It’s the rumbles of twisting stomachs, the slack weight of arms and legs, heavier now than they should be. It’s the hollow place that has bloomed in their centers and spread like cancer, an emptiness demanding to be filled.
Scrap Boy 1, Scrap Boy 2, Scrap Boy 3, three backyard haircuts, three bare little-bird chest, ribs ruffling flesh, three mouths searching, six rows of crooked teeth saliva slick, but just one shared heart. Where one Scrap Boy goes the other two follow, sure as the echo that follows a slap. They walk, out past the four blocks of downtown, where the three bars have all started locking their dumpsters and Bad Betty reigns over the Dollar General, flies from behind her register to harass Scrap Boys away before they can make it through the automatic door. They walk past the elementary school, playground empty in the heat of summer, basketball rim naked of net. That rim has never had a net. There’s no swish when a Scrap Boy scores. Scrap Boy scores are silent.
The Scrap Boys keep moving, too empty to be walking so far, too empty to stop, past slumping row houses, peeling paint and spiderwebbed windows and cat-piss stink, across the railroad track, steel rails shimmering under the July sun, air thick with the smell of creosote, into the woods, stands of maples and young oaks stitched together with deer trails, to the open field where the trailer sits.
The Scrap Boys are ninjas, 1 and 2 and 3, quick, tiptoe steps, duck behind the trashcans, duck behind the rusted pickup, bare tires settled six inches into the earth, weeds growing up through the engine compartment, a burst of green, like fireworks, blooming up past the open hood. A dash to the back of the trailer, quickquick and silent as clouds.
The Scrap Boys peep in the rear window, open the back door sloooowwly, Ninjas on the prowl. It’s ritual. It’s ceremony. It’s not practical. They know nobody’s in the trailer.
There air inside the trailer is thick and stagnant, heavy with the smell of sweat and cigarettes and beer and spunk; the light inside the trailer is grey, the only sound the hum of the refrigerator.
This is the miracle of the trailer, the refrigerator like Jesus with loaves and fishes. It provides. Today there are hotdogs, two packs of ten for the Scrap Boys to rip open and pass around, Scrap Boy fingers grabbing cold hot dog flesh. Moisture from the packaging drips, drips, drips, on the peeling linoleum floor. The Scrap Boys bite the ends of their hotdogs, then pinch them between their index fingers, pretend they are smoking cigars. Shove the end of their hotdog in their mouth, the meat clammy against their lips and tongues. They inhale, make puffing noises before they bite and pull the dogs away from their faces, brandish their hotdog cigars at each other, try to remember lines from old black and white gangster movies they half watched in the shadows of their grandmothers. The Scrap Boys say, “Look here, Bub.” The Scrap Boys say, “The boss has been looking for you. The boss ain’t gonna be happy.”
And with each puff and bite, with each tough guy line, the Scrap Boys feel themselves growing, aging. Their bones stretch and their hair recedes, their chests swell and then droop, aches are born in their backs and shoulders, their knuckles stiffen and swell until they look like knots on tree trunks. The hollow place in their center creeps and expands like an oil slick. Cold wieners no match for it.
And each Scrap Man, 1, 2, and 3, look at their surroundings, look at the other two Scrap Men, a circle of understanding, a knowing without words, not a shared epiphany, instead a reminding of a truth so brilliant and permanent that it just might be tattooed on their shared heart: You are what you always have been.
Tom Weller is a former factory worker, Peace Corps volunteer, Planned Parenthood sexuality educator, and college writing instructor. His fiction has appeared in Booth, Pidgeonholes, Barrelhouse, among others. His fiction collection And There Came Forth a Great Fish: Stories was published from Gateway Literary Press. He lives in Victoria, Texas, with his wife and his ill-mannered but big-hearted rescue dog, Beans.