Every day, promptly at 12, a buzzer sounded and the building disgorged its contents. A tumbling, shrieking mass of miniscule humanity flowed over the macadam and into the fields, trailed by one or two adults who'd drawn the proverbial short straw of recess duty.
Those who had been twitching, squirming and kicking at the desks in anticipation were now charging around the field in pursuit of balls, soap bubbles or each other. Some of us squatted between the roots of a giant tree, sketching out a tiny little town for the ant population. Occasionally one of the bullies would run over and stomp out the town and its denizens, while we stood back in silence. We had learned the hard way that it was simpler - and safer - to rebuild than it was to defend.
Inevitably, their attention would turn to David At the Fence.
"Yer Mom ain't comin' for ya, crybaby. Waaaaaa."
"Baby needs his bottle. Mommy mommy mommy."
David was a cipher, a kid so pale that the veins in his face formed a blue lace doily around wet eyes and a perpetually dripping nose. He seldom spoke, and spent free time in the classroom shredding his big pink eraser into a pile of crumbs. He used to get picked on until the day he kicked Red McNair in the privates so hard that Red puked up his lunch all over himself. After that they bullied him from a safe distance or by stealth. David didn't seem to care, though. All he wanted was his Mom.
"She's comin' to get me today," he would say, running for the chain link fence. And he'd stand there, fingers clinging to the metal, in any weather, the whole recess hour. Sometimes he'd join the line to go in and his face would bear the imprint of the fence, red diamonds turning his skin into something vaguely reptilian. At the beginning of the year the teachers would try to coax him away, or bribe him, and finally physically drag him kicking and screaming to join the "fun" with his classmates. But he would break away at the first opportunity and run for that damn fence. Eventually we all just left him alone.
You can't keep a secret from kids. In fact, it's dangerous to do so, because someone somewhere will get hold of a scrap and start twisting it, turning it, and adding to it, until the old man on the corner is a serial killer and the school basement is where they bury bad kids who suddenly stop coming to school. David cried for his Mom, she never came, the teachers whispered and we secretly debated whether she'd abandoned him because he was weird or because she was in jail for some horrible deed. Eventually Martha told Pete who told Jasmine that she'd heard from her big sister Joy that David's mother was dead.
Well, that generated a lot of interest. Some of us had limited experience with death, mostly in the form of pets who were tearfully bade good bye, mysteriously disposed of, and then replaced by something even newer and more exciting. So one by one we approached David, wanting more information, tingling with a mixture of dread and excitement. But every outreach was met by a tearful and red-faced denial or an attempted kick which eventually drew the attention of the recess monitors.
"David has suffered a Great Tragedy. Please leave him alone," they intoned. So we all stood at some distance and watched him as he clung to the fence, waiting. And waiting. As the seasons turned we eventually went about our own business of running and jumping, screaming and laughing. Most of us barely noticed David at all.
Once, when the twins were taunting him, Mr. Grayson grabbed them each by the back of the shirt and lifted them off the ground. Then he talked to them from between his teeth, which always means that an adult is just a hair away from practically knocking your head off. He let them down and they took off for the other side of the playground. I got busy digging a hole in the dirt with my toe, but as he walked by I glanced up and met his gaze. He hesitated.
"It's a terrible thing if it happens to you when you're young. But eventually, everyone will take their turn at the fence."
*As a side note, I didn't prepare a post for the A to Z Challenge Reveal today but I AM participating, and my theme will be poisons.