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Barb-the-Bomb and the Yesterday Boy

Julian Mortimer Smith has worked as a bookseller, a university teaching assistant and a military clarinetist. He recently completed a Master's thesis on games and play. He currently lives in a small lobstering village in rural Nova Scotia.

I have a crush on a boy from yesterday.

He's a small, lean boy, about my age. A beggar-child. I first see him sitting in a boarded-up doorway in Fumblers Alley. He holds a cloth cap out in front of him, shaking it so that the coins tink-tink together. He has a piece of slate with words scratched onto its face: "Spare a thought. Spare a coin. Thank you from yesterday."
It's the tink-tinking that catches my attention, but it also catches the attention of a gang of proudscum kids. I've seen them before. They call themselves The Sniders and their leader is a big ugly kid named Mulligan. As I watch, they muscle right up to the yesterday boy. They dare each other to touch him and then Mulligan steals the change right out of his hat. The others laugh. The poor yesterday boy doesn't even notice, of course, because that happens today and he's still living yesterday, but he will notice tomorrow.
I tear across the street, all fists and kicks. At school they call me Barb-the-Bomb because of my sudden tempers. I like that nickname. I have to dodge a clattering carriage and a group of properfolk to get to Mulligan and his gang, but I'm fast and I reach the Sniders before my mother even notices I'm no longer by her side. She starts to scream at the same moment that Mulligan does. Before the rest of the gang realize what's happening I've punched him twice in the nose and kicked him hard in the shins. He drops his stolen coins and yells a lot of nastiness and then his gang is upon me. They're bigger and heavier than I am. They pin me to the cobbles and sit on me, force my face into the filth and sewage that fills the gutter. Then Mulligan stamps on my fingers and it's my turn to scream.
My mother saves me from that one. She beats the Sniders off with the blunt end of her umbrella. They run off swearing revenge and also just swearing. Then my mother hooks the handle of her umbrella around my neck and pulls me to my feet. I choke and splutter while she looks me up and down and inspects my crushed hand, my drenched and stinking dress, my bruised face. She's clearly furious but she doesn't say anything. That's much scarier than even the worst scolding would have been. She just watches me with her hands on her hips. She wants to know what I hoped to accomplish with my behaviour, so I bend down and gather up the scattered coins with my uninjured hand and drop them in the yesterday boy's hat. He won't notice me until tomorrow, but I smile at him anyway and tell him that my name is Barb.
"Don't touch him," my mother warns, "or you might end up when he is." Her voice is sharp and quivers with anger, but there is also a note of sympathy there. Perhaps a part of her understands why I had to do it.
"There's nothing more you can do for him," says my mother. But I'm not so sure. I can come back tomorrow and watch the theft and the fight play out on his face, watch how he reacts when I return his coins. And maybe, if he guesses that I might come back, he'll smile and thank me and tell me his name in return.
And that could be the start of an awkward, blushing something.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Author Comments

This story started out as a beginning. After a few failed attempts to develop Barb's relationship with the yesterday boy into a longer story, I decided it would be stronger if I left it as a beginning. The relationship itself will involve a lot of waiting around. It is destined to be awkward and clumsy and might very well fail to go anywhere. That's not where the story is. The story is in that initial moment of guts and violence when a kid reaches out across a social barrier despite her own better judgement.

- Julian Mortimer Smith
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