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Coming of Age Fiction Friendship

In a small rural town, nobody can hide. Everyone knows everyone and, in addition, each other’s proclivities and oddities. The town that Edgar Gibbon grew up in wasn’t any different. He attended the same small elementary school in the center of the town where for decades, everyone in the town had. Once he completed that, he then entered the middle school that included additional students from the smaller outer towns that didn’t have a student population to support a junior high school of their own. That was when Edgar met Jimmy Zimmerman. On the first day of middle school the kids were gathering at the front sidewalk to swap stories of the summer and to touch base with their friends from the nearby farm towns in addition to meeting new ones. Edgar’s school started at fifth grade, so there wasn’t a lot of new kids, however, there was one that stood out in a very different way.

         Jimmy Zimmerman rode his bike to school, rain or shine. It was an old bike; slightly bent handle bars, rusted spokes, worn tires with the blue paint on the frame faded and touched up with a spray of red in some places. Despite these handicaps, he managed to make it to school every day and on time. Jimmy wasn’t much different than his bike. He was rail skinny and from a growth standpoint, he had shot up over the summer such that his pants were two inches two short for his frame. As he rode his bike, his white socks flashed like reflectors as he pedaled. He was well kept, but his clothes were dated and although none were patched, they had the worn look of hand-me-downs. While his appearance could be attributed to any number of kids; quick growth spurt, blemish face from the hormone surge, the clumsiness of thin bones adjusting to elongated muscles, it was his hobby that seemed to distract everyone.

         Apparently, Jimmy lived a number of miles from the school on one of the small towns near the river. Along the way, he seemed drawn to the animals that were along the road, namely the ones that were a bit too distracted to make the crossing. Seeing dead squirrel and racoons along the way, he had a habit of clipping off their tails with his utility knife and attaching it to his bicycle. I assume he had decided that they didn’t need them any more and thought the decoration on the frame of his bike was worth the effort. He would glide into the school, tails flying like a parade float, approach the bicycle rack where he would slide it into the rails, and walk alone into the school. He never locked the bike as he was certain no one would take it. A safe bet.

         Throughout the year, he would switch out the matted tails, with new ones such that there would be a collection of between just a few on the handlebars, to a half dozen all over the frame. Apparently, there were a lot of slow animals where he lived.

         During the school day, Edgar rarely saw him. But they did have lunch at the same period and although they didn’t sit together, Edgar was aware of him in the dining hall. Jimmy always ate alone, engulfing his food quickly like he had never eaten in his life. No one really sat with him, Edgar thought the tail fetish creeped the other kids away, but Jimmy didn’t seem to mind. Less people around him allowed him to concentrate on his lunch.

         Once his initial lunch was completed, he began the process of bargaining for another. His primary target was the table where the computer science students ate. He would wander over to their table and quietly ask what was available. Most of them had an issue with the menu, so it was easy for them to give up the vegetable or the pudding. Days where the main course was chili mac were easy. Nobody liked it and he would eat like he had it was the only edible thing left in the world. On days when there was a favorite, like chicken nuggets, he would use his best bargaining chip. According to Jimmy, his grandfather had a rock polisher and the two of them would walk along the bank of the river collecting odd colored river stones to bring back and polish. The heavy resin that was used on the rocks was soft to the touch and with the flat shape of the river stones, they were easy to palm and it felt good to massage at the end of the fingertips. With the option of getting a sensory soothing instrument, particularly around testing time, some of the kids were willing to give up their lunch for the stimulant. Since they were under pressure, they weren’t hungry anyway. Once he had tapped out the computer kids, he then ventured over the math and chess clubs. If he was still hungry, he knew a few concert band musicians that were willing to part with their lunches. By the end of the lunch hour, Jimmy had usually eaten three to four lunches.

         Sightings of Jimmy after lunch were rare. Usually after the last bell rung, Edgar would exit class and notice that Jimmy’s squirrel bike was already gone. There were even rumors that Jimmy would sneak into the library and fall asleep under a table somewhere, or find an unused section with few people in it, grab a book, and fall asleep at a desk with his arms crossed and his head facing the floor, the book open to some non-descript chapter.

         There was one class however that they both shared. Just before lunch there was the Phys -ed. Class. A lesson in dressing in a school PE uniform, then marching out into the gymnasium, practice field, or obstacle course, which ever the PE instructor had planned for the day. Jimmy regularly forgot his, Edgar believed it was mostly on purpose as he had outgrown in years before, just like his other clothes and never seemed to have a new one available. His usual stance was it was being washed, so he had to stand alone off to the side while the other kids participated. He solemnly took his F for the day, then brought out a notebook and drew for an hour while everyone else exerted themselves.

         It was during one of these periods, that Edgar aggravated his asthma and had to sit out for the rest of the session. He was assigned to be next to Jimmy on the bench such that the coach could keep an eye on both of them. Wheezing, Edgar slouched next to him, eyeing Jimmy’s drawing as he tried to regain his breath.

         Oblivious to Edgar, Jimmy continued to sketch as Edgar recovered. Having enough of his breath back, Edgar looked over Jimmy’s shoulder at the picture of a perfect sketch of an egret. The pencil drawing was excellent in shading and scope. The attention to detail was stunning and what was amazing was he was drawing from memory.

         “Wow, that’s incredible.” Edgar said.

         Jimmy just looked over at him, annoyed, and returned his gaze to the paper as he continued to draw.

         “Do you want to be an artist or something?’ Edgar asked.

         “Or something.” Jimmy mumbled.

         “Does your mom and dad like your drawings?” Edgar persisted.

         “Don’t know, they’re not around. Mom left one day, dad left a few days later.”

         “So where do you live?”

         “By the river, with my grandparents.” Jimmy continued to talk while he sketched. After this question he stopped for a second and looked back at Edgar. This time taking a long deep look, as if he was studying Edgar’s every curve and blemish.

         “Are they coming back?” Edgar asked.

         Jimmy shrugged, then turned away slightly to let Edgar know the conversation was over.

         About a week later during the same class, the instructor called all the boys up, even those without uniforms and placed them in a long straight line. Everyone was edgy, as sometimes when the teacher, he was having a bad day, he tended to be mean. His release was to take out his frustrations on the weaker boys by forcing them to do things that were difficult to do. For example, having one of the larger boys try to climb a rope when the child clearer did not have the strength to get off the ground. Yelling at the child while he struggled and then berating him at his failure in front of the other boys was a common tactic.

         But today he had a special humiliation in mind. “Today, we are going to start to learn how to wrestle!” he bellowed. His face was taut, his eyes sharp, his hands constantly forming fists, then releasing them.

         “You!” he pointed to Jeremy Flint who was standing in the middle of the line. “Out here!” and he pointed to a spot next to him on the wrestling mat. Jeremy was big, very big. At age 12 he was already over two hundred pounds, which is why his nickname was The Orca. Jeremy walked out onto the mat and stood at the place he was supposed to stand his arms almost perpendicular from his chest from the size of his girth.

         “And now…” the teacher began as he scanned the line up. “You!!” he bellowed as he pointed at Jimmy. Jimmy instantly turned pale and in response took a half step back from the line. He tried to talk, but for some reason the words didn’t come. Instead, he just stood there and looked around for someone, something to get him out of the situation.

         “Over here!” the instructor said, pointing to the space on the mat on his other side.

         When you compared the two, Jimmy was a shadow of the Orca. Even with the polished rocks in his pockets, he barely weighed half of the what the Orca carried.

         “Okay,” the instructor began with a sly smile. “This is our first match of the day. Mr. Zimmerman will show us how to take down a larger opponent.”

         He turned to the two boys and brought the whistle to his mouth, a sadistic smile on his face. “Let’s see what you’ve got Mr. Zimmerman!”

         He blew the whistle, then folded his arms to watch. The two boys looked at each other, then began to walk around. Jimmy looked terrified, while The Orca just kept moving to face him, expressionless.

         “Put your arms out Zimmerman!” the instructor yelled.

         Jimmy complied, but it just displayed the thinness of his arms and the frailty of his frame. Like clean white clothes lines reaching out to a tree. Again, they circled each other, neither one willing to commit.

         “Christ Zimmerman, go for his legs!!” the coach screamed.

         Jimmy looked at the coach unsure, then made a halfhearted thrust at the larger boys legs. Clearly prepared, The Orca just leaned forward and fell on the thinner boy’s frame. Jimmy collapsed flat on the mat, his legs twisting madly as he tried to get out from under the larger boy.

         “Again!!” the instructor yelled. “Do it again!!” he screamed.

         The Orca rolled off, got to his knees and after some difficulty rose to a standing position. Jimmy also struggled to get up, his frail frame awkwardly getting upright then he faced The Orca. Once again Jimmy leapt forward, once again Jimmy was crushed by the weight of the boy. This time the line of boys heard a audible gasp as the wind was knocked out of Jimmy. As the Orca rose, Jimmy lay on the ground, heaving for oxygen.

         “Again!” the coach yelled. Then followed it up with “We are not leaving this room until Mr. Zimmerman does the exercise!”

         As Jimmy struggled to get up again. It then came out of Edgar. It had been building up and he knew it was there and he struggled to contain it, but it burst forth.

         “Stop it!!” Edgar screamed. The words echoing around the vacuous expanse of the gym.

         There was silence as the coach turned around and looked up and down the line of boys trying to sense the direction the insurrection came from. “Who said that!” he yelled.

         As he looked down the line towards Edgar, suddenly a voice from the other end yelled. “Stop it!” The coach jerked his head away to see where that came from, only to have Edgar yell “Stop it!” again. This time Jimmy saw him, but he was paralyzed by the fear of retribution and watched the coach to see what he would do.

         As the coach looked up and down the line, more and more boys began to yelling “Stop it.” each time the coach looked away the voice would come from the other end of the line. Edger knew who they were. They were the boys from the chess club, the IT club and the musicians, who have had enough. Unsure of how to proceed, the coach screamed at everyone to do ten laps around the gym, his face crimson with anger. Jimmy quickly fell into line without a word and managed to survive the rest of the day.

         Edgar didn’t see him again for a couple of days. When he did, he was at lunch gathering and bartering for food. Jimmy glanced at Edgar briefly, then disappeared into the crowd surrounding the lunch table.

         Later that afternoon, at Edgar’s house right before dinner while Edger’s mom was cooking and they were waiting for his dad to come home, Edger heard a knock at the door. Hesitant, he looked though the curtains and not seeing anyone, he opened the front door slowly and looked out. Still not seeing anything, he pushed open the screen door and then saw a long beautiful fox tail on the threshold. It was perfect. Washed and combed, it was elegant in its appearance. Amazed, he stared at the artifact for a few moments, then looked around the at the other houses on the block. There, on the corner was Jimmy, his bike festooned with squirrel and raccoon tails looking back at him.        

         Edgar smiled, then slowly waved his hand. Jimmy smiled back, waving his hand in return, then pushed the pedal on his bike and quickly disappeared among the houses down the street. 

June 11, 2022 02:58

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Thomas Oliver
23:50 Jun 15, 2022



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