By Michelle M. Leslie
The remnants of smoke and ash still lingered in the air two days after the fire. The whole place had been gutted leaving nothing but some pieces of melted steel and crumbling concrete blocks. Soon the demolition team would come to knock down what was left of the walls and haul away the rubble until there was nothing left to remember of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School. Witness reported seeing two boys running from the building. Twenty minutes later the entire structure was engulfed in a ball of orange and red flames. Was it arson? A schoolboy's prank? Or was it just carelessness?
As Mike Logan stood across the street from where his old school used to stand he remembered how much he hated that place and everything it stood for. His mother had to force him and his sister to go to school every morning, saying it was "good for their souls," but they knew the real reason she sent them there was because she felt guilty. Guilty for the way she treated them and guilty because she wasn't the good Catholic woman everyone perceived her to be.
He and his sister, Kathleen, would walk to school every morning dreading the thought of having to spend another day in that prison.
Dreading the thought of not knowing the answer to a question and having their knuckles whacked with a ruler. Dreading having to wear their school uniforms because it made them a target for the boys that went to the public school right up the street.
Behind the school, in the alleyway that separated it from the warehouse district is where Mike had his first real fight. He remembered it vividly like it happened only yesterday.
A group of boys had harassed him and Kathleen as they walked home one afternoon, taunting them and calling them "goody-goodies" and laughing at their clothes. Mike decided he had had enough and challenged on of the boys to a fight. His name was Joseph Swinski, but all the kids in the neighborhood called him "Bulldog." He had a big round face with chubby, little cheeks that sagged, pulling the corners of his mouth down into a permanent frown. He had a red, hot temper and fiery red hair to match, and when he got mad he made a growling sound through his gritted teeth.
Kathleen, who was only seven and three years younger than Mike, cried and pleaded with him not to fight, fearing that he would surely be killed. But Mike, who had learned at an early age to stand up for himself and never back down, told her to go home if all she was going to do was cry. But she wouldn't leave her big brother's side. She had to stay with him no matter what happened. They had to stick together.
As the two boys entered the alley, a crowd of children gathered around to watch. They all stood in silence, eyes open wide in anticipation not wanting to miss one minute of action as Mike Logan, the skinny, little kid from 9th Street, was about to take on the Bulldog of New York City.
Fists flew in blind fury, knuckles pounding flesh and bone so hard that the crowd of onlookers heard as Mike's fist made contact with Bulldog's nose, breaking it and sending blood gushing from his nostrils. Bulldog doubled over and cried out in pain, cupping his hands over his nose, the blood flowing so hard it leaked through his fingers and over his hands.
Adrenaline took over Mike's body and even though he saw the blood pouring from Bulldog's nose and knew that he had won he couldn't stop pummeling him with his fists. His little body was so consumed by anger and hatred that he wanted to hurt him, and hurt him bad. He imagined his mother lying on the pavement, her arms thrown up over her face to protect herself as he, for once, had the upper hand and she was the one in fear for her life. He imagined Father Krolinski, the parish Priest who molested him. He wanted to kill him because of his betrayal. His fists were flying so fast and furiously that he didn't even notice that a hand had come to rest on his shoulder or that the crowd of kids had stopped cheering and grown silent. It wasn't until the hand gripped his shoulder and pulled him reluctantly away from Bulldog's crumpled form that he finally realized someone was behind him. He slowly turned and looked into the face of his father.
His father didn't say a word, just placed his hand on Mike's back, took Kathleen by the hand and led them out of the alley. They walked home in silence with Mike wondering the whole way when his father was going to yell at him, scold him or lecture him about the evils of fighting. But it never came. When they reached home their father instructed them to change out of their school clothes. He took care of Mike's bloodied shirt, knowing that if his wife had seen it there would be hell to pay for everyone in the Logan household. Mike and Kathleen's mother was very strict. She did not tolerate her children acting like hooligans and certainly would not condone her son being involved in a fistfight. If she had found out she would kill him for sure.
But she never found out. His father replaced the bloodied white oxford with a new one and no one ever spoke of the fight. Not even Bulldog, who eventually became one of Mike's best friends.
As Mike walked away from the scene he chuckled to himself, wondering how many other secrets they had all kept from his mother and how she would turn over in her grave if she knew that her son had taken on the toughest kid on the block and won.