They tortured that boy. Every day they came in, smacking his head and hurling insults that should’ve gotten their mama’s arrested. And every day he just took his beating and then found a place against the wall to eat.
He never said much, but that numb look on his face said it all. His clothes were a mess, splotches of stains with tears around the armpits. And being that he was a plump kid, most everything he wore was pulling or straining to get around him. That kitchen haircut didn’t help, looked like his Mom had gotten drunk and blindfolded herself then went to work on his head. I’d taken to calling him Butch in my head.
I gritted my teeth. Because I’d only just got out of the kitchen and put on the register. And being as it were I’d just assume stay with the money and away from the pots and pans. But so many times I’d watched them kick and push poor Butch around. It was rough, I’d have beat someone in the head with a mop handle if they’d done to me only half of what they did to that boy. But I had to keep my hands clean.
Not that it was easy. God, so many times I wanted to do something. A roll of quarters upside their heads would take care of a lot. Catch ’em right behind the ear, they’d drop like sacks. I’d learned that being a lunch lady, you’re either invisible or subject to ridicule yourself to these rascals, and I guess judging by the way I worked my jawbone raw with restraint, they chose to see through me.
Poor thing. I think what drew me to Butch was that things weren’t peachy at home for him either. Not after the first week of school he showed up with a bruise under his collar, just peeking out from around the back of his neck. I knew it wasn’t from one of these brats so I was guessing it was Mama’s boyfriend. Maybe an uncle.
I didn’t say anything to him, but one day after my shift, I was outside having a smoke around back and I saw a teacher hurrying for the parking lot. When I caught up with her you’d have thought I was trying to mug her the way she jumped. Here it was broad daylight at a school, and I was wearing my apron, but she looked at me like I’d come at her with a couple of hatchets and a monkey.
I told her about what I’d saw with my buddy Butch and all. Didn’t get to the part about all the bullying, just the bruise up his neck. She nodded, jiggling her keys like she had to pee. Told me to take it up with guidance. Then she drove away.
That’s when I decided that if Butch wanted help, we were going to have to do things my way. Problem was, I was on probation from an previous score-settling experience, so I had to bide my time. Wait for an opening.
But then a few weeks later they found out Butch was on assistance. Not sure how, but they did. They stuck to him like bread on a pan after that. Meanest things I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been to some places, too. Right then I felt a fuse light under me.
I was officially going to kick some middle school ass.
The hell with probation, the next morning I wrapped put on my hairnet one last time. Got to school a little early for prep work. Made a real nice treat for those boys.
That day the lunch bell hit like a fire alarm. When Butch arrived they took to their usual tactics and I just grinned through it all. Let them have their fun. They noticed the bowls of chocolate pudding I’d set out and their eyes went big. They took the bait, each and every one of ’em.
Old Butch came last, as always. Eyes down and shoulders slouching. As gentle as I could manage I slid that last bowl of pudding off his tray, set down a candy bar instead with a wink.
“Might want to pass on that today.”