We saw the old man standing on his front porch. From a bag he dumped cat food into a dish. We called him Horseshit. Kevin, a neighborhood kid, had given him the name and it had stuck. I had never called the old man Horseshit to his face. I said it only in private and mainly around Kevin. I didn’t know the old man’s real name.
We zoomed past his house on our bikes and Kevin yelled out, “Hey, Horseshit!”
Horseshit bent to pet the cat that ate out of the dish. He looked up and said, “Go on. Get out of here, you little assholes! I’ll get you one of these days!” He shook his fist in the air, in our direction. “You little assholes!”
“You’ll have to catch us first,” Kevin responded. And we peddled on down the road.
We jetted around the corner and eventually into my front yard where our back tires skidded sideways, tearing through grass and mud.
I jumped off my BMX. “You think he’ll ever get us?” I asked, a little winded.
“He’s too old and slow. He’ll never catch us,” said Kevin.
“Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go play Nintendo.”
An hour later, after we’d had our fill of video games, we set out on our bikes again. Dusk was nearing and I had to be back in my yard before the street light came on. A bike ride around the neighborhood was common; no direction, no common goal, only cruising to see what we could get into. We turned the corner heading down Horseshit’s street when a bad feeling struck me. “You think this is a good idea?”
“What?” said Kevin.
“Riding past his house.”
“Don’t be such a pussy. He’ll never catch us. He’s too old and slow.”
“I’m not a pussy,” I said, and kept peddling.
We approached his house and I prayed that he was inside. If Kevin saw him, I knew what would happen, the same thing that had always happened. Kevin would yell out “Hey, Horseshit!” and the old man would throw back some threats and curses and we’d ride on like always. I had never yelled anything to the old man and I’d always hoped that he took note, but being that I rode with Kevin, he probably associated me with being the kind of asshole Kevin was. But I wasn’t anything like Kevin.
We came up to his house and Horseshit was nowhere in sight. What a relief. I saw Kevin eyeing the front porch, hoping to catch another glimpse of the old man and I kept silently praying that he was inside his house. When we finally rode past, the old man was nowhere around. But still, that didn’t stop Kevin from yelling out, “Hey, Horseshit! What are you doing in there? Jacking off? Thinking about little boys?”
Even though I didn’t see Horseshit I peddled faster. This was too much. I was embarrassed. “Shit, Kevin,” I said. “Take it easy.”
“Don’t be such a pussy,” he said to me again.
“I’m not a pussy!” I called out, and about that time Kevin screamed out in pain, grabbing his leg, nearly wrecking his bike.
“Jesus fuck!” he said.
At first, I didn’t know what happened to Kevin, but then I heard Horseshit yell out from his upstairs window. “I got you! I got you! You little asshole!” He was shouldering a gun. Later I found out it was a BB gun when Kevin’s dad had to dig the pellet from his leg. “You little assholes. That’ll teach you!”
I started peddling faster than I’d ever peddled before. I didn’t look back. Racing home, I skidded my back tire into the yard. By the time I jumped off and made it to the front porch, the street light flashed on. I saw Kevin limp off his bike and up to his front door. That night, I hardly slept a wink.
The next morning was Saturday so I hopped on my bike and hit the streets. I didn’t wait for Kevin. I thought it safer to cruise alone. As always, my curiosity consumed me and I rode toward Horseshit’s street. In the night, I had imagined Kevin’s folks calling the police. I’d ride by in the morning and there Horseshit would be, being stuffed into the back of a cop car. I had to see what was going on.
I turned the corner on Horseshit’s street and heard the sound of a lawnmower. Nothing unusual about that except when I neared I saw Kevin push mowing the old man’s lawn. The old man sat on his front porch. He petted the cat in his lap, looking on with pure delight.
I rode up and Kevin cut the mower’s engine.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I told my dad what happened last night and he went to have a talk with Ernest.”
“Ernest,” said Kevin and motioned with a head nod in the direction of the old man. “I thought my dad was gonna come down here and really give him a good what for…you know…since he shot me with a BB gun.” He looked to the ground, seeming embarrassed. “But it sort of backfired.”
I shook my head, appearing to show a little empathy, but what I was really feeling was a sense of justice for the old man, for Ernest.
“Tough break,” was all I said, and peddled away.
I heard Kevin yell, “Hey, you want to help me? This high grass sucks to mow, especially with a bad leg!”
I looked back over my shoulder and yelled out the only words I could think of.“Don’t be such a pussy!” And I went home to play Nintendo.
This story is included in the book HARD LUCK: STORIES.