by Xenophon Hendrix
Everyone seemed to be in an upbeat mood as we walked home. We were joking around and playfully throwing handfuls of snow at each other. I thought everyone had experienced a good time, and I silently congratulated myself for thinking of inviting them. As we were ambling down Bradley, a shit-green car pulled up beside us. I recognized it. It was just my most favoritest person in the whole wide world, even more favoriter than Carol.
The window rolled down. "What are youse doing out so late?" It was Mrs. Pullik. She lived across the street from the Prestors and my family. Dewey Drive was more-or-less L-shaped. The Prestors and my family had the outside-corner lots. The Pulliks had the inside corner. They had a daughter in the same grade as Mary, but Mary did her best to avoid her.
"We were out behind the elementary school playing doctor with Mary," Danny said.
"We were not!" Mary said.
"We were Christmas caroling," I said.
"Don't you smart off to me, Danny Lukowski," Mrs. Pullik said.
Danny muttered softly, "Then mind your own business, you stupid bitch."
"What did you say?"
"I said, it's cold out here, and if it's all right with you, we need to keep moving."
"That's not what it sounded like to me."
"What can I say?" Danny started herding the group of us forward.
"I'm going to tell your mother what a smartass little punk you are."
"My mom knows all about my bad qualities, but knock yourself out."
"I'm not kidding, you foul-mouthed little creep."
"I didn't think you were." Danny still resented her for getting him in trouble several months before over his wandering around the neighborhood at night. It had cost him the privilege of sleeping in his family's tent-trailer over the summer.
Mrs. Pullik moved her car forward to keep up with us. "Artie, what are you doing out so late with this hooligan?"
I didn't mind it when my friends or family called me Artie. "Call me, Arthur, please."
"Arthur, then, damn it."
"Well, what, Mrs. Pullik?" I started us moving forward again.
She moved forward with us. "Answer my damn question."
"I require clarification, Mrs. Pullik."
Why are you riling this nosy bitch? thought Ursus.
I hate her guts.
"Don't you get smart with me. I'll tell your mother." My mother, normally full of good sense, actually liked the woman.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Pullik. What is it you wanted?" I shouted this last back over my shoulder.
She pulled her car forward. "Stand still when I'm talking to you."
I quit moving. "It's really starting to get cold out here. Perhaps we could have this conversation at another time?"
"It's not that goddamned cold!"
"I'm sorry to differ with you, but I can hear your car heater running from here."
"You're getting as bad as that damn Danny, and I'm going to have a word with your mother about it."
"I'm sorry to hear that, but I'm sure you'll do as you see fit."
"You're goddamned right I will." She rolled up her window, and her car started moving forward. I started walking again, which put me in front of our little group. Just then, I heard the sound of a snowball hitting a car. Due to my position, I hadn't seen the culprit.
She stopped her car again and got out this time. "Which one of you little bastards threw that?"
Everyone started shrugging. "Threw what?" Mike asked.
"I didn't see anyone throw anything," Mary said. Because she was right behind me, I was pretty sure she really hadn't seen anyone. Besides, Mary wasn't the type to bait someone like Mrs. Pullik.
"You know goddamned well what someone threw." She was glaring at Mike. "Was it you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I know one of you damn punks just hit my car with a snowball."
"It wasn't me," Mike said.
"Me neither," Terry said. Danny just laughed.
"Are you going to tell me who did it, Artie?"
"Call me Arthur, please."
"Jesus Christ! I'll call you whatever I goddamn well please. Now, who threw the goddamn snowball?"
"There is no need to get verbally abusive, Mrs. Pullik." I said it in a totally flat tone of voice.
"It's not up to a little shit like you to correct me. If you were my kid, I'd slap the smart-mouthed hell right out of you."
I felt Mary grab my arm. "I've been nothing but respectful to you." I knew it was Ursus's influence that allowed me to keep a perfectly even tone during our whole exchange. Since waking up from my long nap, I had rapidly learned the value of staying calm when those in a dispute with me became upset. I was now learning that such calmness annoyed a certain type of person.
"Like hell you have."
"I've been completely polite."
"You can take your disrespectful tone and your superior air and shove them up your ass. We'll see what your parents have to say about this."
My tone wasn't disrespectful; it merely wasn't groveling. "Ma'am, I have nothing more to say to you until my parents are present." Oooo, nice jujutsu move, thought Ursus.
I tried to get our group moving forward again. We'd have to walk by the belligerent harridan, but there was a snow bank between us, and with a little luck, I had given her brain lock for long enough to allow us to effect our escape.
Unfortunately, Danny wasn't ready to go. "You know what, you silly old bitch, why don't you just go bite the big one?" I suppose he figured that if he was doomed to get in trouble with his mother, he might as well make it worth it.
The snow was reflecting enough of the illumination from the streetlights that I could see Mrs. Pullik's face. She's gonna blow, thought Ursus. Mrs. Pullik started heading for a driveway so that she could get up onto the sidewalk.
"Run, Mary," I said, loud enough for Mary to hear, but not yelling. I gave her a gentle push to get her moving. I followed along behind her. Mike and Terry must have thought it a good idea, because they came with us. Danny, however, had other plans. He stood there laughing at her.
After the rest of us had jogged perhaps twenty yards, we stopped to watch the show. Mrs. Pullik, cursing all the while, stalked toward Danny. Laughing at her, he backpedaled to stay just out of reach. After they had played that game for about ten yards, she started kicking at him.
"The law says I can't lay a hand on a child, but I can still kick the living shit out of you." Danny just laughed some more.
"That's not what the law says, is it?" Terry asked.
"No," I said, "but she has many strange ideas." This I knew from conversations I'd overheard between her and my mother.
Finally, the predictable happened. Mrs. Pullik tried to kick at Danny while her support foot was on a slick spot. She slipped and tumbled into one of the snow banks that lined both sides of the walk. It was deep enough, and she had enough momentum from her fall, that except for her legs, she disappeared into the snow.
Danny stood there in near hysterics for several seconds before jogging over to the rest of us. We were all pretty far gone ourselves. "This is one of the best nights of my life," Danny gasped. "It ranks up there with my first handful of warm teat." We started walking fairly briskly, but not running. Heavy breathing in cold air hurts. We heard a stream of foul language coming from behind us.
Ursus warned me, so I warned everyone else, "If you see her car coming, make sure you're not in a driveway. The crazy moron might try running us over."
We were almost to the intersection of Topiary and Bradley when a pair of headlights came up behind us. It was Mrs. Pullik. "I'm going to be talking to all of your parents." She was clearly furious.
"Go ahead," Dan yelled.
She rolled her window back up and took off.
"What are we going to say?" Mike asked.
"We'll just say she saw us out at night and started flipping out," said Danny.
"That won't be enough," I said.
We're going to be in trouble, Arthur thought.
No we're not. We did nothing wrong, I thought.
"Why not? It's what happened."
"It's just not going to fly. She's going to be there ranting about disrespectful smartasses."
"Then what do you think we should say."
"We're going to have to tell the truth."
"Why? She looks a hell of a lot worse than we do. She tried kicking you. That's attempted battery."
That caused a pause for consideration. "I did smart off to her, though," Dan said. "My mom won't like that. It's part of the reason I got in trouble from my last run in with the stupid bitch."
"Your mom knows you. She knows you smarted off. You're going to have to emphasize what Mrs. Pullik did and deemphasize what you did."
"Look, just let me do as much of the talking as possible. Your mom likes me, and I can't believe she has much more than contempt for Mrs. Pullik, even if she doesn't show it."
"You think you can talk us out of this?"
"I can try. Do you want me to?"
"Yeah, go for it."
"What about the rest of you guys?" I asked.
"All right," Terry said.
"Why the hell not?" Mike said.
Mary gave my arm a squeeze, but she didn't say anything. Of course, Mary was in no real danger of getting into trouble.
As we walked down Twine, I saw Mrs. Pullik's car in the Lukowski driveway, but as we got closer, I saw that Mrs. Lukowski had not let Mrs. Pullik inside the house. I took that as a good sign. The rant was still in full steam as we walked up the drive.
"Danny, get your ass up here and tell me what's going on." Mrs. Lukowski, with her two older sons behind her, was standing in the doorway while Mrs. Pullik stood on the front porch.
"Good evening, Mrs. Lukowski," I said fairly loudly.
"Have you considered calling the police?"
"About Mrs. Pullik's attempted battery upon your son."
"What in hell are you talking about?"
"I saw Mrs. Pullik attempt to kick Danny several times, and it wasn't in self-defense. He never raised a hand to her."
"That's my right, you little bastard," said Mrs. Pullik.
"You have no right to kick my son."
"I can't legally lay a hand on him, but I can kick him, and your son deserves a damn good kicking."
"Where did you get that idiotic idea?"
"He's a smartass."
"Not that. The kicking bullshit."
"My husband's lawyer told me."
"Oh, I doubt that. No lawyer would ever spout such garbage."
"Are you calling me a liar?"
"Lady, get the hell off my porch, or I will call the cops." I saw Mrs. Pullik tense up even more. Mrs. Lukowski must have seen it, too, because she said, "If you raise a hand--or a foot--to me, I'll deck you so hard you bounce." Russ and Tommy loomed closer to their mother.
We all waited while Mrs. Pullik stomped to her car. Just before she got in, she pointed a finger at me and shouted, "We'll see what your parents have to say, Artie." She slammed the door, pulled out too fast, and put the rear of the car into the snow bank across the street. Unfortunately, she didn't get it stuck.
"OK," said Mrs. Lukowski, "why don't you all come inside and tell me what trouble Danny has stirred up now." Russ and Tommy had big grins on their faces.
Once we were all in the house and had removed our snow-covered boots on the mat, I said, "May we call our parents so they don't worry?"
"Mary, let Mom know that Mrs. Pullik will soon be there in an unstable state, if she isn't there already. Tell Mom that as soon as I inform Mrs. Lukowski of what really happened, we'll be home to tell her, too." I said it loud enough so Danny's mom could hear everything I said.
Except for Mary, we all found seats around the kitchen table or on the stools along the counter. "Now, what is going on?" Mrs. Lukowski asked.
"We were walking home from caroling," I said. "You can see from the clock that walking home is all we had time to do." She glanced at the clock as I continued. "Mrs. Pullik stopped her car and asked what we were doing out so late. Danny made a joke. He said we were playing doctor with Mary. Of course, I immediately told her what we were really doing.
"Mrs. Pullik apparently didn't like Danny's joke, because she told him not to be smart with her. While it wasn't the wittiest joke I've ever heard, I think Mrs. Pullik badly overreacted. Danny then told her it was cold outside and that we didn't want to stand around. She ranted and raved some more--about like she was doing with you as we walked up--and used some foul language on us.
"She then turned to me and asked me what I was doing hanging around with your son. I found her question quite offensive. I don't believe it's any of her business who my friends are, but I didn't tell her that. I kept a civil tone. Right guys?"
There was a general assent. Mary, who was finished with her call, came over and sat down. "I was really proud of how calm Arthur stayed," she said. Terry got up to use the phone.
"I asked her not to call me Artie."
"I thought you liked being called Artie," Mrs. Lukowski said.
"It doesn't bother me, but it's a name my friends use."
Mrs. Lukowski got it, and chuckled.
"Mrs. Pullik proceeded to rant and curse some more. It was about then that Danny made his big mistake. He told her to 'go bite the big one.' Admittedly, he shouldn't have done that, but he had been severely provoked, as had we all. I kind of wish I'd had the guts to tell her that myself."
"Where does the kicking come in?"
"Right after that. She got out of her car, came up on the walk, and tried to kick him several times. Danny avoided her, and Mrs. Pullik eventually slipped as she was kicking and fell into a snow bank." Mrs. Lukowski smiled. Danny's brothers laughed. "Danny never touched her. After that, we walked home. She stopped one more time to yell at us. You saw the rest."
"Who threw the snowball?"
"I saw no snowball, nor did I see anyone throw one."
"Did anyone see someone throw a snowball?"
"I didn't," said Mary. Everyone else shook their heads.
"Does anyone have anything to add?"
"Art covered it," said Mike.
"All right. Thanks for clearing things up. Danny, your mouth is going to get you in big trouble one day. What have I told you about smarting off to adults?"
"Yeah, I shouldn't have done it, but she was really asking for it."
"I don't care. If it's an adult yelling at you, you take it. If it's bad enough, you tell me, and I'll deal with it."
I got up. "Mary and I need to get home. Mrs. Pullik is no doubt harassing our parents as we speak."
Mike, Terry, Mary, and I put our boots on. Just before we left, Mrs. Lukowski said, "Artie, you're one unusual kid."
"I know. I'm told that a lot." We went out.
"That was smooth," said Mike.
"I hope you were taking notes, in case she goes to your house. I'm pretty sure she's at ours right now."
"She is," said Mary. "I heard her in the background."
"I've never heard you lie like that before," Terry said to me.
"I didn't say one thing that wasn't true."
"No, but you left a lot out."
"I summarized in places, but I told the relevant parts. The nosy moron butted in where she had no business, used abusive and insulting language to us, and physically attacked our friend."
"You left out a lot of what Dan said."
"He just used words on her; she used her feet. And I did indicate that he was somewhat disrespectful."
"You also left out that you were disrespectful."
"Did I say one bad thing to her?"
"No, you didn't, but your attitude was a bit--I don't know what to call it."
"My attitude was of one free individual speaking to another. I never raised my voice, I remained reasonable, and my tone was kept neutral. Mrs. Pullik, however, was insulted that I wasn't sufficiently servile."
"I guess. You also left out the snowball until it was brought up."
"I saw no snowball, and if you did, I don't want to know about until next summer, at the earliest."
We were in front of our houses. "I'll see you guys later." Mary and I went inside.