the brown paper bag from his pocket and emptied the contents into the sandwich, removing the steak at the same time. He then carefully rewrapped Dave's sandwich, closed the lunchbox, returned it to it's place in the locker, closed the locker, and continued on to the library with the trove of lost books.
"What are you waiting for?" Carly quizzed.
"Payback's a bitch!" Mused Charlie, as he watched Mike take a bite of his sandwich. "I'll see you next year."
Charlie ran as fast as his chubby legs would take him. He hit the ground running, flew threw the Gymnasium, through the nurse's office, down through the janitor's room, and out the small exit in the back of the school. He ran up Davis Avenue, and ran into his Aunt's backyard. He'd hide there for a few hours, until his aunt came home. He went there often and she would not be surprised to see him.