Victimhood by Amanda A. Gibson

Photo by Jace & Afsoon on Unsplash

Harold Dent had excellent posture for a boy with juvenile Parkinson’s Disease. Though his body was failing him, he’d grown tall for his age, a semaphore among the scrub of ten-year-olds on the playground. Teachers regarded him with sympathy while his classmates mostly ignored him. William, the class bully, called Harold “retard” and twisted Harold’s arm in a merciless Indian rope burn, knowing Harold couldn’t move quickly enough to stop him.

Harold stationed himself near the water fountain. Once planted in place, he was secure; he had to plan his path when he wanted to move. While Harold watched his classmates, he thought about how that morning he’d yawned on the bus. Parkinson’s had robbed his reflexes so the yawn was a surprise. He indulged it, letting his mouth stretch wide, a click sounding in his throat. His mother would be thrilled the new medication was working. A glimmer of hope formed, a golden balloon he imagined bursting from his chest and rising to the sky. Might he soon take steps instead of shuffling? His mother wouldn’t need to replace his shoes every three months, soles rubbed thin from scuffing pavement and the rubberized turf of the playground. Might it mean he could run again, play baseball? 

Amber, Sonya, and Sephora skipped by, a train linked by one hand on one shoulder, chanting Strawberries, cookies and cream; go ahead and dream that dream; one and all we make a team. Harold marveled at their coordination, knees lifting in unison while they hopped forward without trodding upon each other. All while singing. Remarkable. Harold met with an occupational therapist who helped him recapture skills he once took for granted, things he hadn’t known you could lose – like the ability to skip, or sing, smile, even howl. He used to run for a fly ball and catch it in one glove. Now when he got charley horses in the middle of the night all he could only grunt into the pillow. Miss Chandler gave him breathing exercises and vocal lessons to help his speech. They sang simple songs, like “You Are My Sunshine” and “Row, Row, Your Boat,” but the way Miss Chandler encouraged him it was as if he was training for Broadway. They worked on his handwriting, his inked words huddled on the left side of the page, letters stacked and falling over themselves. 

Harold was so rapt with envy watching the girls he didn’t notice William until he sailed past, skimming so close Harold rocked and almost fell over. As William zigzagged through a group of kids playing hopscotch, their cries of protest rising in unison, Harold recalled seeing the tears William wiped roughly away during Class Day last week. Each of Ms. Matthews’ third graders had at least one parent hovering proudly while they shared their book reports—except William. Each of us, Harold thought, is a victim of something life has thrown our way. As William looped around the monkey bars and jungle gym, arcing into the grass before returning to the blacktop, an idea came to Harold.

Carefully Harold shifted his weight onto his left foot. When William was about fifteen feet away, Harold slid his right foot forward. William’s foot met Harold’s. As William spun into the air, Harold saw on William’s face an understanding: the intimate knowledge of being discounted, marginalized, oppressed. William skidded to a stop on the turf. He sat up, mouth agape, rubbing an elbow. He looked at Harold, as if for the first time. At last, Harold thought, he and William had something in common.

Amanda Gibson lives in Annapolis, Maryland. Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared in several journals, including, Orca, A Literary Journal, The Common, and The Pigeon Review. She spends as much time as possible outside.

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