If Dumb Were Manure

I couldn’t stop looking at the freckles dusting her nose. 

“Hi.” That’s it? Probably shouldn’t write a manual on how to talk to girls.

“Hello.” O’Murphy stood on the cafeteria steps. Those Siamese-cat eyes bedazzled me: jewel blue, blinking slowly and vacantly at a faraway horizon.

For fourteen years, I’ve yearned to connect with anyone: my brother, a boy or a girl I could be friends with. This is the prototype chick. Third chance. Speak. “I, uh, oh . . .”

“I, uh, oh . . .” She tiptoed forward and teased with magnetic charisma.

I caught a third whiff of lavender perfume. Sammie had said it was Yardley. My new fave. “You’re in my math class and my . . . ”

She waved a tiny purple scroll from a five-cent vending machine. “Horoscope. What’s your sign?” 

“September twenty-fifth. I think I’m a Liver.” 

“Libra! Me too. Far ooout.” She pirouetted on one toe and pointed an index finger at herself. “September twenty-seventh. We’re very diplomatic and very nonconfrontational. Libras are the very, very best.”

No need for all the verys. “Best” is a superlative. Cannot be exceeded. Like your hands. You have the most elegant fingers in the history of most elegant fingers. Long. Golden. They look like they were formed to spin silk. “Not even the rain hath such hands,” I quoted–I don’t know–somebody worth quoting.

She looked at her hands and then away, as if she were–not insulted–perturbed.

Pig Binson walked up. I invited him with a head motion.

“Cutie, how’d you get your paper routes?” Pig spoke to me but stared at O’Murphy.

“You need money?”

“I don’t know. Well, yeah. I could use the dough.”

“Your wheels will hold up?”

Pig’s hand-me-down bike had been white, but that had been spray painted green, then gold. All three colors were flaking, the sprockets were rusty, and the front wheel wobbled ambiguously from generations of collisions. “I think so.”

“Meet you this afternoon. At The Oklahoman office. Know where it is?”

He nodded. “Oak Avenue, by the railroad tracks.”

“I’ll introduce you to the district manager.”

“Thanks.” Pig exhaled at O’Murphy, as if he’d been holding his breath. 

Has O’Murphy been waiting for me to say something else? I just stood there, heat rising in my face. Dumb, dumb. If dumb were manure, my brain would fertilize an entire greenhouse. Invite her into the cafeteria. “Are you . . . ”

“ . . . waiting for my boyfriend.” Her Scarlett O’Hara simper assumed we all knew her greasy boyfriend.

“Really? Who?” It was the best putdown I could think of.

“Tommy Annnderson.”

She obviously thought he was hot feces. We thought he was a cold turd.

“He’s in our home room. He rides a blue Yaaamaha–the fastest one in town.”

“Yeah? My brother, Biggy, has a Honda Super 90. He races it. I’ve got three paper routes, so I’m buying one, too.” Curtis, are you blurting? And fudging? Big Guy’s motorcycle cost $350, and you’ve only saved $250. You’re a year away from that much moola.

A tiny light snapped on in those Doris Day eyes. “Right ooon. I love ‘cycles. Are you gonna to take me for a ride?”

And every breath we drew was Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hal-le-lu-lah! “I could teach you to drive. I’m gonna race mine, too. Dirt bike.” Stop trying so hard. I’ve driven Biggy’s twice.

“Neatooo. I’ve never been to a dirt-bike race . . . I forgot your name.”

“Cuti–uh, uh, Curtis.” I pointed to myself. I’m a big blusher, and I turned so red that time, I tasted copper. It’s maddening, being unable to control the blood flow to your own face. “My mother called me Curtie, and Big Guy, my brother, tried to say Curtie, but Biggy–he was still learning to talk–and it came out ‘Cutie.’ And it stuck. My mother called me Cutie after that.”

“O–uh, uh, O’Murphy.” She pointed to herself and mocked me again. “I guess your brother would call me ‘O’Murie.’” Her reckless smirk sanctioned her own cuteness, but it was a friendly girl grin, one that included me as a confederate.

Her eyes darted over my shoulder. “Oops! Gotta trot. Tommy gets mad if I talk to aaanyone. I just said hello to Richie Richards this morning, and Tommy got sooo possessive. Then he told me we’re going steady.” She spun on her left toe and spread her arms to Scooter.

He commanded you to date him exclusively? And you just–did? I turned to leave, but I heard a voice behind me.

“Stick Boy.” Scooter’s head was cocked.

Oh, feces.

“I’m riding with Tommy to the Freeze.” O’Murphy’s eyes blinked quickly. Her nervousness clued Scooter that she’d said more than just a few words in passing.

Ridged brow, sloped forehead, meager brainpan. Can’t you see he’s Paleolithic? He’s got two brothers who don’t even walk upright.

“So, whadda you doin’?” Scooter’s arm possessed O’Murphy’s waist.

“Headed to the cafeteria. It’s not the Freeze, but my dietary needs are simple.”

“Funny little kid.”

Then I realized Sammie had moved beside Pig.

“What are you two looking at?” Scooter stomped a foot in their direction.

Pig jumped, but Sammie posted herself uncompromisingly between Scooter and me. She stared at me and lowered her voice: “You try to steal his chick? And then you give him shit? Do you know where he lives? The junkyard. I wouldn’t walk past there without a gun and a knife.”

I looked at O’Murphy.

Sammie whispered more urgently. “You’re not receiving my message. Stay away from her, or Scooter Boy is gonna perform impromptu dental surgery.”

Unwisely, I stared at him. So, Greasy Boy, did you use an entire can of STP in your hair?

“S’go.” Scooter towed O’Murphy’s left hand. She half staggered away. 

And then Scooter gave me that look for a second time. That’s when I should have realized I couldn’t stay in Hell Creek.