By Joshua Ryan
Boss Web showed me to my new rack. This time it was a bottom, because Biff was gone. Biff was the one they sent up to the House to replace me. I don’t know how the boss chose him; probably because he was the faggiest and most worthless one he could think of.
Everybody seemed OK with having me back. I was another pair of legs on the coffle, and I wasn’t Biff. Their main idea was to make sure I was still just another workie like them. Of course the news had traveled about Mr. Hamilton’s “friend” being my “friend” before I put on the workie suit, and the decision that the kangaroo court had made, but I had to be stripped of any specialness that the story gave me, so everybody could see how I took it. It started right away. “Too bad brah! You’re back in the minor leagues.” “The problem with aging.” “Harem boys don’t last that long.” “Shouldn’t have changed your hairstyle.” “Another bad career move.” And a lot more.
I didn’t get mad, so they decided I was safe to live with. Ace stepped forward and gave me a hug, and Mack said, “Watch out — we still got a place on the chain for you.” One dude was friendly enough to want to know how I’d fucked up. His name was Rip, and he was a good, steady worker. Also the best dude at stealing any civilian stuff that was lying around in the cannery, or on the seat of a car at the side of the road. “What went wrong man?” he asked. “Everything,” I said. “I guess I’ll never get off the farm.” “So why should you?” he said.
So I was back, but I wasn’t back with Ace. If I’d dared to look forward to anything when they were taking me back to the coffle, it was him. That moment when I went for Jody — it showed me how much I’d been missing sex, even with a workie. Which, it was clear, was all I’d ever get to have. But that wasn’t it. There was something else. I didn’t want to think about it, but when I did, I finally realized: Ace wasn’t just a fuck buddy. He was …OK, he was a dude I could love. So yeah, that made it lots easier, when they sent me back on the farm. But when I got there …. We went to the Chow Hall, and I saw who was with who, and Mack was the one that Ace was with. They were sitting side by side, and their legs were touching all the time.
Ace looked a little bit sad, and a little bit guilty. Mack looked like, yeah, I actually am glad you’re back, but if you try to take him away from me, I’ll have to fuck you up, dude. So I’d lost again.
I knew I needed to swallow whatever it was that got in my throat when I saw them together. I got a chance when Mack was on his way to the shit holes that night. I stepped in front of him, and he looked like, “OK dude, if you wanta fight me here …. ”
“You win,” I said, as nice as I could.
“Thanks, dude,” he said. “Forget about it.”
“I …uh …. ”
“I said forget about it. Go take the first dump.”
But I couldn’t forget. Next morning I was back on the chain, out in the field. This time we were chopping brush at the edges. And this time, Mack and Ace were chained up next to each other, and I was way down the line. I watched them during the break, huddling together, and when they put us back to work I felt something happening inside me. I wanted to yell and scream and try to run. Which I couldn’t; I was on the coffle. It was lucky for me that I saw the ball and chain waiting out there, in case any weakling needed to shit when he should have been working. So I yelled to the boss and he unhooked me from the long chain and hooked me to the short chain with the big ball on it, and I carried the ball out to the place where you sit on your rump on the little wooden platform and let the shit come out of you. I took down my pants and I sat on the platform. I was a long way away from them, and I cried. I cried in the middle of the field, with my pants around my boots and that cannonball chained to my ankle. I cried because I was a fool and I’d thrown my life away and now I’d lost my last chance, if it even was a chance, to get out of this horrible life that I chose for myself because I couldn’t even bother to read what I was signing, and now I’d lost Ace forever and I was in here forever. And finally I cried because I was crying.
After that I picked up the ball and chain and it was so fuckin heavy, and lots heavier now that I’d cried. It seemed like it took me an hour to get back to the line. But once I was locked back into the chain where I was supposed to be, it was over. I thought about Ace for a while, and how I’d never have him again. Then I looked down at the big muddy clodhopper boots that I had to wear, and I thought — after all, worse things have happened to me than losing Ace.
On the truck going back to the barracks I got up next to him and I tried to say something. I didn’t care if anybody else heard what we said, because everybody else already knew all about it anyway. But I couldn’t manage to get it out. He looked at me for a while, and then he said, “Thanks for solving the equation.” “Yeah,” I said. “I guess all the particles are in order.” “You’re the physicist now,” he said. “Nope,” I said. “You’re like gravity. You just stay in one place and everything happens around you.” “Thanks,” he said. “Buddy.”
So now I was the buddy, without the “fuck” before it. All right. There’s a lot worse things, I thought, looking at the little clown hat I was holding in one hand, while I let my skull dry off from my day on the coffle.
Speaking of skulls. A couple months later Boss Web noticed I was getting a little fuzz on my head and my eyebrows. So when we got back to the barracks he took me down to the showers for my annual treatment. “They kept tellin me,” he said, “that soon as we used up all that Slick It Off, Mr. Hamilton was gonna give us the permanent stuff. It’s called Keep It Off. And it lasts forever. Expensive, but he’ll save money in the long run. Anyhow — shipment just came in. You’re the first, boy.”
To be continued …