I like this story. If I hadn’t written it myself, I’d teach it. I think it’s dense. I’d say that 90-percent of this story is drawn from life experiences, experiences that I have gathered from various places of my childhood and put together. To avoid spoilers, I’ll list the lies, or invented truths, at the end of the story.
Drew flipped through the Batman comic book. It looked like a good one. He paused at the Charles Atlas ad. The one where Mac works out after having sand kicked in his face, then beats up the bully. “Oh Mac! You are a real man after all!” He put the Batman down and picked up a Justice League and opened it. Leaning back against the plywood shelves, Drew got lost in the story. When he finished he put the magazine back on the rack, pick up the Batman again and headed to the register.
As he made his way past low shelves of old books and magazines, post cards and movie posters. Drew noticed something wasn’t quite right with the old man who ran the place. He was sitting on his chair behind the counter next to the cash register, where he always sat, where he would yell at the kids that this wasn’t a library, that they needed to buy something or get out. But he was sort of slumped over. Drew wondered if he was dead. The hair on the back of Drew’s neck began to stand up, and he got a sick feeling in his stomach.
By the time he’d made it to the register, he’d decided that he would just put the Batman on the counter and get out of there. It was then that the man snorted. Or harrumphed. Drew stopped walking and peered at the old man. A half eaten bowl of cheerios sat on the counter. Had the man just fallen asleep? Drew’s grandma did that sometimes. She’d be sitting in a chair and just fall asleep. The man seemed to be breathing. Drew listened and could hear the old man’s rumbly breaths. Weird. Drew put a dollar on the counter for the comic. As he turned to go, his eyes wandered over to the other magazine shelf. The one next to the comics. The one with those magazine on the top shelf. Drew’s heart began to beat hard. He glanced once more at the man, then walked quickly back to the magazines.
Drew went straight to his room when he got home. Mom was in the garden. Dad at work. He’d nearly killed himself getting home. Having shoved the magazine under his t-shirt and then tucking it into his jeans, it was nearly impossible to ride his bike and keep the magazine in place. One hand held both a handlebar and the Batman comic, which was becoming hopelessly wrinkled in his sweaty grip. The other hand held the magazine in place. He’d decided to take the back streets home. He was afraid that his erratic steering would cause him to slam into a car or pedestrian on the main road. He didn’t want to think about the embarrassment caused by an ambulance worker picking him up off the street and finding a dirty magazine tucked under his shirt.
He pulled the magazine out from under his shirt and shoved it under the mattress. He tried to straighten his bed up, but now it looked too straight. He messed it up a little. To messy? He sat on the edge of the bed, tried to look relaxed, and read Batman. His stomach felt sick.
It had been two summers ago. Dad had been at some kind of meeting in Dallas. Dad was crossing the street and someone drove right into him. His dad’s head had hit the pavement and they’d taken him to the hospital. Drew’s mom flew down to Dallas to be with Dad while he recovered. Drew stayed with the neighbors for about a week. The Bristols. The first night he was there, Billy Bristol showed him his collection of adult magazines that he’d stolen, one at a time, from his father. Billy, who seemed older than Drew, but wasn’t really, appeared to be really excited about the magazines, so Drew tried to act excited too. He was interested. He’d seen their covers at the comic place. He’d seen hand drawn naked women that kids passed around at school. But this was different. As he and Billy thumbed through the magazines that night, he had time to stare, to study, to compare and contrast. He was occasionally interrupted by Billy’s ugly comments about what he thought of this one, or what he’d do that one. But mostly he just took his time and looked.
Drew realized that he was at the end of his comic. He tossed it onto a stack of other comics and laid back on the bed. It seemed he could feel the magazine through the mattress. Like a twisted version of the princess and the pea or something. The pervert and the porno. Adult magazine. Girlie magazine. Even dirty magazine. These all sounded more acceptable somehow. But pornography. Just thinking the word made his throat tighten.
In church camp last summer all the boys had been herded into the mess hall one afternoon. Drew had thought at first that they were all in trouble. In fact the first thing one of the counselors had said, once they all quieted down was, “Ok. You guys aren’t in trouble.” Then, after a collective sigh of relief from the boys, he added, “Yet. And we,” he indicated the other counselors, “want to make sure that you don’t get into trouble when you leave camp and go out into the world.” What followed was 45 minutes of talk about treating girls respectfully; not staring at their attractive parts, whether it’s someone you know, someone on television, or the women in “pornographic literature;” not touching any of a girl’s skin that’s covered by clothing, when given the opportunity; and of course not touching yourself, whether alone or with friends. Alone or with friends, thought Drew. Who does that? He had been seriously creeped out by the whole discussion. He figured most of the boys felt the same, as they all pretty much sat quiet, apparently, like him, praying for this discussion to end, his neighbor, Billy Bristol, among them.
After the talk, as the boys headed back to the concrete slab to shoot some baskets and wait for the girls to finish their talk, the contents of which Drew didn’t even want to think about, the attitude of some of the boys changed a bit.
“Thank god that’s over,” said one.
“Guess that means I can’t stare at Alicia during chapel,” another joked.
“She is hot,” said another.
“Oh man.” It was Billy. Drew winced a bit, knowing what Billy was capable of. “You should see the stack of dirty magazines Drew and I look at all the time!” Some of the boys responded with uncomfortable laughter. Drew didn’t say a word or look at anyone.
Dinner was over. Drew tried to keep his cool, keep up his end of conversations, eat all his food. But all he could think about was the magazine upstairs, in his room, under his mattress. His mom asked him if was feeling ok. “Yeah. Just tired,” he said, examining his mom’s face for any indication of suspicion. He found none.
“Well, wash up and take it easy then,” she said. “Maybe get to bed early tonight.” Drew watched a little T.V. with his folks after dinner, declined an offer from his dad to play a few hands of cribbage, and went upstairs for a shower, and then bed. He laid in bed, rereading the Batman comic that he’d bought earlier that day. He tried hard to focus on the story this time. But his mind kept going back over the events of the day. He was beginning to wonder if the magazine was even real. He’d never got a good look at it in the store, or in his room when he sped it from under his shirt to under his bed. But he was pretty sure it was still there. God, he hoped it was still there, that it hadn’t been found, by his mother. He settled into an uneasy sleep after deciding that he had to get the damn thing out of the house. Tomorrow. Somehow. Perhaps after just a brief look.
As far as I can remember, I have never stolen a dirty magazine. From a store. And my dad, as far as I know, has never been run over by a bus, in Dallas or elsewhere.