Posts Tagged ‘John T. Biggs’


   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.

 


Birthday Boy

Mom counts the candles on my cake one last time.

“Thirteen,” she says. “Little Robbie is growing up.”

My friends pretend they don’t notice the clear lacquer on my perfectly trimmed nails. Nobody wants to see my Da freak out. He’s tough as a polyester leisure suit, but sensitive. Doesn’t like it when I call him Da because, “It sounds too queer, Robbie.”

And I already sound too queer for Da.

Eddie Sanchez says, “Blow out the candles dude.”

He’s is one of my Mexican friends. There are lots of those at the party, because we live in a transitional neighborhood. A little bit of everything: Da’s kind of black. Mom is Mexican and LBJ. That’s a little bit Jewish.

Eddie calls me‘Swish’ when Mom and Da can’t hear him. They think he is my best friend, and I guess he is—even though he hates me.

“Yes, blow them out, Robbie.” Mom takes my hand and leads me to the ‘seat of honor’ where the birthday boy sits once a year and celebrates a day his father wishes never happened.

Later on I’ll open presents. Sports equipment I don’t want, butch clothing that makes me look even more girlie-gay.

“Take a big breath, Robby.” Mom holds her hands together like a little girl who doesn’t know whether to clap or pray. Sometimes I do that too.

“Don’t tell anyone your wish,” Mom says.

I take the deepest breath.

I blow out all thirteen flames.

I wish I was a girl.

***

I figured that out this morning when I was all alone.

When I tried on one of Mom’s dresses for the first time ever. We’re exactly the same size. Exactly the same coloring too; I used her make up; I put on one of her wigs. I swished around the living room in her three-inch heels, pretending I had hips, pretending I had all the girl things, including lots of boys. I sang I Was Born This Way, and I knew for sure what Da suspected for a long, long time.

I didn’t hide when the doorbell rang. Da was at work, and Mom was shopping, so I walked into the living room like a runway model and looked through the peephole to see if it was anyone who mattered.

A Jehovah’s Witness boy missionary stood on my front porch waiting to tell me the good news. Maybe eighteen years old. Dimples and good posture.

I swung the door open, looked left and right really fast.

“Don’t you guys usually travel in pairs?” I gestured like the blond girl does on Wheel of Fortune, only instead of pointing at letters, I pointed at my living room.

“Come in.”

He started a speech he knew he’d never get to finish.

“We . . . uh, I . . . are visiting families on your block and we . . .”

“Yeah, you guys usually travel in pairs.” Another sweeping gesture, this time with a tiny high heel bobble.

He stepped inside, bobbling as much as me. Nervous.

It’s so much fun to be a girl—for the first ten minutes anyway.

“What’s your name?”I gave him a gentle shove toward the sofa, where we could sit together and he could tell me about Jesus while I drove him crazy.

“Jonathan.”

“Mine’s Rebecca.”Made up on the spot.

I let my hand rest on his leg. Close to the knee, nothing scandalous, except that he was a religious boy falling for another boy in a dress. He stopped breathing for a while and then made up for it so fast he almost fainted.

“Have you ever wondered if the world could be free of sin?” He talked fast; I was so cute he couldn’t stop himself.

I scooted, close enough to make him tremble. Breathed warm, toothpaste flavored air into his ear. Kissed him on the cheek.

“Well . . . There’s a Bible verse I’m supposed to read, but I can’t remember it.”

He looked like an asthma attack getting ready to happen. One noisy breath, then two, then:“Gottogorightnow!”

He speed-walked to the front door. No time for a parting prayer. Stopped after it was open. Stared at me. Frozen on the spot.

I gave him a finger wave. “Come back any time.”

He gave me a goofy grin. Then walked away backwards.

***

I force myself to smile at the soccer ball Da gave me while my so-called friends eat cake.

They sing Happy Birthday, ready to get this party finished; they all know something’s coming and they don’t want to be the first to notice.

Even I don’t know what’s coming, until the doorbell rings.

“I’ll get it.”Because everyone feels happier when I’m not in the room.

I open the door without looking through the peephole, protected by my boy disguise.

Jonathan says,“Hello.” Calm now, because he sees the unreal me.

“Is Rebecca here? I met her earlier today, and I really want to see her again.”

“Oh.” Now I’m the boy who can’t remember how to talk.

“She isn’t here right now, but she’ll be back.” I consult Rebecca silently.

“Tomorrow, I say.“Around four p.m.” After school. Before Mom and Da get home from work.

I hear Mom walking my way. Sounds made by the shoes I wore earlier today.

“Robbie, invite your friend in for cake.”

“Sorry mam.”Jonathan gives his watch a thoughtful look. “Got to go right now.”

“He just dropped by to say happy birthday,” I tell Mom, and Jonathan can’t object because he’s already gone.

“He seems nice,”Mom says.

“Very nice,” I tell her. A girl couldn’t ask for a nicer birthday wish.