No 65 - 1976
The Drought Ends From Too Much Flesh and Jabez
The presence of Jabez’ aunt, Helen Taylor, was cheery to Jim and Jabez, marred only by the expression on her face when she saw evidence of their having shared the bed. It was a look devoid of charity or a grasp of the situation, which would have had one sick person toiling up the steps to check on another person equally sick. But the look had gone by without words to compound it, or clear it. It bad lived on her face and then gone without another to replace it, followed only by blankness. Jim thought the blankness was like the expression a person wore who had not heard a thing you said because they did not want to.
‘Chills and fever go together,’ was her explanation of the sickness. ‘You were shivering this morning, Jim Cummins, when we had our talk. I started to say something then but just about that time I saw Pone drive up in the milktruck and all I could think was, ‘I’ll miss my ride if I don’t get a wiggle on.’ As far as this one’s concerned -’ she said, indicating Jabez who was sitting up in bed eating a bowl of soup, ‘He’s as prone as I don’t know what to bad colds. Mark my words, you’ll both be fine by morning. And then, young sir,’ she said, not quite playfully enough, ‘I’ll expect you to spend your nights where you’re supposed to. The terms of your employment do not include a -’ her eyes flickered, ‘- a bed.’ She faltered over Jim’s malicious grin that seemed to her like a dirty word. Making their tea, she was at first silent, smarting under the implications of the look, but her natural garrulity won out. As she washed the dishes she launched an anecdotal account of her day at the restaurant, voice raised to include Jabez who huddled, she thought, defiantly in Jim’s bed. When she had finished her work she said, ‘I suppose I’ll go up now and make our beds, Jay.’
‘I can stay here, can’t I, Jim?’
‘Why, Jay,’ Helen said, ‘a man needs his bed to himself, unless -’ and she gave Jim a coy look and shook her head, indicating that the sexual allusion should be left implicit because of Jabez’ youth. Jim had an impulse to rub his crotch meaningfully at her but withstood it. ‘Besides, if Jim Cummins rolls over on you in the night he’ll mash you into that mattress.’
‘He didn’t last night.’ Jim did not want her look and found that it took a surprising amount of strength to reject it.
He told the unseen Jabez. ‘You can stay where you are, or you can go upstairs to a clean bed. This one’s kind of sweaty now. But I don’t see it as a problem either way.’ Through his great fatigue he told Helen, ‘Beds upstairs are all made. Effie’s the kind of woman changes and washes those clean sheets every week. Hope, I guess. Guess she hopes she’ll have visitors. And now, by gum, she has. Don’t you forget to tell her, Helen, when you go to the wedding.’
‘I won’t,’ Helen said, a trifle grimly. She had forgotten that she would have to leave them alone together when she went to Effie’s sister’s wedding, and thought about the way she would phrase the information to Effie.
When Jabez had been led, grumbling, by his determined aunt to a clean bed, Jim stripped and got carefully between the sheets on his own side, avoiding contact with the warm hollow beside him as though Jabez occupied it still. But when he awoke in the night be found that he had filled the hollow with a pillow and lay upon it, embracing it, in full, painful tumescence. His attempt to conjure up an explanatory dream backfired because what he summonsed from his hot sleep was the sound of Jabez’ fevered voice saying, ‘Everybody called Billy ‘stud’ on account of his size…I’d got used to Billy and I couldn’t even feel Amos.’
He got up and found Jabez’ shirt and took from the pocket the sack of tobacco and papers. For the first time since his drinking days he rolled a butt and sat in his chair smoking. His heart started to thud when he heard the stairs creak and his cock followed the stealthy descent, rising to meet it as though each step marked the progressive opening of a place that would receive him in his impressive (no longer horrible) bigness. He got up and walked to the kitchen door and it was Helen Taylor he took into his arms in the darkness, whose hand scrabbled for and found his legendary cock and took its dimensions.
Only one man has ever been in her - man now, boy then, she reminds herself - her brother, Jabez’ father, when she was not yet in her teens. A rainy morning. He, nine years old to her twelve, has crawled into her bed to wait for the call to breakfast and snuggle as he does each morning. They snuggle and tickle each other, rolling about to get the upper hand. As usual she tickles him there, exploring her fate with a businesslike hand that to him is only playful: the little sac that she has to go easy on, and behind it the ridge, larger today, that connects back and front - these feels interspersed with under-the-arm tickles and belly-button jabs before she gets down to business. Getting down to business means that her hand settles on his bottom and then slowly retraces its old path until it comes to the appendage that is sometimes soft, sometimes firm. Today it is as hard as a bone; her fingers can feel veins. She notices then that he is lying quiet and it frightens her at first and then stirs her to know that he knows it is no longer a game. With her help he gets on top of her and they put it in.
Returning to Jim’s arms where she leans, holding Effie’s Cross in her hands - returning from the rainy morning forty years ago to the rainy night and the kitchen door against which Jim pushes her - she feels in her organs the outrages of her brother’s thing in her and the burning that had gone on for days and the shame of the blood on the sheet that she had tried to hide from her mother, who had only said, ‘You’re early. I was, too.’ In comparison, her brother had been like a needle to Jim’s - she didn’t know what - turkey baster, she thinks in triumph. She reaches for his bags, as Effie calls them, and thinks as simply as Effie had on her wedding night, though Effie had screamed it Out: ‘BULL.’
Even as Jim prepares to ram her against the wall and screw her there, he feels the rejection rising in her, hears in her breathing not desire but the familiar panic which he has learned to read more easily than any book. His cunning rescues him, working for him without his help.
‘Come on to bed.’ he says, ‘Effie. Come on, Ef,’ and something in him takes over and produces real tears of painful frustration to go with the pleading. ‘I want to, Ef. It’s been so long. Jesus, I’m hurtin. Come on, come on.
Helen Taylor’s immediate impulse is to hold on, to tell him, mimicking his wife’s voice, ‘All right, honey, but get The Thing first.’ What had Effie called the limiting device? ‘Get Short Pecker, honey.’ But she knows that to take her last chance will be to die impaled in a pool of blood and she drops the cock and with it her last chance.
‘It’s Helen, Jim,’ she says, moving away. ‘You’re walking in your sleep. I heard you get up and thought you might be sick.’ She repeats, ‘It’s Helen,’ to cover her lie, because she had planned to come down and somehow find out for herself whether or not Effie had been exaggerating. Negotiating the back stairs she had named herself, with disgust, “NIGHTCRAWLER.”
Hearing Jabez at the top of the stairs, thinking that her sneakiness is probably worse than his, because it was said he only listened, she calls up to him as angrily as she has ever spoken to anyone to get back in bed and tries to modify it with explanation, ‘Jim’s feeling sick.’
Jabez had lain awake hating his aunt with a hatred that could easily have let him murder her. He could see her hair matted with blood on the pillow and the thick gluey seepage that continued from the hatchet wound in her skull. She had tried to tuck him in, bending in a motherly parody over him in the lamplight, her dissembling old features twisted out of shape with attempted tenderness. To him she looked like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, coming in the night to test his fatness. He had given her arm a whack that he knew could leave a bruise. Until she came he had thought that this would be his wedding night. Both Jim and himself burning had seemed to him symbolical. He knew that he was lovesick, whatever Jim thought the malady, his or Jabez’, was. Their two days and one night together with only a touch here and there - Jim’s hand on his hip last night; Jim on top of him in the barn as they ‘wrestled’ - was the real cause of their fever. His effort and success in making Jim the pursuer had drained him, too. It was a lesson he had learned and learned well at the hands of Billy Taylor: there were the hunters and there was the quarry. He was a hunter but had learned to conceal it: when a hunter came after another hunter, one of them had to play a role. He had hunted Jim until Jim caught him, or so it would have been if his witchy old aunt hadn’t stuck her nose in.
When he heard his aunt creep downstairs he knew that she was going to try to get Jim for herself. Nothing ever said, no proof ever offered, could change his mind about that. He knew how women lied to themselves to cover their motivations - all of them except his poor mad sister, who had been what she was openly. All his life he had watched his mother leading his father on, then covering up her wanting with delay. Just before he left, or was thrown out, he had made them watch a one man show in which he had given a perfect imitation of his mother heating his father up and then pretending that she couldn’t go to bed just yet because she had forgotten to do something imperative like straightening the goddamned doilies, and he had sashayed around, twitching his behind luringly, watching his father over his shoulder. This had led to a terminal scene, as it turned out, that his sister, who had taught him how to act crazy, would have enjoyed.
Hearing his aunt creep-creeping down the stairs he followed, matching his footsteps to hers, and thought that if she turned around and saw him billowing in his big nightgown she would die of a heart attack and his troubles would be over. He would go down the stairs, stepping over her, and into Jim’s bed where he belonged. He had lain claim to that bed which could never again be Jim and Effie’s. It was Jim and Jabez’ now. People could call them ‘the two Js, or just ‘JJ.’ “I’m going to JJ’s tonight.”
From the top of the stairs he heard the silence and then the heavy breathing, and then Jim’s voice so close he almost bolted. In his mind he had seen his aunt crouching beside the bed, her hand snaking under the covers, rooting for Jim’s immense root. When Jim felt his ass today it had been without any stealth and Jabez could have claimed him then, but he had not wanted a wedding afternoon, for which an expression didn’t exist; he wanted what was his right, as traditional as any bride cleft in both places. That he was far from cleft in front, was a real man there, would be no hurdle at all after a few times, for from that very satisfactory equipment could spurt the evidence of his delight, a tangible gift for Jim that he would come to see as infinitely preferable to the secretive and unprovable ‘satisfaction’ that a woman had to offer or conceal. How many times had he heard his father plead, ‘Did you, honey?’ because all of his humping and groaning had not produced anything to show for it. ‘Did you?’ No question would be necessary from Jim, no answer needed to prove how effective he had been as a lover.
When morning came Jabez told his aunt, ‘I’m too sick to get up.’ She tried to look sympathetic and failed when he added, ‘’cept maybe to go to the bed downstairs.’ Sweetly she said, ‘Then I’ll be back to night to tend you and stay over.’
‘It may be too late by then.’
‘Dying, are you?’ Her face said she almost wished he would. She turned thoughtful. ‘I suppose I can take the day off.’
‘How’ll you let them know? There’s no telephone in working order anywhere on account of the storm.’
‘Pone can drive me in and I’ll tell them, and he can drive me back out.’ She sounded as though she had made up her mind. He called her bluff.
‘You’d have to go with him on the milkroute. Corinth and Providence and Middletown, all the way to Miss Effie’s.’ He smiled at her. ‘Miss Effie’s mama’s. You might get back here by four o’clock if you’re lucky.’
She exploded mildly like a wet firecracker. ‘If I’m lucky? And me willing to take the day off and miss my pay, and my tips, to look after you. Why, Jabez, I honestly didn’t know you could be so ungenerous.
Impatiently he rejected her would-be blackmail. He was not about to feel sorry, or say that he did. ‘Helen, is Jim all right?’
She told him sullenly, ‘Off to the barn. Expecting his breakfast, I daresay.’
‘Then - dear - he can look after me if I need it.’ He gave her his lopsided kid smile that had never failed to win her. ‘Look at me,’ the grin said, ‘I’m just a kid. Cranky ‘cause I’m sick, s’all.’ And the altered expression in his eyes said, ‘You re scaring me just a little with all these undertones. I’ve played for fun but now it’s gone and got too grownup for me.’ The quivering cheek and rapidly blinking eye and suddenly lost mouth - he had turned in profile and so only had to manipulate the one side - threatened to say, outloud, ‘I want my mama!’
She sighed, smoothed the counterpane. ‘Oh Jay, dear, you’re right. I’d probably get fired. I’d better go on in, honey.’ They smiled at each other, reassuringly, and she went down, closing behind her the door to his room which he promptly opened when the stairs had creaked into silence.
He expected to hear from the kitchen some admission, if only by omission, of what had gone on last night. His imagination, which did not need fever to make it overheated, and especially not in the circumstances, had supplied possible scenes last night to account for the heavy breathing that had preceded Jim’s words: I want to, come on. He had seen his aunt kneeling in front of Jim, her teeth out, sucking, something Jabez had never done. He read, though, and knew that it was a technique he would eventually have to learn to be sexually well-rounded. But it could only amount to a preliminary, ‘foreplay,’ as the sex books called it, for what satisfaction could there be in the long run for the one doing the sucking? Jabez had never sucked on a tongue, either. The boys would have killed him for suggesting it. But in his mind he had become accomplished at french kissing and saw the two things as pretty much the same: as leading up to the act of penetration, for which Oscar Wilde had been condemned. It was plain to him from his reading that Oscar had buggered Bosey, but had he ever turned over or lifted his legs for any of the ragamuffins he slummed with, had he ever taken them into the mouth that could make pearls out of common words, and made their probably dirty cocks pearly too? Jabez thought that he himself was probably cynical enough, practical enough, to forget about fastidiousness under the circumstances, as Oscar must have done. But practical consideration made him wonder about the role of teeth, and it was helpful to the progression of his fantasy, which would have got hung up there, to give his aunt removable teeth, though her own were real and handsome, her best feature by far which accounted for her nearly incessant smile.
When Jim came into the kitchen there was talk, none of it too revealing. Their constraint was that of people who did not like each other. Jim told Helen not to worry about old Jay because he would look after him as if he was his own - and he stopped. Helen murmured something he could not hear and was silent. Jabez, in a fantasy that had him peer into her brain and find the thoughts there like bacteria under a microscope, had her say, ‘As if he was your own son?’ and Jim, cleverer than she, said, ‘I reckon I was going to say kin -’ Jabez cheered his evasiveness, because husband and wife were kin, closer than relatives. His hand clawed at the sheets when he thought of Helen’s response. ‘Flesh and blood?’ and felt himself hanging by a thread as fine as a spider’s, waiting for Jim’s answer to come to him.
What Jim actually said was, ‘There’s the milktruck. You better scoot.’ Jabez breathed easily, thinking he could not have done better himself.
He went to the window and watched through the apertures of lashing tree limbs as his aunt climbed into the truck, her skirt riding up to show the way she had knotted the tops of her stockings instead of wearing her garters. Her fat knees and the dented flesh at the stocking tops gave Jabez a twinge of feeling for her as sharp as a splinter under a fingernail.
The sight was as dry and unlubricious as the smell of chair cushions where aging unmarried women had sat. Smelling the cushions when his mother’s visitors would have gone, his mother at the door saying goodby so that the cushions were just abandoned and still warm, the small boy had not found what he expected, which was a smell of bottoms or of washed or unwashed flesh. His mother’s cushion smelled both dirty and perfumed, but the other ladies had left a smell not to be compared with anything else that had an odor. All he could compare it to was a kind of expression sometimes seen in church on Mother’s Day. It was the look of old women wearing white instead of red roses, which showed that their own mothers were dead. As an older boy able to correlate impressions, he had concluded that the cushion smell was a kind of signal like the white rose, a message of bereavement left there, hopelessly, because who but small boys sniffed cushions and received the message? It would be like an animal in rut leaving in the corner of a cage, into which another animal never came, a cry for help in pee.
Jabez watched Pone swing the milkcans onto the truck and then turn as though he had been called. He saw his aunt face the house, too, and he joined her, became part of her vision, waiting for Jim to appear. ‘What did she see, to give her such an expression? A man, a big man, something denied her, something she denied. A thing feared. The pain of the thing itself could be worked like a lurid scrap into the pattern of a life; but the right of another person to use it on you, whenever he wanted to, plainly named, for some women, an unbearable condition, named them: Victim.
In the town there were girls, pretty girls, not just the dogs, who were marked for spinsters. Some of those whose cushions he had smelled had been more than pretty, had been lovely. But without knowing it they already gave off an odor that kept men away, and maybe it was the smell of somebody who would be victimized by union with another person. Jabez had stood on corners watching the parade and had picked out the girls doomed to the lonely cushion. His sense of their smell was tremendous, because he felt himself to be so opposite to girls.
But Jim, loving them, was closer to them and would be inclined to charity or a wilful ignorance, giving them the same benefit of the doubt that he would give himself. How else did he get stuck with his dry little wife, who hated his thing, and, victimized, made Jim her victim?
Jim came into view and Jabez looked at him with his own eyes, seeing beneath the baggy clothes the body that carried no excess weight. Starting with the big head of curly hair under the Rough Rider hat that Jim wore rakishly, Jabez drew the outline of his lover on the pane: the big neck with tendons too rigid, the shoulders like fields with deep hollows near the neck that could hold a quart of water each, the muscled arms that, to his aunts eyes, must represent brutality. Jabez had studied Jim’s back by lightning, tracing its deep undulations where It curved like riverbanks down to the bed of his spine, until tickled in his sleep, Jim had flopped over and presented his front for inspection, anticipating the storm such a revelation would create by his snores like mountain thunder. Jabez pushed the thought of the revelation aside and traced on down his lover’s back, to the hips and the ass as hard as granite: the center of force that scared Effie to death, for to fight it would be like fighting against the thrust of one of the knobs that surrounded the valley. When, naked, Jim stretched, cords stood out in his legs, and his bunched calves, sliding up, were like animals moving toward birth. Inside his muddy brogans were muscular feet with great toes as big as some dicks, and Jabez was not thinking about baby equipment.
And inside the outline, the raw muscles swimming in blood. Too near the surface. What muscles women had were buried in softness, safe under cushions, and their sex was protected inside, but men went around exposed, no place to hide, except in women; and to women like Effie and his aunt, a man must seem like a walking weapon, a knife without a scabbard both the cause and the wound.
The truck pulled away and Jim turned about. His first glance found Jabez at the window and a glimpse of his retreating face. Jabez saw the beginning of Jim’s grin.
How you feelin, old hoss?’
‘Nasty. Could I have a bath in the tub?’
‘Boy, I’m right glad you brought that subject up.’ Jim grinned and reached for the box of kitchen matches. ‘Got to fire up the boiler. Won’t be long. Feller like you don’t use more’n a teacup full a water.’
‘That wouldn’t clean my -’ Jabez substituted ‘ear’ for ‘ass’ as at the last minute he thought of handing the ball to Jim. He asked, ‘How are you feeling today?’ setting the strangeness of formal inquiry between them, and when Jim said, ‘Ready as a firecracker,’ and blushed, Jabez saw that the ball had been taken.
Jabez came out of the bathroom dressed and heard the crackling of wood and saw the pattern of the flames on the bedroom carpet. Jim was stretched out in his chair, his shoeless feet in rayon socks propped on the fender. He had on a broadcloth shirt and a pair of dark flannel pants. A belt of braided leather clasped against his belly a large buckle of polished brass with some kind of raised device on it. Giving it the once-over by firelight, Jabez would have settled for thinking it an ear of corn but did a doubletake when Jim said, flat and brutal, ‘My fuck belt,’ and Jabez saw that it was a cock and balls, the balls appearing to be a pair of leaves. The rigid coldness of the brass genitals frightened him. There would be no give and take with such a thing; it would withdraw with innards stuck to its tip, the way a tongue adhered to cold iron. The ridges that Jabez had mistaken for kernels of corn were warts. He retreated to his side of the fire, feeling himself, for the first time with Jim, in alien country.
Jim’s tone had no friendliness in it; it had an inner repugnance that certain inevitable words were built around, words having to do with news of death, of craziness, of dangerous operations that would have to be performed. The words were spoken fastidiously, as though a clinical attitude could keep them from touching what they surrounded.
‘I got this buckle at a carnival. Shot for it or pitched for it, I don’t recall. They named it the mystery prize, and everybody was going for it, girls and women too. Some rumor said it was mink step-ins, another one said it was a New Testament signed by Jesus Christ. Something for everybody, in other words, and the Holy were in there pitching alongside the damned. The carnie running the operation guaranteed that it was something everybody could use, and when somebody said, ‘What if I already got one?’ the answer was, ‘You can always use more of this thing.’ When it fell to me to win it everybody crowded around, but I saw right off what it was and stuck it in my pocket, telling them it was just a belt buckle and a gyp to boot. Some mystery prize, aye. People want what they don’t understand, don’t want what’s plain. Unless they can get a ban against it, get it declared illegal or unreligious or some shit like that. Me too. I go around wanting something that’s shut away from me as surely as if it was behind the Pearly Gates.’ He put his hand between his legs, caught up the weight there and held on. ‘Effie, who’s got this legal, would give up her chance in heaven to be shed of it. One person I knew in this world wanted it. Two, now. You want it, don’t you. Sometimes she looked no more’n your age, did the last time I saw her. She wanted it so much it drove her crazy. What’s it doing to you, boy.’
It was not a question and Jabez did not try to answer. Jim rolled a ball of spit around in his mouth and then let fly at the fire. The contempt in the gesture froze Jabez, as did the sound of the wind hanging on the shoulder of the house. Under Jim’s words was something worse than curses, which he heard duplicated in the wind: the kind of obscene murmuring that he could imagine a diseased woman doing at the ear of her victim.
Instead of scrooging back in his chair as he would have liked to do, Jabez got up and went to the fire and gave a kick to a log. Behind him be could envisage the brass cock poised to penetrate him and drew in his butt, then quickly turned to see if Jim could have read enticement into the movement.
‘You, too?’ Jim said, seeing the rejection. In one movement he encircled the boy’s waist and pulled him back and down, placing the crack of the struggling ass precisely on his erection. ‘We got a fire, a bed, I dressed in my Sunday clothes. Only one ceremony left, and that’s the blooding.’
Far down the wagon road, Jabez thought that he could still hear Jim roaring and he turned to face the house, running backward, until he fell sprawling on his back in a puddle full enough to drench him to the skin. The icy water shocked him out of the nightmare he had been in and brought his practicality to his rescue. He saw in his mind his aunt’s house, the empty grate, the distant coalpile. He had been sick. The sickness would turn into pneumonia. He would die.
Back at the house he walked into Jim’s bathroom, took off all his clothes, took two towels and went into the bedroom where he rubbed himself down in front of the fire as unconcerned before Jim’s gaze as he had been yesterday and the day before. Deliberately he showed his front as well as his back to Jim, let Jim know that he was not a freak, something half-boy, half-girl. If Jim shot or pitched for
him now it would not be for a mystery package.
Squatting with his back to the fire, vigorously drying his long hair, he asked.
‘Did any girls ever see that buckle?’
‘Naw. Just one ever opened it and it was dark then. They all felt it though, before -’ and he gave a bitter laugh.
‘Did you ever tell anybody, ‘Old so and so felt my cock last night ?”
‘Could have, but didn’t.’
‘The one that opened it - did she - did you -?’ Jabez peered up from under his hair and heard the sound of Jim’s breath leaving him and watched the changes occur in Jim’s face: hope and superstition and sexual turmoil. In alarm he called out, ‘Jim, what’s the matter!’
Jim said, ‘I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know.’
He got up and Jabez watched him as he slowly unbuttoned his shirt, the sleeve cuffs first. The hand travelling down the row of front buttons could have belonged to a man in a trance. When the hand reached the belt it tugged the shirt tails out and travelled on down to the last button. It waited then, the shirt swinging open on the terrible brass cock, and Jabez took a step forward and opened the belt and the buttons on the fly. Jim was not wearing underwear and soon they were both naked, and soon afterward they were in the bed. They lay as equals in the firelight, on their sides.
Not yet as aroused as Jim, Jabez gave him a calculated look, a duplicate of the one that had caused him to undress without a word, and sank deeply into relief as Jim moved over him, and then like a boy on a trampoline, he lifted from the comfort of footing however unsure and rose into the wildness and freedom of the known-unknown element above him.
Jim sank and sank, aware of expected obstacles giving way beneath him, as they should, but without wounds or the sounds of wounds, which threw him further into the dream that had begun by the fireside with the familiar face of his lost love peering from the cloudy hair. It took all of his senses including his fingertips to determine that he was finally contained, and fully, and could move as he chose without apprehension like a blind man in rooms whose every object had been placed by himself.
At the last second Jim closed his eyes and said, “Ludie” as the boy cried out, covering the word. As though Jim were coming on his own stomach as well as in Jabex he felt the boy’s inner spasms timed perfectly to his own, and the spurting outward results. The boy, like Ludie, was full of juice. It was as if something he owed Ludie had been paid, and his debt was now to Jabez, for Jim did not call out her name the second and third times he came.
They lay in bed smoking, listening to the popping of the bark on the new log Jim had thrown on the fire. Jim lay waiting for remorse to strike, wondering why it was so long delayed.
He had been through it all in his mind the night before, saw where he was headed, where his curiosity and need were pushing him. He had tried then, during the night after Helen Taylor had gone back up, to think of Jabez as a child, as his son, as jail bait, as representative of the all-but-nameless sins the Bible and the laws hinted at, as being worse than death, and had looked at many possible consequences. Yet, for all that, he had come up against a stubborn streak that argued, with plenty of power, that he would only be taking what was not just offered but thrust upon him, whichever way he turned; by Effie’s peculiar reluctance, like lies, to have him even meet the boy; by Helen’s hints and looks and morbid reminders, and by Jabez, complete with words said in a delirium as proof of how much he wanted what Jim, uniquely, had to give.
He had seen himself covered with slime, as filthy a specimen as could be dragged up from hell - a child polluter - but the stubborn voice asked, ‘Who’s this polluter you’re talking about?’ and Jabez tracking him through the weeks crossed his brain. Jim had experienced wanting and needing and knew the real thing when he saw it. He remembered himself at Jabez’ age, on fire day and night with nothing to quench the burning. Why? Because it was against the goddamned Bible, against all the goddamned laws, for all he knew, for a young thing to want that kind of relief. He saw Jabez as exactly the same kind of victim as he was and had been all his life. When he teased Jabez, at first it was in ignorance and then with deliberation and cruelty. The game was: how hot could he make him?
Finally the argumentative voice brought the matter down home. ‘What kind of shit is this you’re handing yourself, putting it off on everybody else?’ The voice was disgusted. ‘How many chances you had, old buddy, and how many you going to have? Kid says he can take it all, all of it.’
Talking to Helen at the breakfast table, he had known - though not the exact time; Jabez’ health was a factor - that he was going to bugger the hell out of her nephew. ‘Did, too,’ he said aloud, and to Jabez’ inquiring face after his long silence, he said, ‘Scared you.’
Jabez put out his cigarette. ‘You talked crazy, s’why I ran. I bet you were just scared of me.’ He tucked the top of his head in Jim’s armpit, yawning into Jim’s side. He murmured. ‘Wake me if you want me,’ and by lifting the covers could have seen Jim spring to attention, but to his lover’s amazement the last word ended on a snore.
It was Jabez who woke Jim by slapping his erect organ against Jim’s face. When Jim came fully to, it was to see a large cock poised over his mouth.
He knocked Jabez to the foot of the bed and followed him there, feeling that the flood to his brain of all the blood in his body was lifting him up. His neck swelled until he could not get his breath. With the heel of one hand he pushed Jabez’ chin up and back and with the other made a fist like a boulder, knowing the delivered blow would finish the kid off. His heart was making such a racket that he thought it was trying to tear a hole in his chest, trying to get out and beat Jabez to death. He knew he would kill the boy but didn’t know how. He knew it was a matter now of who survived, and Jim, he triumphantly told himself, crafty behind eyes swelled nearly shut, would outlast them all. He heard the boy’s ragged efforts to breathe and thought such a death without scars, strangling without marks on the neck, could be attributed to his sickness of cold and fever. The boulder-hand regretted that it would not be allowed to land one killing blow in the hollow under the ribs. The hand seemed to be sobbing, ‘The son of a bitch.’ With a feeling of craziness, Jim looked at the hand, and as he did so, the paw under Jabez’ chin relaxed its pressure. He towered over Jabez but felt himself to be in ambush, watching for the least movement to bring him out. There was none. After a time he realized that it was over, and then saw that it was not yet done, though Jabez had given himself up for dead.
Jim had seen the sight all of his life, in animals and once in a person: a film formed on the eye, the coat or feathers or skin dulled as you watched, the muscles gave way, the creature would shit or piss. Before he saw it, he smelled that Jabez was no exception. If it had not been for the odor, he would have thought that Jabez had bled on the sheet, was bleeding, for the thin watery stuff leaked out as Jim looked.
Moving slowly, so as not to frighten him further, Jim got up and went to the bathroom where he splashed his head and neck with cold water, then wet a towel and brought it back and mopped up under the boy, who had not changed position.
Midway in his ministrations Jim felt something in him break. He pulled Jabez’ head to his belly and held it there, stroking the boy’s hair and cheeks and brow.
After a time it seemed to him that his fingertips could sense the returning life, or the belief in life, for that was what Jabez had let hold of.
He turned Jabez loose and went to the fireside, what was left of it, and began to dress. Half clothed, he saw that he was putting back on his Sunday gear and stripped again. He was reluctant to look at Jabez, reluctant to see the boy’s fear that he was coming after him again, to kill him or fuck him, which to Effie was the same thing, and now, probably, to Jabez as well.
What he saw was something altered by him but not maimed. Jabez’ eyes were distant; he was still returning but was not sorry to make the trip and did not look afraid. One hand was stroking his neck and though he stopped doing it when Jim looked at him, it was not done abruptly to make a point. The stroking tapered off, the hand moved down, unselfconsciously giving a pat and a lift to the offending cock. Jim went over and took the boy’s organ in his hand and looked at it carefully. It was well made, and though it could never arouse him, he saw its capabilities and was glad for Jabez. It was the only cock other than his own that he had ever touched. He thought how strange it must be for a girl. At least he knew what not to do; and his hand gently took the boy’s balls and handled them properly, remembering the convulsive grips on his own that had sent him through the roofs of cars.
He returned the boy to himself and went to fetch his farm clothes. When he came back he found Jabez dressed by the fireside. Only the tossed bed, like a frozen tidal wave, could give evidence if there was anyone to come here, seeking it.
- 10th Muse
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- Coffee House, The
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- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
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- Modern Poetry in Translation
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- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
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