Failure of the Physical

"I'm going to cream you, Jake!" Sal advanced. He'd already silently rung his own imaginary starting bell for Round One. No reciting rules, no touching gloves, in fact, no gloves at all. Sal, the school bully, began to take some pokes at the air near Jake's head just to show off and build up the fear factor. The crowd of kids oh'ed and grunted with each missed punch. Even after a few pokes, Jake just smiled. For the first time, Sal frowned. His opponents would usually be pleading for mercy by now. Frustrated, Sal poured on the coal.

Jake dodged the heavier blows, just as his favorite TV wrestler, The Professor, would have. But seeing an opening, he forgot his strategy and punched Sal right on the chin.

Sal dropped his guard, shocked. His chin turned red, but instead of being knocked down, like in the movies, Sal just glared back and hissed through those brown teeth: "So, you really wanna fight, eh?"

"Wait, this isn't supposed to happen! What now?" Jake's brain scrambled for an answer.

Assuming a stronger stance, Sal started to mount his counter-attack.

For a moment, Jake thought of running. Then, he remembered his plan: The Professor! The Iron Scissors! He took a breath, faked with his left fist again. But as Sal started to block, Jake, head down, charged him, grabbed around his waist and started to push forward. Sal's flailing fists were ineffective close-in, and he was off balance, so it was easy for Jake to do a Professor-style take-down by hooking his right ankle around Sal's left.  Down they went, right onto Sal's back.

Sal's breath was knocked out of him, as much by the surprise of Jake's attack as the shock of both boys' weight slammed onto the rough pavement.

Now Sal, panicking, turned his back to Jake. Being a boxer, he feared punches to his face or stomach. But this allowed Jake to hook his left arm around Sal's neck and wrap both legs around his soft stomach, now bared by his uplifted, stained shirt.  Jake began to squeeze his hiker's legs in an imitation of the Professor's scissors.

It was working! Sal could hardly breathe and was in no position to punch anything. Each time Sal gasped, Jake tightened his legs, ensuring Sal inhaled less. He imagined being the large green snake he’d seen stifling its prey, the coil tightening with each struggle.

The kids, surprised, began to cheer: "Get him, Jake, squeeze!" Encouraged, Jake squeezed harder. Sal's squirming got weaker.

The crowd started closing in upon the fighters, and there was Pam, looking right at Jake, worried but with a look of adoration! Inspired, he grinned and squeezed even harder.

But while basking in Pam's attention, Jake let up the pressure just a little. It was enough for Sal to squirm into position to punch Jake right in the solar plexus.

"Ooofffff," out came a huge puff of air, all Jake had in his lungs. Then, he felt the terrifying paralysis of his diaphragm. He couldn't inhale!

Meanwhile, Sal caught his breath, got up and started taunting Jake: "C'mon, Jew-boy! You think your Talmudic tricks can beat good ole' American boxing?" He feinted some more jabs in the air as Jake rolled on the ground, trying to catch his breath.

"C'mon and get up, so I can knock those buck teeth out of your face! Stop crying, ya big sissy!" The crowd was back in Sal's corner, echoing his taunts.

"Break it up, boys. Now!" Mr. Powell, their teacher, pushed through the circle of cheering kids. His red face glared under his brown Fedora. He grabbed Jake by the collar and hoisted him right up to his feet.

Sal led the crowd in more jeering as Mr. Powell dragged Jake toward the school building. Mr. Powell grinned: he could unleash his paddle at last!

Receiving a push toward Mr. Powell's desk, Jake dusted off and half tucked in his shirt. He glared at the kids filing back into the classroom. Sal was last, with his brown-toothed grin. Jake knew he'd have to face Sal again after school.  Wrestling hadn't worked. He couldn't box. What would he do? Running wasn't an option, either.

But now, there was Mr. Powell and his paddle to deal with.

Facing the Paddle

Mr. Powell removed his trusty oaken paddle from its velvet sheath. Now, it would fulfill its purpose. It looked like it had been waxed since last time the class had seen it. Sometimes boys had to polish it in front of their class after their paddling.

Pam tried not to look back at Jake; he could see she was sad, though. Maybe even a bit scared... for him?

"Jake, assume the position!" bellowed Mr. Powell. For a man who had stayed behind during the War, he sure acted like a movie drill sergeant.

Trembling, Jake stood at the front desk. From seeing others' paddlings, he knew how to assume the position: hands on the left side of the desk, body bent over, feet back a bit, legs straight and slightly apart, head up and turned to face the class.

Jake suddenly stopped short of bending over. Tears welled up. His anger mounted. This was not right. A plan started to form.

Jake inhaled sharply, looked right into Mr. Powell's slitted eyes and let out his hurt and anger: "Why are you paddling just me? Sal started the fight and you know it. He bragged about it right here in class!"

Caught short, the teacher halted in his ritual show of waggling the paddle to limber up. His eyes got big and round. "What?" he sputtered, "What?"

Jake's adrenaline was pumping now. He saw a chink in Mr. Powell's armor and went for it. "Oh, maybe you just like paddling us smaller boys, is that it?" Jake stood straighter. He was trembling, yet he couldn't stop. "You like hurting little kids? You never do paddle Steve or Larry or Gary, no matter what they do."

Steve, Larry and Gary, nice guys but big for their age, slumped into their chairs a few inches. Where was this going?

Sal, not fully grasping the unfolding situation just sat and stared. Pam began to smile.

The class murmured. So many unexpected events today, starting with Pam's unexplained scream during Penmanship, Sal's near defeat, and now this!

Mr. Powell turned bright red. That could bode well or ill for Jake.

The two of them just stood there, eyes locked on one another for what seemed like minutes. Finally, Mr. Powell flinched. "Ummm... So you're saying this was self-defense?"

Jake pressed the advantage. "Yes, Mr. Powell, ask anyone."

Several kids raised their hands. Others just blurted out "That's right!" and "Sal's just a bully!" Now it was Sal's turn to sink into his desk chair.

"Well, all right then. Quiet, class!" Mr. Powell found a bit of composure. He re-sheathed the paddle. It had seen daylight twice today without whacking boys’ buttocks. In his seventeen years of teaching, this was a first.

"Take your seat, Jake." Mr. Powell finished by staring at Sal." And don't either of you let this happen again!" He threw a cursory glance around the class, trying to give the impression this was all his original plan. He then got out the history book for the next hour's lecture.

Trembling as he returned to his desk and holding back a triumphant smile, Jake glanced at Pam. She shot him a proud smile, then glanced away shyly. Sal sullenly stared at him, grinding what was left of his teeth. He'd have another chance at Jake after school.

STILL VOICE  by Judie Maré

STILL VOICE by Judie Maré