Two young boys, up to their thighs in the summer wheat, stare at each other. One stands limp with his jeans sagging around his ankles. The other squints into the sun. I lie flat on my back, so as not to be seen, and listen for their voices over the summer itch of rattlesnakes and horseflies. Above me the sky is pure and blue as unspilled blood. One speaks.
“Put your hand on it.”
More an order than a dare. Seconds of silence and then laughter from the boy that spoke, nasal barks of it like goose calls. “Come here.” he says to his friend, or victim; both relationships transitory. I hear his shoes drag through the wheat just feet in front of me. “Come here,” he says again, softer now, and I wonder who he’s addressing and consider he might have seen me. They’re only boys but it’s a precaution of mine to face any aggressor on my feet. Survival and gambling coexist most brightly in these decisions. I rise.
He hasn’t seen me. His back is near enough to spit at. The other boy is five yards further still and rubbernecks as I stand, his dick held tight in a meaty little fist.
The laughing boy repeats himself again, he’s maybe a span taller than his friend and his clothes are armoured in muck. I can smell his sweat and my tongue feels out the corners of my mouth with the promise of its taste. He’s a trick baby waiting for his juvenile hall ticket: he’s not going to be mourned or missed and is too busy laughing to hear me sidle up behind him.
I hit him with a rock. He stops laughing but doesn’t fall down so I hit him with it again. Thick bone, the skull, it’s less like cracking an egg and nearer digging through wood. Again, and blood is into the air like sparks. The no-longer laughing boy calmly slides to the ground. I’m excited and about me is the noise of flies and the brilliance of the sun, alone in the sky and filling it.
The smaller boy, who I expected I would chase, stays still, and cups his dick with both hands. His eyes have spots of the laughing boy’s blood on them but he doesn’t blink. Horseflies dance around his thighs. He’s silent. I suspect he might be frozen in fear, but then he sniffs and looks from me to his dead friend, giving his balls a lazy tug. He isn’t overtly perturbed.
“Pull up your trousers.” I tell him.
He does so. I don’t eat while faced with genitalia. The boy still stands there, hands now inside his pants. His face is almost vacant. It occurs to me that he may be deficient, and this realisation stumbles out of my mouth.
“You’re a retard.”
The boy smiles at the familiar word. It may have passed into such common usage about his person that it was adopted as his name. He tentatively removes one hand from his pants and places it inside his mouth. I ate a retard once, in Wisconsin, she tasted like dog food.
Flies gambol about the laughing boy’s wound. His hair is greasy now with blood and I’m forced to peel a rubbery scab from it to get at his brain. This I offer it to Retard but he’s mute and seemingly content to suck the dew from his fingers.
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Nella Larsen Crossroads:
by Kennita Ballard
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