The Ford School was built by the Mill for mill kids who lived in places built by the Mill for people who worked at the Mill and who, as tenants in mill homes, were charged an arm and a leg. The Ford School somewhat lacked in amenities.
I don’t remember that we had recess proper. Rather we were sort of released, after lunch, especially, to run around in the large field adjacent to the school. The big kids had a baseball diamond if they wanted to use it. They had a backstop and three bases, not tied down, a couple of bats, so if somebody brought a ball they could have a game. The little kids had nothing much to do but stand there or play tag.
Occasionally one kid would knock down another kid in the middle of the grassy field and yell out, “Nigger pile.” And the kids would all go and jump on each other, making this sort of mound of kids. I was in it sometimes though I made sure I wasn’t on the bottom because I didn’t want to rip or stain my clothes. That would upset my mother, who said daily that money didn’t grow on trees. We would all be there wiggling like worms, saying get your elbow out of my face, or who farted, and then somebody would yell here he comes, and this big fat kid, who saved himself for last, would come and jump on top of the pile.
One day after school, while we waited for the bus, we were playing tag. I was “it” and I tagged this other kid who tripped as I tagged him and fell right over just as a bicycle with a number of spokes hanging out passed the kid’s head. I didn’t put it all together, the bicycle and the spokes, till I saw this jet of blood shoot a foot in the air from the kid’s temple. One loose spoke had gone straight in there; and given the tiny size of the puncture and its neatness, the blood shot up and out with each beat of the heart as if coming from a squirt gun.
My bus was there and I had to go, but I saw enough to know that an adult had taken over the situation. I didn’t know anything about anatomy and thought maybe I had killed the kid. He would die of too much bleeding or maybe the spoke had gone right into his brain. I was scared to death. But even before I got home, I knew I would just have to wait till the next day to see if the kid was alive. And if he didn’t show up the next day, I would have to ask somebody where he was, though I didn’t know who to ask.
I couldn’t tell my parents that I thought I had killed the kid. I couldn’t even really imagine the repercussions of that. Mother would go into frenzy. Father would become furious.
“Boy Upsets Mother by Killing Mill Kid in Freak Bicycle Accident.”
“Mother Testifies: I did all I could. You don’t know what I have to put up with.”
“Father Reports: He wasn’t right from the very beginning.”
I had a pretty restless night. The next day I was overjoyed to see the kid with this huge bandage attached to the side of his head. They had even had to shave off some of his hair, which stuck out every which-away, to make sure it stuck.
Our eyes met, however briefly. He recognized me as the kid who had pushed him, but he didn’t care really. He had an air of weary impassivity about him, as if he knew that having to contend with errant bicycle spokes would always be part of his life.