The Idabel City Line
Arthur Kirby had something really cool to show me.
“Sumpin’ you gotta see, Jimmy. Sumpin’ most boys don’t learn until they’re older,” but he wouldn’t tell me anymore until I followed him past the Idabel city line all the way into his daddy’s broken down barn.
I thought he might have a brand new BB gun, or an arrowhead from back when our part of Oklahoma was Indian Territory, or maybe one of the hundred cats in his barn had birthed a two-headed kitten.
He wouldn’t say anymore until we got where it was safe. “Where nobody can find out who ain’t supposed to know.” Because this was one of those special things that grown-ups couldn’t know about like Cherry Bombs and stolen packs of cigarettes.
“Come on Jimmy.”He ran through an old stand of Christmas Trees that were too big and too full of bagworms to sell.
I couldn’t see the Idabel city line, but I felt it the second I stepped across. Things were heavier on the far side. Air was thicker—harder to breath. Shadows were thicker too.
Arthur Kirby was twelve. I was eight. I wasn’t supposed to play with him because he was too old for me and nobody in his family was any good. But there we were on the other side of the city line where every bad thing in the world was sure to happen.
That’s what my mother told me.
“Ain’t no rules on Kirby land,” she said earlier that morning. Said it loud enough for Arthur to hear as if she knew he was right outside our kitchen window. There’d be trouble if she found out I went on Kirby land, and everybody in Idabel knew what kind of trouble Mom could cause.
I watched Arthur dance through the broken down door of the broken down barn where horses used to live before his mother ran off and his daddy started drinking. It was kind of dark inside and I should have gone back home but not until I saw what Arthur had to show me.
“Sumpin’ grown-up-deluxe-special,”Arthur said. “Learned all about it from Jessup Tubby down behind the Wal-Mart.
Cats ran every which way when he pushed into the barn. They hid behind haystacks and broken tools and piles of rotten things that had been lying there since before the farm grew up in weeds.
I almost ran off too when Arthur told me, “I named my peter Oscar.”
Telling wasn’t good enough. He fiddled with his zipper and showed me the first uncircumcised one I ever saw.
“Wow!” Oscar was a lot bigger than I expected.
The door behind me was still open and I figured I could be through it in a second if it came to that. Arthur wouldn’t follow me until he got Oscar put away. That might take some doing.
“We’re gonna have a Peter fight,” He said. “Come on Jimmy time’s a wasting.”
“Peter fight?” I’d never heard of anything like that but Arthur waved Oscar around enough so I had a pretty good idea how it would go.
“Oscar’s the McCurtain County Champion.” Arthur told how Oscar whipped Jessup Tubby’s Peter in twenty seconds flat. “Pinned him against the asphalt of the Wal-Mart employee’s parking lot.”
“Jessup calls his Peter Little J,” Arthur told me. “Pretty big, but Oscar’s bigger.”
While my eyes were stuck on Oscar, Arthur put himself between me and the door.
The cats came out of hiding but they clustered in the far side of the barn where they could disappear into the shadows again if Arthur lost interest in me.
I didn’t have a watch but I looked at my wrist where I’d wear one if I did.
“Guess I ought to go,” I said. “Guess I ought to go right now before Mom figures out where I am. Guess I better go before she calls the police or something.”
I said, “Police,”a second time. Said the first part of the word louder than the second so it came out PO-lice. The way Arthur’s daddy said it when he complained about the government.
Arthur wasn’t listening. He moved in so close I could count his heartbeats in the big blue vein across Oscar’s back. I counted up to ten out loud because I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
“Come on, Jimmy,”Arthur said. He repeated those words in a high voice, barely moving his lips so maybe I’d think it was Oscar talking.
“Peter fight! Peter fight!” He squeaked as if he just took a deep breath out of a helium balloon.
“Come on out and fight. I dare you!” Like an angry Mickey Mouse.
“What’s your Peter’s name, Jimmy.” Arthur went back to his regular voice. “He’s gotta have a name if he’s gonna fight the champion.”
“Well . . .” I had to think about it for a second or two. Not much longer than that because Oscar and Arthur weren’t in a waiting mood.
“Charlene,” I told him. “My Peter’s name is Charlene.”
Now Arthur and Oscar didn’t look so anxious to fight. “Heck Jimmy, how come you had to say that?”
The barn cats ran for cover as I stepped outside and headed for the safe side of the Idabel city line.