Carly Szabo, Rowan University
Beads of sweat glued strands of umber hair to his forehead, effectively increasing his discomfort. Why had he allowed Brody to persuade him into this disaster? Brody. That great brute of a fifth-grader. Gerald could almost feel the pinpricks of anger climbing the walls of his gut as they did each time Brody gave that leering smile. It was a smile complicated by intimidation and gleeful sadism. A look only true peer-pressurers could master.
“Just do it!” he laughed, his massive stomach protruding slightly as his shirt strained to cover him. “If you don’t do it, I’m gonna tell everyone you’re chicken. Bock, bock, bock!”
“Shut up,” Gerald pushed Brody’s freckled arm back which he then folded into two clumsy wings.
“Bock, bock! Gerry the chicken! Hear that, world? Gerry’s afraid of Wittle Pewcy Hawvawd! Bock, bock, bock!”
“Shut up!” Gerald spat, anger mixing with his saliva like homemade venom. “Keep your freaking voice down! He lives on this street, I think…” Gerald cast a furtive glance in either direction, searching for any sign that Percy Harvard had heard Brody’s antics.
“Ooooh! Look at you droppin’ ‘freak’ bombs. Is Gerry gonna stop bein’ such a FUCKING CHICKEN?!” Brody burst out in laughter, freeing his bouncing belly up to his naval as Gerald cowered at the curse word.
“Shhhh!” Again, Gerald looked around making sure no one had heard—especially no adults.
“Fuck, fuck, fuckity, FUCK!” Brody danced circles around Gerald’s tiny frame, bearing his chicken arms and “clucking” between “fuck”-ing. Gerald felt smaller and smaller with each foul word that pierced the air like gunshots. And the smaller he felt, the more his temples pulsed, his face flushed bright red, tears burned ferociously behind his eyes until finally an explosion:
“ALRIGHT YOU FAT IDIOT! I’LL DO IT! NOW SHUT THE HECK UP!!!”
“Hey!” an old woman waved her cane from across the street, “Watch your mouth, young man!”
And now here he was. Immobilized in the Harvards’ backyard, hunched over the trash can he had just disturbed, facing Percy in the darkness. Although, his situation would have been much the same had it been daylight. Percy’s blindness still would have hidden Gerald safely in the shadows. But Percy may as well have had 20/20 vision and a spotlight on Gerald for all the raucous he had caused. Even a person less adjusted to a life without sight would have been able to detect the stranger in the shadows.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The Harvards had recently moved to town, causing an uproar of confusion from all of the kids at school. When they heard the word “disability,” the foreign concept quickly blanketed their confusion with fear and rejection.
“Can’t he go to a special school or something?” asked Carmella, a particularly snobbish girl for whom Gerald had no patience.
“Now, class,” Mrs. Porter interjected, “Percy is no different from you or me. He is a bright young man and you should feel privileged to share a class with him. We should all view this as a learning experience!”
Groans emanated from the class as Mrs. Porter waddled her stoutly figure around the classroom to pass out blindfolds.
“Let’s all try to put ourselves in Percy’s shoes before his arrival,” she smiled, trying to make the activity seem fun and engaging to her reluctant students.
“I guess you won’t be the school freak anymore,” Carmella sneered at Gerald. Retorts gathered in clumps at the back of his throat—their usual hiding place. Luckily, Brody stepped in.
“Shut the fuck up, Carm,” he hissed, “No one’s talking to you.” It was moments like this that reminded Gerald of why he was friends with Brody in the first place and, incidentally, why Brody was able to effortlessly influence him.
Carmella rolled her eyes and turned back towards the front of the classroom.
“Don’t worry, buddy. I’ve always got your back,” Brody dropped a hefty arm across Gerald’s meek shoulders, causing him to slouch a little. He thought of what Carmella said, and wondered if it could be true. Would the tables turn with the arrival of the blind boy from who-knows-where? Shamelessly, his heart became weightless with the thought of a scapegoat for his torment. Finally, the relentless teasing about his fragile composition, his glasses, his intelligence—all of it would come to an end. He tried to suppress his excitement, focusing instead on helping the blindfolded Brody feel his way around the classroom. The oaf fumbled over his feet with every step, unable to balance himself without sight. It was hard for Gerald to keep from giggling as his friend made an ass of himself in front of the entire class.
“Oh if it’s so easy why don’t you try it?” Brody tore the blindfold from his face as Gerald failed to stifle his laughter after Brody had almost landed himself in a trashcan. Gerald fastened the blindfold tightly around his head, and found the complete darkness more disorienting than he had anticipated. Sounds became too loud to focus on; a muddled collection of voices, machines, and nature combining into one indiscernible entity. He reached out to the emptiness before him, trying to feel for a wall or a familiar table in the classroom. He leaned forward, took one careful step, and fell to the ground almost instantly as he stepped onto what Brody explained was a book which felt oddly like a foot to Gerald. It was evident that the life of blindness was not suitable for him.
When Percy Harvard finally came to school, the teasing was instantaneous. Echoes of “Bat Boy” and “Dead Eyes” reverberated off the walls of the school like evil ricochets flying through the air. At first, Gerald felt sympathetic towards the blind boy. He knew the painful life of an outcast and wanted to let Percy know that they were one and the same. But as he observed Percy’s behavior more closely, he found his strength in enduring the bullying to be condescending and offensive. Gerald hated that this stranger was able to maintain his composure in the face of ignorance like he never could. He patiently waited for the day when Percy would break. But the day never came.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
In the Harvard’s backyard, Gerald’s heart was a construction worker pounding relentlessly like a hammer to a wall. Sweat pooled in great puddles across his brow, leaking continuously over his eyes which made it particularly difficult to stay still. Had he been an illogical person, he would have thought it impossible for Percy to find him over the steady crescendo of his heartbeat.
Moments turned to ages as the pair stood motionless in the night, each perfectly aware of the other yet too afraid to speak. Gerald thought of how juvenile the whole plan was.
“He keeps it by the shed in his yard—what an idiot!” Brody coached Gerald mere minutes before the stand-off. “Just sneak in and grab it!”
He could see the scooter from his current position. Bright orange body accompanied by fluorescent yellow handlebars. It reminded Gerald of the vest worn by the crossing guard at school. As he gazed at the toy that lay inches from his grasp, he was afflicted by the torturous churning of guilt and desire in his stomach. Before, all he had wanted was to shut Brody up. Go along with his games. But now, he was mesmerized by the plaything; caught in the clutches of its mystical allure. And it spoke to him, as clear as the autumn sky that hung above him.
Do it, it urged. Steal me.
Gerald’s fingers twitched involuntarily towards the scooter aching to wrap themselves around the grip of the handlebars. As if this imperceptible gesture had caused a cacophony of sound to erupt from his direction, Percy’s head darted towards the trash can so that his milky, dead eyes bore directly into Gerald’s.
“Hey!” Percy spoke. “I know what you’re doing out here, kid. You should go. You’ll be better off.”
The caution in Percy’s voice almost fooled Gerald into turning back the way he had come and forgetting the whole stupid idea. But his eyes fixated themselves on that beautiful scooter, the orange and yellow resting firmly in his retinas until the whole world glowed like the sun despite the black night sky. He needed to steal it. He had come too far.
Percy remained in his spot at the foot of the concrete steps that descended from the back door of his home. He waited, desperate to know the impact of his words. Hearing nothing but the gentle lullaby of crickets and passing cars, he sighed. He, too, had once known the irresistible call of the scooter…
Defeated, and slightly annoyed by the stranger’s reluctance to heed his warning, Percy reached out his arm to the railing and climbed the stairs to his home. Gerald waited long past the final click of the lock securing the back door before making his move. He crossed the two feet that stood between him and the scooter, grabbed the lemon-colored handlebars, flung the metal contraption over his right shoulder and ran. Hard.
Brody sat on the sidewalk a little way down the street from the Harvards’ home, stuffing a Twinkie into his gullet when he saw Gerald. He stood up, smiling his signature smile, watching the spectacle of his best friend sprinting from the scene of the crime.
“Gerry! You did it! Good job, buddy! Now, let me see that thing,” he reached his arms out to his friend from the scooter, but was knocked down by the blow of the runner at full speed.
“What the fuck, man?!” Brody yelled at Gerald’s quickly disappearing back.
“Oh, that’s nice. I’m only the one who FUCKING THOUGHT OF IT!” Brody pounded his fist into the pavement, bloodying his knuckles and worsening his pain.
Gerald ran all the way home, never once considering stopping to ride his newly acquired vehicle. He carried the load on his back, a stallion galloping through the darkness with his jockey dictating his every move. Gerald flung open the gate to his backyard, anticipation weighing down his chest and throwing off the tempo of his breathing. Once safely in his own yard, he gently placed the scooter on the patio.
There it was.
A radiant symbol of his guilty conscience, the scooter beamed with majesty and mystery. And though it glowed brightly with the promise of hours of entertainment, beneath its façade burned a more sinister intimation like the slow-burning coals of a fire about to go out.
Gerald mounted the scooter, resting the full weight of his left leg on the deck, his hands gripping the handlebars fervently. His blood swarmed through his body so quickly he was sure he would float off the ground from its velocity. Instinctively, he kicked off with his right foot. The cool, fall air rushed past his cheeks as he formed figure-eights on the small bit of patio in his backyard. The world seemed to glow with his growing joy, the bright orange and yellow colors flooding his vision. He couldn’t wait to show the kids at school his prized possession. He thought of all their envious faces focused on him and the scooter.
And then it started.
A smoldering pain grew deep within the sockets of his eyes; at first a dull ache and then an insufferable stabbing. He screamed horrifically, paying no attention to the sleeping world around him. He blinked ferociously, trying to rid himself of the searing pain building in his retinas. But it was no use. The terror had a mind of its own. Hot lava boiled over in the back of his eyes until he was sure it was blood instead of tears streaming down his face. As quickly as it had come, it stopped; and yet his eyes remained tightly shut beneath his hands.
Awakened by his shrill screams, his sister Deborah came rushing to his aid.
“Gerry! What happened?!”
But when he looked up to meet her worried gaze, he found the whole world had gone dark.
Carly Szabo is a Writing Arts student at Rowan University. With her degree, she hopes to become an editor at a book publishing company. She hopes to continue to inspire others with her writing both in her everyday life and with her chosen career path. She aspires to publish her first book shortly after graduation.