The Wand of Youth: A Story

When Francis Majewski escorts my sister to our back porch, he bows to her like a Polish nobleman, then hobbles home on walking crutches with hard leather cuffs that circle his forearms.  Lesczyk Iwanowski, Gerald Bluebird, and I, Antek, stare at him, scratch our heads, call him “the Noble Pole.”  He’s older than us.

If we’re playing basketball, he’ll lean his crutches against the garage, plant himself at the free-throw line in the alley, and yell stupid things like “Hustle him!  Hustle him!”  When he’s not facing the basket, he can’t shoot.  Because he can’t turn without crutches, slapping the ball from him is easy, despite his strong arms.

He has weak legs, though.  They are thin as a person’s wrists and won’t bend.  He’d never let you see them.  One time, Pete Dziedzic and some bullies kidnapped him.  They paid a guy a year older to buy them beer in the county, where it’s legal to drink at eighteen.  They forced three cans of Northern down Francis.  With their own beers gone, they headed to Allouez Sauna in the neighborhood across the Left-Handed River from the East End where we live.  Francis was embarrassed they’d see his legs if he came into the sauna.  If he didn’t, they threatened to make him stumble home, drunk, on his crutches.  It was nine below zero. ...

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