By Joshua Ryan
I’d almost forgot how to be a bitch, but next day, I felt it coming back.
Every morning, I woke up from a dream. Usually it was a nice dream about being back in a nice home, with nice things in it for me. Nice clothes and great food and lots of drinks and new electronics to play with and hot parties to go to and trips all the time to Paris and Rome. And in my dreams, everybody was nice to me too — even the other bitches like me. In dream time, an understanding man was always just going to get me a second cocktail. Then something would happen and I’d wake up in a bunk bed in a barracks full of workies, and I had to put on a workie suit and go to an ugly room where they gave me “chow” and climb into a truck and get taken out to a field and be worked all day with my leg locked to a chain attached to a gang of other former human beings.
So the last thing I needed was to open my eyes and find a dude standing next to my rack who was just full of joy and happiness to be doing all those things with me on this beautiful morning. That’s what he did — Lucky the Kid — every morning, and I couldn’t do anything about it. He was too pretty, and he “trusted” me too much, and if it wasn’t for me, he said, he “might never have gotten here!”
I wanted to say something to make him vanish — but it was the same problem. I felt responsible for this dumb, pretty dude. Also, he wouldn’t vanish, any more than I would. We would probably be living in the same room for the rest of our lives. If I told him to get lost, he’d just have more emotional hooks in me than if I played along and swatted him down only when it was totally necessary.
So I spent his first day in the coffle wincing while the boss was trying to chain him in and the kid was so excited that he kept bouncing his leg around, until the boss said something like “do that one more time and you’re gittin the paddle”; then watching his ass wobbling and shaking up into the truck, and listening to everybody laugh — everybody including him, because he seemed to be having fun; then trying to keep him from killing me with those wild chops he was making with his hoe — because naturally, the boss chained him up right next to me; then coaching him to take it as slow as he could, so he could last to the end of the day, despite all the fun he seemed to be having about “bein a real workie now — not like at that horrible house.”
I was working a lot harder than him, just dealing with all that shit. I kept givin the dude lessons, but he’d forget them right away. Like about those crazy chops with the hoe. Finally I was a bitch and yelled at him and told him if he wanted to play with his tool, I’d have to take it away from him. Then he got all unhappy and desperate and said he was “SO sorry, Butch!” and I told him “just do what I do, all right? Like we talked about before? Can you do that? Just DO that.” So he said he could, and he watched me, and he tried. He wasn’t any good at anything, but yeah, he was trying. So I had to be nice to him. Nicer, anyway. And pretty soon he was smiling again, like his first day on the job was really a hit.
By the end of the day I was SO tired of him. Sick and tired. Exhausted. Ready to smack him down if he did ONE more goofy thing. But I was scared that the other workies would think he was weird, meaning mental, and then something would have to be done about him. Ace was right: you can’t keep a mental in your barn. Although he wasn’t really that way. He was just a kid. And he wanted to be just like us. Or the way he thought we were. So I told him, “Look, when we get back from chow tonight, I don’t want you sittin around and talkin to me. I’m gonna be back on my rack. I want you to go hang with the other dudes. But for fuck’s sake, hang in the BACKGROUND. I don’t want you SAYIN stuff. Cuz you don’t know what to say! So just hang there and listen. Nod. Say yeah or whatever. But that’s ALL. Can you do that?”
“Right, Butch.” With a big smile, because I was talking to him and giving him orders. Go figure.
“Just watch em gamble, and laugh at their jokes. Tomorrow’s a work day, so it won’t last long. Then go lay out in your rack, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
So that happened. He was already tired, and that helped keep his mouth shut. Although actually, he was more that way the night before, just because of all the shit that had happened up at the House, and then being sent down from the House …. He must’ve thought his whole life was ruined, because he wasn’t a real workie. Imagine that! The next night he was just tired from wearing a shackle, and from taking two wild swings with his hoe when one decent swing would have been plenty to get it done. But I noticed in the shower, he didn’t have a bad body. It wasn’t big — well, all but one part, which gave us all a surprise — but it was there. He wasn’t a weak little faggot the way I’d been, despite all the “swimmer’s muscles” I thought I had. This kid had the total package. And didn’t know it. So, great. Now maybe I’d have to protect him from the workies who’d seen it.
The next night, I got back into the so-called conversation. There was the usual card game, and guys watchin the game, but it petered out, because the convicts in the group started their usual argument about how the rest of us — the volunteers, the mollie vollies — were such pansies (“hey!” “what the MATTUH wit you, mofo?” “you the one with the drippin ass!”) that we wouldn’t drive off in Mr. Hamilton’s car if he parked it in front of the barn with the door open and the motor running. Then the cons all lied about how much they stole from the Farms or the staff or the guys that came down from WORC Products, Please! to restock our blankets and uniforms or the inspector that stopped in every year to line us up and see whether we were being abused according to the laws of the state. And the vollies said a lotta things about how much more they lied and stole than the cons ever did. Of course, Lucky was just a nice boy who had never heard anything like that before, so he had a good time listening and had nothing to say. He wasn’t the kind of asshole who’d make things up that he didn’t do. He was just there to learn. So progress was being made.
That was Thursday. Friday, there were problems about the creek at the edge of the property, and Chad actually showed up to ride in the shotgun seat while the truck took us out to the highway and down to the state park where water was backing up onto the Farms. So that was serious, when the boundaries of the Farms were, like, threatened. Early morning, straightforward job, diggin out the creek where it flowed from state property under the big fence with the razor wire on top, but it seemed like the more we dug, the farther away we got from clearing the stream. We worked through break, but we took our lunch. Then we worked all afternoon. Late that day, a group of civilians showed up in the parking lot. It was the worst — high school kids. Pulling into the park with six-packs. Celebrating that their week was over. What week? School wasn’t even in session.
“Look at those varsity jackets!” Lucky said. “Those guys are from my high school!” But it seemed like he wanted them to see him. And right away they noticed us. Immediately they were all pointing and talking and yelling and it was “look — workies!” and “those fashions are …SO cool!” and “also those chains!”, and all the other stuff that was normal for the rest of us but totally new for Lucky. So he was really interested. I guess he’d never gotten much attention before. Then one of the girls — I heard Ace saying “hoes” — recognized him. “Hey look! There’s that Noah guy!” “Whoa dude! What a weirdo!” “I had him in Chem! He was a queer!”
Lucky was hearing all of it, but now he was just looking back at them, like he was stunned or something, like he’d never figured that any of that could possibly be part of being a workie. But hey, right then, we saw the stream flowing fast around our boots, and we heard Chad yelling, “That’s it — back to the truck.” He was looking forward to his weekend. So we trudged on back, and it’s a good thing we weren’t there to clean up the parking lot, because the mud from our boots was all over it. Too bad! Also, maybe some of it got on the little white sports car that one of the girls had parked in the lot. Maybe a lot. I don’t know how it got there, except that it’s easy for a gang of workies to sort of sideswipe a car and not even know that they did it, LOL. Or accidentally run their shovels and rakes along the side of somebody’s daddy’s new SUV, while trying to untangle the chain that accidentally tore off the rearview mirror. While Chad had his back turned, being a big man with the high school kids and Answering Their Questions and all.
But that was that, and I thought Noah, I mean Lucky, got through it pretty well, especially after I let him know what the other workies did to, like, avenge him. Before I explained it, he actually didn’t notice! OK, we were close to the head of the coffle, but he didn’t hear anything or notice anything when the chain got taut and then got loose again. He was just marchin along. What do you do with a guy like that?
Lucky was quiet on the way back, but he did all right in the showers, and he seemed happy on his way to the Chow Hall. He’d turned in his muddy suit and was marching along in a fresh one. I liked the way he looked — brand new, like he’d been born in that suit, like it was the suit for him and now he was wearing it. I can’t say why. The thing was so fuckin ugly. But on him, right then, at the moment …. And like he said at chow, he was SO happy “about today.”
Afterwards, I found out why. At least part of it. I decided to lay out on my rack again, so he could mix with the other workies, and for God’s sake, I didn’t want him around every minute. I was just falling asleep when he showed up beside me. “Hey Butch …. Sorry! Mind if I show you something?”
Show me something? What could he have to show anybody?
He looked around to see if anybody was watching him. Then his hand went into his pants pocket and fished something out. “This is for you, Butch! I stole it!”
For Christ’s sake, it was a package of cigarettes. Barely smoked.
“Where’d you get this?”
“I stole it! From that car! That white car! I saw it on the seat, and I reached in and stole it! Right away!”
He was so fuckin happy! This was his big moment of being a convict workie. Which he wasn’t, but — he stole something. I was sure he’d never done that before in his life. Or thought about it. But now I had to handle this.
“Well, you’re not givin it back,” I said. “That’s for sure.” We both laughed. “And yeah …” I was looking at his face. It expected more. “I like it. I like that you did it.”
“Thanks, Butch! I was hopin you would. I just saw it there …. ”
“Now look. A thing like this …. When it’s a little thing, you can keep it. When it’s a big thing, you gotta share it with the barn.”
“Sure Butch! I don’t smoke!”
There was definitely some concept missing here.
“Yeah. I don’t either. Unless …. But look. In here, smokes are money. Got it? If you got one or two, you can spend em. I’ll show you how. Or smoke em yourself. But if you got a lotta them, you gotta share. Same for anything else you steal. Doesn’t have to be smokes. If you don’t, somebody’s gonna smack you on the head. Boss might even paddle you. That’s one time. More times …. They’ll end up killin you. Got it?”
At first he looked shocked. Then he looked like, “OK. I can see that. As long as you tell me that.”
“So what should I do?” he said.
I gotta admit, I liked seein him with that pack of cigarettes in his hand. I liked that he’d been trying to please me. “Right now, you keep it outta your pocket, and you tell Boss Web. Tell him so everybody can hear.”
“OK! I’ll do it.”
“Right. Then go to bed.”
He did what I told him, and the boss divided the cigarettes in some complicated way, so that Lucky got two and everybody else got one, except if they already had some …. And that was the end of it. I knew that no matter what Lucky did after that, he was a member in good standing of the country club. And whatever those high school kids said about him, it didn’t hurt him anymore. He was enjoying it.
If I’d bitched him out … That would have been another story. But now everything was cool, and Lucky was loved by all, and I’d given him my last piece of advice, and the others could take it from there. Or so I thought.
Next day, goofiness from time to time, but nothing I had to talk to him about. The day after that was Sunday, so I wouldn’t be coffled, so I definitely wouldn’t have to worry about Lucky the Kid. I was lookin forward to that. I hit the rack and fell right to sleep.
I was having my usual dream about being back in Carson’s lovely home, and I’d just got to the part where the pool boy was coming into my bed, and he was snuggling up to me with his smooth well muscled legs sliding along my legs and his smooth well muscled arms starting to encircle my shoulders, not aggressively but slowly and respectfully, happy to do anything I wanted to do that afternoon …. Gradually the warmth from his body spread to my body, making it warm and happy against the cold night air ….
Cold night air? That wasn’t right. A minute ago, it was a sunny afternoon in my bedroom just off the patio. The guy had been working on the pool, but he’d seen me inside, pulling my sheets down ever so slightly along my treasure trail ….
“Hi Butch!” he whispered. “You don’t mind, do you?”
What the fuck! That wasn’t right! It sounded like that kid — what’s his name? Lucky! That dude Lucky was in my bunk! I was in a bunk, and he was in it! With me! He had his arm around my shoulder and his leg stroking my leg, and his bald head sliding snakewise across my chest …. He was a workie! He had the snake’s head! And he was in my bunk! And fuck! I touched my head — I was a workie too! Also, yeah, my dick was hard, and the bunk was narrow, and his dick …. I felt it through his shorts. His stiff hard workie shorts, with a big willing dick just on the other side of them ….
“Look,” I said. “You …. ”
He was reaching down to pull off his shorts. They stuck on his cock for a second, and I could tell it was even bigger than it looked in the showers.
“It’s OK,” he said. “Isn’t it?”
I knew this was the moment, the second moment when I got to decide what my life would be like. The first moment was when Carson Robertson decided he would bet on becoming a workie. The second moment was when Butch got to decide if that was OK.
“Yeah,” I said. “It is.” And I slipped my own shorts off.
I wasn’t surprised that he was a virgin. Or that he wanted me to teach him. He was a fast learner, though. I didn’t even need to tell him to go back to his bunk before anybody else was awake. Somehow, he knew that was the custom.
And actually, he seemed to know a lot of things. That whole business about stealing the cigarettes — that made him a workie like the other workies. That made it so that when we lined up for chow that Sunday morning, everybody thought it was a good idea, what had happened with us. Nobody acted like Lucky was pushing his way in. Nobody acted like why should I get him, rather than any of the rest of them. Nobody wished us happiness or started whistling the wedding march; everybody just ignored it in the proper way. We were like Ace and Mack, or Rip and Bingo. Even though Lucky just got there a microsecond before.
So how did that happen? I still had to tell him things — lots of things. So how did a dumb kid like that …? How did it happen? Maybe it was like gravity again. Nobody knows what gravity is.
I did know something, though. I knew that my second moment of decision was gone, and there wouldn’t be any more of them. From then on, it would be Butch and Lucky. Butch and Lucky, sharing a rack. Butch and Lucky, next to each other in the chow hall. Butch and Lucky, chained up together in the coffle, because no boss would think about putting them anyplace else, unless as some kind of punishment. Butch and Lucky in the showers, each one looking close at any dude that looks too close at the other one, and totally all right with killing the dude if it came to that. Too bad, but that’s part of being a workie.
There isn’t much to do on Sundays, so I spent a lot of that Sunday just sort of watching Lucky from a distance. He wasn’t sittin around lookin at me. He knew that wasn’t what he was supposed to do, unless he wanted to be treated like a faggot. So he was talking to the other dudes in the barn, and then we had Yard and he walked around with me and said hello to the guys I said hello to, and I’d stand and watch him makin bullshit back and forth. Like I said, he learned quick.
But when I looked at him — he was still that Noah kid. Small. Trusting. Vulnerable. I looked at his collar with his number stamped on the front and the lock that could never be opened, and his horrible suit with his number and his dog’s name LUCKY planted on it, and his bald white head that wouldn’t be white for very long because of the hard labor he had to do, out in the fields. But this kid in the workie suit looked back at me and smiled. He smiled like he did the first time I met him. He smiled like I was everything.
It was very strange. What was he looking at? It wasn’t Carson Robertson, the guy that everybody used to look at. Or so Carson thought. I tried to remember that guy, but it got harder every time I looked at Lucky. I was losing my memory of what Carson thought or what Carson felt. I did remember Carson’s elegant arms and his slim, suave muscles. I remembered his smooth complexion and his perfectly shaped eyebrows. I remembered his hair, which always had exactly the right wave. I remembered just enough to wonder where Carson was hiding inside my uniform with BUTCH on my shirt and 24992 on my collar.
I wondered again that night, when Lucky came to my rack again. And the next day, when Lucky and I were gettin locked into the coffle. Where is Carson? I thought. I couldn’t find him anymore. Lucky couldn’t see him, and neither could I. From then on, there wasn’t any Carson. There was just a workie named Butch.
To be continued …