Excerpt from a short story

The prairie behind our house went on for hundreds of miles. A single barn, or a lone tree left as a landmark, was all that interrupted the ocean of land. The circling sky contained the vastness; our great, flat snowglobe of the foreshortened prairie. Seeing my house did not make it an easy distance away. Even on my dirt bike, from the edge of the fallow field where I rode makeshift trails, it was far enough to make me late for dinner most evenings.

At night I could hear the highway a mile and a half away. The train at the highway crossing would moan its warning over the murmur of the traffic just around the time I usually went to sleep. In my mind, these sounds would light the night at the edges of my world, a boundary between charted territory and the battalions of corn and soy that rowed across the prairie, off the edge of the curving horizon. The mysteries were behind the house; in the front and on into town the subdivisions rolled into strip malls and then to the melancholy downtown. Out here we were at the edge, but the field with no crop planted this year meant that our time on the frontier was limited. At the furthest end of the field, the rich topsoil had been scraped into a black mountain and was being trucked away, sold by the developer who was building a new mall there.

The dead, hot July brought in blitzkrieg thunderstorms that threatened to smash all of humanity to smithereens. As a ten-year-old, I was newly conscious of such violence and the threats it brought. In one of these storms, lightning struck a tree a few blocks away. The flash and immediate explosion burst me out of bed and down the hall to my parents’ bedroom door. 

I knew to knock. My father opened the door a little, and I said “Can I please stay with you until it’s over?”

“No,” he said, “you have to go back to your room.” Then he closed the door, not loudly, but firmly. I sat down, then curled up, outside their door and shuddered until the thunder had pounded its slow way away.

That was how it was. In fifth grade, when Tad Frekner had poked me one too many times while we were waiting for the school bus after school, I beat the shit out of him. Three kids and a teacher had to pull me off, still swinging in an unleashed burst of pent-up rage. The kid had it coming to him. He was a would-be bully who pushed it too far.

Mr. Putnam, the principal agreed. As we were roughed into his office by an indignant social studies teacher, he motioned for us to sit down. His smile was dim but unmistakable. “So, Tad, any idea why Mr. Groves here beat you up?”

“He didn’t beat me up!” was the quick response over the tissues someone had given him to blot his bleeding nose. He started to glance my way but looked at the floor instead. “Looks like he did. Pretty good, too, seems to me,” said Mr. Putnam, looking through a folder on his desk. “I’m not going to call your parents. I’m going to drive you both home and speak to them in person. It’s a good opportunity.”

Frekner suddenly looked panicked and was clearly bursting to say something, opening and closing his mouth, which desperately wanted his brain to send something down. His brain seemed unable to comply. “Something to say, Tad?” Mr. Putnam seemed to be hoping for a contrite word or two from the kid who had it coming.

“He didn’t beat me up!” spilled out Tad’s thin plea, punctuated by a snort and a bigger snort into the tissues, which had become a wadded red mess.

I sat in the car as they walked into Frekner’s house. More quickly than I expected, Mr. Putnam was closing the front door behind him and treading toward the car. “Not much I could do there, unfortunately,” he said, quietly sliding into his seat. “Wow.”