Everybody Else Went On Ahead ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
I had known Weston Bicket since the beginning of school. You might say he was my best friend. People mostly didn’t like him because he was different from everybody else and he had a bad leg that made him limp and kept him from playing basketball and other stupid games we were made to play. I sometimes envied him because he wasn’t made to take P.E. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, “P.E.” means “physical education.”) He had an extra study hall while the rest of us were being humiliated in front of the whole class by our lack of athletic ability.
Weston lived in a big house that had seen better days on the edge of town, behind the railroad depot. (The town wasn’t big enough for a “train station,” so we just had a tiny railroad depot that looked unused and haunted.) He had no brothers and sisters; his parents went off and left him on his own a lot. His father ran around with other women (according to the gossip that my own mother was all too willing to spread), and his mother was an unrepentant floozy who spent a lot of time drinking beer and smoking cigarettes in taverns and bowling alleys. (Weston’s parents’ philosophy of parenting seemed to be: “Let the child raise himself. That’s what we did and look at us!”)
Weston didn’t like to talk about his bum leg, but one Friday evening during summer vacation when we were alone at his house, I asked him how it came to be the way it was.
“I was a breached birth,” he said.
“What does that mean?”
“I came out feet first.”
“Came out where?”
“You know. You saw the pictures in the biology book.”
“Oh, yeah!” I said. “Disgusting!”
“Yes, it’s disgusting. The whole thing is disgusting.”
“So what happened with your leg?”
“I was stuck in there. The doctor pulled too hard on my leg and broke it and dislocated it.”
“Didn’t that hurt?”
“They thought I might never walk, so I guess I’m lucky to be walking at all.”
“You’re lucky in other ways, too. You don’t have to take P.E.”
“Yes, I am blessed.”
About nine o’clock that night a big thunderstorm blew up out of the southwest, which was where most scary storms came from. Weston’s parents were gone for the weekend and he didn’t know when they’d be back. He asked me if I’d spend the night. I never knew before that he was scared of thunder and lightning. I thought it would be fun to spend the night in his upstairs bedroom with just the two of us, with plenty of cookies and potato chips, but when I called my mother and asked for permission to spend the night, she told me to shag my cowboy ass home posthaste, storm or no storm. She could always spoil a good time without much effort.
We were thirteen and in the eighth grade. While most of us were growing taller and “filling out,” Weston remained tiny. The eighth grade wasn’t kind to Weston. One day he fell on the stairs going from one class to another and broke his ankle. He had to stay at home for two weeks “recuperating,” and when he came back to school he had a heavy cast on his leg and a pair of crutches. “I was lame-o before!” he said proudly. “Now I’m really lame-o!”
Not long after his cast was removed, Weston and two other boys were caught smoking a cigarette in the boys’ restroom and were suspended for three days. Getting suspended from school was about the worst thing that could happen to you. To be readmitted to school, Weston had to have his mother bring him for a closed-door meeting with the principal in his office. Weston said it was the most humiliating experience of his life.
And that wasn’t all. When we got our once-in-a-lifetime smallpox vaccinations, Weston had a “bad reaction.” His arm swelled up to twice its normal size and he became sick and had to see a doctor. The doctor said it was a “very rare” and “most unusual” side-effect of the smallpox vaccine that occurred in about one in a million people. “Did you ever see anybody so damn lucky?” Weston exclaimed.
Because of his size, Weston was often the target of bullies. One Saturday afternoon when Weston and I were on our way downtown, we met the ugly bully Freddy Lucy face to face.
“Well, look who’s here!” Freddy sneered, showing his miserable teeth. “I thought I smelled turds!”
Our plan was just to ignore Freddy; we were going to go around him, but he blocked our way.
“Just where do you two little bitches thing you’re going?” Freddy said.
“None of your business!” Weston said.
“I’ll bet you’re going to the store to buy some emergency feminine napkins, aren’t you?”
“That’s stupid!” Weston said. “We know you already bought them all!”
“Oh, funny!” Freddy said. “You ought to be on TV!”
“We just met a big gorilla up the street,” Weston said. “She was looking for you. I think she was your mother.”
“You know what happens to little bitches with smart mouths!” Freddy said. “They get their teeth knocked out!”
“I dare you to knock my teeth out!” Weston said. “I’ll call the police and they’ll come and pick you up and drop you off at the monkey house at the zoo with the rest of your family, where you belong!”
“If you don’t shut your mouth, you little creep, and show some respect, I’ll shut it for you!”
“I’d rather be a creep than a psycho, Freddy! That’s what you are! You might as well face it. People are afraid of you!”
Unable to restrain himself any longer, Freddy jumped at Weston and got him in a headlock. Weston struggled but couldn’t get loose.
“You’re hurting me!” Weston said.
“That’s the point, shit-face!” Freddy said.
“Leave him alone, Freddy!” I said.
“Oh, do you want some too, you little mama’s boy?”
He let go of Weston and came toward me and raised his dirt-encrusted knuckles in my face as if to hit me. I didn’t flinch.
“We’re not bothering you!” I said. “Just let us pass.”
“And miss all the fun?”
“No fun here,” I said.
“No?” Freddy asked. “I always think it’s fun beating the shit out of little kids.”
“If you want to beat the shit out of somebody, why don’t you beat the shit out of somebody your own size?”
“Well, that’s just no fun at all!”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you, Freddy,” Weston said. “Just how many years did you spend in third grade?”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Freddy said. “What’s it like to be a cripple?”
“I’m not a cripple,” Weston said.
“You look like a cripple! You walk like a cripple! Yes, I’d definitely say you’re a cripple!”
“You’re a no-good, retarded piece of shit!” Weston shrieked. “Your whole family is shit! You live in a junkyard! You have so many brothers and sisters you don’t know how many there are!”
“You leave my family out of it!” Freddy said.
He hit Weston on the side of the head with his fist. The blow knocked Weston all the way off the sidewalk into the street. I could see right away that his eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving. I thought he was dead.
“Look what you did!” I yelled at Freddy.
“Serves him right! For disrespecting my family!”
Freddy ran off up the street, like the coward he was, but I could tell he was scared.
I couldn’t leave Weston lying there in the street. He really was knocked out. I had never seen anybody knocked out before.
He wasn’t faking it, either. He had a brain concussion and a fractured jaw. He was in the hospital for a few days. I had never seen him look so bad. He couldn’t move around much because he was so dizzy.
“What about that asshole Freddy Lucy?” he asked me when I visited him in his hospital room.
“He’s in plenty of trouble,” I said. “I think he might be expelled from school. They might even send him to reform school.”
“That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time!” Weston said.
“I told them everything that happened, that we just wanted to pass by on the sidewalk, and Freddy came along and started picking on us.”
“He’ll probably beat the shit out of you for telling on him!
“Let him try! I’m not afraid of him!”
But I was a little afraid of what Freddy would do to me when he got the chance. I thought about some little weapon I might use as a deterrent if he confronted me.
“He’ll end up in the state penitentiary one of these days,” Weston said.
“Surest thing you know!” I said.
“They’ll fry his evil ass in the electric chair, and when they do I’d love to have a front-row seat!”
Weston was out for weeks this time. When he came back to school, they said he was so far behind in his schoolwork he’d have to repeat the eighth grade. We’d no longer have classes together and would no longer be best friends. I hoped, though, that fate would be kinder to him on the next go-round.
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp