“I aint no chicken,” Billy stood with his arms crossed, mimicking the way he had seen his father stand anytime he got into a fight with his mother. His bottom lip out, his eyes squinting. He was trying to feel angry, but all he could feel was cold. Snow surrounded the schoolyard in plowed hedge-like piles.
“Then do it,” one of the older boys sneered. They were standing in a circle around him, trying to get him to jump off the slide, to fly like superman like he told them he could. He couldn’t really fly like Superman and didn’t really believe he could, but he wanted them to believe.
They were two grades older, in fifth grade and gangly like foals. Billy was squat, fat, his mother called him her big boy, and fed him chocolate pudding every afternoon which didn’t help his reputation on the schoolyard any.
“I don’t want to waste it,” he said, chewing on the finger of his red wool glove. “I don’t want to use up all the powers Superman gave me.”
“You know Superman?” One of the boys asked.
“Of course he doesn’t stupid.”
Billy nodded. “He’s my best friend.”
“You’re a liar,” one of them said, and pushed him, “a chicken liar.”
“Chicken liar, chicken liar, chicken liar,” they chanted, they yelled to some of their friends across the yard, “Hey come look at the chicken liar, the chicken liar baby.”
“I showed you the picture,” Billy said, he had brought it in for show and tell, and it went over so well in his class he started showing it to all the kids. He was in a superman cape and suit, flying through the air, grey skyscrapers behind him. He had it taken at Disney World, a harness holding him up, but no one needed to know that part, it looked real and so he made it real. He told everyone he could fly and how could they deny it, he had evidence. He didn’t think anyone would make him prove it.
He had it with him on the plane on the ride home. Kept it sitting open on the tray-table, until the stewardess came by and told him to get ready for landing. “Look at you,” she said, “you didn’t even need to take the plane.”
His mother smiled, his father snored.
“I’d give you a pair of wings, but it looks like you already have some.” She said winking.
Billy basked in the attention. He was the kind of boy who rarely got attention from strangers for anything positive. He was used to the saleslady snickering when she had to get him a yet larger size of jeans at Sears, or the waitress puffing her face out just slightly when he ordered dessert. This was something new. This picture could change his life.
“That’s so fake,” one of the older kids said, “photo-shopped or something. If you can fly, prove it chicken liar baby.”
“I told you I don’t feel like it,” he said, starting to cry, he didn’t want to start crying, but he couldn’t help it, there were so many of them. They kept coming closer. Why didn’t they just believe him?
“Look the baby’s crying. I bet he’s gonna pee.” One of the older boys said. His menacing smile reminding Billy of a crocodile.
“Shut up,” Billy said, crying harder. Sniffling, his tears burning in the cold.
“Chicken baby liar peed his pants,” one of the older boys yelled.
“Ewww it smells,” another one yelled.
“Get a diaper,” a third one yelled. Preening, his long neck like an ostrich waiting for the attention from his comment.
“I did not,” Billy screamed, he wanted to jump into the picture, like he’d seen the chimney sweep do in Mary Poppins. Jump into the picture and fly away.
He walked toward the slide, he would climb to the top and then recess would be over. He would climb to the top and stand there waiting until the bell rang, then he would come down and run home to his mother and tell her he needed to switch schools.
“Look the chicken baby cry-baby, liar’s going to do it,” the crocodile boy said.
“Fly chicken baby, fly,” another one said.
Billy held the rungs and climbed up, like he was climbing out of the pool at the hotel in Florida. He wished he was there now. He took the first step.
“Chicken baby thinks he can fly,” one of them said.
“He’s gonna fall on his ass,” another one said.
He took the second step, it was icy, he scraped at it with his boot. His father taught him how to dive in Florida. He had zinc oxide on his nose and it made him look like a confused clown. Every time they practiced his mother watched wearing her bathing suit with a skirt and her pink straw hat. She would clap even when Billy did a belly flop.
“Look the chicken baby is scratching like a hen, bok, bok chicken baby.”
He skipped one and took the fourth step; he was three from the top. The bell would ring soon. One of the boys threw a snow ball at his neck. He felt it hit, felt the ice going down the back of his shirt. Maybe flying was just like diving.
“Jump chicken baby, jump,” one of the older boys yelled, his hands cupped around his mouth.
He took the next step and wiped his eyes. He looked at the boys below him, a blob of winter hats and jackets. His father told him he should try out for the diving team. That they could practice at the Y when they got back home.
“Chicken baby liar is crying again,” one of them yelled.
“I am not,” Billy said, taking the next step. His father bought him a pair of goggles and a cap, and called him his little champion, he wore them in the bathtub. When he would jump off the board at the pool in Florida he sensed he was stopping in the air for a brief moment. That he was flying.
He made it to the top and waited. All the heads below looked up at him. He could dive, he could dive and land in the snow. He could dive and they would think he was flying.
He went into his diving stance, he bent his knees like his father told him to, put his arms up and against his ears. The boys below went silent. They could see he was going to do it, he was going to fly.
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Portland Fiction Project
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