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Author: Jeff Tannen
Location: Fresno, California

Jeff Tannen is a tutorial specialist in Fresno, California, where he lives with his wife and two cats. When he's not writing he's either playing racquet sports or reading science fiction. His work has appeared in MARY, Adirondack Review, Carve Magazine, Porcupine, and Eclectica, among other journals. His story “Love Sucker,” which was published in Rhapsoidia, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005.



Breaking Character

I sat by my bedroom window, awaiting the punishment I thought I deserved. Every thirty seconds I peeked between the blinds, scanning both ends of the street. Each car that drove by made me sicker to my stomach. Every person I saw walking in the distance, along the main cross-streets of the neighborhood roads, caused me to sweat with feverish urgency.

As if I weren’t already nervous enough, my mother entered my bedroom carrying my lunchbox.

“What happened to your pail?” she asked, without noticing that I hadn’t moved since I got home from school.

She opened the lunchbox and it fell apart, the plastic splitting directly down the center, as if it had been stepped on.

“Someone must have stepped on my backpack at the bus stop,” I said.

She shrugged her shoulders and returned to the kitchen. I should have felt relieved that she didn’t ask what was wrong, but I didn’t. Part of me wished she had made me confess what I had done.

It happened after school, on the grass where students line up for the busses. I put my backpack in line and ran off to play superheroes. On that particular afternoon, I chose to be Wolverine. I liked that character because he thrived on instinct, survived because he was a cold-blooded killer.

When the busses began to arrive, I returned to the line to find that a fifth grader had cut in front of me. Usually I would have pretended not to notice, silently followed him onto the bus and sat in the far back seat where no one could see me. Maybe I was already beginning to loathe my passivity, or I had trouble breaking character.

“You can’t cut,” I said.

“I didn’t,” he said back.

“Yes, you did.”

He turned away, ignoring me.

I kicked his bag out of line.

“My backpack has been here the whole time,” he said.

“No, it hasn’t.”

I pushed him, or maybe he pushed me. I wasn’t even sure he had cut in front of me, but I couldn’t back down after I made the accusation.

“What are you going to do?” he said, shoving me out of line.

Without thinking, I heaved my backpack over my shoulder and brought it down on his head. His glasses stayed on his face, but blood trickled from his hairline. He stood dazed for a moment before picking up his backpack and stumbling away. “I know where you live,” he said, dabbing at the blood above his brow. “I’m going to tell your parents.”

When I got home, I threw my backpack on the kitchen table and ran to my room. I sat at the window, watching my breath fog up the glass, waiting for him to come down the street, maybe with a bandage wrapped around his head, maybe with one or both of his parents.

More than anything I didn’t want him to know how sorry I was. I didn’t want him to think it was I who bullied him.

I continued my watch, even as the sun began to set and my mother called me into the kitchen for dinner. Part of me wanted him to arrive and get it all over with. Another part of me hoped he would never come.

I waited beside the window until all I could see were the yellow puddles of light below the street lamps. Even then I thought he still might show up. Although he didn’t come that night, or the following afternoon, or even the following evening, part of me still waited beside my bedroom window. Part of me is still sitting there waiting.





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