The Big Brick Review 2015 Essay Contest:
Hon. Mention ($50)

Building on the narrative of our brick at a time.


by Robert W. Maddamma

WHEN I HIT the ground, I couldn’t breathe. I laid limp, unable to react to the blood dripping from my mouth. I must have bitten my lip. I wasn’t sure; I was only five years old.

My sight faded in, sharp in the middle, blurry on the edges. My world looked different from here—the carpet was now on the sides, my yellow Tonka dump truck hung in the middle, and the black-and-white television stuck like magic to the tray table it sat on. The picture of Jesus, one where the eyes followed you wherever you went, now stared at me from the ceiling, his hands pulling open his shirt to expose his heart wrapped in thorns and topped with a crown. My mother told me that was his “sacred heart.” I wasn’t sure what that meant but she told me that he was The Savior—he saved everyone forever. OK, but this Jesus was scary.

Pain. Sudden and sharp. First the mouth then, in order, the head, the back, an ankle, a heel. A breath, finally, short but deep, a reaction to the heel pain. I coughed it out and tried to take another, but it got stuck in my throat. I choked on it for a few seconds, then was able to get it in all the way. When I let it out I made a noise, sad and strange, like when my dog got his tail slammed in the door.

I breathed again, easier with several tries, until I could do it without thinking, the sad and strange noise morphing into involuntary sobs. Snot was now dripping from the tip of my nose into the blood pooled around my cheek. I felt tears trailing to my right ear, hanging, then falling off the lobe. Feeling returned to the limbs and they began moving on their own. I think they were trying to sit up but they couldn’t manage, each awkward try ending in a small collapse back to the start.

A forearm finally braced against solid ground. The hip slid to meet it. The knees pulled in tight and, with a slight turn in the other direction, the body sat. The legs immediately collapsed flat. The head reversed left and right, the neck failing to regain its strength. The chin finally slumped straight down to the chest, bobbing up and down to the labored breaths and steady sobs.
I tried to remember how I got there. I played GI Joes at Bradley’s house before dinner. I told Bradley I would come back after to finish our mission. At dinner, my Dad said I couldn’t. After, I went to Bradley’s house to tell him I couldn’t play. His mom said my Dad called and I had to go home. I walked back to my house. Then something.

I felt something warm down the back of the neck. A hand clumsily sought it out and fumbled around like it was in the dark. One finger found it. The effort exhausted the arm and it slammed back to the floor. Blood on the finger. A sharp pain in the back resuscitated the neck and it jerked the head back against the wall. More pain. Enough to restore awareness, connection.
White dust fell on my shoulder. I looked up to see it trickling from a dent high up on the wall. A little fell in my eye. I rubbed it with my hand, which made it worse, but the concentration stopped the tears. Breathing normalized. I looked into the family room, squinting. Everything was back where it belonged. Jesus the Savior stared.

I looked in the kitchen. My mother stood there in that flowery zippered thing she always wore. She had her hands together in front of her mouth like she was praying. Her cheeks were wet. Her lips moved but I couldn’t hear anything.

Help, Mommy. It hurts.

Straight ahead was my father. He was strong and tall, just a little taller than the dent in the wall. He looked different though, like one of the bad guys in my Batman comics. He was pointing a big leathery finger at me, his muscles bulging and rippling, his twist-a-flex watch band straining against the last link.  His eyes were hot white behind his thick black-rimmed glasses. Spit hung in the air around his mouth and the bubble quote around his head said, “ARRGGGGHH!!!” Each point of his finger brought a jagged-bubbled “WHOOOSH!”

My instinct was to say, “I’m sorry,” and I think I got out the best one I could, though I’m not sure. Then his other fingers opened into a hand bigger than my head. I froze. He reached down and grabbed me by my skinny arm. He dragged me like a Raggedy Andy down the hall, the carpet’s shag scraping and burning my knee. From the door of my room, he launched me onto my bed. That felt familiar. The door slammed closed. I shook until sleep bestowed its mercy.

The next morning, I woke up stuck to my pillow. I pulled the cloth from the back of my head and looked at the brown stain dotted with dark red. I turned the pillow over to hide it, looking twice to make sure no one saw. I walked out into the hall. I could see my father spreading a paste on a screen over the dent in the wall. He looked normal. My mother was cooking bacon and eggs like she did every morning. I went and sat in the kitchen. She gave me a plate with buttered toast. I wasn’t hungry, but took a few bites. While I did, she cleaned the wound on my head. No one spoke.

When I was done, my father had finished his paste work. By the afternoon the wall would look like it did before yesterday. I hated that wall. That wall was just like my father—hard and unforgiving, tall and formidable.   

My father would fix it eleven more times over the next ten years, the result of my sins—both real and perceived. It didn’t always need fixing. Sometimes it just held me up while I was shaken, shoved, slapped, or punched. Each time, my mother cried in the kitchen. Each time, Jesus stared.

* * *

As an adult, I forgave the wall. It was just a wall—a supporting structure made to withstand the forces of nature. I realized how, unlike my mother or Jesus the Savior, it had no choices. So I knew, at least, why the wall stood there. Watched time and again. And did nothing.  

Bob Maddamma is a professional dreamer who reads often and sometimes succeeds is business. He is the author of technical masterpieces Employee Manual Addendum E: The Affordable Care Act and Step 7: Spot Welding Door Rail ‘A’ to Frame Lip ‘C.’ He was silver medalist in a 6th Grade creative writing contest. In 2013, he briefly attended the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop after making a wrong turn in Cedar Rapids. He lives in Fairport, NY.

"Truck & Heart" photo © 2015 Gregory Gerard


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