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On the Kissing of Bella Shapiro


Harry Buschman

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 for gym.

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 asked me.

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 way.

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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