Ibby was the kind of teenager that most other school kids avoided. The boys were full of fear or disgust, and the girls were full of fear or pity. He didn’t talk much and he dressed like he didn’t care what he wore, often the same wrinkled, stained, mismatched outfit two or three days in a row. Salvation Army off the rack. Also, Ibby was hulking and had an almost Neanderthal brow, capped with a great mop of tangled black hair.
Ibby lived with his put-upon mother and his scrawny sister, Pif, in a double-wide in the trailer park south of the highway. No one knew where the father was if there ever was one. Some said Ibby was born in a pond, the child of algae and tadpoles.
His mother made ends meet by collecting scrap in a grocery cart and selling it to Peat the Junkman, who also lived in the trailer park. Peat didn’t really need Mrs. Sankta’s contributions but accepted them in the hope that one day she would let him cross the threshold of her trailer and show him what she looked like in her underwear.
“How was your day?” Min Sankta asked Ibby when he came home from school.
“Any day is a good day that doesn’t start with killing a rat with a hammer,” Ibby said.
“Don’t you have homework? Where are your books?” his mother pressed on, attempting in her despoiled way to be pleasant.
“I can’t remember. Is there bologna?”
At school the only kid who talked to Ibby was Haro Bilsun. Haro was a genius—some said—but he was as ugly as a Mudboy. He had no eyebrows, wore glasses as thick as a double-stack Oreo, and his mouth stayed open due to some dental irregularity.
“Hey,” Haro said, one day in the lunchroom, taking a seat next to Ibby. “You want my bologna cup?”
“Fft,” Ibby said, scooping said cup onto his plate.
“I’m not hungry anyway,” Haro said.
“What’s that book?” Ibby asked, pointing with a forkful of bologna-dyed mashed potatoes.
“Beowulf,” Haro said, picking up the book and holding it out like an offering.
“You wanna read it?”
Ibby looked at Haro as if he had just fallen into the seat next to him, something old that had previously been stuck to the ceiling.
Haro sucked at his orange juice, averting his face.
“Donaport Evans at high noon,” Haro said, after a while, because silence made him anxious.
“Donaport. Evans.” Haro pointed with his pencil.
“Yeah, cheerleader. Big bosom.”
“Nothing. She’s interesting, I think.” Here Haro’s imagination failed him.
That afternoon Ibby went to Haro’s house. It was a far nicer place than his own. They kept all the furniture covered in Saran Wrap. They had a stereo console.
“Wanna see my Matchbox cars?” Haro asked.
Ibby gave him another of his looks.
“You want something to drink?”
“You got beer?” Ibby said, nonchalantly. It made Haro’s heart beat fast.
“My dad has some Schlitz.”
“Pop a couple,” Ibby said.
They took the beers into Haro’s room. There were shelves of books, collections of cars and little soldiers on every surface, plastic planes hanging from the ceiling, posters of Einstein and Edgar Allan Poe on the wall.
“You read all those books?” Ibby sloshed some Schlitz in that direction.
“Oh. No. That is, some of them. For school you know. Drag, right?”
Haro sat on his bed and Ibby took the only chair.
“I’ve got records.”
“I got a record, too,” Ibby said. He didn’t smile. Now that Haro thought about it he had never seen Ibby Sankta smile.
Haro put on a record anyway. It was Rockabye Caruso doing “Mess Me Up.”
“I like the drums on this one,” Haro said. He was feeling light-headed.
“I guess I’ll go home,” Ibby said.
“What’s at home?”
“I got a sister. You want her?”
“She’s yours for a dollar.”
“Heh heh, no. Thanks, though. This brew has gone head to my straight.”
“Guess I’ll go then,” Ibby said, draining his can.
Haro attempted to emulate and poured as much onto his chest as into his mouth.
“Thish waz great,” Haro said at the door.
“Any day is a good day that doesn’t start with killing a rat with a hammer,” Ibby said, walking away.
In the trailer Pif was trying to twirl a baton she found in Peat’s junkyard.
“Watch this,” she said, and holding it at arm’s length she sent it spinning into her own nose. “Ouch, dammit.”
“Wheredya get that?”
“Peat’s,” Pif said, rubbing her red nose.
“Mom over there again?”
Ibby went to his room and pulled the accordion door shut.
“Oh, some girl called for you,” Pif shouted through the door. “Ouch!”
Pif had put a note on his dresser. It read, “You want to get together after school some time?” And it was signed, Donaport. The i was dotted with a heart.
Ibby went to sleep that night with a lightness in his chest he had never felt before. He thought about the cheerleader and he thought about her big tits and he fell asleep with a new sensation aborning—was it hope?
Next morning he saw Haro first thing and hailed him.
“C’mere,” he said.
Haro’s eyes opened wide. Ibby was hailing him!
“I got a note from Donaport. She wants to get together with me.”
“Ibby! That’s great! She’s the prettiest girl in the world!”
“I want you to give her a message.”
“Oh. Oh, no. I’m not sure,” Haro said.
“What’s the problem?”
“She wouldn’t talk to me.”
“Tell her you’re coming from me.”
At lunch Haro didn’t even stop in the food line. He raced to the table and dropped breathlessly down next to Ibby.
“She spoke to me,” Haro said, panting.
Ibby gave him another of his looks.
“Oh, right. It’s not about me. She said, 3 o’clock at the bleachers. Not the new bleachers but the old bleachers at the abandoned park. The old bleachers.”
It was a make-out spot.
After his last class Ibby moved in a steady pace toward his destination. Was he anxious? Pleased? He was holding himself in check.
As he approached the bleachers he saw her. She was wearing her cheerleader uniform and her legs shone like the polished floors in the new Eastern Annex.
She raised a hand as she recognized him.
He slowed his step. He stopped once and lit a cigarette, blew smoke to the east, and then moved on.
“Hi,” Donaport Evans said. “You don’t know me, I know.”
“I know you.”
Ibby didn’t know whether to sit next to her or not. He had never felt indecisive before. Was he feeling good or bad? He had never asked that of himself either.
“I’ve been watching you,” Donaport Evans said, and she ran a hand absentmindedly up her gleaming thigh.
“I understand you have a big one.”
Ibby was not sure he’d heard right.
“What?” he rightly asked.
“You know. The word is that yours is big.”
“My cock,” Ibby said with a hint of exasperation.
“Oh I love it when a man talks dirty,” Donaport Evans said. Now she licked her lips which were a glossy pink.
“You want it then?” Ibby said.
“Oh. Please show it to me,” she said.
Ibby hesitated. He looked behind him. Then he slowly unzipped his dirty plaid, double-knit pants. He hesitated.
“Ooh,” Donaport Evans said. “I’m getting excited.”
Ibby’s cock was swollen. He pulled it out.
There was a small explosion from somewhere behind the bleachers. A bright light shot through Ibby’s brain.
Donaport Evans was on her feet, laughing and fleeing. From behind the old dugout came a roll of laughter. Ibby zipped up and stepped in that direction.
Behind the dugout he found a small cluster of his classmates: a couple football players, the cute blond secretary of the senior class, a guy Ibby knew from school assemblies, another cheerleader. A black guy with a camera.
“Ibby! I’m sorry,” Donaport Evans snorted between guffaws. “It’s just a stupid game. A sort of bad-idea scavenger hunt. I got ‘See Ibby Bilsun’s penis.’ See—“
She was holding out a wrinkled piece of paper.
“You were worth 50 points!”
They all laughed some more, some a little uneasily now.
Ibby stood stock still. He let the laughter roll around him in waves but he did not move. He was a black pillar of hate. Suddenly, like a door closing, the happy sounds disappeared.
“Take it easy, old man,” one of the football players said.
When Ibby got home he looked a mess. He had a swollen cut above one eye, blood in one ear, dirt in his hair, blood on his corduroy shirt, and his pants were gone.
“Ibby!” his mom squealed.
“Eek!” Pif said.
“Salright,” Ibby said and muscled past them into his room, closing his plastic door.
Mother and daughter exchanged a look. The trailer grew silent. It was the kind of silence found in ancient tombs, an old silence, one the world has carried from the first days, the silence between death and birth.
“Did you have a nice day?” his mom called, after a while.
The air inside the trailer was dense. They could not hear Ibby’s reply.
COREY MESLER has been published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Five Points, Good Poems American Places, and Esquire/Narrative. He has published 8 novels, 4 short story collections, and 5 full-length poetry collections. His recent novel, Memphis Movie, has been optioned for a feature film. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart many times, and 2 of his poems were chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. With his wife he runs a 140 year-old bookstore in Memphis. He can be found at https://coreymesler.wordpress.com.