Editor’s Note: Trigger warnings for violence and homophobia.
What Christian Women Tell Their Children
by Dexter Benjamin Gore
The bottom of the knife sticks out of Harold’s mouth, while the rest is against the inside of his cheek. My friend Billy and I have been at the docks all morning. Before Harold, our bully, showed up, Billy told me that he feels strange toward men.
The Pee Dee River is draining out into the ocean, so the dock is swaying.
Billy is firm and calm as he holds the knife’s handle. I feel sure he will slice open Harold’s mouth.
You had no right coming out here yelling at us and talking out of your ass, my friend says to Harold. He and I are not together like that. For Christ sakes, we’re seniors about to graduate and go to college. Grow up.
Harold’s eyes are two black pears sinking deeper and deeper into his head. His cheekbones are red, chapped by the river air that smells like manure and pine straw.
Billy presses the knife further against the edge of Harold’s mouth. A little stream of blood spills from a cut on his Harold’s bottom lip and rubs against the blade. It falls down his cheek and twists like string around stubble, before falling onto the damp planks of the dock and sinks into the wood, staining it a dark, maroon shade of red.
It’s low tide.
I imagine if my friend kills Harold he’ll step out into the river, just a short piece, and throw the body out there with rocks and whatever else to weigh it down. High tide plus the expected afternoon rain and current would take care of the rest. I wouldn’t mind. It would make for a good ghost story after varsity basketball practice. And Harold did pull up earlier and push me to ground, point at my friend and I and said, You think you’re welcome to come out here being perty boys? People use this here spot to fish and hunt, been that way for years. They don’t come out here to see two guys sucking dick.
But Billy pulls the blade out of Harold’s mouth and puts the knife away in the pocket of his pocket. He throws Harold to the ground, kicks him in the ribs, and then busts his nose with his fist.
It’s done. Billy rolls Harold over with his foot. He pulls a cigarette from his jacket and lights it. My mother told me it wasn’t okay for people to be smoking because it turns our insides black and makes us age quicker. She also taught me that it wasn’t right to get too close to men, in that way that’s beyond just being friends, which is why I told Billy I didn’t understand his feelings and didn’t think we could hangout any more.
But watching Billy smoke, his fingers pinching the butt of the cigarette, the way he makes the tip of it glow orange, then fade as he blows smokes into Harold’s face, make me feel like a child.
We need to get on going, says Billy. Guess you got trouble with what I’ve told you and what just happened. Not that I’m of a good mind to really care right now. Sure as hell wouldn’t have been this way had it been the other way around with you and me. I wouldn’t have minded you.
The smoke that he blows out of the corner of his mouth lingers in the winter air like breath. He takes another hit then goes to flick the last half of it into the water.
I stop him.
I want a hit, I say.
My friend doesn’t see me smoking. He walks up the landing ramp with our keys to crank our trucks so they can be warming up. Harold turns onto his stomach and looks at me. His teeth, gritted, and upper lip are stained red. I blow the smoke in his direction. I ignore my friend telling me to hurry up. I wait to see what Harold will do. I am prepared to kick him again if he says anything about Billy and I hanging out, spit on him, maybe even ask for the knife. But Harold says nothing, places his forehead on the wooden boards of the landing, and coughs.
I clamp the glowing stub of the cigarette between my right pointer and middle and go up the ramp. My friend looks away from me and backs out when I approach his window. His tires spin up puffs of brown dust. He pulls out of the parking lot onto 501. I go to reach into my pocket for my cell phone, I want him to come back, but I cuss and let the stub hit the ground.
The cigarette burned the skin between my fingers. I suck on the wound and get in my truck. It’s cold. The keys are in the ignition. I lean back in my seat still feeling childish, and now pathetic.
Harold calls out for my help and understanding. I let him lay there, hurting, holding his chest and calling out for my help, on the landing.