Before the neighbors leashed and fixed their dogs, they roamed freely through our fields, and Toby, my dog, courted Lady, the Airedale next door, who had nappy hair and bivits dangling from her shaggy ass, and who was anything but.
Goats climbed on tractors and ate my laces and jean-hems as they gazed with disinterest into my tanned kid face through widely spaced eyes. They destroyed things because, like men, the world belonged to them. And like men, people loved them anyway.
The apples, unsprayed, were for eating. Of course it was the Rogers’s tree, but there was this sharing we did in the country. I ate them, one after another, tart as they were, ‘til my stomach cinched, and I was sure I’d die right there in the crotch of the tree.
Toby eviscerated one of their white chickens in our yard, and I froze, legs locked in the shock of feathers. And when the chicken’s life seeped out through her belly, and the stillness came over us, we both did a close-up inspection. Toby and I, heads bent and unmoving, made separate sense of his “work.” Through his hunting and chasing, he always returned to himself, and no girl could understand or underestimate a dog’s killing joy. I couldn’t eat tomatoes for five years after, as they always appeared in my mind matted with white plumage. No one complained. It was the country and shit like that happened.
Up the road a body was found in the creek. Some said a man, some a woman. Dumped, they believed. Never identified. Next year Mr. Ritter shot himself in the woods. They called it an accident. All around, men shot themselves one by one. No one said much about it. Minding our business was best, Grams said.
There was Ben’s bedroom gun-cleaning accident in the farm up the road. We’d see his mother, Pam, shift along in the store, her large brown eyes sunk in her head, while her pale twitchy hands wrung for decades . . . A few details leaked through the town. His bedroom was bone-white like chickens.
Toby was howling and I ran across the street to save him. Shorter than Lady, they somehow managed a death tangle. I ran back to my grandmother and cried, “Grandma! Grandma! Lady’s got Toby’s foot caught up her butt and she’s hurting him.” She laughed and I wondered how she could be so callous. It’s clear there’s always been something wrong with me.
In school, I could never summarize stories the way I was supposed to. My interpretations were always askew. And Mrs. De Vito purple-shamed me in front of the second-grade class because I never used purple right when coloring. She flashed my violet-striped boy, whose precise crayon strokes never crossed a line, and said “Someone is too in love with purple . . . Class, this is an example of what not to do . . .” And it was. To this day, purple makes me uneasy.
My third-grade teacher, Ms. Fuchs, was not much better. Spent first semester trying to bed Mr. Lovejoy, the principal, who was not leaning her way. Later, we found out he was gay.
She was totally different when a principal was around, almost someone you could like, similar to a limp tomato plant after watering—springing back to life—also likeable. Gays must be the salve for foul hearts, I remember thinking. They fix all the broken things. The next year Ms. Fuchs bagged her a married principal, a short, large-headed man named Appleman. His son, a peer at my school, hid his balloon-like head behind a book for the rest of the year.
I still occasionally imagine chicken guts when I slice tomatoes and recall the yellow-orange macaroni I forced down that day Toby killed the chicken.
For a long time before I knew I was queer, I thought gay meant handsome and pock-marked like Mr. Lovejoy, with thick-legged German teachers who might try to fuck you. I couldn’t imagine anyone sexing Ms. Fuchs, not because of her blocky torso, or her shapeless slack jaw, or anything to do with her looks—she was just slug-like in spirit, loved little boys too much, and mean as a snapper. But I’ll be honest now; she probably looked all those ways because beings become who they are, like the devil-horned goats prancing on cars, not giving a shit.
Koss is a queer writer and artist with work published (or forthcoming) in Best Small Fictions 2020, Diode Poetry, Prelude, Chiron Review, Spoon River Review, Five Points, Cincinnati Review, Hobart, Spillway, Bending Genres, Anti-Heroin Chic, Rogue Agent, Rat’s Ass Review, and others. Their hybrid book, One for Sorrow, is due out in 2021 from Negative Capability Press. Keep up with Koss on Twitter @Koss51209969 and Instagram @koss_singular. Their website is http://koss-works.com.