On Sunday, Henry designs and builds a bat house all by himself to his parents’ loud praise. On Monday, he tells the kids about it at school during lunch until Joey Cogsworth at the next table starts laughing, and soon everyone at the table is laughing, and then they’re calling him Batboy. On Tuesday, Henry takes another round of laughter and names and girls calling him creepy and the coach at P.E. looking at him and shaking his head the way he does when he doesn’t like a kid and wants everyone to know it until school lets out, and Henry goes over to his job, helping at his father’s hardware store.
Only Joey follows him. Every time he looks back, Joey is a block and a half back. It’s not as if he has to follow Henry to know where he’s going. Everyone in town knows that Henry works there and will deliver little things if you call in, but Joey smirks behind him, waving every time that Henry turns around.
When Henry finally comes in, puts on his store apron, and gets his list of chores from his father, he realizes it’s been five minutes, and Joey hasn’t followed him in. He thinks, maybe, that Joey won’t, that whatever terror is to be visited upon him today is over. In a half hour, when he is feeling comfortable and sweeping the floor, he hears the little bell on the front door chime, and he knows somehow, Joey has only been planning his attack.
So Henry goes back into the back aisle with the cheap little tools, screwdrivers and hammers, and he hunches over a little as if he’s really concentrating on what he’s sweeping up, so his head is hidden by the shelving unit. But Joey seems to be filled with a kind of malicious magic that tells him where to hunt for Henry, how to catch him, and he comes back to Henry’s aisle, walks past him, bumping him with his shoulder as he passes, saying, “Pardon you, Batboy.”
Henry looks up at him but doesn’t say anything, returning to his sweeping, as though nothing of note is happening.
Joey walks in front of him and takes something off the shelf. He says, “Hey, Batboy, I like this tape measure. This one.” He puts it under Henry’s face. “I’m going to take it.” He puts it in his jacket pocket. “I really like it. I’m going to take a second one too.”
Henry straightens out, giving up on pretending not to notice him. “What do you want?”
“The tape measure. I like it.” That smirk. The vague smell of sweat.
Before he knows it, Henry’s fist has flashed out and landed not on Joey’s nose, where it should have gone, but on his shoulder, and Joey doesn’t fight back but pauses a moment and then laughs again. Henry’s body takes over, and he’s flying at Joey, tackling him in the back of the store, his father saying “Henry?” and then calling, “Henry!” but not before he’s on the ground lifting a hammer off the shelf to smash in Joey’s face. But Joey is bigger, and Joey is faster, and Joey flips him over and whales on his face a couple of times until Henry’s father is lifting the bastard off him and yelling at Henry who says, “He’s stealing the tape measures,” but even as it’s coming out of his mouth, he know this is not going to end well for him, that somehow stealing tape measures isn’t a good enough excuse for attempted murder. Only what Joey’s been doing to him might be a good enough excuse for it, but what he’s been doing doesn’t have a name, and Henry knows he’s not going to be able to explain.
On Wednesday, the kids have stopped talking to Henry altogether. A lot of them are talking about him, but there is a big silence in the ten-foot circle around him, as though he is unclean in a fundamental way, and Henry thinks maybe that’s better.
Heartbreaking and so to the core relatable. This sort of trauma and isolation is devastating, sets a young person up for a life of it. The end is powerful.
Great account of how bullies function – but I bet Joey steers clear of Henry from now on. I think this incident strengthens him, learning limits, but standing up for himself. Good ending, good story.
A powerful story that tells of the anguish and pain of growing up on the edge of society.