The short story below is an 11 year old boys tale about the damning power of black language and the redeeming power of white language.
My dad said we should be careful down at the river but I don’t think my brother Pete ever really pays attention to that. He has his .22 rifle in his left hand and tells me to be quiet so mom doesn’t see us leaving with the gun.
I’m 11 and my gun totin big brother Pete is 14 on this hot summer day in Texas in 1962. We are headed to the banks of the Trinity River about a mile from our house.
It’s the river that just last winter killed 5 teenage girls. It was all the newspaper could talk about for days and days afterward. On the first day it showed big black and white high school annual pictures of all the girls on the very front page. They were all smiling big as could be with wavy long hair and dresses with little bows at the collar. It talked about how they had nice personalities and stuff like that and what a big tragedy it was and all. Their car went off the road after they drank too much beer and went right down the bank and into the river. Most everybody said they were good girls and probably some store owner made a big mistake by giving them the beer. The second day the newspaper reported on all the things their parents said and also what their preachers and teachers said about it and all. On the third day they reported about the funerals of four of the girls. The other girl got mysteriously sent off to New Mexico for her funeral. Somebody said her daddy was too embarrassed about the beer and the talk to stay in town. There was a photograph of one of the mommas crying with her handkerchief held up to her nose while the preacher talked to her. She was wearing a necklace that looks like the one Beaver’s mom wears on ‘Leave it to Beaver’. I was a little afraid of the river after that, I wondered if the girls had ghosts that cried at night time and might even float the one mile right up to my bedroom window.
On the way out the door my next door buddy Glenn Ford joins up with us. Glenn’s 10. He didn’t ask if he could come. He never does. He’d probably follow me right into the path of a train come to think about it. His mom and dad named him after the movie star, but Glenn is kinda stupid. My mom says they musta dropped him on his head or something at the hospital and they didn’t bother to x-ray for damage or nothing, just sent him on home with his momma trying to act like nothing happened at all. Glenn’s dad works at the General Motors Factory up the street. Mr. Ford says Ford cars are for shitting in. He only drives ‘built in Texas’ GM cars. That’s kinda funny to my mom too. She says maybe Glenn just takes after his dad in the brains area. His mom is something though with really big pretty knockers which she showed me once when she bent over to pick up the baby that was wailing like a little brat in the middle of the floor, I just happened by dumb luck to be staring at the dopey kid at the time and got a big eyeful. Hers are prettier than the first ones I ever saw in my dad’s magazine last year, the one he thought was hidden under the big rock under the house, but I like going under the house sometimes just goofing around and he didn’t know that, so I figure she could show her knockers off in a magazine too and be famous like Marilyn Monroe, only she has to take care of Mr. Ford and all the brats at her house and there’s six of them already.
When we get to the river Pete hands me the gun and dares me to shoot at the turtles that are floating along the surface. I don’t like killing things and he knows that which is why he is daring me. Me and Pete are a lot alike. He’s just daring me because he won’t kill them either but if he dares me first he can call me ‘chicken’, which of course means I will dare him back and then he will miss the turtle on purpose just to prove he’s brave enough to shoot at them.
My Uncle Jay says we are almost the same, meaning Pete and myself. That’s why he always calls me Repeat. That‘s what he says every time he sees us. “Well look at this willya, here comes ol Pete and his sidekick Repeat.” He says it every time. My dad thinks it’s funny so he calls me Repeat too, almost like he thought of it himself. If Uncle Jay isn’t around to take credit I guess it is like he thought of it himself to anyone that doesn’t know what I know.
Pete gets to keep his name in this ignorant game which is why I don’t like it too much.
I toss a rock into the river just to watch the ripples. I like throwing things, especially rocks into the water, because I can try to hit the turtles on their backs. They always dive down when I actually hit them like they think the Japs are bombing them at Pearl Harbor or something. Then I watch the ripples grow bigger and bigger above their sinking and dying turtle shells.
“You know what that means when the ripples go out like that?” asked Pete. Glenn asked what a ripple is, but we just ignored him like we always do.
Knowing Pete watches a lot of TV I decide he probably knows what it means and anything I answer is gonna get laughed at so I bite on the question. “No ignoramus, what the hell do the ripples mean?” Pete ignores my insult figuring he had something important to teach his little brother like the day he taught me to throw a curveball, “Dad says it’s the same as telling a lie or telling something nice about someone.” “That’s right” said Glenn. We knew Glenn was probably thinking about something altogether different than we were so we just talked around him. “What do you mean? I don’t get how a rock in the water and ripples is like a lie.” Pete sat back on the bank and tried to act wise, “Well the ripples are like someone you tell a lie to and then that person goes and tells the lie to someone else and pretty soon the lie you told is going on all around you just like the ripples in the water and you can’t do anything to stop it. But if you say something nice to someone or say something nice about them then the same thing happens, but it’s all nice and good things that are going on instead.”
I didn’t say anything back to Pete on account of I was figuring him to be pretty smart at that point, but Glenn asked him what happens to the rock.
“Glenn, you’re a dumbass, it doesn’t matter about the rock!” Pete was easily irritated when he was trying to pass on some of dad’s wise thinking.
“It just matters that if you tell a bad thing about someone or say a bad thing it just goes on and on, it doesn’t end there unless you live on the damn North Pole or something. Same thing happens with good things.”
“But you called me a dumbass,” said Glenn.
Pete’s eyes were narrow slits now. “Glenn those dead girls from this river are gonna haunt you for the rest of your life you little ignorant son-of-a-bitch!”
It looked like Pete had already forgot about the ripples and nice words and all that, but I was figuring dad would be sorta proud of him anyhow. Glenn shut up then cause Pete had a gun and he didn’t feel the same about Glenn as he did the turtles.
Copyright 2006 - Riddle