January 8, 2021 by Revolution John
Years ago, when I was two years younger than everyone in my grade, Tony Almeja sat in front of me in art, first period after lunch. Tony was a bad boy on his way to getting badder, or so we thought. Word was he’d read all the Carlos Castaneda books, and that every day at lunch he’d put a stamp-sized cube of acid on his tongue, then spend all of art class drawing in his notebook.
It didn’t matter what our teacher said, Tony drew. He ignored the double-wide lines on his notebook paper, the graph paper in the cupboard, construction paper too. I liked bad boys then, and spent most of the hour watching the muscles in Tony’s back gently move, the way a branch touches a windowpane so tenderly it can’t be heard.
I got a D in art and Tony got gone. I’d of put my phone number in his yearbook but he wasn’t a yearbook kinda guy. Perfectly white t-shirts, Levis, and shiny hair, like an extra in West Side Story, with the tang of lunchtime tobacco and booze. High as a kite, drawing his imagination in his notebook and then he was gone.
Until the day I was in the desert, shipped off to relatives during my “uncontrollable years.” I looked up from the chile verde I had just placed in front of a customer, and swear I saw Tony. He was going into the “Cirrus and Stormcloud Tattoos” just across the mud-dusted street. An odd shop for a town of blue-hairs but I knew from waitressing—a lot of bikers came by too. I’d never met a one who didn’t have room for more ink on him.
I peeked in the window on break. Lining the walls were boatloads of pictures, some drawn on the big roll of plain paper at the end of a desk, a row of teeth like a shark at the end to tear it nice, some on the double-wide, three–hole–punched paper from the old days. I knew. And even though I was still young, the years had turned my mind wicked. The day I turned eighteen I cashed in all my tips from months of table waitin’ and went over there with a wad of money stuffed in my pocket.
His smile slipped a bit when I walked through the door—he must’ve thought I was the angel from Christmas’s past. And even though I would’ve given every dime I had to feel his fingers glide across places untouched, I’m a sucker for cherry blossoms and Tony was too—I could tell from his many drawings from school. That tree in full bloom fit perfectly on my shoulder, the trunk winding down my arm like Rapunzel’s hair in the enchanted forest, right onto the plates I was serving up customers.
Don’t let it fool you. The bad boys don’t always get badder. It’s the quiet schoolgirls you have to watch out for. I know.
TOBI ALFIER is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies was published by Cholla Needles Press. Symmetry: earth and sky was published by Main Street Rag. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).