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tearing the rag off the bush again
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The girl’s mother extended her wrist to the velvet smear of the dotted fabric and whispered:  My dear, you’ve bled through.

    His mother was dead.
    A photo of her hung in the room; she was wearing a pale blouse in the photo, her face groomed in the silhouette of a lark, she looked aside, as if she had been laughing from her ribs and turned her head aside in the final blur of the camera’s eye; a wilted carnation was in her lap; her fish-tailed dress had fallen to her ankle and there was a little grasshopper in the dirt below; perhaps, she had been focusing on this, how the earth seemed to have shaped it that way, for the photograph, the moment when someone had discovered her laughing at something trivial.
    Each morning, he woke and looked upon the photo. He was in her stomach then; how was it that she died?  Someone had taken a photo of that too; he had been sifting through his Father’s things and…it was a photo of her lying down, her hair wet. She wore a half-slip from the waist down and her breasts had shifted to one side; a ribbon of blood traveled from the edge of her esophagus onto her shoulder, her left breast; he could not loose the expression of her face at death: her eyes were unclosed and she died as though looking into the camera, as though she had been holding a carnation in her lap, a grasshopper on the floor beneath her, as if whatever it was she held onto at that moment had crawled out of her lap and into a rush of wind and fury; her fingernails were painted, one of them was chipped; she had fought, struggled.
    He had asked his Father again and again to answer him something about her; he would ask and ask again and his Father would whisper something about the burglar, how quickly things happened: the burglar’d broken into the house, he’d fought the burglar, was knocked unconscious by him and woke to find her dead.
    Of course, when the boy pictured the burglar in his mind, he looked like his Father: he was yellow-haired; there was a growing mole above his left eardrum, an overbite. And his mother had struck him with a wooden log and left the image of a running horse behind his eyelid.
    His father was out this morning; he was alone in the house.
    He sat on the edge of the bed, the photo above him, and wondered what took place inside him: his Father’s penis had done something to him, made his stomach hurt; he thought now of a girl he had seen in town; how many girls were there in Cattail Creek, Mississippi who looked like that? She had run down the steps of the library, her mother in front of her, and pointed, laughed at one thing or another; a constellation of freckles rose from her cheek and she paused there behind her mother and looked out at him, as if for the first time she discovered the difference between two genders; the constellation had become a birthmark to him, something in which to identify, relate, as she had worn a coat of pink nail polish and her hair was filled with traveler’s dirt. He had, too, paused and stood, looked out at her---he had heard the boys say it many times, you’ll get hard down there and you’ll play with it and you can’t get ‘er face outta your head, that’s when it happens---she had given him something, some confusion in which to measure, to doubt; why ever had he seen her?
     And there were those boys who chatted on the steps of the library.
    The girl heard them, her mother heard them and turned to find the girl holding the edge of her dress where a velvet smear had dotted the fabric.
    She had gone unpolished through town; the boys of Cattail Creek stood on the steps of the library with their hands up to their noses, pointing at her with a distinct manner of indignation. Look at that, said one of them.
    It had begun to rain; the laughter of the boys had not stopped.
    The rain went down their throats.
    The girl’s mother extended her wrist to the velvet smear of the dotted fabric and whispered:  My dear, you’ve bled through.
    Come, she said.
    Before her mother led her elsewhere, the girl turned to the boys, her arms leveled out beside her and bowed. She looked at him, blurry and wet, and turned a corner.
    He could not get her face out of his head.
    But he had not played with it; he had not gotten hard. He had lain nude on the covers of his bed that afternoon and saw her face above him and waited; nothing happened. In his mind, he had taken a pair of shears and cut her hair; he had given her a penis, a running horse behind her eyelid. He wondered how he would position her on the bed, how he’d lay on top of her, where he’d put his penis, if putting his penis inside her would stop the pain in his stomach, the confusion; he could not get her out of his head and repeated the pattern, cutting her hair, all of it, to fit the images of penetration in his mind, so that somehow, the images would stop spinning for once and land on something…something that other boys had seen when they witnessed, imagined, dreamed. But nothing, nothing happened.
    He must’ve lain there for hours like that with nothing taking place inside of him. Who could he have told this? How many of the boys felt like this, could not make something happen?  He had looked down at his penis that afternoon, how weak it was and sobbed on the pillows of the room.
    Everything seemed to enclose him; he had become trapped by something, the girl in town perhaps, the whispering rotation of his Father’s voice at night, when those things at night happened, or was it that he had been drawn to love in the way a child had been drawn to love only those things of which took their place in a series of disturbed events that tattoo, stain? He could not remember the hours he had lain with his face in the pillows; he hoped to have suffocated there.
    He would go to the library.
    He would look at that diagram again of boys and their parts. And he’d sit with the boys and talk about the girl with the velvet smear, how he’d made her period come down and they’d laugh and ask him to tell it again and he’d put something extra in it about how he laid on top of her, until he hit something in there and they’d all laugh again and tell him how much of a man he was.

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