“Where’s that little shit, Anton?” Ollie shouted, bursting into the barn. I’d seen him in the new lot of the trailer park, on the opposite side of the ones who were born here, like me. He paced in front of his trailer, hands in the pockets of his stiff Levi’s, kicking gravel with the toes of his shiny Reeboks.
“He’s takin’ a pisser, why?” I said. It had always been Ant, Band-Aid, and me, Loney, until Ollie stomped in. We were playing a game of Bullshit in the dirt boxing ring we spent an entire summer busting our asses to make. We found rusty signposts in the dump and we used them for corner posts, and the ropes were made from twine we stole from Ace Hardware.
“Why? I’ll tell you why,” Ollie said, grinding his teeth like he was working cud. He walked into the ring, stretching the twine around his potato-like physique. “That perv was outside my trailer watching my mom shower. I saw him.”
I’d heard it from Wendy. She walks laps around the trailer park in an orange bikini nursing bottles of Corona and selling weed. We tried to buy some once but she said no, not until we’re eighteen. Ant, Band-Aid, and I had lots of talks about Wendy. We had decided that her tits would feel like a mix between water balloons and sand bags.
I waved Ollie off and went back to the card game. Band-Aid took a deep drag on the Lucky Strike we were passing back and forth, fixed his glasses, and leaned back on the crate he was sitting on. “Here’s the thing…Ollie. That’s your name, right? We know Ant. We’ve lived with him since we were this high—” he put his hand a couple feet above the ground, “—and we know what he would and wouldn’t do.”
“Oh yeah? Well I know what I fuckin’ saw,” Ollie said. He curled his forefingers and thumbs into glasses, leaned towards Band-Aid, and blew a raspberry.
Band-Aid shot up, the crate he was sitting on scooting backwards. He pinched the Lucky Strike, lurched towards Ollie like a Rottweiler on a chain and said, “One, Ant wasn’t jerking off to your fat ass mom. We know him. You don’t. Done. And two, you make fun of my glasses ever again and I’ll give you something to whine about.” The thing about Band-Aid was that he would. He got these thick glasses, like the bottoms of Coke bottles, when he was ten. Ant and I used to rip on him; then we started finding dead toads nailed along the walls of the barn, dangling by their feet, their stomachs ripped open so their insides hung out on slimy strings of licorice. He had a thing for killing animals, getting worked up. It was weird because he said his dad was a doctor, although I’ve never seen him, and I doubt they’d be living in Upton, Kentucky if he was.
Ant walked in, kicking his heels into the dust and zipping his fly. “Hell, what’d I miss?” he said. He had limbs like toothpicks sliced in half lengthwise.
Ollie barged forward, kicking aside the hay bale I was sitting on. “You! You were watching my mom last night,” he shouted.
That woke the chickens. They started rattling their pens, feathers popping off like bottle rockets. Technically, they were Band-Aid's, but we all sold the eggs for extra cash. The cash went to Wendy, who bought us cigarettes at an increased rate.
“God damn it, Ollie,” I said, grabbing his arm, “Relax, it didn’t happen. We’ve told you, he wouldn’t do that.” I looked at Ant, “Would you?”
Ant laughed, tilted his head back and slapped his knee. “Hell yeah I did. His moms got huge knockers.”
Ollie tried to lunge forward, but Band-Aid and I held him back. Ant wasn’t scared of anyone, even if it was clear he’d lose in a fight. Once, he chased down a drunken guy punching in their screen door in the middle of the night—chased him right out onto the highway with a Louisville Slugger. He had more balls than any of us, and sometimes we had to protect him from himself.
“Let’s fight. Right now, come on,” Ollie said. “Either we fight, or I’ll—I’ll fuck your mom.” He had to shout over the chickens.
Ant’s face flushed red. He curled his hands into fists, his knuckles turning bone white. We don’t make fun of Ant’s mom, just like we don’t make fun of Band-Aid’s glasses, and they don’t make fun of the white, knobby scar running across my forehead.
“Fight tomorrow,” I said, wiping sweat from my forearms. The July sun cooked the barn like a coffee pot.
“What the hell do you mean tomorrow?” Ollie said, shrugging Band-Aid and I off his shoulders.
“It’s how we do things around here,” I said. He had a lot to learn if he wanted in with us. He moved here with his mom just a week ago, after his dad got arrested for dogfighting. Or at least that’s the story that traveled through the trailer park.
* * *
Ollie was beating the shit out of Ant—hitting him with hooks at distance, stiff uppercuts when he went for the clinch. They flipped a coin for the gloves; Ant ended up with the Everlast’s, an old pair my dad gave me when the stuffing began to break through the stitching. Ollie was using the one’s we made, two mismatched gardening gloves packed with mothballs. They made your hands smell like shit for days, but they worked.
Blood was leaking from Ant’s nose, and each time he exhaled it sprayed from his nostrils, painting his chest. I didn’t like seeing Ollie winning but that’s the way boxing goes.
I put my foot on the hay bale in the corner and leaned on my knee. The sun was shining through the holes in the roof—we have to put buckets around the ring so it doesn’t get muddy when it rains—lighting the dust that rooster-tailed from their feet after each quick movement.
Ollie pinned Ant in the corner. I kept yelling for Ant to circle away from Ollie’s power hand, but I don’t think he knew what he was going on. The barn was quiet, even the chickens were silent, and all I could hear was the scuffing of their feet, their heavy breaths, punches landing—mostly Ollie’s—with a sound like slapping a dead pig. “Ant! Circle to the left, push and sidestep,” I said. He wasn’t having any of it.
I’ve been taking boxing lessons at Southpaw, my dad’s gym. He was the champ in Kentucky last year until he lost to Davis. He’ll be climbing up the ranks soon enough once he kicks his drinking habit. Ollie looked better than I expected, but I was finding some openings while he was kicking Ant’s ass.
I was counting the round in my head, and when three minutes passed, I called it. Ant and Ollie separated. I pushed the hay bale under the rope as a stool for Ollie. “You done?” I said.
He was breathing hard, a layer of sweat covering his chunky body. “Hell no, I’m going to beat him right into the ER,” he said, pausing to breathe after each word. He hocked onto the ground, tightened the makeshift gloves, and sat on the bale.
I walked over to Ant. His nose was broken, bent like a bow, and his left eye was swollen shut. I leaned to whisper into his ear: “Listen, he sets up the right hand, telegraphs it. Just sidestep. Sidestep and jab.” Band-Aid joined us with a bag of frozen peas. He placed it over Ant’s face. Ant flinched, but Band-Aid held the peas in place.
“Can he still fight?” I asked Band-Aid. I knew Ant shouldn’t go another round, but we labeled Band-Aid the cut man, so it was his call.
“He’s got one more in him,” Band-Aid said. He clapped Ant on the back. “Don’t you, buddy?” He tore open the bag of peas with his teeth and tossed it to the chickens.
“Well, I don’t think Ollie will last much longer anyway. He’s about to have a fucking heart attack over there,” I said. We both turned to look at him. He was resting his head against the pole, his chest heaving, and when he noticed we were looking, he stood up and acted like he hadn’t just been sucking wind. “He’s got no respect either. He said he wants to beat him into the ER.” My dad told me a boxer without respect is nothing but a street fighter. A boxer is an artist.
I gave Ollie a gallon of water. He dumped it over his head and swallowed some in big gulps. “All right, let’s do this!” he said, punching his gloves together.
The third round started. Ant put his hands up and stumbled to the center of the ring. Ollie peppered him, hitting him with body shots and then moving to the head when Ant blocked the body. Ollie backed him up into the corner. The body shots bent Ant over like he was puking. I cringed with each punch and started to wish I had stopped the fight. But then Ant slipped out of the corner, attempting to reposition himself. He took a beating like no one else. He was wobbling around, flat-footed, but still going, and the next time Ollie came at him, Ant blocked, planted his back foot, and snapped out a clean straight right.
Ollie stepped back, wiped his lip, and spit a glob of blood onto the ground. He began to fade, each punch slower, his movements sluggish, careless. I leaned over the ropes, yelling for Ant to push. He forced Ollie into the corner for the first time, hitting him with quick jabs. Band-Aid and I ran to the corner, clapping, stomping our feet.
“Yeah, you’re going to fuckin’ respect him now!” I said. The chickens started up again, squawking and flapping. “Ant, he’s almost done. Switch to the two-three-two.” But Ant kept flicking the jab out. He was loopy, probably didn’t know what I was talking about.
I looked at Ollie; he was against the pole, hands over his face. He was worried, unsure of himself, tired. I considered telling him to counter, call for head movement—anything, but I stayed silent. He needed to learn.
I could tell the fight would end soon. “Ant, put some power into the punches, quit the jab,” I called out. But it was too late, Ollie recovered and countered with an uppercut. Ant’s head snapped back and he crumpled to the dirt, arms and legs splayed out.
Ollie threw his hands up, cheering. His screams were high-pitched, girlish. Band-Aid and I went over to Ant’s limp body. We’d never seen anyone get knocked out in the barn before.
Band-Aid bent down and rolled Ant onto his side, letting blood drip from his mouth. “Don’t want him choking on it, you know?” he said. Ant woke up and started mumbling, kicking his feet across the dirt.
“It’s over Ant, relax,” I said, patting him on the shoulder. Ant got to his knees and spit into the dirt.
“I’m sorry guys, I thought I could…” Ant said, shaking his head.
A yellow tooth rested in the pool of blood. Band-Aid picked it up, wiped it on his jeans, and raised it into the light. He twisted it between his thumb and forefinger, eyeing it like an antique coin.
The glow of the Lucky Strike revealed Ant’s battered face. It had been a week since the fight. I sat across from him at the picnic table in front of his trailer, and he passed me the cigarette in silence. Moans were coming from inside the trailer, creaking. We both acted like we didn’t hear them. I took the rolled up Playboy from my back pocket, handed it to him, and smiled.
“Ah…my dream wife, the only thing that could make me feel better now,” he said, flipping through the pages until the centerfold unfolded into his lap. “Carrie Westcott, bust: thirty four inches. Thirty four inches of Grade A melon meat.” He ran his fingers across the picture. We had found it under my dad’s bed. It was one of our secrets. Like the bottle of Old Grand-Dad at Ant’s place and the way his mom had held a towel over my face when I came over after the beating.
“So how’re you feeling?” I asked. He took the cigarette and I looked again at his face. His left eye was still closed up, a ring of blue and piss yellow circling it. His nose was bent at an odd angle. He had a scab over his eyebrow, the edges picked off.
“I guess. I still can’t believe I lost to that piece of shit. Hey, but check this out,” he said, taking the cigarette and jamming it into the gap between his teeth, “Now I don’t have to worry about losing my cigarette.”
We both laughed, quick and sharp. “I shouldn’t have let you take that fight,” I said. And then, “I’m sorry.” I ran my finger across the wood of the table. It was a pussy thing to say. I leaned forward, “I’ll beat the shit out of him though. He’s been bragging about it—but listen, I know how to beat him. He’s slow, no technique, just comes forward and wails away.” I mimed his sluggish movements.
“Whatever,” Ant said. He curled his lips and blew a smoke ring into the air. The wind caught it, broke it apart.
“So have you and Band-Aid been like…hanging out with him now? My mom grounded me when she saw my face.”
“Hell no, man. He’s been trying to come into the barn and shit but we keep him out. Sorry about the grounding,” I said. I didn’t understand why he stayed in the trailer when he got grounded. His mom waitressed at Denny’s all afternoon anyway. I guess I couldn’t understand, since I barely knew my mom.
Zeppo shifted beneath us, slapping his tail on the ground. He was Miss Ruth’s beagle, the park owner—a real bitch. She walked around with those plastic curlers in her hair like they were a fashion style. She bought the dog after her husband died and named it after him, feeds it steak, gives it a furry leash, all that shit.
“And he’s been bragging about it too, especially when he heard it was the first time anyone’s been knocked out in the barn,” I said.
“Yeah, sorry,” Ant said.
I didn’t know what he meant by it, and I was about to ask when a light buzzed on in Ant’s trailer. The screen door opened. A man walked out, balding around the temples. “Jesus, son, you all right?” he said, looking at Ant’s face.
“I’m not your fuckin’ son,” Ant said, keeping his eyes on the tip of the cigarette, burning red.
The man laughed, tucked his shirt into his jeans, and walked to the picnic table. “I didn’t mean it like that,” he said.
Ant ignored him, passing the cigarette back to me.
“You old enough to be smoking?” he said.
I shrugged. “None of your business.”
A screen door slammed across the trailer park; muffled shouts filled the air, the Jenson’s, most likely. Mr. Jenson always got drunk and wandered around, acting like a soldier, really out of it. He fought in Vietnam and was missing his pinky and ring finger on his left hand. A bad grenade, I’d heard.
“You boys ever try this?” the man said, pulling a white bag that said “Red Man” in red letters across the front from the tight pocket of his jeans. “See, like this.” He unrolled the pack, grabbed a clump of brown tobacco, and stuffed it into his cheek. “Just chew and spit, make sure you don’t swallow anything.” He handed me the bag and spat a stream of brown liquid into the dirt.
“Man, will you just fuck off?” Ant said, standing to face him.
“Ant,” I whispered. I understood, but a fight was the last thing he needed now. I reached into the bag and pinched out a damp cluster. The smell was strong but sweet, almost minty. I shrugged and plugged it into my cheek then handed the bag to Ant. He did the same.
“Rowdy, pissed, just like me when I was your age. I like it. Anyway, when your mouth fills up with juice, just spit it out. Get a nice long stream, like you’re taking a whizz,” the man said. He tilted his head back and released another line of liquid. “You’ll get the hang of it. Keep the chew,” he said, walking away.
Zeppo sniffed at the pools of spit, then looked up at us, the few lights from the trailers reflecting in his eyes.
“It tastes kind of…” I said, sucking on the tobacco juices.
“Like shit?” Ant said. We both laughed
“I mean—it’s not that bad.” I leaned back, pinched my lips, and then rocked forward, spraying the liquid from between them. The stream flew through the air, splashing against the gravel.
“Damn!” Ant said, “Here, let me try.” He spit, sending the juice beyond mine. We stayed there for a while longer, him and I, seeing who could spit farthest until we both got lightheaded and scraped the tobacco from the insides of our cheeks.
* * *
Band-Aid found the shotgun under his trailer, an old Remington pump action with rusty plating and dirt caked around the trigger. We brought it into the barn. We’ve held a revolver before, and a .22 rifle, both Mr. Jenson’s, but we’ve never seen a real life shotgun.
Ollie followed, smoking a cigarette and flipping a coin. He’d been smoking ever since he saw us with the Lucky Strike that first day in the barn. But not really smoking, just sucking it in quickly and blowing it out, conscious of it, the way a girl smokes.
“I shot a shotgun once,” he said.
“No you didn’t,” Ant said. They looked at each other. Ant’s face had healed up. We had been chewing more often now, and Ant spit into the hat we were using as a spittoon in the barn. It was purple with cigarette burns on the brim and said “I’m all out of estrogen—and I have a gun” on the front.
“Don’t make me kick your ass again,” Ollie said.
“Ollie, shut up. Shut up or get the fuck out of here,” I said.
Ollie sucked quickly on the cigarette. “I’m just saying,” he said. He rested against the wall of the barn.
“You’re just saying what? You’re not one of us. I don’t even know why you’re here,” I said.
Band-Aid was kneeling on the ground, cleaning the shotgun with a wet rag and an old toilet brush. I stood behind him and watched. “I can’t wait to shoot this,” he said, “It’s going to kick like a mother fucker. Ant, hat.” Ant slid the hat toward Band-Aid with his foot, and Band-Aid hocked into it. He was a natural with the chew.
“Can I try some of that?” Ollie said.
Ant, Band-Aid, and I looked at each other. “No,” I said, tapping the half full bag curled in my pocket.
“Whatever, I didn’t want to anyway,” Ollie said. He scoffed, twisted the toe of his Reebok into the dirt. I noticed that a layer of grime was caked over his new shoes, like he had rolled them in mud.
“I think we’re ready,” Band-Aid said. He took a shell from his pocket and ran his finger over the plastic casing.
Ollie grabbed it from him. “Here, let me load it,” he said. He stuffed the shell into the tube of the gun and tilted it upward into the sunlight, peering down the barrel.
“Jesus, Ollie, you’re going to blow your fucking head off,” Band-Aid said.
“That wouldn’t be so bad,” Ant muttered.
The shell slid out of the barrel, hitting Ollie in the eyebrow. He jumped and threw the gun across the barn.
“I know how to do it,” Band-Aid said. He retrieved the gun and shell. We watched as he fiddled with it, sliding the shell into a rectangular hole on the side. He grasped the fore-end and pumped it. It clicked twice. “See? Just like that. Now it’s ready to shoot.”
We took the shotgun a couple miles out past the barn. Band-Aid was carrying it over his shoulder, the barrel pointing toward the sky. He had his shirt tied around his waist and was working tobacco between his molars, chewing it loudly, like a boot being pulled from mud. Sometimes, Band-Aid gets into these weird moods and he acts like somebody else, and now, when I looked at him, hair drooping across his forehead, cheek puffed from tobacco, the way the shells rattled in his pocket, he didn’t look like Band-Aid at all. When Band-Aid gets in these moods he gets real crazy.
“So what are you going to do with the gun?” I asked. I passed the bag of Red Man to Ant, making sure we were out of the view of Ollie. Zeppo trailed behind us, weaving through the tall grass.
Band-Aid spun around. Dots of sweat shone on his chest. “Shoot it. What the fuck do you think I’d do with it?” he said. He was talking in a strange accent, like he was playing a role.
“Can I shoot it after you?” Ant said.
Ollie pushed him and he stumbled to the ground. “The kick will knock you on your ass—just like I did. I’m shooting it next,” he said.
“You’re a fucking dick,” I said to Ollie. I spit a stream of tobacco juice at him, splattering against his jeans. My right hand was clenched in a fist.
Ant stood up, rubbing dirt off his palms. He turned, as if to say something to Ollie, but kept quiet. The dog looked up at him, pink tongue hanging from his mouth. Ant gave it a swift kick in the ribs. “Get away from me, you piece of shit,” he said. Zeppo pounced back, shook his head, his ears swinging wildly, his tongue lolling, drooling.
Band-Aid shifted the gun in his hands, stared at the dog. Cicadas chirped in the grass around us. An airplane buzzed overhead.
“Yeah, kick a dog, it’s the only thing you can beat up,” Ollie said, laughing. “Right? Right Loney? Band-Aid?” He made an exaggerated flicking motion with his cigarette. A cluster of ash fell to the ground.
I threw a hook into Ollie’s gut, sending him stumbling through the weeds.
“What the hell?” he gasped. He bent forward, grabbing his stomach, wheezing for air.
My head throbbed with blood, and the words came rolling from my mouth like a revving engine: “Listen Ollie, I’m sick of it. You’re new here. You don’t fuck with Ant. You don’t fuck with any of us. You have no say in what goes on here. You don’t step foot in the barn again. You want in with us? You work your way in. And put the cigarette down—you smoke like a queer.”
“What the fuck you think I’ve been trying to do?” Ollie said.
The boom came from behind me, reverberating through my guts and echoing across the field. A squealing flock of birds sprang from the tall grass. The buzzing cicadas quieted, continued. I turned around. A red mist painted the grass. Zeppo’s head was peeled back from snout to neck—torn away like the top of a Chef Boyardee can. Its back leg twitched. Gun powder stung my nostrils.
“Well, God day-um!” Band-Aid said. He prodded it with the gun like he wasn’t sure if it was dead or not. A cloud of flies began swarming around us and we stepped back. Band-Aid wiped the blood from the barrel on his jeans.
“Holy shit, Band-Aid!” I said. “We’re fucked—Oh God, we’re fucked, man! Miss Ruth is going to murder us!”
“Huh? Why?” Band-Aid said.
“What do I mean? Dude, you just blew Zeppo’s fuckin’ head off!” I said. Ant muttered “Oh God” over and over. Ollie was staring, his mouth dangling open like a broken Pez dispenser.
“Shit. Shit-shit-shit,” Band-Aid said. “I didn’t even—” he dropped the shotgun, dug the clump of tobacco from his cheek, and snapped it to the ground. “Okay, no one’s going to say a word about this,” he said, pointing to each of us.
“Bury it,” Ollie said.
“Yes, bury it, this never happened,” Band-Aid said.
“No, I mean, like, really. Bury it.”
The haze of flies became a black cloud. “I’ll get the shovel,” I said. I took off. Weeds tugged at my ankles. My chest burned. By the time I made it to the barn my shirt was soaked through. I sifted through the pile of tools, shoving aside hammers, hedge clippers and brooms until I found the shovel. I grabbed it and ran.
The three of them were waving me on, jumping like I was on the last leg of a marathon. When I reached them, I tossed the shovel to the ground and collapsed, staring into the sun.
Band-Aid started digging, stabbing the ground, throwing the dirt over his shoulder. “I didn’t even realize. If she finds out, I’ll take the blame,” he said.
“Fuck that, she won’t find out,” Ant said, “I’m not saying a word.”
“Neither am I,” Ollie said.
They looked at me. A cramp was working its way up my side. “You guys are kidding, right? You think I’d say something? Fuck off,” I said, laughing between the jolts of pain.
Band-Aid passed Ant the shovel. He began digging. Band-Aid stuck his hand out and helped me up. The hole was already two or three feet deep.
“Can I dig?” Ollie said. He stepped forward, toed the edge of the hole. Ant shrugged and handed him the shovel. We watched him finish the hole, sinking the shovel into the dirt, throwing it over his shoulder, again and again. The buzzing had grown to a static hum, like we were standing under power lines.
“That’s good,” I said.
Band-Aid stepped forward and rolled Zeppo into the pit. The dog’s legs flopped with each turn, smacking the ground with a thud, until it fell into the hole. “Should I, like, say something?” Band-Aid said.
I shrugged. “I mean…if you want,” I said.
Band-Aid cleared his throat, put his arms behind his back, and stepped toward the hole. He closed his eyes, wrinkled his brow like he was working something over, and then said, “May Miss Ruth assume he was hit by a car. A nice car, like a cherry red ‘68 Camaro.”
“Hell no, a black ‘76 Mustang,” I said, “With white racing stripes.”
“No, a blue 1970 Thunderbird,” Ant said.
“Or a 1960 ‘Vette. Yellow,” Ollie said.
“Well, I guess…amen then,” I said.
“Amen,” the rest of them said.
Band-Aid filled the hole and packed it down. Then we covered it with weeds like it was a punji pit. We heard about those from Mr. Jenson.
Band-Aid grabbed the shotgun and the shovel and we headed toward the barn, the structure looming in front of us, the corrugated tin roof and broken windows disguising something more.
“So, not a word, right? About any of this?” I said. I looked at all of them, at Ollie.
“Not a fucking word,” Ollie said.