Mom heard the crying a couple seconds before Leigh came running in through the backdoor. She was heading straight for the stairs to her room but came to a complete stop before she was across the kitchen after mom intercepted her with a sharp “Hey!”
Leigh turned and faced her.
“What’s going on?” Mom asked and then tried to decipher Leigh’s explanation through her sobs. Something about the park across the street and two boys taking her new foursquare ball away from her and not giving it back.
Mom felt the hair on her arms stand up in anger.
“Where’s the ball now?”
“They have it!” Leigh yelled and another wave of tears came.
In a moment mom was standing up and looking around the kitchen. For anything that could serve as a weapon. She grabbed the umbrella hanging off the doorknob with one hand and took Leigh’s hand with the other. “Come on!” she yelled and together they marched out into the sunny afternoon, around the side of the house and down the driveway to the sidewalk where they stopped while mom scanned the park’s grounds across the street looking for two assholes with a kid’s foursquare ball. Nothing.
“Do you see them?” Before Leigh could finish shaking her head they were moving again across the street and in the direction of the basketball courts and the large cinderblock wall behind them, the other side of which was the community pool, but this side made for a great handball court. And there they were.
“Is that them?”
Leigh whimpered a yes and mom looked them over as they talked to each other. The taller one had the reddish pink ball tucked under his arm and was laughing and as her fury boiled up mom wished she’d grabbed the gun instead of the umbrella to do the world a favor and get rid of two two cowardly fucks who looked to be twice Leigh’s age and apparently had nothing better to do than frighten a little girl and take her ball. She turned her attention back to her daughter.
“Here’s what we’re going to do.”
Leigh looked up at her.
“I’m going to wait here while you go over to them and ask for the ball back.”
Leigh whimpered out a no.
“I’ll be close by but I need you to go ask for the ball back.”
“But I’m scared, mommy!”
“I know you are sweetie, and I’m gonna be real close by to help if they don’t give it back.”
“But –!” Mom cut her off.
“Leigh listen to me. If you don’t want it back fine. We’ll leave and that’ll be the end of it.”
Leigh was quiet, eyes wide.
“But that is your ball. Yours. Those punks had no right to take it from you, and I think you do want it back. But if you do, you have to go get it.”
Leigh sniffed. Mom was expecting a stronger sales pitch was needed and instead was surprised when Leigh looked from her to where the two boys were standing, still leaning against the wall and oblivious of what was going down — at least for the moment — and set off toward them with purposeful strides directly across the basketball court, interrupting the half court three-on-three game in progress.
One of the players called out “Little girl coming through!” and the rest laughed as they made way for her, but Leigh was focused on her objective, and in a couple more steps her objective was focused on her.
Mom stood up and moved in the general direction of the baseball field, flanking them as the two punks pushed off the wall and started nonchalantly strolling toward Leigh.
“What are you doing back?” the shorter one without the ball asked. Leigh didn’t answer until she stepped off the grass that ringed the basketball courts and planted both feet on the dirt pathway as if hitting a mark on a stage.
“I want my ball back.”
“Oh yeah?” said the taller one while spinning it on the tip of his left index finger. Mom was now far enough along the first-first base side of the ballfield that she could see her daughter’s eyes. Before she could silently implore Leigh to look in her direction, she did. “Good girl,” mom said quietly and winked before crossing over to the wall closer and moving in behind them.
Leigh turned back to the tall one. “It’s mine. Give it back!” Leigh commanded, and the two bullies just looked at each other and laughed.
“Guess you’ll just have to… take it back!” The tall one said, tossing it over to his buddy, who bounced it on the dirt, the ball making that hollow ping sound unique to foursquare balls.
And with that Leigh’s resolve dissolved and mom saw her courageous little girl’s eyes brim with tears and her lower lip quiver, and that was more than enough. With several quick steps mom rushed the tall one from behind and yelled “Give the girl her ball back!” as she swung the umbrella as hard as she could. Aiming for his head she instead came in full contact with his shoulder. In far more surprise than pain the boy stumbled, hunching over just in time to get another whack straight down on his back, which dropped him to his knees in a classic duck-and-cover position where he stayed while his partner dropped the ball and ran.
After several more swings that landed from his back to his butt the umbrella basically disintegrated and mom stopped to look up and see the rest of the world had, too. The basketball players all stood gape-mouthed and staring and so was Leigh.
Breathlessly she told her daughter to go pick up her ball and when Leigh did, the bully tried to crawl away.
“Don’t you move you motherfucking goddam coward!” she snarled, tossing the wrecked remains of the umbrella on top of him. “That little girl coming back up to you to get her ball back is braver than you’ll ever be. Kicking dirt at him she added, “How dare you steal from her and frighten her like that!”
Loud enough for mom to hear a basketballer in the background said “Damn! Bitch’s pissed!” Another said “Righteous!”
“Damn straight, I’m a righteous bitch and I’m pissed!” she said to the world at large before returning her attention to the punk on the ground in front of her. “Now listen to me, worm. You will fucking stay there in the dirt like the chickenshit pig you are until my daughter and I are out of the park.”
Now it was the boy’s turn to start crying.
“And listen to this next part really carefully,” mom said. “After we’re gone you will leave and never come back here, because you’ve worn out your welcome . Big time. Do you understand me?”
The boy’s entire body shook, and she got in real close right next to his head so only he could hear her the venom in her whisper.
“Just in case you don’t, understand this. You’ve fucked with the only thing I care about in this world. I was half a mind to come here with a gun and shoot the both of you dead for doing what you did, but instead I opted for an umbrella. Lucky you. But should I see either of you in this park again or anywhere near my daughter, I vow to you I will not be so indecisive then.” Mom cleared her throat and leaned back. “Are we clear?”
Mom saw the kid’s head move but she couldn’t tell if it was a voluntary nod or convulsions. Either way she was sure he got the point and shoved the kid one final time while standing up and dusting herself off. Turning to Leigh she asked “You OK, kiddo?”
Leigh wasn’t but nodded anyway, holding the ball.
“Ready to go?”
Leigh nodded harder.
“OK then,” and mom reached out her hand, which Leigh took, and together they walked through the players back across the basketball court.
“I’m so proud of you, sweetie.”
“Me too, mommy.”