October 2, 2017 by The Citron Review
By Max Everhart
When I was nine, I had a friend at Macedonia Baptist Church named Jeremy Hatcher. He was three years older than me, and girls loved him because he was tall and handsome and had the kind of dark hair that always looked styled and cool, even though, to my knowledge, he never combed it.
So on one particular Wednesday night, I found myself alone with Jeremy in the church’s nursery. We were playing with a new toy I had. It was a yellow motorcycle that transformed into a helicopter, and it came with an action figure, too: a yellow-masked crime fighter with a matching yellow jumpsuit.
“You should give that toy to me,” Jeremy said as I made the motorcycle leap over one of the baby cribs in the nursery. “It’ll make Brian really jealous.”
Brian Byrd was a chubby kid we knew. His family lived in a dilapidated house, its front yard littered with broken-down cars and underfed dogs and poisonous snakes. I’d been there. Once. Because of his secondhand clothes and poor personal hygiene, Brian got picked on. A lot. Even at church.
Nervous, I started rolling the toy up and down the wood paneled walls. Down the hall I heard the choir butchering the chorus of “Old Rugged Cross,” but then, mercifully, my mother’s voice rang out as she soloed the verse. So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross. . .Till my trophies at last I lay down.
“Come on, just give it to me, okay?” Jeremy reached for the toy in my hand, the cocky grin on his face suggesting that he was used to getting whatever he wanted. I held the toy behind my back and looked away from my friend.
“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you want to see Brian cry?” He moved in front of me, so I had to look right at him. His cocky grin quickly changed into something harder and nastier, an expression that was cruel. At least, that’s how I remember it as I reach back through the years and press PLAY on this particular scene.
“Let’s make him cry,” Jeremy said, which stole my breath and I was instantly conscious of the significant height and weight difference between us.
Now, at thirty-seven, I am angered by those words and their complete lack of empathy. Still ringing in my ears, those words boil my blood even more than Trump tweets and double-parkers. I am, as ever, enraged by my childhood friend’s words.
But, when I was nine years old, those words didn’t anger me. I wasn’t angry. I was scared. Scared I’d lose the one cool friend I had. Scared I’d never see my toy again. Scared I’d go to Hell if I made Brian cry. Scared I didn’t believe there was a Hell let alone a God.
Jeremy moved closer to me, and I could smell the Brute cologne he used, which I assumed was another reason he attracted female attention and I didn’t. He was wearing a gold cross around his neck, and his light blue eyes looked worried, like he might not get his way this time.
“Please,” he said, “I want the toy.”
I offered him the action figure, but not the motorcycle. “Deal?” I asked, my
heart thumping in my ears.
“Forget it,” he said and left the room, leaving me behind with the toy and my mother’s angelic voice and the very real feeling that I’d failed somehow and that failure would stay with me forever.
Which it did.
Which it still does.
Max Everhart is the author of the Eli Sharpe mystery series as well as a short story collection called All the Different Ways Love Can Feel. His stories, essays, and articles have appeared in Shotgun Honey, juked, Potomac Review, Elysian Fields Quarterly, and Portable Magic: The Authors First Anthology. He lives in Hartsville, South Carolina. Find more of Max’s writing at Breakfast With Harry, a blog he writes about being a stay-at-home dad to a formidable four-year old.