THE COLD INSIDE
By AL BRUNO III
Tuesday November 8, 1994
Warren Talbot often said, “Dodge ball is proof of man’s inhumanity to man. Think about it. You take twenty adolescent boys of varying temperaments and sizes. Make them change clothes together in a smelly locker room. Then make them do calisthenics in a drafty gymnasium. Once they’re all worked up and miserable pass out the volleyballs and let them assault each other for fifteen minutes. What is that supposed to teach us? How is that going to help us in a job interview? I can’t believe my Dad is paying for this!”
Tubbo needs to learn to take his pleasures where he can. Tristam thought as he dove for cover. A volleyball whizzed over his head. The polished wood of the gymnasium floor squealed against the flesh of his legs. For Tristam there was no feeling quite like the feeling he got when he bested the jocks in their own element.
Especially now that he was the whipping boy of choice among Blessed Heart’s student elite; “Everybody aim for the freak. Everybody aim for the Dog-boy.”
Greg was already sitting in the bleachers. He just let them tag him out, he didn’t even try to dodge. Tristam wasn’t sure if he did that because of his old injuries or because he just didn’t care. Tristram wondered if maybe it was a Christian thing.
Another volleyball came sailing his way but this time Tristam caught it. That was three guys he’d taken out this round so far.
“You’re dead meat!” a jock shouted as the coach waved him to the sidelines.
Tristam hurled the ball at another one of his tormentors but the shot went wide of the mark. A dribbling thump alerted him to the fact Coach Jones had brought another ball into play. That made three.
The jocks started coordinating their attacks, trying to hem him in. Tristam ducked and ran while the gym teacher looked on with an air of bored distraction.
It would be nice, Tristam thought, if they threw the damn things at each other once in a while.
He caught another ball, tagged another of his adversaries out. From up in the bleachers Greg whistled and clapped, “Vive la resistance!”
They were incensed now, cursing at him, threatening to beat him or worse. The gym teacher issued a warning growl about sportsmanship and then rolled another ball onto the field.
One ball hit Tristam in the leg, a second in the stomach. He doubled over, more out of surprise than anything else. As per the rules he retired to the bleachers, an eruption of raucous jeering at his back.
“Man what a wuss!”
“Dodges like a retard!”
“I should have nailed him in the face.”
Greg was on his feet, trying to boo them down. Evan Crawford- late of the football team and the honor roll- shouted, “Watch your fucking mouth Graveyard!” and flung the volleyball he was holding at him.
The ball missed, barely. The Gym Teacher grabbed Evan by the back of the neck and started scolding him.
Tristam sat down next to Greg, “You OK?”
He shrugged “That was nothing. Are you OK?”
“Just once I wish they’d acknowledge I out-played them.”
“You know you outplayed them that’s enough.”
“It should be, but its not.”
Now that Tristam was off the field the game had become much more fast-paced and friendly. Evan was running laps, a miserable expression on his face. Greg watched it with a kind of detached air, “They just need someone to pick on. If not us it would be someone else.”
“I can’t believe I was ever like them.”
“I have witnesses.” Greg said slyly.
Tristam stared at his hands, he could feel the coldness building within him, feeding on itself. He tried to use the exercises Dr. Butterfield taught him, but there was something inviting giving in to his rage, “All this because of a damn dog.”
“All this because of a plea bargain. If you were innocent you should have gone to trial.”
“My Mom and Dad wouldn’t hear of it. I’d shamed them enough.”
“Did you do it?”
“I took the stupid plea bargain, that says it all doesn’t it?”
“Not always,” Greg said. “Just remember that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.
“That’s a load of crap.”
“No it’s not. It’s all part of God’s plan.”
Tristam waved his hand dismissively, “Sorry. No God. No plan. Life sucks then you die.”
“Now you’re just being pissy. I know there’s something else after all this. When I died...”
The coach blew his whistle, ending the game and sending them all back to the locker room to get changed. Tristam waited with Greg for the others to file in to the locker room, it was safer that way. “You were dreaming. My Dad said that the brain dreams for about five to ten minutes after the body stops breathing.”
Greg laughed a little, “Your Dad must be a real ball at Christmas.”