P: One Boy's Story
One Boy's Story
The shotgun blast rang in Ben's ear. He knew it could happen, but never
expected it. Pressing against the dirt with strength created by terror,
he had to turn his head to breathe. He could smell the steer manure
that had been mixed with the soil.
When the salt from the shotgun had rustled the foliage around him, he
began to crawl forward, along the row, like soldiers crawling under
barbed wire in combat. Except he moved faster. Much faster.
He heard the farmer shouting, and although it seemed impossible, Ben
picked up speed. Face still in the dirt. When he got to the end of the
row, he leapt to his feet and ran like crazy. Into the drainage ditch,
then along the black tar street that emptied into his neighborhood.
Ben's feet stuck to the pitch that softened in summer heat, creating a
zip-zip sound as he sprinted.
He burst through the front door of the duplex, slammed the door, stood
in front of the door panting and sweating hard, and looked at his
mother sitting on the couch, eyes wide, mouth agape.
"What in the&;#8230;"
He tried to smile, but couldn't coordinate breathing and smiling yet,
much less try to explain. Mother regained her composure, and shock
turned to smirk.
"Police right behind you, are they?" Said with hands on her hips.
He shook his head, not sure if she was kidding. She laughed out loud
and the smirk was gone.
"Turn around and let Dr. Mom see if there are any of them salt burns on
"I was just walkin' through one of the fields and the farmer shot at
me. Almost got me, too. I crawled&;#8230;" Ben was talking fast, and
in a voice just under falsetto.
"I get it." She said with that slightly accusatory tone mother's
"I wasn't stealing! I was jus' takin'&;#8230; one turnip!"
"Ben, you know better than that. How many times do I have to tell you
that those salt shots'll sting your&;#8230; butt!"
"Sorry, mom. I won't do it anymore. He gave her his most sincere
She came over to kiss him, but when she got close she squenched up her
face and asked if he had been rustlin' cows, 'cause I smell like cow
poop. And then she pointed to the shower.
After dinner, my friend Bug came over. He was a Village boy, too. His
friends called him 'bug' because when he was little, he ate bugs.
Alabama Village was the name of the government provided housing we
lived in. It was on the southern edge of the city of Pritchard, near
Whistler and Eight-Mile. Behind us was the Chicasha River, a thick
swampy forest, a housing project in front, and plot farmers all
Bug and I went into my bedroom and pulled out my comic books. We read
for a few minutes, and then Bug looked up at me with a big grin.
"Hey. Wanna go to the twin Friday? They got this new movie 'Peyton
Place' showing and I hear it's got naked women in it."
The 'twin' was the local drive-in theater. It had a screen at each end
allowing them to show two different movies. And the concession area had
outdoor seating for about fifty people.
"If they got naked women, they're not going to let us in for
"Naw. We go under the fence and climb on top of the concession. I done
this before with Letty. No one can see us. And if you have to pee, just
wait 'til it's dark and pee in the roof gutter."
"What'll we tell mom?"
"Tell her your goin' to spend the night with me. Then we'll go to my
place after the movie."
"I don't know, I hate to lie to&;#8230;"
"Ben! Naked women. You know...nipples, and&;#8230;"
Ben thought about it for a moment.
"No, I cain't. I promised momma."
The next morning, Ben woke to the smell of grits and eggs. He took
another quick shower to make sure all the manure smell was gone, and
joined mother in the kitchen.
After a little morning chit-chat, mom asked if I could spend the night
with Bug. I told her I wanted to stay home tonight and she looked at me
like I just stepped out of a space ship.
"You dying? You always want to stay over with that boy."
I knew if I went to Bug's he would argue all night about going to the
"Let me call him and see if it's ok." I offered.
Bug answered the phone.
"Hey. Is it ok if I come spend the night with you tonight?"
"Wow! I knew you'd change your mind. What'd your momma say?"
"Nothing. I be there after dinner. Is that ok?"
"Come on. I'll see you in a bit."
After dinner, she gave Ben a quarter and told me not to spend it all in
one place. Ben smiled his goodbye, and told her he would see her the
next morning. He opened the door to leave when she grabbed me hard on
"Did you put some clean underwear on?" She asked.
"Uh, well, I didn't&;#8230;"
"Ah, ha. Just as I suspected. Hold on a minute." She stepped into my
bedroom, then the kitchen. When she came back to me at the door, she
handed Ben a small, brown bag with a pair of clean underwear in it.He
waived bye and started out the door.
"And take a bath tonight, you hear me?"
He waived again from the yard and continued towards Bug's house.
Bug's momma answered Ben's knock at the front door of their
"Hey, Ben. Bug told me you were going to stay here tonight. We're glad
to have you again. Have you had something to eat?"
"Ok. Bug's over yonder in the garage right now. Cleaning. Not out of
the kindness of his heart, mind you, but for a quarter." She said with
Her laugh receded slowly as she recalled that Ben's daddy had died last
year and he and his momma didn't have much money. She reached out and
tousled Ben's hair. Turned him around and gave him a gentle shove in
the direction of the garage.
"Bug, how 'bout I help you so we can play?"
"Oh, yeah, just as I'm finished. I got a quarter for doin' this." He
said as Ben nodded his head.
Bug looked outside to make sure no one was in listening distance, then
pulled Ben farther inside.
"What time do you think we should go to the movie? I cain't
"Listen, Bug. I knew this'd happen. I don't want to be no trouble or
anything, but I'm not going to the Twin tonight. I promised momma I
wouldn't, so lets not fight, OK?"
"That's OK. We'll find something else. After dark, we can go gig some
frogs if ya want. How's that?"
"That's great! I'll have to go back to my house and get my gig stick
"It'll be dark pretty quick, lets go read some comic books, want
They turned and ran together to the front door. The screen door slammed
loudly as they rushed to Bug's bedroom.
A few minutes after the sun went down, the boys told Bug's momma what
they were going to do. She gave it her blessing. The boys were born and
raised in the bayou, and she felt reasonably comfortable with them at
They ate a small piece of chocolate Bug's momma gave them and started
to Ben's house.
When they got to the house, Ben could see two silhouettes on the thin
curtain. He wasn't sure who the other could be. He motioned Bug to be
quiet, and they crept up to the front window to peek. Bug was giggling
and Ben quickly shushed him.
Through the space between the curtain and the edge of the window frame,
Ben could see his momma and Mr. Duffy. Mr. Antoine Duffy was the
manager at the government projects where they lived. He was the rent
They were slow dancing to Cajun music, and he was kissing Ben's momma's
neck. When they turned so Ben could see his momma's face, he could see
that she had a big grin, and was talking away to the fat man.
The dancers moved like this for a while more. Eventually, Mr. Duffy
undid the woman's blouse, then her bra.
Ben was in shock.
When Bug tried to look, Ben pushed him hard. Bug began to
As Mr. Duffy turned out the lights, Ben could make out the two go into
the bedroom. The music continued to play. Ben's head buzzed. It was
difficult to breathe.
Bug, sensitive to Ben, asked what was going on.
"I cain't go back to your house with you, Bug. You go on. Don't say
anything, don't ask me anything. I'll see you tomorrow."
The next morning, Peggy, Ben's momma, called for him at Bug's
Anette Triplette, Bug's mother, answered.
"Mornin', Mrs. Triplette. This is Ben's mother, can I speak with him
for a moment, please?"
There was a short pause.
"Peggy, Ben didn't stay with us last night. Bug said they went back to
your house last night to pick up Ben's frog stick, Ben got upset for
some reason, and just didn't want to come back. I presumed he stayed
there. Did you check the little bedroom?
"Uh, no, no. I'll go do that now. Thanks for being so kind to
Peggy felt as if she had stepped on an open electrical line. Her body
hummed as with the current. She walk quickly into Ben's bedroom,
thinking of all the possible ways to explain what he may have seen last
The room was empty.
Peggy threw on her jeans and shirt, then ran out the door heading for
Bug's house. She heard sirens in the distance, but they barely
It was about eight o'clock in the morning when the cleaning crew
arrived at the Twin Theater to clean up. The husband and wife team
wasted no time is the process since they received the same pay
regardless of the amount of time. They parked by the fence, pulled out
pronged spears, began collecting the empty drink cups and wadded up
burger wrappers by stabbing them with the device.
Each time their bags were full they would walk over to the concession
stand and empty it into a large drum that would be taken to the dump
"Oh, my GOD! Cleve, get over here! Get over here, now!" Arlene
He dropped his sack and sprinted over to Arlene. She was pointing to
the edge of the flat roof of the concession stand. He looked up.
Extending slightly off the edge was a foot. The shoe was missing and
the ankle appeared bloody.
"Jesus! Arlene, go on up there and see what that is!"
"Grover Cleveland Dubois, you have lost what little mind God has given
you! You go up there - right now - and see what's happened!"
He looked at her.
"I said right now!" Her left hand was cocked on her hip, her left hand
pointing at him.
He went to the hallway and started up the stairs.
"Go call the police, Arlene." He called back to her.
Peggy learned from Bug what happened last night. Her feelings
ricocheted between guilt, embarrassment, anger, and worry. First things
first. She had to find Ben.
When Cleve got to the roof of the concession, he saw a boy lying by the
edge. His right foot was over the side slightly. It had not been blood
Arlene saw, but the red top of white athletic socks. But the boy looked
a mess. The heat had softened the tar and the boy had it all over
Cleve kneeled down by him, reached out and shook the boy carefully. The
boy looked up, then sat up quickly.
"Who're you! What did&;#8230;"
"It's ok, boy. You at the Twin, son, my wife and I found you asleep
here on the concession roof. Kinda hot to be here right now, don't you
Last night opened up on him like an epic movie. Ben could barely
Cleve took the boy's hand and helped him up.
"The police will be here in a minute. What's your name?"
"Ben. The police? Are they going to arrest me?"
"Don't know, Ben. We called 'em because we thought you might be dead,
or hurt, or something."
The sirens could be heard more clearly now.
The policeman took Ben to the little walk-in clinic. By the time his
mother arrived, the nurse had given him a clean bill of health. Just a
couple of scrapes.
Peggy saw him sitting in the dingy, half lit waiting room. He looked
small. She took a deep breath and walked to him.
"Hi, hon. How you feelin'? The nurse told me&;#8230;"
"Mom..I saw you." He said without looking up.
Her stomach pitched.
"I know." She said quietly. She reached to put her hand on his arm. He
pulled back slightly.
The word slapped her violently. Ben had said it so hard that none of
the walls would permit its exit.
With each echo, she flinched.
"Ben&;#8230;" She said in a plaintive whisper.
"That's what you called..him." He sneered angrily.
Her chest recoiled with the sting of regret.
Mother and son did not talk on the ride home. Peggy's muscles twitched
with the need to touch him. To let him know she loves him.
Evening came slowly through the silence between them. When night was
full upon them, Peggy went into Ben's bedroom. As she walked through
the door he rolled over, facing away from her.
"Ben, I have to talk to you about&;#8230;"
"I don't want to talk."
"Turn over, Ben, I'm your mother and I have something to say to
Ben made a show of displeasure as he turned over. Peggy took a deep
"Ben, I want you to listen, now. I guess it's time you understood some
Peggy took another deep breath.
"Your daddy hasn't sent us any money in two years. Two years, Ben.
Ben shrugged his shoulders slightly. This hurt and angered his
"You have no idea what that means, do you? Well, let me tell you.
Peggy hesitated for a moment, wondering if he was ready to hear this.
She moved a bit closer to him on the mattress, and put her hand on his
leg when she began.
"With the little money we used to get from your daddy, we barely got
by. My tips at the caf? helped. But when he stopped sending money, I
couldn't feed us, clothe us, and house us. I lost my friends 'cause I
borrowed money from them. And this was after I borrowed out my welcome
in my family. And your daddy's."
She paused for a moment.
"I had to feed us, but I didn't have much money. The welfare office
made arrangements for me to buy 'commodity' food. Sometimes there is
not enough for both of us, so I feed you. You, Ben."
Ben looked up at her and saw the pain on her face.
"I thought you were on a diet&;#8230;"
She rubbed his leg.
"No. No diet, Ben. No Food. And if we get thrown out of here, where do
you think we would go? Do you have any idea?"
"Well, Ben, this place is the bottom of the rung. The bottom line.
There is no place else. How would you like sleeping in the car?" She
Ben understood what this meant. His mother had to do what she had to do
to pay the rent. To put food on the table. It was as if his eyes were
opened for the first time. He could see the lines in his mother's face,
and the dark under her eyes, eyes that were usually so cheerful.
He reached up and put his arms around his mother. She whispered to him
and told him the of the hardships and how she has tried to insulated
him. After a few minutes, they were both weepy, and soon he fell
Peggy laid Ben down, tucked him in and went to her bedroom. The room
was dark with just a spear of light coming through under the pulled
down shade. She sat in the wooden rocking chair by the bed and rocked
herself to sleep.