Corn on the Cob
By Nolan Devine
On the unfenced football field, across the road from cropland I’m plowing, a funeral is under way. My tractor seat vantage is elevated to see the mass of people, hordes who form a gyrating centipede. They link limbs and bow in congregation around the boxed nest of their deceased king. Atop it sits the glued pieces of a coffee mug. My eyes reach through the shit black container to peep its contents. It holds the carcass of Benoît Poelvoorde: coach, teacher, beloved icon, brown-nosing faggot.
Looking out my rear window the steel tines of a chisel plow pass through the ground. A contrast is created. The golden straw of wheat gets flipped, transforming into chunks of muddy earth. The divide cannot be ignored. I twist myself forward for a glimpse of what’s ahead. Though it’s a distance off, the tractor is digging a path toward the funeral. The loud regurgitation of my machine drowns out all other sound but still I hear the ignorant words of praise these people bestow.
If I kept course I’d be there in a minute, perhaps two. I could raise the plow as I came up out my field, crossing the road and dipping into the unfenced stadium. The rows of black clad bowers would see the tractor but its tint might shield my identity. I’m perhaps not ready for attachment to my actions.
Starting at the end zone I’d bounce along toward the fifty yard mark where his followers gather. None would know what to make of this mechanized intruder. I picture old women, the lonely maiden teachers who flirted with him, screaming as their top dentures unhinge. As the teeth swing, shrieking, yellow worms reveal themselves. The school janitor genuflects. The centipede sentry breaks apart, unable to protect its king. Some begin a chant of “HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!” and it’s unclear if it’s out of fear or a rallying cry.
I can envision the nose of the tractor knocking the coffin off its stand and his bloated body slithering out. I take pleasure in hearing the box splintering beneath the hard rubber of my wheels. The body passes beneath my machine. It comes out the backside as the tines of my chisel lower to hook Benoît through his molesting prick.
Once hooked, I imagine his corpse dancing with me toward the oncoming end zone. The broken centipede runs after but without infinite feet it’s slow. With each passing yard Benoit’s remains rip along the torso. I laugh as not the blood of a human, nor a real man, spills out. There’s just a sticky trail of discolored embalming fluid. The old women get down on their busted, cocksucking knees. They let their dangling worms suckle the poison he’s secreted. But the others cease reverence as they see what he really is. By the time I reach the end zone there’s nothing left except a broken-down, disembodied penis stabbed under my blade. Touchdown.
I snap into the present and look back to see I’m nearly two hundred feet off the line of straw I was plowing. I can’t even keep that from going crooked.
The next morning is the first day of school since Benoit croaked. Though I’d rather not see him just now, there’s Larrygogan. He’s crouched in the alleyway shooting marbles with some of his remedial class friends. I’m slinking my backpack off one shoulder and he turns his head to greet me with his goofy, rolling stare. He smiles even though he shouldn’t. His chompers are dark yellow, and all molars, even in the front.
When excited he talks by chomping his mouth, releasing a singular word per bite.
I. Chomp. Got. Chomp. A. Chomp. Twix. Chomp. Bar. Chomp. King. Chomp. Size. Chomp. Dark. Chomp. Chocolate. Chomp. No. Chomp. Wait. Chomp. Milk…
“Salish. Hello!” His greetings for me are always enthusiastic no matter how I’ve treated him.
“Hey, Larry. How’s she going?”
“I. Be. Good,” he chews out. “Oh. Me. Turn.” Larry reaches a hand to his face and pulls out his left eye. He lines it up for a shot and flicks it with his thumb. It sails past the ring of marbles, not even close. “Oh. No. Me marble is on the lam!”
He trots after his rolling blue peeper. It gently clinks into a brick wall. His downturned head bonks into this. His fat, crooked body, his punk clothing assembled from the Salvation Army throwaway bin, his uneven buzz cut, it all topples. I’ve explained depth perception to him a hundred times but it never sticks.
I grab Larrygogan’s eye and granny-style it back to him as he bends his torso up. He spit shines the thing and returns it, though sideways, to the empty cavern in his face.
He’s on his knees beside me, looking up in familiarity. I place my hand on a fat tendon of his neck but then jerk it back as soon as I’m conscious of this action. I need to get him standing. I grab beneath his armpits and yank him up. “Come on. You’re going to end up late.”
“Me can be if you want to play the hidey game. I brushed me teeth.”
A reminiscent sick swirl hits my stomach, like trying to digest cow shit compacted with hay and drunken toads. They sing a song of teases within. I reprimand them. “No. We’re done with that.”
Stating it out loud acts as an audible medicine. The feeling passes for a moment. But soon the shitfed toads in me come alive, wiggling in the hay, reprising their hooched up chorus. Croaks shouted to the world. I feel the ribbit-ribbit in my crotch. I’ll take it anywhere but there.
“Am me not good at hidey game? I didn’t want to hurt you. Me was surprised.”
“I said no.”
“Sorry, Salish. I thought maybe ’cause you’ve said we done before but we still play.”
I start leading him toward the gymnasium. “Come on, buddy. Ya don’t want to be the only senior late for P.E.” I’m his only non-remedial friend and it takes more restraint than ever to not lash out, to keep him in my life.
As we walk I peep the football field beside the school. A banner is taped to the back of the stands and scrawled in bright green are the words “WE LOVE YOU, COACH.” The shit licking beasts within start up again. I look at Larry. He catches me staring and smiles. I excuse myself. In a bathroom stall I use my hand to slay the toads. They’ve left eggs but at least I know what to do when those hatch.
The only thing people can talk about is how sad they are over losing “our man.” The morning announcements start with a poem some dippy wrote in tribute. The words “victory” and “smoked hickory ham” are inexplicably rhymed. The principal pontificates on how the football field was Coach Ben’s second home. The place where he transformed from a mild cub to a roaring lion of a man. They’re naming the stadium in his honor. An ever present reminder. I can’t escape the eulogies, the false pillar we’re all supposed to adore.
Later in the morning this chick Bryce approaches me. She’s tried to fuck me a few times — which I should’ve allowed — and now asks why I wasn’t at the big event.
“I had field work.”
“Yeah, but like, you could’ve done it later. Everyone wondered why you were in that jank ass tractor, ya creep.”
“I didn’t want to go.”
“You should’ve. He was cool.”
“Yeah he was.”
“He stuck his fucking French nose in other people’s business.”
“Your little retard tell ya that?” She taps a flat, horizontal hand across the left of her chest as she juts her teeth.
“No. And don’t call him that.”
Bryce snorts in laughter. “Ben wasn’t some weird little snoop if that’s what ya think. He was just fuckable. Very, very fuckable.”
My stomach tightens as she rambles about how good he would’ve been for intimacy. “Ah, fuck off,” I mumble before realizing the quiver in my voice. I ratchet up my tone. “Well, Christ. Go finger yourself on his grave if you think he’s so great.”
“How ’bout ya fuck yourself. That’s if ya even can, Mrs. Limp.”
I slap a locker as hard as I can and hit the bone of my hand. “At least I didn’t give my horse a fucking STD.” I immediately flush with embarrassment for repeating this idiotic rumor which originated after 6th grade.
She walks away in a fit of snorts.
I’m disappointed in myself but think on what happened so I can learn to recompose. I let her expose anger and frustration. The kind that must be kept within next to everything else I can’t let out. I’ll adapt. Just hold it all in for next time then release it when alone. The croaks start rumbling in the place they shouldn’t be. As penance I pound myself close-fisted until its numb. I’m glad I know that trick.
The first time I ever saw Benoît Poelvoorde was a week after he’d been hired. That was junior year. My mother thought it might fix me up if I made the football team. That perhaps through habit I’d imitate the actions of a real man. The town viewed Benoit as such despite his actuality.
He kept himself well groomed and perfumed. He had the refined features of someone who’s never engaged in physical labor, standing in contrast to the other men I see. He was a fit man in a town where potbellies were found on all except the young and immature. A Frenchman working for a Midwest school in the countryside. A desolate place with no neighboring towns. He’d traveled across the world from a big city of his people to a tiny nothing of his others. It made no sense.
As we chatted he sipped from a mug coated in print. He seemed to think the words comically acknowledged his outsider status. ”Asshole. Drug-fucked con-artist. Parisian WANK-BAG.” People ate it up. What a laugh Ben is. He carried that stupid thing with him in the classroom and on the football field. Always sipping with a pinky out like some dipshit movie character. He fancied himself a funnyman, a flirt, a person who knew how to wriggle in where he shouldn’t be.
I told him I held no interest in football. That I was meeting because of a dictate from my mother, some fleeting hope for her son. He ended the sports talk almost immediately. He said I was too much of a bunny boy like himself. Rough games weren’t for us. Ben squeezed my arm. His touch tensed my shoulders and brought a flutter to my gut. I told him I had to get going. He removed me from his grasp and wrapped ten fingers around the mug. Each nail was trimmed and neat. Ben kept me in his gaze while sipping. He tried asking about my crummy papa, my interests, if the people around here were gossips. This Frenchman was no good.
They’ve assembled the whole school. There’s nearly two hundred people packed in the 1970s bleachers of a tiny auditorium. We’re here to pay tribute yet again. The man was only present for a year and yet he’s more prized than people who’ve lived this land forever.
There’s a microphone set up and the format is such that kids and faculty can go and blab at high decibels about how much they loved Ben. About how he was such an exciting, fresh presence in a once stale community. The football team didn’t even have a winning record. It makes no sense. Some of the old maiden hags have their turn. They practically imply it was a shame they never took a dip on his Frenchy cock. Their true meaning hides behind phrases like “I knew the man well but never intimately enough.”
The centipedes swarm the mic, batting it back and forth between hands until a buzzing hum fills the room. People depart the bleachers for the stand. Their dozens of legs can’t carry them fast enough to the amplifier of lies. The whole thing is really putting me down so I slip out to the hall.
I’m next to a fountain trying to think but the sounds of the auditorium thump from all directions. The remedial kids are tramping down the hall, late for the assembly. At the back of the line is Larrygogan. The leaning arch of his back slows him as always. I put my head down but I’m caught in the stare of a dead eye. He stops as the rest of his comrades go in.
“Come. In. With. Me.” He’s excited.
“Nope, already been there.”
“Come. In. Come. In!”
“Ah, fuck off.”
“You. Are. You. Are. You. Are.”
I push my flat palms from my chest downward and take a deep breath, signifying for him to slow down.
His chattering eases. “You still mad Coach Ben found the game?”
Retards. Fucking retards. Christ almighty anyway. “I said fuck off, dude.”
He tells me he found something of Ben’s I should see. To get away from the auditorium I go with but he leads me to the supply room. I don’t want to go in there even if it’ll give me reprieve from the centipede’s shrill hum. Larry pretty much makes me go in, just like he did last week. I didn’t want to go then but I did anyway to shut him up. Because he probably would’ve started crying and blabbing lies to people. He made me go in. I didn’t want to. I just felt too compelled to say no.
Last week we were in here a long time. That led to playing the game. I got excited from his tongue’s lashings and knocked the side of his head when I meant to squeeze his hair. His eye dropped out, clinkity-clinkty-clink, rolling into shadows. I visualized its spinning view and became dizzy. Larry tried uttering words with his mouth still full. His horse teeth bit down really goddamned hard. I shrieked.
My yelp was too loud. Moments later Benoît Poelvoorde came through the door like a brown-nosing, faggoty ditch-pig. He flipped on the light. My pants were down, my hand was holding it, and Larrygogan was crawling around like a mad dog in search of biscuits.
“What the hell is going on here?” Ben demanded. Coffee spilled from the mug in his hand.
“There will be heck to pay if I can’t find me marble.”
I was yanking up my pants when Ben looked at my waist and asked “Salish, are you okay?” He shut the door behind him and set down his drink. To me he gave a knowing smile.
Sunk into my tip was a pattern of molar indentations. Dots of blood pooled out. A thick, yellow welt bubbled up.
Larrygogan noticed this and started chattering his teeth in excitement. “Corn. On. The. Cob. He. Got. Corn. On. His. Cob!”
I pulled my everything up, not able to look at anyone, and tried to jam out through the door. Ben blocked it.
I looked up at him. “We were just looking for Windex.”
“We was playing Hidey-Hole,” Larry added as he crawled about.
It was then the toady shitball first appeared and began its croaks. “Shut the fuck up, ya retard.”
“Larrygogan, boy, you do as he says and calm down.” Ben grabbed his mug and poured black goo to the ground. It was as if he expected Larry to lap up the grounds like a tractable dog. He looked to see if I was laughing.
“Don’t eat that, Larry,” I warned.
Ben put his free hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Salish, relax. You’re among friends.” He smiled as his fingers worked the tendons of my neck. I left them there a moment before snapping my head away.
“I found me marble!”
Ben grinned. “Let’s get some Windex for Larry.”
I knocked Ben into a shelf and dashed out, fixing for home. That was Friday. I sat up all night thinking of what I could do to stop this. On Saturday Benoît Poelvoorde dropped dead in the locker room. The mug he’d just been sipping from shattered when he hit the ground. Blood from deep within spat out through the cavities of his face. It mixed with coffee.
In the supply room Larrygogan shows me Ben’s wallet. It apparently fell out during that last encounter in this space. He gives it to me, saying he never liked Ben. I always thought Larry lived solely on impulse but perhaps he reflects beyond the present and draws from the past. He’s not ashamed of how he is but that’s because it’s so obvious there’s no sense in hiding it. He can be himself without sinking in the bullshit mucking us all down. I know that goop will always be in my life, ready to snatch me. But perhaps I can kick off the excess for myself and fake a dance for others. With Ben’s wallet in hand I cut out early for the second straight school day.
I’m now in the tractor at nighttime and have had a few days to work it over in my head. I’ve pillaged that wallet a hundred times: driver’s license with a photo that captures his features, thirty bucks, movie stubs, and an expired condom. I don’t think there’s anything to make of it. Nothing that adds up to damnation. No hint of the secret life only me and Larry could prove he had. A secret I’m unable to speak out loud in plain words. I take comfort in knowing what he saw died with him. Now the only one holding it over me is me.
The plow of my machine is doing its job of flipping the earth from gold to black. Sticking to a clod are the maggoty remains of what could be a cat, fox, or bunny-rabbit. I don’t know. These are the siphoned remains of ones who gave nourishment to others who drank more than they were allotted Sucked dry and buried. The kings of people always use their roots to dig in and feed off those dismissed or forgotten.
To the side of me is a field of corn. I throttle down and take a breath. There’s a hill just up the road. The dimming white headlights of cars are falling from the tops of hills or heavens, spit down to mortal land. Inversely a procession of tail lights, red malicious eyes, rise to the top and conquer what once was mighty. The cycle among them is endless. There needs to be more of us content to just ride the road we’re given.
My tractor aims toward the stadium. I cross the gravel, heading for the nearest goal posts. When I pass into the end zone I lower my tines. The things once shuttered now surface to live at last a balanced life. They’ve witnessed the entirety of earth’s fucked nature. Its prepared them.
They’re capable of seeing what those looming over all cannot. Stuck so low so long, battling what can’t be admitted while sober or with unpeeled eyes. The inner sickness is acknowledged in order to sense when it bubbles up. It won’t pop until death but at least can be contained. In self-confession they gain the tools of suppression. They’re deployed so only the self is hurt instead of others.
With my headlights shining forward I toss the wallet out the window, heading for another touchdown. This turf may bare Ben’s name but it’s no longer his land. I’ll plow until he’s sapped from memory. When the yard is cleansed I’ll bury a seed. A subterranean something. The best origin possible. After surfacing it’ll be ready to cope and thrive as best as any who live without delusion.
I need to plant while the land’s still raw. I’ll unfurl my unshaven cock like the husk of a rat, its spine a line of pleasure leading to the head. From its mouth my hands will squeeze a drop into the earth. The friction against the yellowed scabs on my tip might hurt. The agony a reminder of what I must do for life. The way I’ll battle my sickness. Only my hand. Only my skin.
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