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.