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On the Kissing of Bella Shapiro
Me and Ernie were twelve and one grade short of getting out of P.S.9. Through no
fault of our own we seemed to attract trouble when we were together, and the
school did it best to keep us apart.
The only class we shared was gym on Fridays. All the boys from sixth to eighth
grade had gym on Friday. I shared a locker with Ernie in the boy's dressing
room. We kept our sneaks in it -- just our sneaks, back then you didn't dress up
One warm spring morning we were sitting on the bench in front of our lockers
getting ready for gym and "Punchy" came up and squatted in front of Ernie ...
"Hey Ernie," he grinned lasciviously, "you kiss Bella Shapiro yet?"
Me and Ernie were a little young for kissing, and I knew for a fact that Ernie
had never kissed Bella Shapiro. I knew I never kissed her either, and I knew if
Ernie had kissed her he would have told me for sure. But Ernie put up a bold
front just like I would have done, "Sure," he answered, "lot'sa times."
Punchy lowered his voice and looked behind him, "Did she give'ya a feel too ....
" he leered? Punchy was a pimply faced kid -- pug-nosed and, except for our
teacher, he was older than anybody in the seventh grade. He had been in the
seventh grade as long as anybody could remember. The only joy he got out of life
was making everyone else feel younger and stupider than him.
It was a loaded question, one that couldn't possibly be answered affirmatively
or denied by a gentleman of any age. But Ernie brazened it out, "Ask her," he
replied nonchalantly. A great answer! I was proud of him. Punchy collapsed like
a burst balloon -- it probably ruined his day. It was obvious he was trying to
humiliate Ernie and me like he always did. One thing you could bet on, Punchy
never got kissed by Bella Shapiro or anybody else for that matter.
Bella had a reputation for kissing boys. If she caught you off guard and she
thought nobody was looking she'd grab you and before you could fight her off she
had her way with you. She was tall for her age .... strong too. You had to be in
good shape to get away from her.
It might have been fun if Bella was better looking, but she had something wrong
with her eyes, they were too close together .... big vacant eyes with lots of
white around them .... like Little Orphan Annie. She had hair like cotton candy
and big brown freckles across the bridge of her nose. So I knew that Ernie had
never willingly kissed her, and unless he was unable to fight her off he never
got kissed by her at all.
Me and Ernie talked it over, man to man, and both of us agreed that if either of
us were kissed or felt by Bella, we would tell the other as soon as we could get
away from her.
But in my impressionable mind the possibility preyed on me, and from that moment
on I kept a close watch on Bella, hoping to catch her in the act of grabbing
somebody. I hoped I might discover that mysterious force of nature that, as yet,
I had not discovered. But she was clandestine, and like Count Dracula, she never
struck in the light of day.
Months later, on the morning of the fourth of July to be exact, I was in the
cellar of our tenement digging out a hidden stash of firecrackers that I'd been
adding to daily for a month, and who should be standing by the dumbwaiter door
but Bella Shapiro. I was transfixed, unable to move, and acutely aware of being
alone in the dark cellar with her. Her Little Orphan Annie eyes were fixed on me
hypnotically and she advanced toward me one step at a time. Like an frightened
gazelle paralyzed by the cold stare of a crouching lion I was filled with dread
and, I have to admit, a little anticipation as well. Without so much as a
"how-do-you-do" she did indeed kiss me -- and grabbed me as well. I was twelve
years old and somewhat short of the age where such endearments can be enjoyed
and returned. But yet, within me I could sense the opening of trapdoors and
vents .... unused valves and ductwork were sounding an alarm. terrified, more
than I'd ever been before, I dropped my firecrackers on the floor and dashed out
of the cellar to the street.
Even today I can see those too-close together eyes staring hypnotically into
mine. I can smell the onion breath and feel her cracked dry lips crushing mine.
It would haunt me for years, and even today I often wake in the dead of night
with an image of it in my mind.
I couldn't wait to tell Ernie, and when I found him he asked me where my
firecrackers were, all I could say was I dropped them in the cellar. (How
innocent and prophetic are the statements of children!) But Ernie knew there was
more to it than that -- we were all set to blow the lids off garbage cans and
his closest friend had left his firecrackers in the cellar. No! .... he knew it
was more than that, something terrible had happened.
Haltingly, I spit out my story .... "Bella was there .... she grabbed me .... I
couldn't get away from her, Ernie .... she grabbed my willie .... she kissed me
-- what am I gonna do?" It was the fourth of July -- we had such great plans,
and Bella spoiled it all.
Count your blessings if you have a friend like Ernie. He saw past the Fourth of
July, beyond the joy of blowing the lids off garbage cans and the mayhem we had
planned. Ernie cared about me! "You're not gonna have'ta marry her, are you?" he
Without knowing it Ernie put his finger on the bottom line -- in those days
people didn't do things like that unless they were married, and even then maybe
they didn't do them. I felt a lot better about it after telling Ernie, and with
great trepidation both of us went back to get my fireworks. Bella had
disappeared. Perhaps she was celebrating the Fourth of July in her own peculiar
But me and Ernie made a promise to each other that day .... we'd stand guard
over each other. Each would be his brother's keeper, and if one of us were ever
attacked by Bella Shapiro, the two of us would get together and beat the shit
out of her.
©Harry Buschman 1996
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