Under the gleam of the April sun and whispers of fluttering hummingbirds, Tony flung a snotball at Marie. Marie ran away from the group screaming, and Pamela chased after her striped sundress in case someone tried to kidnap her again. Mrs. Dhupta, who was chastising Tony for not cleaning his nose on the bus, shouted at Marie to slow down and Pamela to mind her own beeswax as the class stood to take a picture beside the front fountain of the Natural History Museum. Tony was still picking his nose, and Angelina’s bunny ears looked more like a disrespectful sign to be displaying publicly.
The 1st graders were coming.
The lead chaperone, a soccer mom in her mid-forties, split the groups up according to the mistreated piece of printed cardstock in her hand. She walked inside first as matching pink Converses of other blonde-bobbed ladies followed. Her daughter and her friends trudded behind chattering about whose shoes were the prettiest. The remaining adults waited for their assigned children to share whatever gummi bears and trail mix they had decided to bring on this historical field trip. After a short while, they dispersed, leaving one misfit group to themselves.
“Hey! You’re not Mr. Castelli. I’m supposed to be with Mr. Castelli!” Tony called out as a man with gelled liberty spikes hunched over to tie his dirty Adidas.
The man’s left eye blazed black and blue under the morning rays, and his eyebrow showcased two empty piercings where a metal ring most likely slept the months before.
“Technically, kid, I am Mr. Castelli. Tony Castelli. Trevor Castelli--the guy with the dumb bowtie--well he’s my brother. Called in sick today, asked me to fill in.” The older Tony grunted while standing at his full height, failing to intimidate the seven-year-old boy.
“Is that even allowed?” Tony wagged a finger in the air accusingly. “And why you got the same name as me, mister?”
The man looked at the chipmunk-cheeked boy crossing his arms. With a sneer, he raised his hands in the air dramatically.
“Cuz we’re I-taaal-ian!” Castelli dragged out their nationality with an exaggerated tone. “Now, shut up. Don’t you wanna meet some dead dinos?” Castelli handed an assortment of Capri Suns to the other kids who stood silently, munching on imaginary popcorn, and threw one at Tony’s face. Good thing Tony DeLuca was the star catcher of the school’s baseball team.
Inside the city museum, each kid trampled around in awe as inanimate objects of hirsute cavemen and prehistoric birds glowered over them. A feeling of curiosity for the world captivated them with a type of indescribable amazement. Even Castelli’s jaw dropped a little. The feeling was soon ended by the irksome voice of a little boy in school uniform, who ironically was the only one not standing in the uniformed line of children.
“How come his sneakers don't have laces? And isn’t nail polish supposed to be on girls? I say we get rid of him.” Tony nudged at Marie's elbow, who was peering up his nose in a newfound curiosity.
“Eww! How is there still a boogie up there?!” Tony’s eyes centered towards the finger under his right nostril. His eyebrows lowered before swatting away the unwelcome finger.
“You kids are fucking stupid.” Castelli’s awe faded away, leaving a grim expression on his scarred face as he listened into their tumultuous conversation.
“Mister,” Pamela tugged at the fringe of Castelli's grey hoodie. “You just said the S word.”
“The what?” His voice raised with a tinge of bewilderment.
“The S word.” Pamela stood on her tippy-toes, whispering within cupped hands. “Stu,” her eyes darted around in a childlike worry. “Pid.”
Castelli’s eyes glimmered from the young girl's understanding of curse words. It could either be described as blatant ignorance or beautiful innocence. The second option seemed to be a better choice, he thought.
“Pamela, right?” She nodded. “You wanna learn the real S word?” Her curious emerald eyes were enough for Castelli to open his mouth midway.
“You can’t tell Pamela that. She’d cry.” Tony stated with an affirmation of truth, cutting Castelli off at the lip. Marie and quiet Angelina nodded in approval.
Castelli took notice of this statement, zipping his lip shut and hiding the nonexistent key in a singular motion, though his eyes could show his palpable disappointment.
The rest of the day went by like any normal day in a museum should: blissful, quiet and boring. Tony stayed a lengthy distance from the Mr. Castelli impersonator. Marie skipped--or rather stomped--along the linoleum corridors, annoying most of the passersbys, and Pamela would whisper the word ‘stupid’ under her breath a couple times in mild interest, whilst Angelina stared straight ahead.
A thought had occurred to Castelli to ditch the four children in a sea of other chaperoned groups loitering by the mummy exhibit. The only reason he decided not to was because of another human born one year, four months, and twenty-eight days ahead of him. Trevor with the dumb pinwheel bowtie. If Trevor was good enough as to not do it, then so was he.
“It’s almost two o’ clock, any of you kids wanna see another dead dino before we leave?” Bored out of his mind, Castelli motioned towards the front doors lining up with exuberant children holding rock candy and other miscellaneous souvenirs.
“Mister, you never took us to see the extinct animals one.” Pamela tugged at his hoodie once again, making it the 47th time that day.
“Oh, yay.” Castelli forced a sarcastic smile. “And stop calling me mister.”
“It's the end of the day, mister. That ain't gonna happen.” Tony crossed his arms and pulled his neck forward, mocking the grown man’s sarcastic smile. “Mister.” His eyeballs practically fell out of their sockets as he jabbed his final blow. Castelli looked at the freckled boy in a shared second of mutual hatred.
“That’s it. Everybody hold hands and smile, so Pamela can be happy. And march.” He pointed to a spot on the laminated map bolted to a wall as if he really knew where that spot went to.
The four reluctant kids followed in tune. Neither wanted to anger a man with standalone hair, silver rings, and a bruised eye. The kids watched from behind Castelli’s greased head as he tepidly escorted them to a dimmed room emitting rather ugly stenches.
“This is the extinct animals one?” Marie asked, clutching Angelina’s hand tighter.
“That’s what the sign says,” Castelli deadpanned.
The four-foot tall sign illuminated perennial dust and old condiment stains. A banner beside the sign advertised a new attraction: the Galápagos penguins. As the fivesome neared, a couple of faint chants could be heard. ‘The penguins of Galápagos aren’t gone! They won’t be gone! Stop these farragos! This museum is not a pawn!’ The booming activists shouted.
“What’s a farrago?” Marie questioned in a hushed voice.
She looked at Angelina who looked at Tony who looked at Pamela who ultimately looked at Mr. Tony Castelli. Castelli looked at neither of the kids. His peripheral vision had caught a familiar glimpse in the activist background. A dumb pinwheel bowtie. With sewed-in penguins.
Pamela followed Castelli’s gaze, making eye contact with a preppy man chained to a post. The chained man waved to Pamela and gestured her over. Castelli faked a limp while walking over, thinking he’d be sure to get some type of sympathy from his brother Trevor. Pamela, Marie, and Angelina trampled over hesitantly, wondering to themselves why their favorite teacher was chained to a post. Tony usually didn’t wonder to himself, so he ran right on over.
“Real Mr. Castelli!” He shouted, slamming a fast high-five into that of his teacher.
“How are you doing, little Tony?” Trevor Castelli chuckled.
“I’m good, but your brother’s boring.” Tony didn't hesitate to answer. His eyes coruscated at the immediate insult.
“Oh, that’s not entirely true. He's just a little pazzo.” Trevor flashed a bleached white smile, but Castelli reacted as if he had flashed something else.
“Uh-huh, said the guy chained to a post.”
“If your leg isn’t hurt, I’d like to offer you a seat beside me, Anthony.” Trevor looked Castelli in the eye, smirking a satisfied grin. The penguins on his bowtie did the same.
The three girls walked behind where Tony stood. They watched as Castelli limped beside Trevor’s post, squatting halfway before deciding to lean against the post instead.
“Mr. Castelli, how come you’re stuck to a post?” Pamela sat criss-cross in front of him as he thought for a moment.
“You see Pamela, there’s some mean people in this world,” Castelli rolled his eyes as Trevor continued on, “And they’re taking natural resources that the Galápagos penguins need to survive. They aren’t extinct yet, meaning they shouldn’t make a new attraction already.” He finally explained.
“Why do they want an attraction already?” Pamela said as more activists showed up with face paint and picket signs.
“Have you seen these little guys?” Trevor motioned to a banner of penguins one woman was carrying. “That’s what people pay to see.”
“How long you gonna sit here?” Castelli slid down the post, planting his butt on the foul carpet.
“As long as I need to.” Trevor answered tartly, flashing his bleached white smile.
“I’m staying.” Castelli snatched a penguin cap from one of the rallying supporters, not changing the deadly stare he had centered on his brother. “You kids need to go back to the school bus.”
He put the cap on his head and looked towards the four children, expecting them to leave without a chaperone. Marie looked at Tony, knowing he say something.
“You don’t care whether them penguins live or not, mister! You just want to get even with Mr. Castelli!” Tony sat opposite to Trevor, holding an abandoned picket sign from the floor. His newly-owned cardboard sign read, Just wanted a place with free air conditioning.
“Oh no, I just love penguins.” Castelli retorted, sliding down beside the two he disliked the most and pulled the hood over his head. Pamela tried to sit next to him and Tony.
“Don’t sit next to me. Go home.” Castelli dismissed her and Tony to the door where they had recently entered through.
“Mister, for another Tony, you sure aren’t cool.” Tony took the stolen sign with him as Angelina and Marie followed quietly. Pamela wandered behind, not wanting to leave for the search party gathering outside.
“Bye, mister.” She waved as a couple tears gathered in her eyes.
After a while, the garbled engine of a school bus muttered its sorrows as the wheels drove slowly down the street. More and more Galápagos penguin supporters amassed in the exhibit. They shouted and cheered as the greater authorities sent their media stations to report the advocate turnout. Everyone sat, wearing their war paint and wielding their picket signs, except for two. In his chains that had no key, Trevor watched the gathering people as they walked in the doors to sit down, whereas Castelli found a spot on the floor to stare at under his darkened hood.
“I just want you to know, that I hate you.”
“And I hate you back, Anthony.”
His bleached, pearly, unattainable white teeth shone with a disguised happiness. And his stubbly, bruised, forelocked face burned with an unhidden loathe.
But hey, at least the kids weren’t there.