We never forgave Paul for pissing on Billy’s head.
He took advantage of Billy’s one blind eye by climbing the log pile as Billy huddled in its shadow while avoiding capture during a match of hide-and-seek. It wasn’t a singular act of cruelty. Paul would groom us away from our preternatural fear of him by being unavoidably charming. Once he acquired our trust and could get close to us, he’d grab a testicle and squeeze mercilessly, paralyzing us in agony and betrayal. He’d join us in the hunt for toads in the swamp and throw his catch against fallen logs, laughing at the burping sound they made upon impact.
Paul was brother to our friends, Scotty and Mark Lefevre . The Lefevre boys were a benignly neglected trio with as much weekend free time as my brothers and I enjoyed along the north shore of Lake Erie. And enjoy it we did, with a great lake in front of us, open fields and pockets of dense swamps behind us. Reckless games of baseball in the empty lots led to jumps in the lake, which led to euchre matches on the picnic table, which led to an overstuffed rowboat drifting beyond the sand bar for twilight fishing, which led to backyard horseshoes under the porch light. Winters were packed with hockey until the lake ice went bad, then pond hockey until the first snow storms spoiled our rink, and hiking adventures over and through the ice mounds growing like glacial tectonic plates out on the windswept, frozen lake. We’d migrate inside to warm up, watch hockey on CBC, and resume old euchre quarrels.
The five of us stuck together, a pack of hobo playmates . Only Paul remained in the periphery, roaming in and out of our cabal as he needed targets for his dark hobbies. His foil was always our cousin Billy, who’d come up from Fort Wayne every summer for a few weeks and who had acquired few of the antibodies to resist Paul’s goading. Billy wasn’t just one-eyed, he was also short-fused. He’d come to the cottage that summer with a chip on his shoulder already, the memory of Paul twisting our balls still fresh on his mind.
Mostly, Paul avoided the gang during Billy’s first few days at the cottage. He came by the beach once to give us the finger from shore as we trolled for pickerel from the dinghy earlier in the week. And the day before, he muttered, “Yankee go home,” as he passed by the screen door while we ate dinner. Other than that, he kept his troubles away from us. But the evening-long hide-and-seek game that spread the bunch of us throughout the string of maples and beach cottages along the lake was too much for Paul to avoid. It was the perfect test of his carefully-crafted malice. He crept above Billy and emptied his bladder upon him with a grin. Paul leapt off the wood pile as Billy cast his one eye wildly about in an attempt to get a bead on the bastard of his summers. It was the noise from Paul’s hasty departure off the wood pile, onto the gravel road below that gave Paul a direction in which to aim his rage. He shot toward the road, gaining on Paul and huffing like a mad bull. Paul twisted through the maple trees lining the road, cut through Mr. Langlois’ garden, and dashed toward his home a hundred yards away. Billy was at Paul’s heels as they sprinted through the Bouchard’s backyard when Paul grabbed Mary Bouchard’s gymnast rings hanging from the oak like a pair of earrings. He swung himself upside down, and half-blind Billy charged beneath him, his prey disappearing before his eye.
Billy spun in circles looking for his kill, who was already past the property line and headed for the screen door of his home. Mr. Lefevre didn’t hear his semi-tractor hit his son as he backed the rig into the muddy driveway. We didn’t either, only the screams of the father as he pulled his son’s crushed body from under the truck.
Billy cut around the corner of the Lefevre home and skidded to a halt, nearly running over Mr. Lefevre as he cradled the bloody remains of his middle son. Billy collapsed to his knees. We gathered behind him, standing in stunned vigil.
Rustling leaves and the shrill harmony of crickets provided a lakeside dirge for our fallen adversary.