My name is Tad Pole. I'm eleven-years-old, four-foot, eight-inches tall, and I bet I could kick the crap out of you. My legs are twice as big as the rest of my body, and I wear Dad's old shoes. Size nine and a half. Take that. You've got to be tough when you've got a name like mine. My real name is Thaddeus, but I don't tell anyone that. Who knows what my parents were thinking when they thought of it. Crazy dizzy. I go by Tad. I like Tad. Tad sounds cool anyway, only it doesn't work so well with my last name—a fact too many kids are certain to remind you of if you don't remind them what you're going to do to them if they do.
George says that the size of your feet tells how big you're going to get. If that's true, I bet I'll be eight-foot tall when I grow up. If that's true, the first thing I am going to do is bury Jeff, Jack, Jimmy, and John in Bate Masterson's ditch. See how they like it. I have five older brothers, who, when they have nothing better to do, find something fun to do with me.
I wouldn't bury George. George is all right.
George is just older than me, but my legs and feet are twice as large as his. Jeff, Jack, Jimmy, and John try to do stuff to him too, but it usually gets turned on me. Jeff is a senior in high school. Jack is a wrestler. Jimmy has a poster of a simultaneous, 100cc Kawasaki dirt bike. John is a jerk. If I grow eight-foot tall, I could beat up the Brosnon brothers, Cal and Coltrane. Cow pies. Then we'll all see them for the wimps they are. They won't dare touch me then, me or anybody else.
We live on the edge of town between the suburbs and the country. My friend, Eldon—well, he's only sort of my friend—lives in a crazy dizzy house in the suburbs; but it's all smashed up against all the other houses in his neighborhood. Not cool. His street is nice though. No tar drizzled on the street. You can actually rollerblade on it, but nobody rollerblades in the suburbs. Eldon plays video games—lots of video games. He has, like, a whole stack. He thinks he's a gamer, but I can beat him every game. Sucka! My best friends are Miguel and José. They live in the country. They've got nine sisters each. When they are not in school, they pick apples, hoe beans, drive tractors. Simultaneous! I wish I could drive a tractor.
Our house is white and yellow. The gutter hangs off the corner of the house, and there is a woodpecker hole in the attic. George says he once thought he heard bird feet scratching the ceiling. If that's true, there could be a whole family of birds up there, but it's probably just mice. If that's true and I find a way to get in the attic, I'll take a stick to every one of them.
I hate mice.
We have lots of mice, but we don't have a cat. Mom hates cats. She says they'll piddle on the carpet, not to mention they make Dad sneeze.
Mom asked Dad again to fix the gutter last night. She usually does this with a large wooden spoon. Dad waives her off and thrusts his nose at the computer screen, his brows jammed together. Mom threatens him and Dad jumps to his feet and hurls a pile of papers at the floor: "I can't concentrate. Can't everybody leave me alone? I don't have time to fix that gutter." When he's mad, he always refers to Mom as "everybody."
Dad has been looking for a job for eight months. As far as I know, he hasn't found anything. I just try to stay out of his way. If Mom isn't threatening Dad with her spoon, she's standing at the kitchen sink, staring through the window at our neighbor, Ms. Matheson. Cow pie. Ms. Matheson is my sixth grade teacher. Mom can see over the side yard fence from the kitchen window right into Ms. Matheson's back yard. Ms. Matheson is not cool. She does weird things sometimes. I think that is why Mom watches her. Ms. Matheson wears a big red hat, stares into her telescope in the middle of the day, and mows the lawn in her bathing suit. Dad says she's a Democrat. I hate Democrats. George says Democrats are behemoths that peel your skin off and eat you in your sleep. If that's true, that's probably why Mom locks the doors at night. Apart from Ms. Matheson, we live in a safe place. There are drugs out here. There are drugs everywhere. But I have never met anyone on drugs. The only things you have to worry about are stray dogs and Cal and Coltrane Brosnon.
They pick on everybody—even girls.
We live east of the Rockies. I can see Pikes Peak from our living room window. I like it out here. There's a row of houses down our street, but at least our windows aren't looking into Ms. Matheson's. Who knows what she does inside her house. Bate Masterson grows alfalfa down the road—he uses the irrigation ditch to flood his fields—and there's a field of sheep across the road in front of our house. It doesn't stink. The wind usually blows the other way.
I walk thirty minutes to school. I have to stay well ahead of my brothers, and I have to walk fast. Jeff, Jack, and Jimmy are old enough to drive, but Mom won't let any one of them touch anything with a motor. She doesn't trust them. She probably thinks they'll kill themselves or, worse, someone else. That's why I walk fast. If I don't, they might get an itch to tie me to a fence post just to watch me squirm or bury me in Bate Masterson's ditch again. Last time they did that, I was late for school. I snuck into class dirty and sweaty. Ms. Matheson said she was going to skin me alive if I was ever late again. Geesh! Maybe George was telling the truth. She is a Democrat.
I like my backpack. Spiderman. It makes me look cool. There are more girls in my class than boys and Ms. Matheson always favors the girls. I get B's. Mom says it's not good enough. She says I need A's if I am going to get into college. But I don't know if I want to go to college. College sounds hard. I know a lot of words, words they don't even teach you in school, words like "simultaneous" and "despicable;" but I'd rather be a mechanic and work on dirt bikes. College is a place for girls.
A lot of boys my age are dating girls. They hold hands in the halls. Mom says I can't have a girlfriend until I turn sixteen; but it isn't me she should be concerned about. She doesn't know it yet, but John—cow pie—has already got a girlfriend. I have no girlfriend. Need no girlfriend. Want no girlfriend. I am a born and bred bachela! George says a bachela is someone girls want but can't have. If that's true, Winifred Montgomery can dream on. George says I like Winifred Montgomery. I don't either. She's taller than I am and weighs a hundred and ten pounds. She brushes her hair every time she goes to her locker. She wears pink turtlenecks and lip gloss. And she smells like apple blossoms. Who would date her? Gag.
If I can avoid her, I definitely avoid her.
The problem is she's in my class. George says I heard her say she likes Spiderman and that is why I worked so hard last summer to get my backpack. Is not. George is such a liar. Mom has been teaching me some swing moves she learned in the eighties, but it has nothing to do with Winifred Montgomery. George says it does, but George is wrong. Just because Winifred Montgomery dances swing too doesn't mean I have some secret crush on her. I just want to broaden my horizons, get some culture. That's all. Besides, Mom says it's good for me.
The best part about school is lunch, definitely lunch.
When I go to middle school, I'm signing up for band. I play the trumpet. The trumpet is simultaneous. It even makes me look cool. Sometimes I dress up in my scout shirt and play the trumpet. I bet I look like an army bugler in Arlington cemetery. The trumpet got me interested in the music merit badge, a merit badge I almost got at my first merit badge camp, but my counselor wouldn't pass me. He said I didn't demonstrate enough knowledge about other instruments. Who cares about other instruments? The trumpet makes you look cool. That's it.
I hope I never have to go to merit badge camp again. It was awful. Some other scouts dumped some fish in the lodge pool and threw in firecrackers. Our camp counselors went dizzy crazy over it but left the dead fish floating in the pool just to teach us a lesson. No one swam in the pool all week. I liked camping out, though. The worst part about camping out is setting up the tent; the best part, eating hot dogs and messing with fire. I'm a pyro. Pyros are simultaneous!
Dad is a camp counselor too, but he couldn't make it this year.
When I get older, I hope Dad pays more attention to me. I know he's really busy. He spends a lot of hours at the computer scratching his head or pacing the floor with papers in his hands, trying to find a job. I know he doesn't have a lot of spare time—it must be hard being in charge of a family; it costs a lot and Dad has to stay busy—he can't just stop looking for work for me. I don't want to be selfish.
Dad wrestles with Jeff, Jack, Jimmy, John, and George, though. Maybe I ought to try out for the wrestling team. Jeff, Jack, Jimmy, John, and George also blow things up. Mom hates it, but it makes Dad laugh. Jeff once lit a tree on fire at the edge of our back yard. Dad thought it was brilliant and took out the hot dogs and sticks and we had an all-you-can-eat. I think he thought it would freak Ms. Matheson out and make her want to move. She watched us from her back window with a phone to her ear. Cow pie. What did she think she was going to do? My uncle is the boss of the police department. No police car ever showed up at our house that night. The neighbors even joined us for toasted mallows and watched the blaze. Mom never liked that tree anyway and planted a birch in its place. She thinks the ashes will be great for the new tree.
I stood by Dad. He didn't say anything to me, but he didn't move away either. I wish I could have thought of something funny to say—Dad likes a good joke—instead, I asked for the bag of mallows. Dad would never let any of us go hungry. He loves us too much.
When I took the bag, I noticed his hands were no longer penciled with grease. I don't know why I never noticed it before, but I noticed it then. He didn't tousle my hair—probably out of habit. Dad was a mechanic before he lost his job, and he never tousled my hair because I bet he didn't want to get grease in it. I once traced the lines in my hand with a pencil and held it to the light. If I squinted, it looked just like Dad's.
Dad doesn't talk much.
It surprised me to hear him chatting up our neighbor Mr. Horne like they'd been best friends for years. Dad never talks to Mr. Horne. Mr. Horne was detonating jokes about Democrats and making Dad laugh. John was throwing mallows at the fire. Jeff, Jack, and Jimmy were threatening to shove George into the flames until that got boring and they turned on me. I dropped the bag of mallows and ran, ran around the house, ran past the American flag hanging beside our front door (the brass eagle on the end of the pole), and swung around the porch pillar, waiting. My brothers never came.
I parked my butt on the porch—my feet on the top step—hugged by the quiet of the front yard.
Dad was an eagle scout. Dad was also a troop bugler. He once showed my brothers his merit badge sash. It was plastered with patches and badges. I hope Dad will make it to my next court of honor. I bet he'll be proud I got my welding badge. Maybe he'll even sit down at the table with me like he did Jeff, Jack, Jimmy, John, and George and help me map out my requirements to get my Star.
The flag waved above my head in the breeze—red, white, blue. I could hear faint voices around the corner of the house. I could see shadow dancers on the walls of Ms. Matheson's puke green garage. An orange rod of light stretched across the street. The field in front of our house was vast, starlit. The world was large, the possibilities of direction endless. The stars twinkled and winked at me.
Riley Welcker has many stories, essays, and poems bulging from his briefcase. He holds a B.S. in Business from Utah Valley University, a B.A. in English from the University of Idaho, and is currently an M.F.A. student at the University of Texas at El Paso. His work has appeared in other publications including The Oklahoma Review, The Montreal Review, and The Mindful Word.