Her nerves were on edge when she got off the streetcar. That supervisor’s voice! She could still hear it. I expect you to have your reports on hand for me at any time. I should not have to remind you of this. I don’t want to have to raise it with you again.
So nasty. Always implying she was at fault.
Following her familiar route home, she looked back and happened to see the two boys at a distance, lazily crossing the street against the light. A car veered past them. Stupid! she thought, as she turned onto the block where the hospital was. So nasty! She makes everyone feel small.
She was passing the tall hedge fronting the hospital entrance. Something winged past her, landing in the bushes just ahead. She started and turned to look behind. A few yards back the two boys came, jostling each other and tittering. She clenched her jaw but said nothing, walking more quickly, clutching her bag to her side.
The next projectile hit her on the side of the head, not hard. She couldn’t say what it was–a gum wrapper? a tiny stone? She felt a twinge of pain, but it was not bad. She turned–the boys were closer, laughing. They were small: nine or ten years old, perhaps. Light jackets, dusty sleeves. Anger surged in her.
“You did that–why?” To the taller of the two.
“I didn’t–but it was funny though.”
Laughing. Both boys, their eyes shining.
“It was funny?” She did not know what she would do. Suddenly her hand shot out. She caught the taller one lightly on the side of the head.
“But it’s not so funny when it happens to you.”
She smiled broadly now too, a fixed and frozen smile. She reached for the other, but he dodged.
“That’s the one that did it,” said a woman passing by, indicating the second boy. Everyone was smiling, strange smiles.
“Bitch,” said the small boy, under his breath.
“Let’s go,” said the taller boy.
“Let her go,” said the small boy. His smile was gone. “I ain’t goin’.”
“Little monster,” she said. “What if I called the police?”
“She say she gon’ call the police, said the tall boy.
“Po-lice,” the other boy spat.
“You are the police,” said the tall boy.
Her head was buzzing. Suddenly, inexplicably, a policeman appeared.
“What’s the matter ma’am?” (Where had he come from? Behind the hedge?)
“This child–” she began.
“They’re bothering you?” The two boys stood rooted.
“They were…” Before she finished, the policeman struck. His club caught the small boy on the face, the taller one on the shoulder.
“I saw ‘em,” he said. “You little scum.” He grabbed their arms and shoved the stunned children into the hedge.
“You want trouble?” He smacked them lightly on the backsides with the club, then yanked them out and turned them around. They cowered, shaking.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing in this neighborhood? I want you gone, now.”
The small boy stared ahead, eyes red. The tall boy wept openly.
“Back to jig town–now. Don’t ever let me see you here again.” He gestured. They ran.
“That age and already they’re finished,” the policeman said jovially. The woman merely stood before him, as if waiting to be dismissed.
“You gotta try to teach ‘em what’s what, lotsa good that it does… There you are ma’am. All right now?”
As she walked away, she felt her head throbbing softly with pain.
She could still see the boys, see herself facing them. They were all smiling, all waiting. The image did not fade. The throbbing did not cease. It was low at first, as if it was someone else’s pain, but it was growing stronger.