Our Own Iwo
Our Own Iwo
Henry is sitting on the floor up near the front with the other little kids with his legs crossed. Most of them are talking and poking each other. They’re excited about seeing another war movie. Henry’s elbows are on his knees and his hands are propping up his face.
Mr. Rapaport in front is trying to pull up the white screen out of its tube to hook it on the pole he’s already pulled up. The screen is on a spring and it’s flopped out of his hand twice and whirred back down and smacked on the tube. The first time the 6th graders behind me laughed, which made it okay for all of us kids to laugh. That got a Rap-glare, which probably meant double calisthenics tomorrow in phys. ed. class. The next time the screen smacked down there was only one laugh from the row behind me. It sounded like Kirk.
The third time, Mr. Rap got it hooked. Someone behind me clapped, probably Kirk, which got everyone clapping, even Mr. Livesey sitting in the middle of the big room at the projector. Mr. Rap stared up at the top of the screen like daring it to jump off the hook. It didn’t, and he walked out into the hall, slamming the door.
All the kids were on the floor as usual in grade rows. We could have brought our dining room chairs across the hall, but Dr. Israel or the teachers or someone probably thought that would cause some kind of a problem. None of the lady teachers are there. Maybe because it’s another war movie and they don’t like blood and guts.
“All right, then,” says Mr. Livesey, “Lights, camera, action.” Victor Rosen, Mr. L’s favorite student because he always has the right answers in class, jumps up and flips off the ceiling lights. Mr. L turns the knob on the side of the projector and clack, clack-clack, clackclackclack, the camera light flickers on the white screen, hazy numbers count down, Mr. L gets it in focus by “3”, which disappears, and the chicken appears. Then “Pathe News” dresses it and it crows like, “It’s about time, I was chilly.” Every time we watch the newsreel I imagine that, I don’t know why.
Mr. L turns it off, the room goes dark, and he starts teaching. He can’t help himself. He tells about Iwo Jima before it got famous because of the flag thing, et cetera. I know about et cetera because Father liked to use it a lot, probably still does. Mr. L talks about how rotten the Japs were, worse than the Germans, except for the concentration camps if you were Jewish or a gypsy. He stops there, probably remembering that about ninety percent of everyone at Hudson School is Jewish, and whatever he tries to say to make it better won’t make it even okay, probably worse. So he says, “Right, on with the show,” turns the knob, the projector light comes on, and the thing rattles up again.
It’s pretty gory, the good American SeaBees are just trying to land on the beach with their huge equipment so they can build roads and things while the Japs shoot at them and lob mortars from the hills and the palm trees, Yanks dying and John Wayne yelling orders and being a hero and not dying even though he’s a big target.
Some of the little kids up front start crying. I think it’s because so many SeaBee GIs are getting shot and blown up and it looks like the skinny Japs with bad teeth are winning, even though we beat them in the war because we had The Bomb.
But the little kids are also yelling “Ouch!” And the bigger guys behind me are laughing. I turn around. Kirk is handing out marbles. And he’s throwing them. Hard.
I hear, “Hey, stop!” It sounds like Henry. The ceiling lights go on. Henry is holding the back of his head. Mr. Rap is back in the room, glaring. I get up on my knees and turn around. Kirk has a bunch of marbles in one hand and his arm is back to throw one. I crawl over Chaz Rosewall and punch Kirk in the face. It’s the first time I’ve ever hit anyone. It feels good.
* * * * *
Clackclack, clack-clack, clack, clack, Mr. Livesey had turned off the projector and everybody was watching Jacob and Kirk smash each other and roll around on the floor. Jacob was pounding and kneeing and kicking Kirk. Kirk was trying to stop him but not doing a good job.
Mr. Rapaport finally got to them and yanked Jacob into the air off Kirk, who tried to punch him as Jacob was being lifted. Jacob gave Kirk a last kick. All the kids were quiet, just watching. Mr. Rap was holding up Jacob but didn’t seem to know what to do with him. He yelled, “Open the goddam door.” Someone opened the door near the back of the room. Mr. Rap threw Jacob out into the hall. He slid and banged into the dining hall door. It rattled and broke open. Henry saw through a window Jacob still on the floor with blood on his mouth and cheek and above an eye. He still looked angry and was trying to stand up. Henry hoped when he got bigger that he could fight like Jacob.
Mr. Rap tried to pick up Kirk and toss him, too, but Kirk was too big. Mr. Rap got Kirk to his feet and pushed him out into the hall. It looked like Jacob and Kirk were going to start fighting again the way they were staring at each other.
Someone down the hall yelled, “Stop! Stop your fighting! Desist!” Desist was a new word on me. I pushed through the crowd of little kids at the front door of the room. It was Dr. Israel yelling. He was in a robe and pajamas and fuzzy slippers, and he was running up the hall, but not very fast, because he was slipping in his slippers. His face was red and his hair was messed up.
He stopped and looked at Jacob and Kirk, back and forth, like he didn’t know what to say. He looked at Mr. Rapoport, who didn’t know what to say. He looked at Mr. Livesey, who didn’t know what to say. Father wouldn’t have any trouble finding something. Mother, either. Finally, Dr. Israel said, but not loud, “You two are more trouble than you’re worth.” Henry figured Dr. Israel or someone should ask who started it. Who threw the marbles. Kids were crowded in the two doorways to the movie room, some halfway out into the hall. Nobody said anything.
Henry shoved a couple of kids in front of him out of the way. He was out in the hall now. The three grown-ups looked down at him. Probably all the kids were looking at him. Back down the hall the lady teachers were on the stairs in their robes, watching. Henry said, “I g-g-got h-h-h-h.” He started again. “H-h-h-h. I got a-a-a hit with a mar, a mar, a mar.” He took a big breath. “-arrrrble. Look. It’s a big lump now. It really hurts where I g-g-got hit. He c-c-c-ould’ve put my eye out,” something Mother would say. “It’s not fair.”
Mr. Rap was holding Jacob by the back of his messed up dinner jacket with one hand and Kirk the same way with the other. Mr. Rap watched me trying to speak, like he could help me push the words out. Jacob made a fist and reached across Mr. Rap and punched Kirk in the nose. A whole lot of blood started pouring out.