Johnny America


Jake Brown


Willie was a foul-mouthed jack­ass. Ste­vie and had shoul­ders that slumped to his belt. They were in­suf­fer­able and in­sep­a­ra­ble, the Brown twins.

Jake Brown want­ed to kill them both. He was their lit­tle broth­er and shad­ow, for­ev­er wal­low­ing in the dust ed­dies trail­ing be­hind the pair’s size five sneakers.

Jake sat across from me in Mrs. An­dlin’s fourth-grade class­room. Every day, for twen­ty min­utes af­ter lunch, Mrs. An­dlin grant­ed us ‘study time’ as she fin­ished her noon soap opera on a four-inch black-and-white tele­vi­sion she hid in the file draw­er of her desk. We were al­lowed to do what­ev­er we want­ed, so long as our lips and ass­es did­n’t budge. I read youth ad­ven­ture nov­els. Jake drew pic­tures of his broth­ers’ tor­ture, death, and fu­ner­al. When he fin­ished a new work, he would pass it me un­der our desks. Jake knew I shared his ha­tred for the Brown twins. Willie I want­ed to oblit­er­ate for kick­ing three of my teeth from my gums. Ste­vie I hat­ed for run­ning away as his broth­er blood­ied my face. Ste­vie was autis­tic and ran, hold­ing his hands above his head when­ev­er vi­o­lence en­sued. Why he loved cru­el Willie, I nev­er understood.

“I don’t wan­na, I can’t,” plead­ed Ned Woost­er, a fourth grader.

“Horse­shit. Give it to us or you’re gonna pay,” de­mand­ed Willie. He raised the foursquare ball he’d yanked from Ned a sec­ond be­fore above his head.

“Leave’hm alone,” de­mand­ed Jen­ny, a third grad­er who’d trans­ferred from Jack­son El­e­men­tary at the spring term.

I held by breath and clenched my fists. If Willie picked on girls less of­ten than boys, it was be­cause they pre­sent­ed less chal­lenge. With boys, there was the oc­ca­sion­al up­start who test­ed the cock of the block. I’d tried the year be­fore, and paid two in­cisors and a ca­nine for my boldness.

I was stand­ing at the edge of the foursquare court, next in line for the game. I’d been wait­ing for Ned to lose his pole po­si­tion as serv­er when the Brown twins am­bled over. Jake was in line be­hind me. A dozen spec­ta­tors from neigh­bor­ing courts had gath­ered to watch the twins. Af­ter Willie picked a tar­get, it was safe to stand as spectator.

“Mind your bus’­ness, new girl,” spat Willie, “or I’ll have my broth­er here rape you.”

“If you don’t leave him and me alone I’ll…” start­ed Jenny.

“Ste­vie, rape this bitch,” laughed Willie, point­ing to her and thrust­ing his pre-pu­bes­cent crotch to­ward her. Jen­ny’s face was red with anger.

We’d seen this play twen­ty times be­fore. Ste­vie start­ed whim­per­ing. He turned his back to the foursquare court, stepped off the black­top and on to the grav­el, and ran, yelp­ing, to­ward the base­ball di­a­mond. The on­ly time Willie laughed at his broth­er was when he fled. It was al­so the on­ly time he tol­er­at­ed mirth from oth­ers. We turned our heads and watched and laughed at the run­ning retard.

The cry, “Jake,” switched my at­ten­tion to the oth­er Browns.

I had­n’t no­ticed Jake leav­ing my side at the foursquare court, but there he was with a brick in his hand, raised above Willie, who was fol­low­ing grav­i­ty to the earth. He brought down a blow to Willie’s fore­head. A tiny riv­er of red leaked from his temple.

“Jake?” I asked, star­tled and confused.

“Jake?” I re­peat­ed. I looked down at Willie and swal­lowed the spit in my mouth. Jake hit him again.

Willie lay on the ground, shaking.

I mo­tioned for Jake to hand me the brick.

“John, find ‘yer own, ” he said, be­fore land­ing a third blow, to his broth­er’s stom­ach. Jake looked up and point­ed to­ward the Elm near the mon­key bars. There was a neck­lace of red bricks cir­cling its trunk.

I fetched a brick and joined my friend.

Pe­ter start­ed in next. Su­san af­ter Pe­ter. Thomas joined the mêlée, then others.

“Chil­dren! Stop!” Mrs. Sim­mons cried, flail­ing at ran­dom ap­pendages. She blew her whis­tle for help. Its scream was shrill in my ears. I hit Willie again.

When they pulled me off, Willie was smashed and my clothes were soaked with blood and sweat. The cus­to­di­an had me and Su­san pinned by the shoul­ders against the as­phalt, but I had a view. There were thir­ty stu­dents falling down on Willie’s body.

The car­nage had end­ed by the time the am­bu­lances pulled to the curb. There were four of them, but on­ly three found pas­sen­gers. One for Willie, one for Jake, and one for Stevie.

I nev­er saw Jake Brown again.

Filed under Fiction on October 6th, 2004

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