Bully Boy

Bully Boy

It was the final day of school. The last bell rang and the students poured into the hall. They twisted and shoved, back slapped each other, eager to rush out, as they shouted with joy. All except Greg, he walked out slowly, his eyes darted round like a wild animal leery of an unseen predator. He stepped outside. Santa Rosa High School was a sandstone building with a wire fence around the front. Tall poplars stood along the front facing wall. West, across the street was a candy store on the corner. Behind the store was an alley. It was at the alley that Greg had faced off with the bully often enough to make him uneasy and wary today. He looked up and down the street. Greg felt relieved. The bully was nowhere in sight. He sighed. Maybe he would be spared a beating. Greg had been advanced a grade and the bully had been held back in elementary school so as to make them classmates. Now in their freshman year, the bully was the fullback on the football team. The bully was tall and strong. Greg was pudgy and short. This disparity in age and size kept Greg from ever winning a fight. But he never ran from the challenge. And he always got the crap beat out of him.
Looks good, he thought. If not today, not all summer. Tomorrow he would leave to apply for work on the railroad on the edge of the Llano Estacado out of Fort Sumner south of Santa Rosa on the Pecos River . Two buddies, Lencho and Rudy and Greg planned to hitchhike the 40 miles the next day. They were to meet in front of the old courthouse on 4th Street at first light. From there they would walk or hitch a ride from a local up the hill to the road to Fort Sumner .
It was the spring of 1951. It was the heyday of Route 66. World War 11 was in the past. Prosperity was in the present. Endless streams of cars choked the center of town. America was wild about driving out west. Life was good. Peace and calm brought hope across the land of the free. Except for Greg, who on this day only looked to survive this minute portion of time, not trusting the future. His need to avoid a clash with the bully was first priority.
Above the din of traffic, Greg headed towards home across the Pecos River , at a half trot. The further traveled from the ally behind the candy store, the better he felt. Yet his nerves were still a bit jumpy. If he could just make it across the bridge, he thought. There he would be free. He stepped up his gait. He saw the bridge. His spirit welled. He ran faster. But it was too late. At the bridge on Route 66 stood the jackal, who sneered at Greg with an idiot smile, his hands on his hips. In the background the elevated span of the black iron trestle railroad bridge loomed high in the sky. In a strange way, in that sudden moment, at a time the bully least needed added strength or bulk, the supporting ends of the bridge appeared like giant spreading black arms silhouetted behind the brute. Greg flinched.
“Where to, chump face?” the bully growled.
“None of your damn business.”
“Oh! Do I hear a sissy talkin’?”
“Don’t give a shit what you hear. Step aside.”
“Better yet. Let’s step into the ally, fat boy. You gutless bastard.”
“Gutless?” Greg snapped back, evenly. He looked at the bully straight in the eyes, like a fearless horny toad stares down a rattlesnake. “Gutless, my ass. Let’s get to it.”
“Yeah, let’s,” the bully sneered and then laughed that laugh of false superiority that only a coward that holds all the aces can jut out in all its ugliness.
Greg turned and walked away towards the ally.
Up from the river above the bosque a narrow ally snaked along the ridge.
Three drunks sat under a broad-leafed cottonwood tree replete in its spring foliage. There the lazed, guzzled rot-gut wine, talked wine-soaked bravado, fought and argued over nothing and occasionally rose to splatter their piss a short distance from where they sat. The ally was double rutted and strewn with river rocks. When Greg and the bully reached the spot where the drunks pissed, the bully blind-sided Greg with a blow to the nose. Greg dropped hard to the ground. Blood gushed out from his nose like a red geyser. Both his hands went to his face. Wham! Greg took the shock of a kick to the gut. A second kick caught him in the ribs. The third kick slammed his head. Greg blacked out. But the kicks went on outside of Greg’s darkness. The drunks never looked up. By now they were fighting over the half empty bottle of wine, scratching and clawing, putting up a fight greater than Greg had mounted. Somewhere a mocking bird warbled up in a tree as if to ridicule the inhuman spectacle playing out below.
When Greg came to, the bully and the drunks were gone. So was the mocking bird. Greg lay face down in a road rut. All he could hear was the sound of the river rumbling below. The stench of his blood mingled with the drunk’s piss on the ground. The foul smell gagged his throat. He coughed as he spit blood. The pain from the beating racked his body. To breathe he had to grab his ribs. He opened his eyes, lifted his head and scanned about at ground level. There was no one there. Never had he felt so alone. Never had he felt so helpless. Out loud, he yelled to nobody, but he needed to say it, if only to affirm his cold rage which he refused to suffer in silence, even if only the sound of the wind and the river and the brightness of the spring sun were all he had left to soften his bitter grief where he lay in wait for the pain to subside. In his troubled mind, nothing else mattered. Nobody else cared. So he shouted out in a voice thick with desperation and the desolateness known only to a shattered spirit, “Where in the hell is my big brother now? The one I’ve never had!”
Santa Rosa sits in a massive ancient sink hole. At its underground base lies a bed of alkali where ground water slowly wastes away the white layer. Over the eons small sink holes have caved in where the water has hollowed out the alkali to create deep lakes with-in the large depression. A few of the sink holes were dry, havens for rattle snakes where few people dared to venture. Low lying sandstone mesas surround the upper edges. Above and beyond the mesas a vast plain of treeless rolling hills dotted with patches of cacti and dun colored stubble grass runs in all directions as far as the eye can see. There above the town Greg and his two companions stood in the early morning chill thumbing for a ride to Fort Sumner on highway 84 south.
“Christ! Lencho said, looking at Greg’s face. “You get hit by a freight train?”
“I wish,” Greg replied. “Got the crap beat out of me. It wasn’t pretty.”
“By who?” Rudy asked, alarmed.
“By the bully bastard, who else.”
“Hey, you two fought before. But it never turned into a beating,” Lencho said.
“This time it wasn’t a fight,” Greg said, touching the side of his face that was swollen and blue. “He blindsided me, I dropped like a ton of bricks. Then he kicked the living shit out of me. Not a fight. Just a beating.”
“Why?” Lencho exclaimed with disbelief.
“Told the son-of-bitch I was going to kill his ass if I ever got the best of him,” Greg lied to uphold his dignity. The shame of it was more than he could endure. A lie was all he had. He did not like the taste of it. But it was all he had and he grabbed at it and he reveled in it, for the thrill of the moment.
“Chingon, ese!” Rudy shouted. You got balls, carnal. He’s a bad ass mother, brother. I’d hate to tangle with the pig head. No, sir.”
Greg held his head just a bit higher.
Just then an old man in a beat up truck honked and pulled off the highway up ahead. “Where you headed?” the old man asked.
“ Fort Sumner ,” Rudy yelled.
“That’s exactly where I’m a goin’. Jump on,” the old man waved to the back of the pick-up.
The three piled onto the truck bed, all smiles.
The more they traveled south, the hotter the day got. By mid-morning they reached Fort Sumner . The small farming town was famous as the place where Billy the Kid was killed, and infamous for having been the place where the Navajos had been horded and starved after the Trail of Tears forced march out of their ancestral lands to the west after the American conquest.
None of this lore was of any special interest to Greg. The pain in his rib cage was so intense, he was having trouble breathing as the three trekked the three miles out of town where the work camp stood beside the railroad tracks. A long line of converted freight trains stretched out on a side railing. Smoke curled up out of one box car. Next to it was a box car with a sign that read, “Office”. The three entered the office. A tall, wide-shouldered man stood behind a make shift wood-planked table. Without the benefit of introductions, the man growled in a thick Texas accent, “Ya al looking for work?”
Rudy replied instantly, “Yes, sir.”
“Ya al over sixteen years of age?”
“No”, Greg stammered. “But I will be…next month…that is the middle of next month, sir.”
“What’s your name, boy?”
Gregorio Lopez, sir”
“Too young,” the man growled. “Company rules.”
Greg’s heart stopped for an instant.
“But we can take you on as a water boy. Ya al report to the chow hall next door this evenin’. Forman ‘ill talk to you then. Any questions?” The three shook their heads and walked out into the blazing noon sun and looked about for some shade. There was none.
Greg rubbed at his ribs, needing to ease the pain. Then he dropped his arms wide and with open hands cried out, laughing, “Water boy!”
“Orale, jovenes, a short, stocky, brown-skinned man greeted the three at a dinning table. “Names Armando. I’m your Forman.” He handed them a sheaf of papers. “Fill these out after diner’s done. You’ll earn a buck fifty an hour plus room and board. We work sunup ‘till sundown. If you can’t hack it, grab your jacket. Work gang forms outside after breakfast. Take an empty bunk in the sleeping cars. Got it?”
The three nodded, confidently. Afterwards the meal was served. It consisted of two thick-skinned wieners, pinto beans and corn bread. Rudy took the first bite. He spit it back out.
“No way, Jose. I can’t even chew this shit, much less swallow it. It’s tough as hard rubber. ¡Madre, mia!”
Greg forced a laugh despite the pain it caused in his ribs. You’re a long way from your mama, vato.”
“Ain’t about to eat this crap. Not me. No way, Jose.”
“You eat or you starve,” Lencho volunteered. “Which is it?”
Rudy forced down the beans and corn bread, with a frown.
Afterwards, they found a sleeping car that was empty. Three metal bunks bolted to the wooden floor lined each side wall. Thin sleeping pads were all they contained. Straw was strewn about the floor.
“Welcome to paradise,” Rudy quipped.
“Rule number one:” Lencho asserted, smiling, “don’t call out for your mama in the night.”
In the dead of night, fast asleep, his pain not quite deadened, Greg dreamed of fields of flowers in a mountain meadow where the cool air was scented in sweet fragrance, where his world was at peace, far from the ravages of humiliation, far from forced fights, far from the discouragement that comes from despair, far from the hopelessness that comes from things outside of one’s control, far from the stink of reality. His lips pursed a thin smile. His mind longed to stay in his dreams forever.
At the height of his dream like euphoria, Greg bolted upright in terror. An ear-splitting explosion shook and rattled the pitch dark box car. Greg grabbed the bedstead for dear life. As sudden as the explosion had burst on the night scene like thunder, silence returned and left Greg stunned out of his wits. He shook his head to make sure his idyllic dream had not turned into a nightmare.
But the sounds of Rudy and Lencho scrambling in the dark confirmed it was no nightmare.
“What the hell was that?” Rudy cried out in disbelief.
Lencho added, “Que carbon. Gonna take me a month of Sundays to wipe my ass.”
After the second freight train rattled their brains that night as it shot past on the line right next to the sleeping cars, the three began the slow process of getting accustomed to life on the rattle lane. In time, it would become the least of their concerns. Starting the next day, work on the rail line would consume every fiber of their bodies and souls beyond their worst nightmares.
A work train loaded with railroad ties in half-sided cars and iron rails atop flat beds took the workers out to work site in the early morning. To the east the sun rose above the horizon in a huge, red sphere. Thirty men huddled in the caboose and on a flat bed as the train headed into the sun. Finally they arrived at the work site several miles into the Llano Estcado. Flat and featureless, the llano was famous for its scarcity of water and its blast furnace heat. It stretched all the way into Texas and across the Río Grande and into Mexico . If hell is hot, the llano is hell’s gate. It was here that the American blue coats hunted down Comanche warriors to the last man in the American quest to annihilate the Comanche tribes that raided and raped for a hundred and fifty years unabated throughout the west and into Mexico . It is here where Greg would encounter a serious threat to his manhood.
The work gang was strung out for a quarter of a mile along a single line of track. As the naked sun rose, the heat intensified off the oil-blacked rock rail bed and the demand for water by the workers followed suit. Greg straddled a wooden yoke across his shoulders with two tin water buckets hung on either side. Up and down the line he went, his ribs throbbing in pain, his bruised muscles pining for relief in the long, hot day. By mid-afternoon the razing started.
“Agua le pido a mí Dios y al aguandero las nalgas.” Water I ask of my God and of the water boy his ass, the workers teased, until sundown lent a respite to the demeaning ordeal. Greg raged with the thought that this new onslaught to his dignity was never going to stop. He rode in the caboose back to camp, slump-shouldered, his spirit torn to shreds. A young red-haired Chicano sat next to him.
“Hey, water boy, what’s you name.” the red-haired young man asked.
Greg looked up, surprised. “Greg. And yours?”
They shook hands.
“Look, what those cabones are doing is a bad thing.”
“Yeah. Wish I could stop it. Don’t know how. Pinché vatos. Que chingen su madre.”
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking. Look, ese, if I compose a reply that’ll clamp their damn traps, will you have the cojones to use it?
“What kind of reply?”
“One that’ll bust their balls.”
“Yeah. Right now that’s all I got, cojones. But lately it’s not been good enough.”
“Give it try. Tonight I’ll write it out. Tomorrow you’ll have it. Use it. Don’t use it. You decide. Believe me, it’ll be a ball buster.”
“Bring it.”
At supper, Rudy chewed his rubbed-skinned wiener like a starved coyote that hasn’t had a kill in weeks. That night they slept like the dead. After that they never heard the night trains again.
On the way to the work site in the caboose Zeke handed Greg a handwritten composition. Greg read it and chuckled.
“Well,” Zeke asked. “What do you think?”
“It’ll get me killed.”
“Too strong, eh?”
“Yeah. But I’ll use it. Let ‘em kill me. My ass is sore.”
To that they both laughed. Zeke threw his arm around Greg and said, “I’ll stand behind you. They’ll have to kill us both.”
“Simon, carnal,” Right on brother.
The morning sun rose hot and harsh to greet the work gang as they formed a long line along the railroad tracks. Greg hunched and slipped on his yoke, snapped on the two tin water buckets, lifted up and started his slow walk towards the work gang, his ribs pained by the effort, his breath forced in the stifling heat as the sun beat down on the land and the men, without mercy. A dirty brown heat haze crawled along in the near distance. The men worked in heat smothered silence. After Greg completed two rounds, the hazing started. Greg waited until he was midway up the line to release his response. He was not denied. The catcalls came loud and clear. “¡Agua le pido a mí Dios y al aguandero las nalgas! Water I ask of my God and of the water boy his ass!
Greg bent and dropped his yoke. He stood up tall and defiant. And then he let go his reply. “¡Agua te doy porque es mi deber. Nalgas pídele a tú madre que es el deber de la mujer!” Water I give you because it is my duty. Ass ask it of your mother for that is the duty of a woman!”
A stunned silence fell over the work gang. The men stared at Greg, their faces stung with disbelief. And then their anger erupted. One big brute dropped his spike hammer and said, “Nobody talks about my mother like that, carbon.” Other men fell behind him, vengeance in their angry eyes. Zeke stepped up behind Greg, coolly. Greg stood his ground, defiantly. “Come on, putos! Whores! I’ll take you all, one at a time. My ass against all of you right here, right now!”
The men stepped up their pace towards Greg.
“Stop!” Armando the foreman shouted. “Any man touches this boy is fired!
You’ve tormented the boy long enough. You got what you deserved. If you can’t hack it, grab your jackets. Now back off and get back to work.”
Greg turned to Zeke with a wry smile. Rudy and Lencho stood beside Zeke, unsmiling.
Lencho said, “Damn! You got balls, ese. Pure poetry. He touched his fingers to his lips and blew a kiss into the hot air with approval. But that night they slept with one open.
June came and Greg turned sixteen after which he joined the work gang. No one ever messed with him again. By summer’s end Greg grew five inches. The intense heat burned away his flabbiness and the brutal work hardened his muscles like a rock. The sun browned his skin like an old leather wine bottle. His demeanor was confident and defiant. But something more powerful had crept into his presence of mind, courage. A calm kind of courage he had never known before. Courage coupled with a quick mind and a strong body. A kind of courage that was fired by a volcano inside his heart that was ready to erupt at the slightest provocation or insult. At sixteen, he had become a man not to be reckoned with. His days as the butt end of a bully were over. And his days on the railroad work gang would forever be memorable.
Greg and the boys returned to Santa Rosa on the day before school started. There was a dance that night at the Catholic youth center. It was an adobe building behind the church up the street on the opposite corner. Bathed and dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt showed off his lean well muscled arms and lanky body. Outside Greg, Lencho and Rudy stood in the dark leaning against the north wall of the center. There they shared a bottle of sweet wine that would give them the courage to ask the girls to dance. Inside the music was lively with Mexican songs.
Bully boy turned the corner and spotted Greg in the dark. He came up and got in Greg’s face.
“Well, well if it isn’t…”
Without uttering a word, Greg slammed a short right that landed between the bully’s upper lip and nose. Behind the first blow Greg struck a left to the same spot on the opposite side, his upper lip split and his nose spouting blood, the bully slumped to the ground back against the wall, legs spread wide. Greg kicked him hard on the balls twice. The bully howled like a mad dog and fell sideways face down on the ground. After that Greg commenced to kick him in the belly and ribs until the bully no longer let out a grunt or a moan. It had ended quickly and decisively. Few saw it. Calmly, Greg walked towards the dance hall.
“Damn, vato. That was vicious out there,” Rudy said with awe in his voice.
“I should’ve killed the son-of-a-bitch.”

The end

Bully Boy

Ronald Chavez

Taos, United States

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Artist's Description

This story is for all who have been bullied in their life time. It reflects the emotional and physical termoil inflicted on victims and the dark joy of vengeance. It is set in a small town on Route 66 in New Mexico.



Artwork Comments

  • Ronald Chavez
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