A Pinball Day in the Projects
by Paul Beckman
Ray Hayman was not only tough but crazy.
His apartment was on my paper route and every so often when I rang the bell for the weekly payment his mother would tell me to wait and Ray would come to the door.
"Hi Ray," I'd say and he'd say “No jingle this week,” take the paper, then shut the door and I’d nod and chalk it up to a business expense.
He lived a dozen buildings over in the projects where the highlight of the area was the corner store. Their pinball machine made up for their lack of inventory. Cigarettes, soda, scattered cans of beans, sardines, Spam and tuna fish along with tissues, sanitary pads, bread, peanut butter and jelly and a bunch of other quick meal items packed in a double dorm-sized room with plate glass windows, a counter covered with the same linoleum as the floor and cigarette smoke hanging like layers of stratus clouds.
Once, he was inside the corner store playing pinball while a half dozen of us were milling around outside waiting for him to leave so we could play. I was the smallest and the chunkiest. The door opened and the other guys backed away and I said my usual, "Hi Ray," and he said, "Give me a quarter."
All I had was a quarter and that was five games, so I shook my head.
"Sorry, Ray. Can’t do," I said.
"I'm gonna kick your ass," he said, lunging head down to butt me in my soft belly.
Fear took over and I grabbed the collar of his jacket and pulled it over his head and kneed him in the face and then, while his zipped-up jacket was still over his head, I punched him with rights and lefts until my hands hurt. All the while my friends were yelling and clapping for me but not getting too close to the fight. When he pulled his jacket back tears were streaming down his face and I knew I was going to get my ass kicked then.
But he said, "I’m gonna tell my mother," and ran off.
I was shaking and worried that he was going home to get a bat and come back after me. My friends treated me like a hero and even paid for my first pinball game. Twenty minutes later, housecoat and apron flying, Mrs Hayman stormed into the store with Ray right behind her and he pointed at me.
"You Porky Pig little sombitch, you had no call to hurt my Raymond. When his brother gets out of prison in two weeks I’m sending him over to slice you up."
I tried to convince my mother we had to move and move quickly. She told me I shouldn't be fighting and if we could move we wouldn't be living in the projects.
When Ray's brother, Roy Albert Hayman, was finally released from prison his picture was on the Bridgeport Post's front page. He had walked to a gas station after the bus dropped him off in some small town and he swiped the car keys from a guy who was filling up and then went into the station and knifed the owner and cleaned out the register. He found a gun behind the counter and when the police showed up, he blasted away at them trying to get to his getaway car. But the gun jammed and he dropped it and put up his hands, surrendering. He was tackled and beaten bloody and senseless and never made it home to slice me up. I don't expect he will, but I still stopped delivering papers to Ray's house.
I never said "Hi Ray" again.
Paul Beckman’s story, "Healing Time" was one of the winners in the 2016 The Best Small Fictions and his 100 word story, "Mom's Goodbye" was chosen as the winner of the 2016 Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. His stories are widely published in print and online. His published story website is www.paulbeckmanstories.com