“Get in the tire, Frenchie!”
Fat Douglas balanced the big tractor tire on its edge and thrust his mean pig face at Frenchie.
“Yeah, get in the tire!” shouted Bennett and Bradley, the tiny twins who followed Fat Douglas everywhere. The four boys stood on the dry, dusty hill above the town dump.
They had made Frenchie roll the tire all the way to the top and now they expected him to curl himself into it just for fun. The backs of his bare legs still stung from the pebbles the twins had hurled at him on the way up. The sun was going down and the boys were bored and getting impatient. A long summer afternoon of exploration among the rust and grime of abandoned appliances and burnt-out cars left the group with a reddish patina from head to toe. Frenchie thought they looked like the old photos of his Great Grandfather Henri Catarette, a Huron Indian. Frenchie’s real name was Jean-Claude, but no one ever called him that outside of his immediate family.
He was used to being bullied by Fat Douglas and the other kids in their tiny Upper Peninsula enclave. Most of the adult population of seven hundred worked at the cement plant on the coast of Lake Superior. In the winter, the men towed small wooden shanties onto the ice with snowmobiles to drink and fish all day. Frenchie’s dad was a better drinker than fisherman and had passed out and froze to death two years prior. His in-laws found him and towed him to shore like a fallen tree. That’s when the bullying had started. Kids called his dad a drunken Indian, so Frenchie had to fight them, sometimes two at a time. The black eyes, bloodied lips and skinned knuckles worried his mother. Frenchie was well aware of that. Aided by a recent growth spurt during the fourth grade, he chose to ignore the taunts that were coming less frequently. Besides, he had overheard his mother tell the postman that her son was now the “man of the house.” He felt different this summer, and as fall approached, he was no longer ashamed, and that was a good thing.
The twins started a chant.
“Chicken Frenchie, Chicken Frenchie!”
They danced in a small circle, whooping like Indians on TV. Fat Douglas just waited, his grimy mitts atop the tire. Frenchie would shut them up. He curled into the tire, jamming his feet into the sidewalls, his chin on his chest and gripped his knees. He thought about his mother’s cornbread and wondered if she had made any for dinner.
Fat Douglas steadied the tire for a moment, then gave it a mighty shove down the dirt path. The twins leaped in the air squealing. Fat Douglas sat in the dirt waiting for the tire to wobble and fall, but it didn’t. It was moving faster and faster, then disappeared from view. The twins fell silent and watched. The only sound came from two crows fighting over an empty tub of margarine. The sun dropped below the pines. Bennett turned to Fat Douglas and whispered.
“I wanna go home!” whined Bradley.
Bennett grabbed his brother’s hand and they headed down the other side toward home.
Fat Douglas sat waiting for Frenchie to come trudging up the hill. It was getting too dark to see. It got cold and he felt like crying. It was past suppertime and his stomach hurt. He stood up suddenly and ran for home.