The Fat Man

Growing up, all that divided my back yard and our rear neighbors’ backyard was a row of low bushes. One of those neighboring houses was a multi-family home. The multi-family’s yard had no trees and was all dirt. For a time, a young family lived on one of the floors. Even at nine, I understood that the mother was sexy in a matter-of-fact, full-figured way. She would sit in a little beach chair while her daughter splashed in a plastic wading pool and her husband practiced his karate. I had never met a man like the father. He was young, and he was handsome, and happy, and knew karate. He would don his gi and practice kicks on the bushes that grew against our dilapidated garage, seeing if he could swat a single leaf with his roundhouse. He was so happy while he practiced his kicks in his crisp, white gi, the thick cotton like a real warrior’s armor, that I did not hesitate to drift between the bushes and ask if he could teach me to kick, which he happily did.

Also living in the multi-family was the Fat Man. The Fat Man wore old T-Shirts, and old jeans, and had an untrimmed beard. One day while the Happy Man kicked the bushes in his gi, the Fat Man emerged onto the back steps holding a beer. He laughed seeing the Happy Man practicing his Karate and called, “You wearing them pajamas again? Those are some real nice pajamas.”

The Happy Man laughed and kept practicing his kicks. I was appalled at the Fat Man, this ogre who brought schoolyard harassment to my backyard, but the Happy Man just laughed and kept kicking.

It was not long before the Happy Man and his practically sexy wife left. The Fat Man stayed. One afternoon I was playing with my brother in my back yard. My brother and I took play seriously, for play was how you had fun, and fun was happiness, and happiness mattered. The Fat Man appeared in his dry and dusty yard. I don’t know how long he had been standing there because he didn’t exist in our game. But he was standing there, and he could hear us, and straight in the middle of our game he barked, “You guys gotta keep it down! You’re playing, playing, playing, and you’re driving me crazy. You gotta keep it down.”

He was an adult, and my brother and I were good boys, and so we obeyed, but as I looked up at him from my yard and choked my apology, I heard these words: “He’s forgotten what it is to be a child.”

I couldn’t quite hate the ogre after that.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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