Tuesday, November 01, 2005

He’s Going the Distance!

He balanced between the parallel bars, holding himself up with minimal effort. His arms were locked, his weight pulling straight down. As long as he could hold the position, he could keep his feet clear of the ground. The moment he lost his poise, he’d have to drop. He’d been hanging there for eight minutes already, and some kids were starting to notice.

“He’s hypnotized!” Rudy shouted to the thirty-eight other kids playing on the blacktop beside the gym. “Bill’s hypnotized. He’s never coming down off the bars!”

Rudy always had to grab the attention. Here he was, holding himself in a perfectly balanced position for eight minutes, and Rudy had to be the one to blab about it. Rudy was always like that. Like when they played dodge ball. Rudy wasn’t even the best thrower. Not even tenth. But he shouted and made fun and acted like he was so great. Lucky for him he was great at least at dodging, because people aimed for his head sometimes.

Kids started to gather by the sets of steel monkey bars where Bill held himself suspended. His body hung between two of the handlebars, his hands wrapped halfway around each of the longer parallel support bars. He looked straight ahead, down along the south wall of the gymnasium toward the other playground, the one where the little kids in first and second grade played. Nobody ever went over there except after school hours. It was the enemy camp.

But Bill could see the kids gathering around without looking directly at them. He could see them out of the corner of his eye, and first there were just a couple of them, but then there were more and more. They kept coming until almost no one was on the other side of the blacktop anymore. A lot of the balls had stopped bouncing. Virginia and Betsy were still twirling their jump rope, but none of the other girls wanted to gain admittance to their inner circle for a change. Soon enough those two would return to power as the girls who set the standard for fun during after-lunch recess, but not at the moment. At the moment Bill was suspending himself into the grade-school history books. People were saying that he’d been hanging there now for nine minutes!

Tyler and two other kids, a boy and a girl, climbed up on the monkey bars near him. Tyler climbed up to his level and lowered himself into a position similar to Bill’s. He hung there in front of Bill, looking right into his face.

“What’re you doing?” Tyler asked.

“Testing my will,” Bill said.

The two other kids looked at each other. “What?” the girl said. She looked at the boy, then at Tyler. “What is he talking about?”

“What are you talking about?” Tyler asked. “It’s a test?”

“I’m testing myself,” Bill explained. “To see how far I can go.”

Tyler and the girl laughed. “You’re not going very far right now!” Tyler said. The other boy looked at Tyler and tried to laugh because others were laughing.

Bill felt his arms burning a little, but he still wasn’t exerting much force. He just kept himself centered, and he felt fine like that. He could see that Tyler had done it wrong. He wasn’t positioned right. He already kept shifting his weight from one arm to the other.

“That’s okay,” Bill said at last. He didn’t know what they wanted from him. He couldn’t help but look at Tyler from where he was, but he tried to look past him a little.

Tyler rolled his eyes and wiggled his head. “You’re crazy!” he shouted, and dropped to the ground. The other two kids with him laughed like he’d said the funniest thing in the world. They climbed down, and all three of them stepped back from the monkey bars to join the rest of the class.

Bill’s elbows felt wobbly. He tried to steady himself by looking out across the ball field on the school yard. He looked at Myrtle Street beyond that and watched a blue car drive by and out of sight. If he didn’t think about his arms very much, he kind of forgot about them. What if he stayed up on the bars even past recess? Would they make him go inside? What if he was going to break a record or something? He hoped they’d check first before they made him stop.