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I'm Just a Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like a Man)
by Philip Martin

Billy Cyr was drunk. He sat in the white LTD outside his mother's trailer and thought about the pink percussive pop of Angela's diaphragm case and the things he had done wrong. He was drinking Cutty Sark, fisting the bottle up to the lopsided hole in his head and pouring it in. He couldn't see it in the dark but he knew. Color of piss it was, and warm too. He was drunk but not drunk enough.
     Billy wasn't a bad sort. He could sing a bit and he made the National Honor Society on the second chance -he didn't get in as a junior but they pinned him as a senior. He wasn't unpopular in school, wasn't considered goofy or unathletic. He played second base and had boxed a little at the YMCA before he discovered how fast black boys could be with their hands. He took eleven straight three-rounders before he walked into the real thing and got turned back. He was what the guidance counselor called well-rounded; he was going to school at Tech now. He was 75 miles away from his dorm room. His mother's trailer just happened to be in a park that was next door to the Southpaw Club where Billy liked to go and listen to his friend Hank's band play heavy-metal music. It was sort of a coincidence that he was sitting outside his mother's trailer in the white Ford.
     The car was only nine years old, but it was an old nine. You might call it bathtub white if you were generous. The paint had taken on a kind of silky texture - like velour. Rust was working its way through in spots. It was only nine years old - really ten when Billy thought about how it was 1977 and already the 1978s were out - but it was, in all fairness, a beater. None of Billy's friends had cars as crappy as the white Ford. Not even Hank, who was piss poor, whose Daddy was a worthless son-of-a-bitch that Hank might have to kill someday, Nobody had such a piece-of-shit beater as Billy. Billy didn't mind though. He didn't care about cars.
     Besides, everybody liked Billy's beater. At least they seemed to like it; it was big enough to hold everybody, it had the best stereo - a Craig PowerPlay that was too big to fit in the dash, so Billy mounted it on the floor with its mouth up, so that it resembled a toaster . The cassettes popped up when he hit the eject button. It was cool.
     Angie liked Billy's car. She said she did. Said she liked the bench seats, the round chromed plastic air conditioner nozzles. Not nozzles. Billy couldn't think of the word. Billy was drunk. But not drunk enough.
     Billy knew he wasn't going to drive back to Ruston. Not tonight. Not in his condition. He wasn't drunk enough to go in yet but he was too drunk to drive. Billy's mom was hard of hearing. Hell, Billy's mom was stone deaf. She wouldn't hear him when he came in, she wouldn't know he was there until she looked out the window and saw the white Ford LTD parked here in the morning.
     It hurt. Sunshine and the sure knowledge of wrongdoing. It came back to him slowly. Angie and the medical student. Him in the bathroom, scraping his knuckles on the exposed pipes, punching the concrete wall. Mike and Will pulling at him, pushing him through the stainless steel kitchen. A bottle of Scotch. Out into the back alley.
     Damn head like a condom full of urine.
     It was coming back.
     Oh fuck, it was coming back.
     He lay in his narrow bed, looking up at the seams in the ceiling and decided it was over with Angie. He loved her but he couldn't put up with her shit. He knew it wasn't really her fault, that it was really her upbringing. All that gothic Catholic weirdness and the abortion and all. She was a good girl, and what she did with Billy - and the guy before - was bad.
     Billy understood this; she was a good girl and good girls didn't really go out with guys like Billy. Billy was a pussyhound. Billy was sweet and nice and all but in the end he wanted you to put out. Third date. He'd try earlier.
     Billy had trouble thinking about God and religion and stuff; he guessed he was still a little drunk. He wanted to hold his head still on the pillow, he wanted to flip the pillow over to the cool side but it seemed like work. He just kept staring at the seams in the ceiling. Not even piss poor Hank lived in as shitty a place as Billy; even piss poor Hank lived in a real house. Granted, Hank's house wasn't much of a house, but it was unmistakably not a trailer.
     Billy could hear his mother scuffling around in the kitchen. Sooner or later she'd look out the window and see his car parked outside. Sooner or later she'd tip-toe back to Billy's end of the trailer, ease open his door and peek her little mouse head in.
     "Billy Wayne." She said this in kind of a gruff whisper, meant to wake her sleeping boy.
     "Yeah, momma? I'm home."
     "What you doing home, Billy Wayne?"
     "No class today, momma. Canceled."
     "Canceled? They don't cancel college."
     "Yes, m'am they do. All the time. They cancel because a professor wants to go fishing, because somebody gets sick, because somebody has emotional problems."
     Billy knew his mother wasn't listening - or rather, that she couldn't hear him. She had turned away from him, satisfied that he was undamaged. Her trust was touching.
     She was all but deaf, unless she looked right at you and cocked her head a certain way she couldn't make out what you were saying. Only your tone of voice registered. She was like a dog that way.
     Sometimes, to amuse his friends, Billy would smile at her and say, in a cheerful voice, "I'm going out to buy drugs now, mama," and she would just smile and nod and not even look up from her sewing.
     Or he'd be on his way out to meet Hank and Michael, waiting in the driveway in Hank's rumbling truck, and halfway out the flimsy trailer door, she'd sing at him from the kitchen:
     "Where you going, Billy Wayne?"
     Billy would sing back:
     "Just down to the corner to get a hooker, mama. I need me a sweet piece of ass."
     And she'd call back to her boy, pridefully beaming behind those jelly jar lenses. "All right, but don't be gone too long. I'll have supper in about an hour."
     Billy did this, but Billy didn't do it to be mean. Billy loved his mama and hated to disappoint her. He hated that he wasn't achieving his potential. He hated that he felt the way he felt but what could you do? He hated that he was skipping school today but there wasn't anything he could do about that now.
     Now was Angie. Now was what to do. Now was a fuckin' gut cramp, like he had four kinds of shit backed up in his belly. Now was pain.
     Billy showered and dressed and felt better. His knuckles were scraped, his hand was sore, but not too bad. He had the sudden thought that if he'd really loved Angie he'd have broken his hand on the wall - as it was he felt a little ashamed of his half-assed hissy fit. If he'd been a man he wouldn't have punched the exposed plumbing in the bathroom, he'd have punched that black-banged medical student. Not that he had anything against him really, but that was the kind of thing you were supposed to do when you were drunk and saw your girlfriend out with her supposed ex.
     He kissed his mama on the cheek and went outside to the beater LTD and fired her up. He pressed a Journey tape down the yaw and the speakers trembled with Steve Perry's high wuss plaint.
     Billy didn't really like Journey all that much but he knew some girls did. And he knew if he was careful with his breath he could drop his voice in a notch so that he could sing along with Steve Perry and it would sound pretty good. Angie had been amazed that he could do that. Billy couldn't sing like Hank could, but he could sing along with the radio - or with the Journey or with the Hall and Oates tape (he had Daryl Hall's parts on Abandoned Lunchonette down pat) - and he could make girls think he could sing.
     He was just a fake shallow bastard, but he could do.
     Sara's off on a turnaround, Flying gamblin' fools to the Holy Land Las Vegas and some girls would get all wet. He knew this. He wasn't stupid.
     He pulled out of the driveway, spit up a few pieces of gravel with his tires, and turned left onto Texas Street, U.S. Highway 80. He turned away from the strip, away from the strip joints and the B-drinking clubs - away from Ruston and school too - and headed for the bridge into Shreveport. He didn't know why. He didn't know where he was going exactly. he was just resisting the urge to drive past Angie's house where she wouldn't be anyway. But driving past her house made him feel weak and sick to his stomach. His gut was settling, his head lightening, he was opening into the day. He had a twenty-dollar bill and almost a tank of gas. He had a Friday with no classes. He had a boner. He was almost in love with his life, if he could just keep from thinking too much about it.
     One thing to do was to ride out to LSU on Youree Drive and try to catch Michael. He always parked his car - it was a nice car, a year-old Trans Am - away from the rest of the students, so it was easy enough to find. Billy could slip a note under the wiper blade and Michael would meet him for a beer at The Cub after he got out of class. Michael was reliable that way, he always showed up.
     Or he could forget about Michael, who was cool but after all a guy, and run out to Tammy's mother's dress shop in Benton. It was eleven miles in the other direction, but chances were that Tammy would be working there. And if she wasn't, Tammy's mother would for sure be there. Billy liked to hang around the shop and talk to her; Billy thought Tammy's mom liked Billy better than Tammy did.
     But Billy liked Tammy too. Tammy liked sex and when she wasn't dating anybody in particular, she'd call Billy and they'd go out drinking and parking and she'd let Billy put his fingers in her so long as he didn't think it meant anything. She'd reach down his pants. She was a good friend to have, and even though she was a little big, a little bit older, and had dropped out of college to go to Vo-Tech to learn to cut hair but never really signed up for the classes, Billy didn't mind being seen with her.
     So when Billy reached the Shreveport side of the Texas Street Bridge, he turned right rather than left and headed north, looping back over the Red River toward the racetrack. He got off on Airline and turnd north again, past the parish courthouse and jail, past the Palmetto Country Club. His headache began to dissipate, he rolled down his window and stuck out his elbow like a trucker. He ejected the Journey - he hadn't been paying it any attention - and tossed on the seat beside him. He fished Hall and Oates out of its case, pressed it down.
John, the hairy Italian-looking one, was singing:

     Will you survive, learn to drive
     I know you can't describe the dreams you wanna be
     But either stay, or get away

     "Awwwhh, pretty girl," Billy keened along with the tape. He hit the notes dead on. He was definitely feeling better.
     "Silly girl, I'm just playing."
     He pulled into the dust lot. Tammy's mother's dress shop looked like it should be part of a strip mall, but the rest of the mall was missing. It was just a little shoebox, with brick sides and a glass front. Tammy's light blue - she called it "azure" - Mustang II was the only vehicle parked there.
     This was good - and bad. It meant Tammy was there. But it also meant her mother wasn't - which meant that Billy couldn't take her off for a milkshake and (he wished) a quick hand job. It meant she had to watch the store. And every customer who came in would be acquainted with Tammy's mother. And sometimes, just every now and then, customers would come in.
     Billy checked his reflection in the glass just before pushing his way inside. He looked OK - he was wearing his drapy terry cloth shirt with the hood, his 28-inch waist jeans, his black belt with the Alaska pipeline buckle and his new Adidas Stan Smiths. His platinum hair was parted in the middle and feathered back and sprayed down. His red eyes were parked behind a pair of $6.99 Foster Grants he'd lifted from the truck stop near Minden where he always stopped to pee on his way to and from school. He was passably attractive. She'd be glad to see him.
     "Hey, Cyr," Tammy drawled, from behind the counter, where she sat reading Glamour. "Why ain't you in school? You flunk out you're going have to go back to work for Libbey Glass, break your poor mama's heart. "
     Billy had worked at Libbey Glass the summer before. It was good money, hot work. He'd come home black and sooty and nearly too tired to eat. He'd just drink his mama's sweet ice tea and fall asleep in front of the TV like an old man. His mama had begged him to quit, but he'd stuck it out all summer. He couldn't imagine going back there. He'd told Tammy all about it; he'd told Tammy he was going to be a structural engineer.
     "Just got a day off, darlin', nothing to fret about," Billy said. He shot her his best fake charming clamshell smile. His Loozianny smile, his mama called it, the one he'd inherited from his slick French daddy. He did a little side to side dance as he threaded through the racks of dresses and pantsuits, his arms held out parallel to the floor and crooked at the elbows. He minced like a queerboy. Tammy laughed.
     "And to what do we owe the honor of your prescence, Mr. Cyr?"
     Billy put on his best Southern gayboy lisp - he knew not to overdo it, not to play it too broad. Billy was a good mimic and not hateful. Alvin Dumas, who was going out on tour with Up With People, was a queer and Billy liked talking to Alvin. Alvin had talent, he could sing better than Hank if it came right down to it. Alvin knew about holding notes and breathing. As he thought this, Billy suddenly realized it was Alvin's voice he was using.
     "Oh, Ah'm just lookin'. Never know when you might run cross a fine pretty pretty."
     "Are you shopping for Miss Angelica?" She pronounced it sorta French-Italian-Anj-el-eek-ah.
     Bill stayed in character, as he felt the hand of a viscose party dress, leftover from prom season, then let it drop dismissively.
     "Ahhh, no. Not today." He bit off the words, and let his voice sing up at the end.
     "What's wrong? Y'all break up?" There was a note of genuine concern in Tammy's voice.
     Billy dropped his fag act.
     "Don't know. Maybe." He gave a little sigh. "May-be."
     He smiled, a smaller version of the Loozianny special. Then he ducked his head and looked up at her over his Foster Grants.
     "Shit, Cyr, what do you mean you don't know? You dump a girl, you know. She dumps you, you for sure know. You thinking about bailing? You think she's thinking about bailing? You didn't come all the way up here to paw my mama's last season Victor Costas."
     "No, m'am, I did not. And I guess if I have to say right now, things ain't so great between Angie and me. She stood me up last night and I saw her later on at the Mississippi River Company with that sloe-eyed bastard who knocked her up."
     "Shit, Billy."
     "Shit is right." He spit the next word, with a theatricality he didn't really feel. "Bitch."
     "OK, so maybe she had to talk to him. Maybe they had something important to discuss. Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with you."
     "Fuck that. She knows where I go, She knows that unless we go out, I run down to the square and pretty much go back and forth between Humphree's and Mississippi depending on who's playing. It was a fuckin' Thursday night and I told her I was going to be in town. She knew I'd run into her. Into them.
     "Maybe she wanted me to kick his ass."
     "Boy, remind me never to date you, Billy. You're one possessive asshole."
     Billy glared at her, but then he saw that she was teasing and he smiled. He threw out his arms and pretended to lunge for her throat. He reached over the counter and she stood up to meet him and hugged him awkwardly. She smelled vaguely of pea soup and gardenias and talcum powder. She felt pneumatic and safe, like one of Billy's sister's old plastic baby dolls. He leaned in and ran his tongue up the side of her neck. She giggled, and pushed him away.
     "So what you going to do?"
     "Don't know. Get used to jerking off. Not that I ever got out of practice. Maybe turn queer. Maybe find myself a rock 'n' roll band, that needs a helping hand. "
     "Billy, I swear, you're 'bout half queer already."
     "Oh, ever seen a queer do this?"
     He stepped back into his boxing stance, threw a flurry of lefts and rights, skipped his feet back and forth, bobbing and weaving.
     Tammy laughed heartily, and put her hand up to her face.
     "Boy, you ought to be on TV. You ought to have your own show."
     "I am my own show, sweetheart, I am my own show."
     The burst of physical activity hadn't done Billy much good. He felt a warm wave of queasiness rising, he felt his gut cramp. He made a face and held up one finger and stepped past the counter into the back room, into the "Employees Only" bathroom and was sick.
     Tammy didn't come after him. She just sat on her stool behind the counter, picked up her magazine and counted the cars that passed her window while Billy was away. Six of them passed in the ten minutes or so he was gone, and she knew five of the drivers and the other one looked familiar to her. Might have been Clayton Dooley, all grown up.
     Damn damn damn. The faucet water wasn't cold enough, Billy slapped it on his face anyway. He was sweating. He could taste the sick in the back of his mouth, smell it on his hands. No more fuckin' Scotch. Never again.
     He finally pulled himself together enough to go back out. Tammy didn't move.
     "You all right?"
     "Chipper, love." His English accent.
     "Damn, Billy you're just no damn good to anyone." She waited a beat. "I feel sorry for you, hon."
     "I feel sorry for me too."
     "We all got that problem, don't we?"
     "Yeah, probably so."
     "You want to talk about Angie some more?"
     "No. I really don't. I really don't think I have anything else to say about her. It's funny, if you'd asked me yesterday, I probably would have told you I was in love with her and that there was half a chance I'd marry her. Now, I don't feel anything for her at all. I'm just pissed that she acted the way she did, you know, I thought she'd have a little more respect."
     "But Billy, you knew she had problems. She'd had an abortion after all - and her parents were so Catholic. Bet if you talked to her you'd find out that this didn't have much to do with you. Maybe she's been in love with that guy all along. Maybe she didn't even know it. Maybe she just wanted to tell him something. Maybe he won't leave her alone - there's all kinds of possibilities."
     "I can feel that it's over and it don't matter. I'm all right. Really. I just got too drunk. Now it feels like I puked her out of my system. Did I tell you I beat up a bathroom last night?"
     He held out his raw hand, an offering. Pathetic.
     "Aw, sweetie, does it hurt? Here, let Tammy fix it."
     She walked over, took his wounded paw and lifted it to her mouth. Then she looked into his eyes and shook her head. Billy looked at her with genuine curiosity. She left him, walked to the front of the store, locked the door and propped the "Closed" sign up beside it.
     "Mama's in Dallas, at market." Tammy sighed. Looked him up and down. "She won't mind. Nobody comes in on Friday afternoon anyway."
     She took his hand again and led Billy into the back room.
     Afterwards, he looked up into her wide face, grateful as a dog.
     "Let's get married," he said. "Let's get married and move to Arizona. I could get work there, I could work constuction. I could be a roofer. I could stand it, a lot of guys can't. I could do it. We could. We really could."
     "Not a chance, Billy. You're too damn pretty, darling. And I couldn't take the heat."
     "You think I'm kiddin', don't you?"
     "Nope. Sure don't. This is how them things happen, Billy. I've seen it before."
     "What things?"
     "Mistakes, mostly. Mistakes."
     Billy nodded. He stood and pulled up his pants. He didn't look at her.
     "I meant it."
     "I know you did, baby. And I appreciate it. But it's not like I don't get offers. I'm not worried about me, I'm worried about you."
     "Yeah. Me too."
     It was near midnight when he pulled the LTD up beside his mama's trailer. He could see the light in her bedroom was on, he figured she was up reading her stories in the World Weekly News. She didn't believe that stuff, just found it entertaining.
     He cut the engine and sat there listening to the Hall and Oates tape purr on for a second before ejecting it. He got out of the car and stood in the cool dim and suddenly felt very sleepy. He was quiet on the steps even though he knew that she was up and also that she was also deaf and whether or not he made any noise would have no bearing on whether she noticed him coming in or not. The flimsy door was unlocked, the trailer vibrated when he stepped inside. That she could feel.
     "Is that Billy Wayne or some bad man come to kill me and steal my treasure?" His mother half-shouted from within her wedge of molten lemon light. "I saved you supper, hon. It's in the oven, just heat it up."
     "It's just me, mama," Billy answered, though he knew she didn't hear. "It's just me."  

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