Charles Smith


“Forgive me father, for I have sinned.”

We’d been driving out to Randall’s Island in one of those stuffy school buses. Most schools in the city really have no other way to get to cross country practice besides this, so we made the slog every day. The back of the bus was the coldest and the farthest from the coach, which meant there was always a scuffle for the position. I had gotten there first. I lay down across the three seats and closed my eyes.

“My last confession was…. I guess I’ve never confessed”

I woke up with a senior on top of me yelling about how this was his seat, but I was too comfortable to move. He punched me, I didn’t move. He punched me again. Not hard, but hard enough. The bus stopped abruptly and he slid off. We all got off, but we weren’t at our field. We had stopped on the edge of the highway and were on the little patch of grass at the side. The exhaust burned our eyes, but everyone was focused on Coach Keller, his feet planted squarely in the gravel in front of us.

“I had planned an easy day for you guys, just a warm up and then some touch football; but now I’m hearing that Adrian was messing with Charles in the bus. Everyone line up. Face me. If there’s one thing I can’t abide it’s punching down. Why can’t you pick on someone your own size, Adrian?”

“I don’t really go to Mass”

Adrian took a step back into the mud and looked at the ground. He mumbled something under his breath. Coach Keller stepped away. The team got the message, jeering at Adrian.

“What’s wrong man? Can’t speak for yourself?”

“What was that? Speak the fuck up Adrian.”

No answer.

“I’ve sworn a few times”

Keller pointed at me, “You get him to speak up, Charles.”

I wanted nothing to do with this. It’s not like Adrian had been beating me or anything.

Keller saw my reluctance and addressed the team.

“I don’t know what you guys were taught, but I learned when I was a kid that if you get hit, you hit back. So I think it’s only fair that Charles gets a free punch.”

Keller told me to step out of the line and face Adrian. I couldn’t bear to look him in the eyes, I had caught the pleading in them when I stepped out. Even his friends laughed at this point. My blood rushed to my ears.

“And I hit a friend”

I wanted to mouth sorry, but I didn’t. I threw a hook at his face. I connected with cheekbone and the fleshy part of his cheek. It wasn’t hard enough to bleed, but enough to make his face snap across his left shoulder.

Everyone went silent then. Adrian was rolling on the floor. Keller shooed us away on a warm-up run while he made sure Adrian wasn’t hurt too badly. No one looked back.

“And I felt Rage”

Give thanks to the Lord, my Son, for He is good”

“For His mercy endures forever”

edited, republished from earlier work. I’m not gonna lie, it was more legible in the Word editor which allows for left and right alignment, which I used to differentiate the two concurrent vignettes