My father didn’t want to talk about it, but my mother couldn’t get enough. Her brother, too, my Uncle Bondo. A wound-up, erratic fellow, is Bondo, but I love him like a brother. It was Bondo who taught me how to skate and stick handle a puck. Bondo who spent hours on the Brookside ball field, teaching me how to hit and field a baseball. Bondo wanted to show me the ways of deer-hunting, too, but my father had managed to put his foot all the way down on that one. I never made it out into the woods to shoot Bambi and for that I was privately grateful.
When they heard the blow-by-blow story – from me and then from Julie – of how I had battled the three punks of Privilege, they were agog. I mean, my mother and her brother were half-convinced I was the second coming of Chuck Norris. “A savant,” Bondo kept shouting because Bondo shouts just about everything. “A by-God savant who masters fists and feet instead of numbers and boring equations. That’s my boy! That’s my Jackie Blue!”
His enthusiasm took a hit a day later when he took me to the backyard to fight.
Bondo is a big man with a barrel chest. He’s got a wild, fly-away beard and hands the size of catcher’s mitts. For an hour, he threw soft jabs at my face, bobbing and weaving around the backyard in a way that made Mike Tyson seem serene.
“Come on, Jack. Come on, Jacky, defend yourself. Take me down, you bad mutha!”
A light slap against my left cheek. A hard finger poking my chest like a bullet. Poke, poke. Jab, jab.
I waited for it to come. I even tried to summon the voice.
Cobra, I thought. Horse. Snake, godammit. Where are you?
Nothing. It was late Sunday afternoon and I kept telling him I had to give it up. I had homework to do before the onslaught of school. Uncle Bondo looked more fired up than ever. I was worried that his disappointment would be so great, he’d end up in a bar somewhere – possibly in Privilege – looking for someone real to fight.
“Come on, Uncle,” I said for the fifth time. “I’ve got nothing. Whatever it was is gone.”
“You’re killing me, Jacky,” he said, still bobbing and still weaving. “You’re killing an old man here.”
But I could tell that he was ready to admit defeat. He had failed to evoke the magic.
Then Julie stopped by.
She came in through the gated fence that surrounds the backyard. She started toward us, ducking under a clothesline, her hair falling in delicious waves over her face. My heart fluttered painfully again and I wondered if that was going to be a permanent condition.
She wore a white blouse and black jeans. She looked curvy and beautiful. She was smiling as she closed the gap between us. I waited, smelling apricots through some mysterious, anticipatory sixth sense.
Then Bondo sprang into action. He jumped into Julie’s path before she had reached me. I saw a bemused expression cross her face. Not fear by any stretch of the imagination. Julie knew Bondo well and she liked him. But as Bondo started in on his next act, her smile morphed into a look of puzzlement and it pissed me off a little. I love my uncle, but the idiot never knows when to stop.
“Oh ho!” he cried, dancing about like some drunken elf. “It is our hero’s lady friend, the damsel in distress! Will you fight for her, young Jackson? What if I wish to kiss her?”
Bondo twisted into a deranged crouch and stalked toward Julie, who had stopped in her tracks. The bemusement was still on her face, but it was giving way to outright confusion and (I fancied) a dim anxiety.
“Come Julie!” Bondo cried, ambling around her like a fairytale ogre. “Let us go away together and leave poor Jack to pine. We will marry, you and I, and live in the woods!”
He hooked his fingers into claws, making as if to grab her. Julie shied away from him, playing along and yet at least vaguely apprehensive. Again, it pissed me off that my uncle would pursue this game for so long.
“Knock it off, Uncle Bondo,” I said, taking a step toward them.
“Oh ho! Seems the lad doesn’t favor the notion of his girl running off with a woodsman. Well, tough titty, as the kitty would say. She’s mine now, master Jack. All mine.”
He continued to stomp around her, hands jabbing the air. Julie shot me a look. She was trying to smile, but that look said what the hell IS this, Jack? What’s going on?
I walked to her and reached for her arm. Sometimes you just have to remove the game to make Bondo stop playing it. I would walk her inside where my mother would kick her brother in the ass if he kept it up.
“Come on, Julie. Let’s go in…”
Bondo swatted my hand away as I reached for Julie’s elbow. Then he took her other elbow in his own hand and began to pull her away.
“Hey!” I yelled. “Knock that shit off.”
Leering, cackling, still dancing from foot to foot, Bondo bounced in between Julie and I and shoved me with both hands.
I stumbled back, feeling my face going red, both with rage and embarrassment. Glancing up, I could see that the smile had withered on Julie’s face. Now she just looked uncomfortable at best, genuinely concerned at worst.
Bondo came for me again, lunging with both hands out to knock me on my ass.
Unbidden, the whispered voice returned.
It said: Ga!
I twisted slightly and threw my right shoulder at my oncoming uncle. With my left hand, I reached for his wrist and grabbed it. My right hand shot up into his armpit, fingers digging into the sweaty underside of his shirt. I planted my right foot. I felt power surging up from my feet. I twisted at the hip and hoisted my uncle into the air, using my shoulder as a sort of fulcrum. I heard him go “Wah?” and saw his feet come off the ground. I shifted my weight, lifted him higher and I flung him, as easily as I would have flung a bag of fertilizer. He went up over my head, flipped end for end and sailed across the lawn. He came down five feet away with a terrible thud. It sounded like snow falling off a roof.
Uncle Bondo lay on his back, arms out at his sides. I took a few steps toward him, moving like a cat stalking a bird. My right hand had pulled up to my shoulder, fingers bent, ready to strike. I stayed at his blind side, bending in, focusing on the center of his face. My right arm felt like the string of a bow, pulled taut and ready to unload all of its energy in one precise spot.
“Jack!” Julie cried from behind me. “Don’t!”
The spell broke. The intense focus was gone as though someone had pulled blinds over a window.
I knelt in the grass next to Bondo. His lips were pulled back against his gums so that I could see every one of his teeth. He looked like a man desperately trying to pass gas. Only he wasn’t trying to rid himself of air but trying to take some in. The wind had been knocked out of him when he hit the ground and now he was frantically trying to get oxygen to his lungs.
“Smoke on the water,” I mumbled into the face of my uncle. “Fire in the sky.”
Uncle Bondo blinked, comprehending that line no more than I did.
Julie appeared on the other side of him. She cupped her hand behind his head and lifted it slightly. Bondo continued to grimace, looking at Julie and then at me. His eyes were wide. He started to breathe again, short little sips of air at first and then magnificent gulps.
“Threw me,” he wheezed. “Holy crap, Jackson. You threw me.”
I heard the back door squeak open and then slam shut. My mother was with us a second later. I looked up at her. Her eyes were gleaming, not with anger or even concern. She looked delighted.
“That was amazing,” she said in a flat, far away voice. “You threw the big idiot like a bag of crap.”
Uncle Bondo sat up. He was sucking in air as fast as he could, but he was grinning, too. He looked pleased. For the first time I could remember, I saw the similarities between Bondo and his sister – my mother. There was a touch of lunacy in each of them, I thought. In that moment, I understood why, when they were together, my father was relieved of any semblance of household power.
I looked at Julie and she was looking at me. Her eyes were narrow; troubled. I opened my mouth to say something to her. I’m sorry? I’m really not like this?
I don’t know. Before I got a chance to say anything at all, my mother and uncle were babbling all at once.
“Jackie Boy,” Bondo said, laboring to his feet. “You’re going to be a star.”
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Genre – YA / Thriller
Rating – PG
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