Written By: Bruce Kalish
And there I was, a full-grown man, hiding in the bathroom stall at TGIF Bar and Grill. I sat perched on the black plastic toilet seat like a gargoyle on a castle wall. I immediately flashed back to fourth grade when Bobby Jenkins, the overgrown bully of Westwood Elementary School, decided he wanted my Linda Mills. The same blonde Linda Mills I had vigilantly pursued since kindergarten. But instead of fighting for Linda, I hid in the school bathroom, perched on a broken wooden toilet seat so someone walking in would think it empty. But as my luck has always gone, the bathroom door swung open and not only did Bobby Jenkins enter the bathroom, but so did the rest of my fourth grade class.
“Are you in here, Kyle chicken Benson?” bellowed Bobby.
Probably saying nothing would have been the smart thing to do. But I was ten, scared out of my mind and as my Dad would say, “not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.” Every cell in my body knew to stay silent, accept for those few cells that apparently make up what there is of my brain. “No,” blurted out of my mouth.
Bobby’s two massive hands grabbed my perched feet and yanked me out, under the stall door, like a wet mop sliding across the black and white tiled floor. Bobby lifted me by the collar and pressed me up against the wall.
“Hit him! Hit him!” chanted my friends, classmates and I think the janitor, Mr. Hardy.
Then I remember a stinging on my face and the oddly comforting feel of the cold black, white and now red tile floor. I crawled back to my feet, ignoring the cries of “Stay down” and “Play dead” which echoed in the cavernous bathroom from the surrounding crowd.
Perhaps the beating would have continued if the blood spurting from my lip hadn’t sprayed my attacker and the crowd. Only then did janitor Hardy realize it would be up to him to clean up, so he finally stepped in.
“She’s yours,” I managed to utter from my blood-dripping lips.
Despite the fact that Linda played flute next to my trombone in the school band, I never spoke or looked at her again. And if you’re wondering what ever happened to Bobby and Linda… They married, had three kids; he owns a chain of yogurt shops and I hear they’re very happy. I was glad I could help.
It must’ve been the distant music pounding from the bar, growing louder as someone entered the bathroom, that brought me back to my current but familiar situation. I heard footsteps approaching. And despite all the open stalls in this bathroom, the footsteps stopped at my door. I saw two large boots that must’ve been a size 14 come to a stop under my stall door. After what seemed to be an eternity, my stall door rattled. My heart pounded like a Ginger Baker drum solo in the middle of Blind Faith’s “Do What You Like.”
“Go away. I’m not feeling good,” I managed to squeak out of my lips.
My nemesis didn’t waste any time with his reply. “I’m not going away,” he said. “Shelby used to be my girl and she’s gonna be again. I’ll be waiting for you in the bar. You’ve got to come out sometime.”
The boots turned away, took a few steps, then stopped. “And it’s, I’m not feeling well, not good.”
“Great,” I thought, “I was being hunted down by a size 14-booted ex-boyfriend who is apparently also an English teacher.”
I could hear the bathroom door close. I waited a beat then lowered my feet to the ground and opened the stall. The bathroom was empty except for me and the me in the mirror, which I had a hard time looking at. Perhaps Shelby’s ex-boyfriend, who wanted to destroy me because I was her current boyfriend, was wrong. Maybe I didn’t have to come out sometime. Maybe I could live in the bathroom. It’s clean, I could order food from the bar, there’s no rent and it is a bathroom after all, so all my needs would be taken care of. As my breathing returned to normal, I decided to be brave and look in the mirror. I was expecting to see the eyes and heart of the fourth grade Kyle who apparently has never recovered. But what I saw astounded me. I hadn’t been hit yet, so clearly I wasn’t unconscious and dreaming. There was a man standing behind me.
“Hello. Do I know you?” I inquired.
“I don’t reckon. Unless you been to Tennessee or maybe San ‘tonio,” he uttered in a Southern accent with the tone of a man who was sure of himself.
I turned around and looked him up and down. He was tall, wiry muscled, dressed from shoulders to toe in a weathered deerskin suit and wore a tilted coonskin hat on his head. He carried a frontier antique rifle.
“No, I’ve never been to either of those places,” I admitted. “But I like your hat. I saw a picture of my father when he was a kid and he had a hat just like yours. He called it his Davy Crockett hat.”
“Well, tell your father I’m honored and…”
“You’re Davy Crockett,” I stammered. A broad smile crossed the stranger’s face.
“I am Davy Crockett; fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle; can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning and slip without a scratch down a honey locust.” Davy grinned ear to ear. “The story is sumptin’ they said I said, but I didn’t. But I thought I’d try it out. You like it?”
I nodded. “I love it. And if you did say sumptin’, I mean, something like that, I’d believe it. I’m Kyle. Kyle Benson.” My heart raced. This was my father’s boyhood hero. I knew about him from movies and books but my dad idolized him.
“Nice place you got here,” Davy said as he looked around the bathroom. “’Bout the size of the log cabin in Tennessee I was born in.”
My excitement about meeting Davy quickly turned to a feeling of shame as I knew the truth would soon come out. “It’s not my house. I don’t live here. It’s a bathroom.”
Davy opened a door to a stall. “Oh. I get it. It’s an indoor outhouse. What will they think of next? I’ll go and let you do your doing.”
“No. No, it’s okay. I’m not here to go to the bathroom. I’m here…” I might as well say it now and get it over with. “I’m hiding.” I was waiting to feel the shame Davy’s look would riddle my body with… but it never came.
He just smiled and grinned. “What fer?”
“Well, there’s a guy in the bar…” I barely got that much out of my mouth when Davy’s eyes lit up and he raised his rifle.
“There’s a guy with a ‘bar’?” You know I killed my first grizzly ‘bar’ when I
was three.” He looked at me for a moment then added, “Well, maybe I was eight or 12, but the story sounds much better at three.”
I had to nod agreement. “I won’t say a word. And it’s not a bar, it’s a guy in a bar. And he wants to kill me.”
Davy nodded knowingly. “You stole his horse?”
“No,” I pleaded. “He thinks I stole his girl. But I didn’t. Shelby was single when I met her. They had gone out a couple of years ago but she left him. I didn’t even know he existed until he found out about us and hunted me down here.”
Davy scratched his head. “I was engaged to a girl once named Margaret Elder. We were contracted to get married but she backed out ‘cuz she loved someone else.”
“Did you hunt him down and fight him?” I wondered.
“Naw. No point in wasting a good fight. I figgered if she loved someone else, I’d be a lot happier without her. Maybe if your Shelby loves this guy she’d be happier, too.”
“But she doesn’t love this guy. She loves me. He just wants to fight me and I’m…” I didn’t have to say it.
Davy did. “You’re yella.”
I nodded. “Ever since fourth grade.”
Davy looked me square in the eyes. “In 1834 I was in Tennessee, a congressman and up for re-election. I told the people voting that if they didn’t re-elect me they could all go to hell, and I would go to Texas. They didn’t, and I went to Texas. I found myself in San Antonio at a little mission called the Alamo.”
I was so excited. “I know all about the Alamo. That’s where you…”
“Yep,” he cut me off. “But sumtimes in a man’s life he’s got to stand up and do somethin’ he’s afraid of doing. Even if he knows the result may not be good. I could have left all those people fightin’ for their independence and saved my arse. And I could have gone and hid from everyone…everyone but me. And I just couldn’t live with that. So I stayed and fought.”
A loud knock interrupted our conversation.
It was Shelby. “Can I come in?”
“No,” I shouted back at her.
“Okay,” she agreed. “But Derek’s really mad and I’ve told him to leave, but he won’t. Please stay in there. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
I turned to Davy. “I don’t want to lose Shelby.”
Davy responded. “If you stay in here you’ll lose more than Shelby. You’ll lose you. Your choice, pardner.”
He said it so matter-of-factly, I couldn’t argue with him. “You’re right. I’m going out there.” I looked at Davy, looked in the mirror and started to walk out. I turned back to Davy. “Can I borrow your rifle?”
“Does he have a rifle?” asked Davy. I shook my head no.
Davy’s wise old eyes almost burned a hole through me. He was about to say something I knew would be important. I was kinda hoping he’d talk me out of leaving the bathroom.
“Kyle, remember the Alamo,” was all he said.
“Davy, I’m just hoping to remember Kyle.” I took one last look at Davy, then opened the door to the bar and headed to my fate. It could have been a minute, five or 30. It all seemed a blur, but I was back in the bathroom, holding my bloodied nose. I looked up and saw Davy.
He smiled. “You don’t look too bad. How’s the other guy?”
“He went to the hospital,” I told him. “I think he broke his hand on my nose.”
Davy waited a beat, then asked, “And Shelby?”
The door to the bathroom burst open and Shelby rushed in. “Kyle, are you all right?”
I wiped away some blood with a wet towel, and looked up at Shelby. “I’ll live. I just don’t want to lose you.”
I don’t know if was the sight of my blood, my broken down look, or the fact that I had decided to stand and fight for her, but at that moment, Shelby acted like, well, a frontier woman in heat.
She dragged me into a nearby stall, and started to unbutton my shirt. Before she could shut the stall door, I managed to smile at Davy, who gave me a wink, as he left the bathroom.
Then, with an abandon I’ve seldom heard, but hope to hear regularly, Shelby let loose a scream of passion. “Lose me, Kyle, lose me!”
At that moment, not unlike Davy Crockett, I was king of the wild frontier.