The Shoretown, Texas curfew for minors began Fridays at midnight. But at 1:00 a.m., our arms cradled toilet paper and nine dozen eggs as we leapt from Nolan’s fence and darted across the wheat field toward East Dune Elementary. Only Nolan had attended East Dune, but that was years ago. He, Howdy, and I were freshman now, and after our first hometown football game, we’d stashed our band uniforms in Nolan’s room and plotted our break to April Ashleigh’s house. As a junior, cheerleader, and drum major, April Ashleigh had little use for our names. “Hi Boys,” were the scraps on which we lived. But egging her car and streaming miles of toilet tissue across her father’s crape myrtles felt vital to our hopeless adoration.
“Slow down!” Howdy whisper-shouted. At fourteen years old, he had yet to reach five feet tall.
“Hurry up!” Nolan said.
Stealthily, I passed them, quiet and quick on my feet.
We reached East Dune and tiptoed down the tin-roofed corridors. I had never left my bedroom after curfew, much less trespassed on government property. I felt grown now. Free. But when we turned the C-wing corner, the scene across the courtyard broke our stride. In a faint pool of moonlight, April Ashleigh crouched against a metal beam. Her sobs echoed off the concrete, and her t-shirt hung loose—maybe torn?—off her shoulder. A muscular figure towered above her. We recognized him even without his last name spelled across his back: Chavez. Hours earlier he’d strutted across the end zone; now he stood still and ominous. He mumbled something and reached for her. April shook her head and said, “No.”
We did not move. Then Nolan, with a courage I envied and cursed, yelled, “Leave her alone!”
They turned to us. But before either responded, a bright light flashed on our backs and voices called from the distance: “Police! Freeze!” In the glare, I saw only pistols.
As instructed, we surrendered our tissue and eggs and raised high our hands. We pointed and pleaded, insisting our friend was in trouble. A flashlight scanned the corridor, but the emptiness fashioned us liars.
Handcuffed, we slid into the patrol car, begging, to no avail, the officers find April and Chavez. Nolan fumed. Howdy sobbed. Doom swelled in my gut.
“What if he hit her?” I whispered.
“Or worse,” Nolan replied.
“What if he’s killing her right now?” Howdy cried.
The officers hushed us, and we reached the station—and our cell—in silence.
On Monday morning, we met in the band hall. As witnesses to a crime, we agreed to accompany each other everywhere. But in the foyer before the first bell, we came to face-to-face with April Ashleigh. She stopped and looked at us, but offered no “Hi, Boys.” Then she shouldered her way to the stairwell, glancing back to find us watching.
* * *
Fifteen years later, while posting pictures on Facebook, I received a message from Chavez.
“You probably don’t remember me,” he writes, followed by something about Shoretown High.
“I remember you,” I reply.
Then after a moment he types, “It wasn’t what you think.”
I am stunned. I respond: “That night has so tortured my imagination, whatever actually happened would probably disappoint me.”
“It won’t,” he assures. “I wanted to tell you then but couldn’t. Do you want to know?”
I hesitate before typing YED. In my anticipation, I have forgotten how to spell.
There is a pause, followed by the flicker of gray ellipses that indicate he is writing. Two minutes. Five. Ten. They vanish, and an endless blue box appears. I absorb it as if all at once. The words seem gigantic in their shaming of my wildest fantasies, revealing how far from adulthood Nolan, Howdy, and I had stood that night, with nothing but a prank on our minds, when in front of us worlds were crumbling.
Enjoy this video of the author reading “The Minors” at Read 360:
Photo by Paul van de Velde, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by John Mitchell Morris. This essay was first published in Read 650’s April 2018 anthology titled Back to High School: True Stories of Disses, Kisses, and Near Misses and performed at Read 650’s live event at the Ossie Davis Theater at the New Rochelle Public Library on April 29, 2018.
- Memoir Notebook: The Minors - January 9, 2020
Megan Willome says
I want more of this story.
Not that this doesn’t stand on its own, but it leaves me wanting more.
L.L. Barkat says
Megan, yes! 🙂
That’s part of the genius of the story, I think. It leaves us where Mitch was left as he was watching those gray ellipses. And, at least for me, this dynamic raised questions about the nature of curiosity—its boundaries—and also its relationship to maturity. How much do we have a right to know about the lives of others? When is curiosity something we should follow and when is it something we should acknowledge and then leave alone?
I had my theories, too, about what really had happened in the past. Maybe something as teen-heart-breaking as a breakup due to parental disapproval, but maybe something as earth-shattering as an abortion and coverup of it. Then I kept asking myself—do I need to know? And, if I know, how does it change the experience of this story for me? And, if I know, how does it change me? Also, is there some value for me staying in limbo, never knowing? (I’m really, really glad the story doesn’t reveal what happened, or these questions would not be raised as strongly as they are.)
Listening to the reading of the story was so very powerful. Mitch, I loved it all over again. Your acting background fits so securely with your writing powers. I do look forward to more writing from you in the world.
Will Willingham says
I’m with Megan. I read and reread the ending to see if I could get a clue as to what actually happened.
And then the open possibility of it all makes me want to approach other things I don’t/can’t know with the same sense of openness.
Thanks for sharing this story with us, Mitch.