November 1, 1961:
Gibby is in the hayloft of the barn looking at the pages he tore out of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. This morning when he was looking at the Christmas toys and making a wish list, Eli showed him the pages of women wearing brassieres and panties. If you wet your finger and rub, you can see what's underneath, he said. The thought hadn't really occurred to Gibby before, but now he can't stand not knowing what the pretty women look like naked, especially at that mysterious V where boys have something to stick out and girls have something to hide. It makes him feel almost like he has a fever, and kind of queasy inside, but not sick. He has caught glimpses of Arlene naked lots of times, but he has never seen her down there. They all have to take baths in a tin washtub in the kitchen surrounded by the dinette chairs. She has big titties, but it makes him feel nasty to think of seeing Arlene the way other boys see her. Eli says all the senior high boys that ride the school bus talk about Arlene's titties.
Gibby leans back on some bales of hay and peels down his britches over his tenny shoes. Then he pulls off his underwear. His doodle snags and then pops free, waggling back and forth. It's as hard as he has ever seen it; even harder than when he wakes up in the morning and has to pee real bad. The hay is itchy on his butt, so he lifts up and pulls his jeans up underneath him.
Eli must have been playing a joke on him. When he licks his finger and rubs between the legs of the women in the catalogue all it does is smear and rub a hole in the page. Eli probably tried it himself in another catalogue and knew it didn't work. Gibby knows he shouldn't be squeezing his hard doodle and yanking on it, but it feels good and even though he wants to stop, he can't stop, he just can't stop. It's like something inside is making him do it and he doesn't know why. Could it be the devil? His Sunday school teacher, Brother Delbert, said you shouldn't touch your privates except when you're using the bathroom. He said if you do it might lead to temptation. He didn't say what the temptation might be, but it sounded bad. Gibby tried not to touch his doodle. He tried so hard.
But he knows Eli plays with his all the time. He puts his hand around it and goes up and down, up and down, real fast, like he's milking a cow's teat. He does it almost every night. Last summer some of Eli's friends came over after church to go fishing on the creek and instead of fishing they sat on the creek bank and played with their doodles for a long time while talking about seeing girls naked. Ronnie Calhoun even claimed he saw Arlene's panties on the school bus. Gibby ran home and told Daddy and Arlene about their sinning against Jesus, but they didn't seem to care. Daddy was reading his bible; he kind of cough-laughed and told him not to worry about it. Arlene was outside swinging in the swing Daddy fixed up on the big oak tree, and singing "How Much is that Doggy in the Window?" She just giggled and said, just wait a year or two and you will be doing the same thing. Gibby said, oh, no, I won't! Jesus is watching! It made Gibby mad for her to think he would do something Jesus didn't do, and he said so. How do you know Jesus didn't do it? she asked him, he was a man, wasn't he? Uh uh-h-h, Gibby said. He was just Jesus. Well, they hung him on the old rugged cross, she said. So I reckon he felt things the same way a man does.
And now Gibby is doing the thing he said Jesus didn't do, and he can't stop. He wants to stop, but he can't stop. His hand and arm are tired, but he can't stop. He tries thinking of Jesus, but he can't stop trying to imagine what is underneath these women's underwear. How long does he have to keep this up before he is able to stop?
For some reason he isn't aware of, he gets into a crouch like a catcher in baseball and raises halfway up like he is going after a high pitch. The strain makes him feel different. It reminds him of when he was in the first grade and he used to hang by his arms from the monkey bars on the playground and strain to pull himself up. He would get the most wonderful feeling all through his body. He would hang there with his arms bent until he couldn't hang anymore and then he would drop to the ground, feeling limp as a used washrag. Maybe the feeling he is feeling now will lead to the feeling he felt back then.
He lowers his grip on his doodle so that he has more skin in his grasp. Then he lengthens the stroke and speeds up his hand. He feels like he is about to collapse when he feels the tingle he remembers from first grade start to spread throughout his body. It feels so good he wants it to last forever, a blessed wildness crawling from somewhere deep inside him and suddenly he is having a glorious fit and he closes his eyes and surrenders to it completely, shuddering, rejoicing, born again. He lets go a final drawn-out moan that sounds like it comes from someone else, and collapses back against the bales, shuddering one last time.
After a few deep breaths, he raises his head from the itchy bale and looks down past his bunched-up shirt at the fountain of salvation he still holds in his hand. Lord have mercy, he says to himself. He realizes now he has accidentally discovered a great secret that will change him forever. A few seconds later his joy turns to dread when he lifts his hand and sees clear, sticky goo on the back of his hand and splattered on his shirt. He puts his hand up to his face and wipes some of the gooey stuff off his cheek. Lord have mercy, he says to himself again, only this time he means the words.
Terrified and praying for forgiveness, he tugs on his britches and runs back to the house, even though his legs are as wobbly as Jell-O. Eli is in the living room watching cartoons, but if he asks him about it, he'll probably make something up or else make fun of him. Arlene is in the kitchen rolling out dough for biscuits. Even though he is embarrassed, he is too scared to wait until Daddy gets home from helping Mr. Hess with a springing heifer trying to give birth to a stuck calf. When he tells her that he was peeing when all of a sudden he got this strange feeling and some sticky stuff came out of his doodle, her eyes get big and she cups her flour-covered hand over her mouth.
— Is something wrong with me? Gibby says to her.
She nods, but he can tell she's not serious. — There sure is, she says, wiping the flour on her face with the sleeve of her dress. — You're a boy. Besides that, you're just peachy. Don't try to tell me you were peeing, though. I know better than that. I've caught Eli a dozen times. I swear, I think he wants to be caught.
— I promise I won't ever do it again. I'll pray to Jesus to help me.
— Shush. You'll probably be back at it this evenin'. Nothin' to be ashamed of, but don't talk about it in your Sunday school class, okay? All boys play with their thing.
— All of 'em?
— Sure 'nough.
— But what about this stuff? He holds out his hand.
— Yuk! Get that away from me, Gibby. It's natural, okay, but so is pee and I don't want that on me, either. Whenever you do that, clean up good. And don't go messin' with any little girls, cause that could be big trouble, you hear me?
— Uh huh. He sighs. — Arlene?
— Uh huh?
— What do girls do, you know, uh, you know, um, to get that feelin'?
Arlene's face turns red. — You'll find out one of these days. Now go on and play. I have to get dinner ready. I think Daddy needs to have a talk with you, little brother.
While he stands there, trying to think of how to ask the question that is burning a hole in his conscience, she lights the oven. — Arlene, that was the best feelin' I ever felt in my life. How come it's supposed to be a sin?
— I don't believe it is a sin, she says. — I wouldn't worry about it. Just because somebody tells you somethin' doesn't mean it's true; not even if it's Sunday school teachers. Shoot, they do it, too. Like I said, you'll probably be back at it by this evenin'. Just don't wear it out. She sniffs like she is about to sneeze and turns away, changing the subject. — Bout time to gather the eggs, Gibby. Watch out for that rat snake.
Arlene is wrong. He doesn't wait until evening; he is back at it thirty minutes later. The second time is even better than the first, only this time the sticky stuff is whitish. Wobbly legged, he goes to the chickenhouse and gathers the eggs. The snake is nowhere to be seen.
A. Ray Norsworthy hides out in the Idaho mountains and runs with the wolves. His story collection, Indiahoma: Stories Of Blues And Blessings, is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. His fiction has appeared in Eclectica, Storyglossia, Night Train III, Zoetrope All-Story Extra, The Story Garden, and 12 Gauge. Read his interview in the October, 2006 issue of Eclectica and in the January, 2006 issue, his story, All The Way To Grangeville, which was runner-up in the 2006 Million Writers Award contest. Besides Indiahoma, he has written two novels and a number of plays and short stories. The most recent novels are True Revelations: A Love Story of the Apocalypse, and Becoming One: An Exile from Dreamland.