Summer meant outside and brighter, longer days to spend playing with family and friends, every moment expectant with possibility, no teacher telling kids every minute of the day what they had to do. Perfect bliss. Oh how Sissy loved summer and its pleasures.
The only threat to summer in her neighborhood was the neighborhood bully who lived at the very end of Burnett Road right next door to the people with the old, crumbling chicken house that still showed patterns of blood stains and had a few stray, yellowing chicken feathers still stuck in a crevice of the dilapidated wood. The chicken house was the second scariest place in the neighborhood. Sissy shivered a bit every time she even thought about it. The scariest place in her neighborhood was Tom Butler’s house, not because it was wasting away from neglect like the chicken coup, but because of what lurked inside and might come roaring out at you at any minute—Tom Butler.
Sissy’s dad had tried to teach her big brother and her not to be afraid of Tom Butler. That house he lived in wasn’t always happy on the inside. This made Tom Butler the holy terror he was on the outside of the house, in the neighborhood, he had explained. Just try to stay away from his house and avoid him on the street—-cross to the other side if they saw him walking on the sidewalk, ignore him if he started calling you names, don’t walk down to his house, and never, ever “egg him on.” If he happened to confront them, Sissy and her brother should stand their ground because inside every bully was a coward or someone who needed to be loved. Everybody had a reason that they were the way they were. Both she and her brother Joe tried as hard as they could to follow their dad’s advice. He was smart and had been in the army. So he knew what to do with mean guys.
On one of the long, bright summer days, Sissy was just opening the screen door to outside after going into the kitchen to get a banana to eat while she swung on the swing set Joe had won in a baby contest at her dad’s work picnic about five years ago, when she heard a high-pitched howl, not like a wolf or a stray cat. No, this howl was a person’s, and Sissy recognized its owner immediately—-her big brother! He was in trouble somewhere and if he was Sissy was bound to stop it. Save him! Joe was her best friend. They played Peter Pan and Robin Hood together or King of the Mountain with friends. They read books to each other, and right now, Joe was teaching her how to ride a bike. He stuck up for her all the time. Maybe now was her turn to help him!
Frantically, she scanned the part of the yard she could see from the back steps. No Joe. His bike was resting on the retaining wall, so she knew Joe had to be close to home. As fast as she could, Sissy ran to the backyard. No people. Just the swing set and the stack of bricks Dad was going to use to build a garage, someday.
However, when Sissy reached the part of the yard closer to the Taylor’s house the howling grew louder and she could hear distinctive thumps that reminded her of huge books being slammed shut. Joe was in the side yard and still in trouble. Sissy raced to the side yard faster than Wonder Woman could and there on the ground she saw the most terrible sight! Tom Butler was straddling Joe, had his arms pinned down uselessly with his knees and pummeled Joe on the side of his face and upper chest with the fury of a dragon. Instantly, Sissy felt a tingling growing inside of her. It was electric and grew from her heart all through her body—filling her up with—-could it possibly be the courage her dad was always talking about. Sissy wasn’t sure, but she was certain she had to save Joe from that villain, Tom Butler. No one was going to hurt her big brother when she was around! No one!
She first tried to push Tom Butler off Joe, but she had that banana in her hand, so she couldn’t push very hard. She tried yelling at the bully, so loud her throat felt hot, but it was like he couldn’t hear her. She tried kicking him in the butt, but Tom Butler’s butt was padded with fat and covered with blue jeans, so he couldn’t feel a thing.
Sissy felt about as powerful as a baby bird still stuck in its nest. She was stuck too. And then, for some mysterious reason, Sissy looked at the banana in her right hand. Afterward, she couldn’t tell anyone how the idea popped into her mind. In an instant it was just there. That tingling, electricity she’d felt turned into lightning bolts and nanoseconds later, she felt her hand smushing that banana as hard as she could into Tom Butler’s right ear. With each turn of the banana, Sissy’s power grew. She felt a snarl forming on her face, and suddenly Tom Butler stop punching Joe. Sissy had a brief moment to feel like the King of the Hill and then Tom Butler hopped of Joe quick as Flash Gordon and was standing, legs apart, fists clenched, leering at Sissy. She froze—-helpless, at the mercy of a bully. She had stood her ground. Now what? She felt like someone had turned off the switch to the electricity that had enveloped her a moment ago. Sissy looked at Tom Butler and gulped, readying herself for whatever was next. She felt her brother move beside. Just his warmth calmed her somewhat, but not enough. What would the big bully do to them now?! During those horrifying minutes Sissy’s stomach turned into the now mushy banana she was holding.
But Sissy did have another secret power—-one she had overlooked, but Tom Butler, maybe her brother, had not. Sissy was a girl! It was a unwritten, but never broken law in their neighborhood that no boy could ever hit or harm a girl, at least not like Tom Butler had been doing to her brother. Instead he stood, looking like the Incredible Hulk, and glared at Sissy. Stopped in time. Finally, Tom Butler shrugged his shoulders, said something like, “Dang!” turned and trod off back toward his house.
Sissy and Joe were safe! She felt her big brother put his arm around her shoulder and squeeze. Power, pride surged through Sissy. She had saved her hero—her big brother. Smiling she looked down at her right hand and looked at the fruit still clutched there, “Want some banana?” she asked Joe. Though they knew that Tom Butler would return someday, neither one of them could stop their laughter.