Sardines

by Don Dillon

 

      In here, said Tony. Now! My mouth bone dry. Keep rolling my tongue but nothing.

     That’s Cindy Barrett’s elbow pressed against my cheek. Never liked her much, ‘stuck up Cindy’ with her tight hair and the same boyfriend for the whole year, holding hands every damn time I saw them, like I got mine, where’s yours?

     Can’t see much, but smell the sweat, everybody’s sweat. Locker room stink, worse. The air doesn’t breathe.

      Laura Dowling didn’t sweat, not ever. She just smiled the first time I met her and that was it, boom, be mine Laura, please be mine. Played tennis better than me, laughed first at my jokes and knew I stared at her all the time but it never bothered her. She had these amazing freckles, and she held my hand to show me a scar on her arm, and Jesus, she was holding my hand . She had a boyfriend after she went home in the winter, but last summer at the lake was my time. We were bobbing in the water by the sunfish, which I managed to get back upright by standing on the centerboard, then pulled her back on and her swimsuit was loose and I saw her pink nipple, right there. She was laughing and I was trying to, but I was faint with love. Late in the summer we kissed for the first time, outside her house right after the young-teen party at the clubhouse, when I walked her home in the dark. She really liked how I danced, and I was rad that night and I bet that got the kiss. Three weeks and school’s out. Back to the lake and Laura and maybe more than a kiss this summer.

     Foot’s cramping, gotta straighten it, sorry Tony. He looks at me, finger on his lips. Gotcha bro, I’m gonna be cool like you, yeah, but I don’t feel cool. I am shit scared. Light from the science lab winks through the door slats. Everyone texting, but hard cause my hands are shaking, hold it Jamie. Must be six of us in here, dark, hiding like we’re sure we won’t get found.

     Lightning Tony, fastest guy on the track team, big fro, super guy, smart as shit, got into Michigan and has just got to be valedictorian this year. I ran, too. Won our freshman class race on Field Day last month when I forgot my sneakers and ran barefoot and everybody else was slipping on the wet grass. Charlie and Dom couldn’t believe it. The track coach came over and told me to try out for the team in the Fall. You’re a big deal if you make the track team. My father was a runner in high school, and if I made the team, he’d come to a meet for sure.

     Shoulda called Dad and Mom, but no time, everything moving too fast. What did I tell them this morning? Can’t remember.  Now all I can text is I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad. I love you. I love you. Losing phone juice, shit. Cut the phones, says Tony, no light, no light.

      Played Sardines when I was a kid. Better than Kick-the-Can, better than those scavenger hunts. How are you supposed to know if it’s the biggest acorn? But Sardines was the best. Whoever was ‘it’ got to hide and whoever found you got in the hiding place with you till everyone was there together and the game wasn’t over till the last person found everybody there. We boys loved it cause you’re crowded in with the girls, and you could rub against them and nobody cared. And we were always found. Played with the Connorton family, six kids, house smelled like sour milk. We’d laugh like crazy when we got found.

     Mom knows about this now for sure, she’s coming here, I bet. Everyone breathing hard. Cindy keeps texting, and Paula pushes Cindy’s phone down, whispering stop.  Paula’s kinda chunky but a class leader, a listen-to chick, knows what’s what. I’ll get home Mom, I will.

      Mom texts me every day from the hospital, how you doing Jamie, your turn to take Barney out, love you. I’m Barney’s favorite for sure, though my sister thinks it’s only because of the treats. Not treats, Annie, admiration, I always say. Wouldn’t mind being a dog, run like hell, big family to take care of you, go crazy in the park, get that frisbee. Took me a while to learn to throw that thing, but can zing it now like forever. Barney loves it, watches it fly and dip and hover, then a leap and grab—- so, so cool. Coming home to you, Barney.

      That must be Chelsea Morgan whispering Hail Mary’s and I think Cindy is saying them with her, in a whimper, eyes squeezed shut. I mouth the words but still no voice, can’t even remember the words. Save me, Mary, I’m a good boy, I am, I am.

     Our Lady, Notre Dame. My last exam tomorrow is French, my best subject and the two years I took it before I transferred here put me ahead of everybody. Charlie and Dom want to come to my place tonight to cram, and get a bit peeved when I say how easy it is, but I really help them out. If Dom could stop being a gamer for one freakin’ day, he’d be a star. I’m a proud addict bro, he says, and if they make French a vid game, I’d nail it.  Charlie owes me ten bucks, and I owe Dom. The three of us are our own gang, never stop with the jokes. Dom brought gin in a milk carton to Betsy Hillenbrand’s party at Christmas, and I threw up for about three hours. He also nailed some weed which is a pretty good alternative to that liquor shit. Hip dude wannabe, reads a shitload of stuff, and quotes authors, which I could never do. Charlie just hangs, laughs like a hyena and goes on about his zits. Love his laugh. Three amigos we call each other, kinda barfy, but true. We’re going to go to the pond the day school is out and jump in with our clothes on, just like last year.   

     The hall outside erupts, is that screaming? Someone grabbing my hand, hurting squeeze. Tony sits up.  He tugs on the belt he wrapped around the door handles. Everybody breathing hard, gasping. Somebody has shit in their pants, can smell it. Chrissie, head of Theater Club, whispers quiet, then covers Tony’s hands to help him pull. It’s loud out there, so fucking loud, I smell firecrackers. Cindy starts to get up, says I gotta get out of here, Paula and I grab her, push her down, bang bang noises so close. Pull her close to me. She buries her head on my neck, tears dripping on my cheek. Sound keeps coming.

       We were coming back from the beach club and Dad was driving and the fireworks had been awesome and we’re in the very back seat of the SUV and my brother has this bright idea to throw a firecracker out the car window and I light it and he throws it but the window is closed and it falls under the seat and goes BOOM! and Dad gets out of the car thinking the Poticelli kid threw it in and punches the kid and Mr. Poticelli takes a swing at Dad and Stuart tells Dad he did it, and it was really funny, and I still remember the sound of that firecracker.      

        Jesus, the sound. I press on my ears, turn my face away from the doors. I want to be brave but lost in fear and I can hear myself moaning, everybody sobbing, my stomach hurts like hell and I should have called Mom, and we all squirm lower, closer to the wall, closer to each other, then sounds like a million firecrackers and the doors shatter apart, and there is nothing but light, got found, and screaming, got found, and pleading and whiteness and red.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *