Approaching your hometown after twenty years, to attend the funeral of a childhood friend, I guess your thoughts are pretty much destined to run backward. There was a time when I knew beyond any reasonable doubt that my life was going to be wasted. That it was, in fact, already wasted. I’d sit alone on the back porch, reading some crime thriller or space opera, and I’d feel all the same urges that have united sixteen-year-old boys since crime thrillers and space operas were invented. I’d be a famous detective, or a fearless astronaut, or a brain surgeon, or a quarterback; something, anything, if only I didn’t live in Bumhole, Kansas.
Fifty years earlier, a hundred and sixty acres would have been a lot of land. When I was sixteen, it was small enough my dad could work it by himself, just him and a few machines, and still work at the mill.
Twenty years sooner, and I might have been busy enough in the work of the place to have been ok. Twenty years later, and I would have had MTV and MySpace and Google to keep me company. We had neither, and we found our own trouble. That summer, we found Patsy McCoy.
His death began the moment we saw him. It just took a long time to consummate that death. We began to kill him when we first saw him, walking slowly up the road that led past Stud’s place, his eyes flicking away from us and shifting from bush to chimney to tree, and then flicking away from us again.
Stud got up like he was going to go talk to him, his basketball trapped under one arm, but then he just stood there. We didn’t get many new guys in Bumford. Sometimes somebody’s cousin would show up for a visit, but that was it. We were sitting there on Stud’s steps, all five of us, doing nothing, not even talking much, just wasting our lives and not really caring. What else was there to do in Bumhole?
The new kid slowed, but he kept coming. Pudgy and doughy, sweating like it was hot out, squinting a bit. His eyes began to flick away from us a little later, a little more slowly. He began to lick his lips as he approached, like he thought he’d get a chance to speak, like he thought he had anything to say.
“Think fast!” Stud said, launching his basketball at the new guy’s stomach. He didn’t think fast enough, grunting wheezily as the ball bounced off onto the road.
“Hey! Pick my ball up, stupid! Don’t let it bounce on the ground like that! Who do you think you are, Fatso?” Stud shoved him a little with both hands. We circled around behind him, surrounding him. He began to shift around, like he was trying to keep tabs on all of us at the same time, but we had some kind of group-think going on, and we sidled around and around so he couldn’t track us. It was like we’d been harassing new guys all our lives. That was Stud. He could do that. He’d get some plan in his mind, and it’d spring full-blown into the minds of all of us, like he was some kind of god or something. He thought he was, anyway.
He stood there spread-legged like the eye of our storm, not following us as we circled, his eyes on the new guy’s, his arms crossed high on his chest.
The new guy stooped down over his baggy belly and groped for the ball, but it rolled away from him a bit, and he had to stand back up to go after it. He bent down again, and Spittle kicked it to Stud just as his fingertips brushed it.
“Hey! Don’t kick my ball, Fatso!” Stud said, trapping the ball under his foot and smacking Fatso on the arm. “Who do you think you are?”
“Don’t argue with me, Fatso,” Stud said, dead quiet, and Fatso fell silent.
“I’ve asked you twice, now, Fatso. Who do you think you are?”
Fatso licked his lips again, his eyes flicking from one face to another, back to Stud’s. “Um–”
“Um my butt! Pay attention! Your name, Fatso! What’s your name?”
“Uh, Patrick, Patr–”
“Patrica? Your name’s Patricia? My little sister’s name is Patricia!” Stud looked around at us, demanding laughter.
“No, it’s Patri–”
“What’s that? What’s that you say, Patricia? Patsy? It’s Patsy? Ok, it’s Patsy, then. Guys, meet Patsy!” and Patsy McCoy was born. We created him. We created him, and then we began to kill him.
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