The little boy ate grasshoppers. I watched him closely as he captured the near-flight bug leaps in mid-air, the ease a testament to his practice. Then he looked around to see if we were watching. And we were. He had the goofy look another first-grader recognized as “not-too-bright.” But he grinned, the corner of his smile nearly reaching the ear, one on each side. I could see a haircut done at home by a mother too tired to care the result. Its mud-brown uniform, save from even the smallest light. A cowlick surrounded by sweat beads.
He put the bug into his mouth, a moment of undivided attention. Then he sucked its guts out. Ewwww. He tried for another show, but his audience didn’t care. I watched him wander away, alone, my six-year-old self cold with disgust. About eating bugs and “not being all there.”
I had to visit my cousin’s school that day, just one room living on a square of donated land, not much bigger than the building. One of a thousand like homes to educating the rural masses. I’d rather play. Danny, was just five days younger than me, but that made me the oldest. Forever.
It didn’t matter if I went to school with my cousins. I liked mine the best, though. Danny’s paint curled away like cracked mud. People “took care of ours.” A community blended young to old, not-quite-poor to poorest. Danny’s bored me. I wished I could tell time. Without that secret, endless truly was.
My aunt’s two-tone green sedan pulled up outside the school window. I heard the tires crinkle over the rocks. And out the dirt-streaked window, I could see Aunt Frances and Mom laughing. They always did. The afternoon heat was climbing through the weeds vining up a forgotten trellis, small dust eddies puffed before the car, their windows rolled down. Laughing.
There were five boys in Danny’s family: Milton, Lyle, Billy, Danny, and Rex. Oldest first, youngest last. Lyle could jump up on a horse from behind, just like cowboys in the westerns we watched Saturdays on the black and white TV. I rode with him sometimes. Their house was little, little. Parked on land rich with sandstone formations. Cool places in the summer.
Aunt Francis took care of Grandma Moody who had a wonderful little trailer. But Grandma was sick. She was afraid to go to the hospital, because she said that’s “where people went to die.” Grandma made popcorn balls for us at Christmas, but they weren’t any good, not a real present. She was always crocheting, a new cap and sweater for each new cousin, 26 in all. She smelled of sick.
Danny and I made potted meat sandwiches to go to the sandstones, but his dog was there. And it changed the taste of the food, to one I didn’t want. We didn’t have to take the little kids, because they were too little, and “might get hurt.” I thought they would probably fall into a hole or something, they didn’t “know any better.”
We couldn’t play in the house, because Uncle Clarence worked nights in the creamery in town. Great big skulking boys making no noise. A quiet house. Wrong. I wished Lyle was riding their horses. I don’t know where he was, maybe down by the persimmon tree. They didn’t have a creek like we had, a place to haul pebbles from to the driveway. But they had sandstones, cool in the summer.
Aunt Frances’ boys all drank Pepsi-Cola, in bottles “from the time they were six months old.” But they didn’t have any cavities. I did. They didn’t even have to put half water in theirs.
When Mom honked the horn, we had to run, racing back among the dry grass, beyond spring. “A dry year, this year.” The car inside breathes hot and boring. Just like the last days of the school year. I didn’t want to go back to Danny’s school. I didn’t like it. No place to go where it was cool.
Bugs don’t go to Heaven.