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June 13, 2015 | Nonfiction

popsicle stick bomb

Steve Anwyll

popsicle stick bomb photo

Kevin's mom was fat. But as big as her waistline was it equaled her kind streak. I never saw her angry. She was always thoughtful. And doing nice things for Kevin and his sisters.

And when I answered the door that day Kevin was standing there. With a great big fucking grocery bag full of old popsicle sticks. Each one stained. Orange. Purple. Red. Green.

The dye soaked into the wood. 

Kevin told me his mom had saved them all. I imagined her taking them from the sticky hands of filthy children. Washing them off with a smile on her face. Keeping them in a box. Or a drawer.  

So when she handed them over today, and Kevin said he was coming to see me, she probably thought of us in my parents’ basement. Hiding from the overcast day and the threat of rain. Loosely supervised. Making a popsicle stick log cabin.

Or some other kooky, fucking wholesome activity.

Sadly though, the poor woman didn't pass her kindness on to her son. And couldn’t have been any more wrong today. Because Kevin had other ideas.

I put on my shoes. My jacket. Yell 'I'm going out,' down the hall to the kitchen. Wait to hear my step-mother’s absent reply of ‘ok.’ Then follow Kevin along the side of my parents’ house. Into the street.

We walk down Smith St. Towards the woods. I ask Kevin what he has in store.

'We're gonna go over to the church,' he jerks his thumb in the direction of the Catholic one a block away on George Street. 'Then we're gonna hide on the stairs,' he holds up the bag of sticks,' and make all of these into bombs and throw them at cars when they drive by.'

In my head I can't believe what he just said. How the hell are we going to take a bunch of ordinary popsicle sticks and turn them into bombs? Bombs? Shit, they explode. There's fire involved! Is Kevin nuts? We'll kill people!

And even though I don't want to ask. Because Kevin'll make me feel like a retard, or naïve for not knowing. I have to. Because I need to know if it's time for me to bow out or not.

'Kevin, what's a popsicle stick bomb?'

'What are you? A fucking retard?'

Which makes me silent for the rest of the two minute walk to the church. And by then it's too late to leave.

The church sits on top of a hill. There's a long drawn out concrete staircase leading up to the its front door. Kevin and I climb about halfway up. Hidden from any traffic coming up George St by a large cluster of bushes. And an old heavy spruce tree.

'This is perfect,' Kevin says when we sit down. He sets the bag between us. Pulls out five of the popsicle sticks. 'Ok. Here's how you do it. It's easy.'

Kevin starts by taking two of the sticks and makes an open ended triangle. The third stick he places between these two then takes the fourth, weaving it between the three making a three pronged anarchy sign. The last stick he weaves in opposite of the fourth stick, completing the bottom of the triangle.

Once it's ready he cocks his arm back. Throws it. The bomb glides down through the air like a Frisbee. Hits the street. And the sticks kind of pop apart.

In a detonation only a child can find exciting.

I stare at him in amazement. The whole thing takes less than a minute. Which is just enough time to drown my fears of fire and shrapnel and explosions and lost lives.

'Wow,' I blurt out.

'Yeah. Pretty awesome hunh. My dad taught me how to do it.' And the amount of pride on Kevin’s face, and in his body language, is enough to make me feel a little sick.

He digs into the bag and starts making more. I pull out five sticks too. Excited to see some of these explode across the hood of a car. I know it's a bad idea. And the whole thing reeks of me being screamed stupid by my step-mother.

But I feel like gambling today.

By the time Kevin's made 5, I've managed to have my first one crumble apart in my hands more times than I can count. My hands fumble. I can't get the points of pressure right that hold it together.

Kevin looks over at me. Shakes his head in disappointment. Mutters 'tard' under his breathe.

'Looks like I'm gonna have to make them all eh? You can't do anything,' Kevin tells me.

Fuck you, Kevin, I think. I tell myself to get up. Go home. But being there isn't any better. And Kevin is the only kid who even talks to me willingly without being forced by his parents.

So when we both hear a car coming up the street I know I ain't going anywhere. Kevin picks up a bomb. Steadies his arm. He watches through the bushes for the perfect moment.

And while he waits I figure that if his father taught him how to make them, then he must've taught him how to throw as well. But fuck, am I ever wrong there.

Maybe if Kevin had muscular problems. Some horrible dystrophy. Then I could've forgiven him. Because he throws like a fucking idiot.

The bomb floats through the sky. It looks likes it hovers for a moment. Lost in the clouds. Then takes a sharp left. When it finally breaks apart on the ground the car is long gone.

And I know that the next time I see Kevin’s father I'll have something in common with him. Disappointment in his only son.

It's a small village. And a pretty shitty day. overcast and damp. Most people are at home. Laid out in front of televisions. Taking advantage of the excuse to stay indoors on a Saturday.

So long stretches of inactivity pass in between cars. And maybe it's for this lack of practice, but Kevin’s aim doesn't get any better.

Which is a relief to me. Because as long as he keeps making these fucking atrocious attempts, there's no fear of my step-mother ever finding out.  

We're there for about an hour and half and we see my step-cousin John walking towards us. As far as we can tell he doesn’t see us though. Proof that we're hidden good enough.

Kevin looks over at me. Nods his head and winks. Trying to be cool. He picks up a bomb. Whispers to me, 'I'm gonna throw this. Blow it up right at his feet. Scare the shit out of him. It'll be amazing.'

I nod yes, but think ‘bullshit.’

And Kevin does his best.

The bomb flies 20 feet behind my step-cousin. It lands gently in a bush. John doesn't even notice it. So I have to yell down to get his attention.

 'What are you guys doin?' John says when he runs up.

'Chuckin these bombs down on cars.' Kevin answers.

'You hit any?'

'A bunch.' Kevin lies without flinching. I keep my mouth shut. 'You wanna throw some?' he asks John

And of course John does. He sits down and gets ready.

John’s aim is better. And it brings back some of the excitement. And danger of getting caught.

But even so. His best attempt cuts hard to the right. Misses the trunk of a Buick by 3 feet. Explodes across the street in someone's driveway.

Still though, we yell and cheer.

Because like I said, it's a small town. And we don’t have very much.

Kevin shows John how to make the bombs. And after making one he's almost as quick at making them as Kevin. The pile piles up. But after awhile of no cars, so does  the boredom.

'Hey, do either of you guys have a lighter, or a match?' John asks after about an hour.

'Yeah. I have a lighter,' Kevin says, 'Why?'

'Oh. The other day I stole a smoke from my mom's boyfriend. I was going to get a pack of matches when you called me up. Do you guys wanna smoke it?'

'Nah, I'm alright,' I say.

'Not only are you a retard, but a pussy too,' Kevin says, 'you haven't even thrown a fucking bomb yet. You fucking baby.'

'Well, if you're gonna be a baby, you stay right here. And if any cars come, yell up at us. One of us'll come down. And we can throw a bomb,' John says.

They both laugh at me. Sure, John is nice to me at family gatherings. But if any other kids are around he changes. Becomes just as likely to give me a hard time as anyone else.

And I don't really trust his friendship.

Kevin and John decide to walk a little higher up the hill. Behind a heavier cover of bushes. They might call me a pussy. But they're both terrified of being caught by their folks.

So, when they get behind the bushes, and I can hear John coughing off the first drag, I pray to the god Kevin's parents are always going on about. The same one who lives in this church. And ask him if there's any way he can give them both cancer off the first puff.

But instead of listening to me he sends a car. And I yell up. Just like John asked. Stupidly believing that he'd come running like he said.

Instead, he sticks his head out from the bush. And yells back at me, 'It's your turn. You little faggot.'

I'm scared. I don't want to do this. It was never my idea to come here. I should've left before it got to this.

'I cant,' I lie. 'I don't know how.' And even as I say it I know it that it's a pretty shitty excuse.  

'You don’t know how to throw? You are a fucking pussy,' he yells down.

And there's John. Peeking over the top of the shrub. Smoke rising from his left side. A smile across his face. Agreeing with everything Kevin is saying.

So I give in. Anxious to impress them. Tired of getting called names. I turn towards the street and the approaching car. Pick up a bomb with my shaking hand. Wait. Watch a rusting Ford Tempo glide up the street.

And when I think I know what I'm doing. I let the fucking thing go.

The bomb slices through the air. Aware of it's target. And unlike Kevin and John's attempts, my aim is nothing short of perfection.

Because the bomb blows up right in the middle of the windshield. The colored sticks poppin’ all over the place. The rusting Ford Tempo hits the brakes. The tires screeching.

And to me it's the loudest thing I've ever heard. I imagine people on the other side of the village stopping what their doing. Looking into the sky. Wondering what the fuck just happened.

I tear off up the hill.

And as I run passed the bush where Kevin and John are quivering, I look at Kevin. I think to myself, who's the fucking retard pussy now?

I have no clue where I'm going though. And before I know it I'm behind the church. If I keep running I'll end up having to hop a fence. And make my way through the woods.

But I'm not very coordinated. And every other time I've tried to climb over a fence I got caught up. I can’t afford to be trapped like that. So I crawl under some wooden stairs that lead to the back door of the church.

I'm scared. And shaking. I curl up into a ball. Shut my eyes. Try and get a handle on things.

I get no chance. I hear heavy breathing. Feel a hand around my ankle. It yanks on me. I try and grab the ground underneath me. But it's all just dead leaves. And there's nothing to dig in to.

I'm crying so loudly as I'm being dragged out I can barely hear the deep voiced  threats of taking me home to my parents. Or, of strangling me to death right here. In the shadow of the church.

And the second I feel my ankle released I run. But whoever it is isn't done. Has no intention of letting me get away. And just as I think I'm in the clear he gets a handful of the back of my shirt.

He pulls on it quickly. I spin around and the seam rips like it was nothing at all.

I'm hyperventilating now. Choking on my tears. My pulse pounding away in my head. He picks me up by the shoulders. Shakes me back and forth with everything he's got.

My legs and arms wave like ribbon in the wind. My head flops around. It's hard to see. And the world becomes nothing more that a blur of color.

And as scared as I am of being murdered here I'm even more scared of my step-mother. And what she'll do if she finds out.

'You know how fucking stupid you are?! You could've killed me! Are you fucking retarded?!' he yells at me.

I muster a few 'I'm sorry’s' between all the tears. And choking. And I guess they sound genuine. Because he throws me to the ground. I land on my back crumpled and defeated.

'You're fucking lucky, you little piece of shit, you better hope I never see you again, or you're dead.

And I am lucky. Because it's the last I ever see of him.  

A few minutes after he leaves, I crawl over to the side of the church. Lean against the wall. Pull my knees up to my chest. I'm relieved. But I need some time before I try and make it home.

I can't look like I was crying when I walk in the door. I have to hide this. And by the time I get up to leave, the sun is starting to set.

The door is barely shut behind me. And my step-mother is on me right away. Like she was waiting for an excuse.

'What the hell'd you do to your shirt? It was brand fucking new when you left?! Where have you been?'

'You know. Just playing in the woods with Kevin.'

 

 

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