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Fiction #40
(published May 17, 2001)
by Shannon Kyle Beasley

I'm thinking about being twelve. My younger brother Brad turns twelve Thursday. I don't really remember like eleven or thirteen, but twelve, yeah. Twelve was one great year. My Teri Robinson year. Seventh grade. I had a birthday party that more than a hundred people were at, maybe ten moms. "Chaperones," Teri called them, rolling her eyes, meaning puh-leeze. We were twelve, most of us. How do you chaperone mostly twelve-year-olds? I remember they just sat in the kitchen drinking their flat mimosas anyway, watching us ignore them through the back bay window the table was lined up to.

I went in once to get some punch, you know, that Kool-Aid punch that was like two parts sugar to one part water—my brother Kevin, now moved up to AA ball for the Cardinals, calls it "Ghetto Punch." The mom-chaperones all had flashy track suits on that had never seen sweat, and most of them had that scrunchy thing in their hair. Several had concerned expressions on their faces and I heard them talking about their husbands having affairs on them or not and some just suspecting. Then one, near tears, sort of blurted out that Jack was homosexual. They all had their There-theres ready to go for that and their It'll-be-OKs and their little love pats on the back and I managed to hear Mrs. Jack get out, "I suspected, but Jack's too boring to be homosexual." I had a decent idea of the homosexual— Billy Lamb from eighth grade called 'em Homos, with an emphasis on the Ho part. Anyway, then she adds, "You know, there's only two boring homosexual men in the world and the other is Bea Arthur." This must've been a funny part to add, and she didn't claim credit as she'd read it or something like it in The New Yorker, but she wondered what this would do to Cole.

But Cole was there. And Cole knew. And he was better at all the "what-to-dos" and "what-nows" than adults anyway. Cole paid attention. He didn't just listen for key words said with emphasis, he leaned in, he watched your eyes and what you did with your hands and never interrupted and you'd have thought you were Father Kay doing Mass at Saint Luke's for the way he'd listen.

Everybody our age loved Cole. That needs saying. Some of us were even jealous of him. He was always happy. Always. Although I'm sure he couldn't have been always but always when you were around him, and you never left being around him that you didn't feel a little lighter, you know what I mean? I mean everyone's got a Cole in their life, right? Well, you ought to.

Thing about Cole, he had no arms. Not even little nubs like you sometimes see. He said he couldn't ever remember having the arms and in all the younger pictures of him he'd seen he didn't have them on and though he never asked about not having them and where they both got off to he just settled with the idea they didn't come out with the rest of him.

What's neat too, Cole never went a week between girlfriends. No eighth-graders, but lots of the popular girls in our class, even Teri once. Couldn't carry their books or anything—ew, sorry Cole—but we were in seventh grade, and that didn't matter and the girl's dads didn't mind 'cause we were twelve then and it was all harmless and the girls wouldn't grow up to marry him or anything.

Here's something sharp too. Cole could play the harmonica. I know-I know, isn't that something to read and think through. I mean he could play about any song he'd heard and fake out the others. I always told him he'd be a star on Beale Street and how I'd be coming to borrow money from him one day and he'd say he didn't want to be no freak show like that Elephant Man Joseph Merrick we read about and I said it wouldn't be like that at all, people'd pay for hearing the music and he could stand behind a wall for all I'd care. I mean, playing the harmonica. And he could play equally well with using his left or right foot. Listen, if I didn't have arms I couldn't do a lot of things and I'm damn sure one of 'em would be not playing the harmonica with my feet. Shit, if I didn't have these two arms here, I couldn't shove a harmonica off a roof with my feet.

At the party with the mom-chaperones in the kitchen window Cole caused me to cry for a minute—not something I've done much of. I didn't bawl or anything, we had just gone up to my room so I could show him the official Cardinals cap Kevin got for me, and Cole stopped on the stairs to look at that embarrassing picture mom has hanging of all the family at Uncle Phil's barbecue last summer and I got to talkin' about how my Aunt Claire would squeeze me so hard when she'd hug, like all aunts do I guess, you know, we'd pull up in her drive and she'd see us coming from having been in the living room window looking out for us for the last hour through those drapes that aren't really much, you know, don't keep out the sunlight or nothin' just kinda knock it down and green it up, and you couldn't even hardly get the car door completely open because she was already up on you and hollerin' her, You're-lates, and her, I-was-beginning-to-think-you-all-weren't-comings— mom says this is what all country folks say, country like when you're out driving down gravel and you're expected to wave at everybody, those on the front porches and in the front yards pitchin' horseshoes and those that's pulled over in their dusty trucks to let you pass for the narrowness— but there she was when you stepped out, ready with her hard squeeze and your face buried in her big bosoms which you didn't want to think about and hearing her heart beating fast beneath and her threats to never let you go like all aunts over in Arkansas do. I told Cole how I was getting too big for all that now and he stopped me right there on the stairs, right while I was thinking about aunts and country. He had a seriousness about him now, and he told me how you're never too big to be hugged and squeezed, no matter how often or how tight, and that did I know how bad he wished he could hug his momma, just even once. It was that last part that caused me to cry— not bad, just tear up— after it sunk all in. And you know what?, I never minded the aunts doing all that afterwards. You aunts, keep on.

I didn't see much of Cole after twelve. His mom moved them to Santa Fe where Cole's cousins were. She was afraid of the "did-you-hears" and implications she saw approaching fast. She thought she'd save poor Cole from complications and shame by moving him 1000 miles away. She didn't see what we knew, even at twelve. Cole, he wasn't meant to be saved.

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