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Prose Winter 2021

Crunch

by Peter Caroline

I pushed uphill after the dark shape of the neighborhood kids. I remember trying to scooter uphill; it’s like running, but with one leg. I stamped furiously at the road with a sharp flick of the sole behind me, and fighting gravity, my purple Razor scooter crawled up.

I was the only kid who didn’t have a bike, so I was perpetually at the end of the pack, sometimes minutes behind. But I didn’t mind, the stilted bursts of movement which pushed me over asphalt weathered a divot in my sneakers and a blister on my toe that hurt like a friend socking you in the arm. Sometimes I’d detour, taking the long way to jump over curbs and picnic table seats. Best of all was going downhill. Already out of sight of my whooping and noisy friends, with worn wheels and shit brakes, I’d fall to the earth cutting the wind. Steering then was useless, so I often just closed my eyes until I felt the ground beneath me even out and I had to push again.

Every afternoon, we rolled up the hill to the CVS pharmacy at the top. Our mecca squatted on the outskirts of The Hills’ dingy apartments and we loitered religiously, sometimes muscling a football through the air or just sitting on the curb in sweaty silence. Now and then someone would have money. Kids our age didn’t have jobs, and parents in The Hills were the type to think two meals a day and a roof to worry under were allowance enough. But we had good eyes and fast hands. Though pilfered change only bought so much.

My dad was never home, so on rainy days we sat on the floor around the television pretending it made the day go by faster. We saw this one movie, Dead Presidents, where a bunch of people tried robbing an armored truck. They hid in the shadows of a dark street wearing face paint and dark clothes, then ambushed the police. Everyone died or went to jail at the end of the film, but immediately after the screen went black and credits tumbled past, we planned our heist.

They call it aiding and abetting, I think, when someone doesn’t commit a crime, but helps. I wanted to do that. I hid behind the statement, “I don’t want anything.” An obvious lie; everyone in The Hills wanted something. They laughed, rightfully calling me scared, and continued like I hadn’t said a thing.

***

I crested the hill out of the apartment last, like usual, and neatly folded my scooter while they threw down kickstands with scuffed sneakers and filed in. They were the fast hands of the operation, and I was the good eyes: the lookout. My job was to be a paying customer, using money I’d saved up for weeks to buy candy upfront to distract the cashier while the others, one per aisle, filled backpacks and black hoodie pockets with whatever they could grab. In the end, everyone would join me on the way out. Innocent kids accompanying a friend. There was no reason the plan shouldn’t work. Our Plan B was quick feet and our Plan C was a box cutter nestled in my sock. But, again, there was no reason the plan shouldn’t work.

I remember a smiling man who was my parents’ age. Wrinkles spilled out of the corners of his eyes and he had a thick accent that seemed out of place. He asked how my summer was going, and I mumbled a stressed “Pretty good.” I wondered which kind of chocolate thieves bought the least. I considered one of the pricier chocolates, some sort of penance for my friends skulking behind me, but ended up picking a Crunch bar. They came in cheap Lunchables so were practically free. People didn’t steal free. The man made and returned my change and I turned to leave while the other kids grouped around me, signaled by the chirping static of a receipt fighting its way out of the machine and the rip of it being torn away. We left in a pack. Everyone assembled their respective vehicles, cutting glances and smirks around the parking lot at each other before howling and speeding back to The Hills. Anyone who recognized our crime would have to catch us first, and they never would; we were going downhill. Pedals beat gravity, so as they distanced themselves with butts raised above the seat, my scratched scooter glided smoothly down.

We crouched in yellowing, itchy grass to divide up the plunder in the patch behind the apartments. We ogled in a circle like worshippers around soda cans, small toys, chips, a lighter, and a box of condoms; they were fuel and mysterious artifacts to middle schoolers, and day dreams of lighting things ablaze, cloud watching with snacks, and giggling conversations made them sacred. Yet, I didn’t get anything because they did all the work. I had my Crunch bar. We neatly arranged the items in a pile off to a corner and played football for the rest of the day. When the streetlights whined on, casting periodic pools of light into the street, we untangled ourselves and rolled home.

I remember tossing my scooter over the railing of our second-floor apartment that night. I wrapped my hands around the railing and hoisted myself up, one leg after the other, then swung my weight into the indigo space. If you hung with your arms full length, you could drop and not hurt yourself too much. I hung there for a moment, watching my sneakers lazily sway above the grass, before letting go and crumpling in a heap on the ground. My blistered toe sang out, but I was otherwise unharmed. I walked to the street and rode in the direction of the hill, cutting through pools of streetlight, connecting the dots on my route. In my periphery, well past the golden reaches of streetlight, tense figures smoked on picnic tables or kissed necks of bottles in paper bags. On one street corner, older kids huddled in a circle chatting in low voices while the ember of a cigarette orbited their lips flashing red. Once at the base of the hill, the night became silent, save for the sound of me pawing my way up and the scooter’s gravelly motion. I rode to the locked door of the CVS, peeking in at dark shelves and sitting on the curb looking at the stars. I left soon after, daring to close my eyes as I hurtled through the dark, placing more and more distance between my scratched scooter and the Crunch bar I left in front of the door.

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