Excerpt 3, Ch. 1

“Come on, will ya? I still gotta take you to your new class before I go to mine, for cryin’ out loud” Michael said.

Michael and Sal walked fast, ahead of me. I had to run to keep up. “Why can’t we go to the same class? That would be a lot better,” I said, pushing my Polly nose down as it had come unstuck from my nose.

Sal laughed some more. “Right, I could see that!” he said.

“Ha,” said Michael. “I’m in seventh grade, you nut. You can’t have kindergarten in my class. I told you that already,” he said, pushing ahead. “Come on, Danny, you’re too damned slow.”

“Please don’t make me go to that other class.” I threw the Polly-nose down and scooped up another one.

“Don’t worry, Shorty,” Michael said. “I’ll come and get you when you’re finished, then we’ll go home for lunch. Okay? What are you doing, now, crying?”

Sal laughed. “Hey Goofy,” he said, “believe me, you wouldn’t want to be in our class.”

“Listen,” said Michael, “it’s only kindergarten, for cryin’ out loud. All they do is play. I wish I could go myself. You wanna trade? I’ll go to your class and you go to mine.”

They both laughed. But tears were spilling down my face now.

“Aw, don’t worry Danny,” said Sal. “You’ll be okay.”

Just then two neighborhood bullies with backpacks passed us on the sidewalk. I recognized them because they had attacked me that summer once when I had strayed a little too far from the front stoop of our building, though was still on our block. They had acted friendly and came over and asked me if I lived on the block and I nodded. In the next minute, the big one punched me full force in my stomach, and I folded in half like a jackknife. Then the other guy pushed my folded-over body into a mud puddle and I rolled in the wet mud with piercing pain shooting through my body, trying to catch my breath. I could hear them laughing and running, and Michael, who had appeared from nowhere, running after them, yelling that he was going to break them in half, after which he came back panting, saying he had done just that, still cursing at them as he checked to see if I was okay, telling me, “I told you to stay on the stoop when I’m not home.”

Now, here they were, back at it. “Taking your little sister to school?” the bigger one asked Michael, then ran with his stupid buddy behind him, both of them laughing.

“You better run, you idiots,” Michael yelled after them. “Or I’ll pound you into the ground like I did the last time!”

Sal shook his head. “Yeah, real idiots,” he said.

We crossed 111th Avenue. “Come on, Danny.” Michael waited for me half-way into the street, his arm outstretched for my hand. “Would you hurry?” he said.

After we crossed the street I saw the giant, gray stone building looming like a rock monster just ahead on the next block. Carved into the stone were the letters spelling out Our Lady of Sorrows.

“I don’t want to go there,” I said. “Please, Michael, don’t make me, not alone. I can’t do it.”

“Danny, gimme a break, will ya? I’m gonna be late as it is, on my first freaking day.” He inhaled the last puff of his cigarette and tossed the butt into the street.

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Excerpt 2, Ch. 1

Michael was in seventh grade. Everything was easy for him. The boys tried to be like him. The girls saw how handsome he was. Even old ladies loved him.

“Danny, let’s go,” Michael said. “Come eat your breakfast or we’re gonna be late.”

I ran into the kitchen and slid into the chair at the table where Michael had put a bowl of cornflakes and milk.

“Sit down and eat,” he said, adding that they weren’t real cornflakes. They just looked like cornflakes, but were cheaper.

My sister Frances appeared in the doorway. She was starting fourth grade and thought she was pretty terrific. To me, she was just as much of a fat-mouth and as stupid as she had been in third grade.

“Oh, is that for me?” she asked, eyeing my bowl of cereal and reaching toward it with her pudgy hand.

“Touch that and I’ll break your arm,” said Michael.

So far, Michael hadn’t broken any of Frances’s arms yet. But he did threaten it a lot.

“How come you can make him something to eat and not me?” asked Frances. “What makes him so special?”

“Believe me, you don’t need anything to eat,” said Michael.

“Drop dead!” yelled Frances. “You make me sick.”

“You’re already sick. Sick in the head,” said Michael, standing at the counter shoving cheap cornflakes into his mouth with one hand and pointing to his head with the other.

Frances grabbed the box of cereal from the counter and poured it into a bowl.

“Danny, for cryin’ out loud, did you brush your teeth?” Michael asked me.

“No,” I said. “Do I have to?”

“No. You don’t have to brush your teeth. What are you, stupit or something? Whadyu want, your teeth to fall outta ya head? Get in there and do it before I smack you one.” He talked a lot about smacking me one, too, but so far, nothing. I jumped up and ran to the bathroom, still chomping on my last spoonful of cereal.

“And hurry up, or we’re gonna be late,” he called after me. He worried a lot about being late, and eating, and brushing your teeth. I guess he thought he had to, since nobody else did.

It was time to go. I followed Michael down the three flights of stairs, then outside, then through the black wrought-iron gate that squealed, and then into the street, just as Sal appeared.

“Hey, Mike,” he said. “Hey, Danny. Big first day at Our Lady of Homework, huh?”

“Yeah, and he’s moving slow,” said Michael, pulling a crumpled pack of Camels from his back pants pocket. lighting a cigarette and sucking in the smoke. “Come on. It was a lot easier when it was just me I had to get to school in the morning.”

“Yeah, right,” Sal said, falling in with Michael’s fast step, as he always did. Sal didn’t smoke. He’d told me he threw up when Michael offered it to him the first time and that was the end of it.

The morning air felt cool on my face. The giant maple trees waved with the breezes. Polly-Noses spun as they floated down from the giant maple trees, and I stopped to bend down and pick one up. I opened the end of it and stuck it to my nose. “Look, Michael, I’m a Polly Nose.”

“You’re a mental case is what you are,” he said.

Sal laughed.