Every Sunday afternoon, their father drank beer from plastic cups in front of the TV while watching The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The gorgeous ladies were fierce with their teased hair and heavily made up eyes. They wore electric green onesies cut up to their belted waists, and the floor of the ring bounced under their heavy thighs. The boys’ father cheered for Babe the Farmer’s Daughter and Brittany the Brat. By dinnertime, he was asleep for the night in the pilling recliner. Joe practiced his moves on Billy, chop dropping him and body slamming him against the sofa. Clouds of dust motes exhaled from the cushions and circled in the sunlight over their crew cuts. Billy’s laughter rang bells in the corners of the family room, and his smile split the seams of his face like an overripe tomato. Joe held Billy over his head like a trophy and spun in the TV’s blue glow.
Joe slid down the hallway in his leather shoes. The group of boys pushed each other down the hallway. Girls in plaid jumpers pulled at one another’s elbows. They whispered secrets and passed plastic tubes of chapstick that slid thick layers of warm wax across their lips. A teacher held up a finger in front of her mouth and blew sharp breaths through her clenched teeth. She cut her eyes at the students, and they floated into a long navy ribbon as they walked into the vestibule. The girls pulled up knee socks and flattened the pleats of skirts. They fluffed one anothers hair from behind and pulled at each other’s shoulders. The boys walked without lifting their feet, shuffling over the linoleum with their hands sunk in pockets.
Mrs. Finn lined up the first graders in the windowless classroom in the basement. The children squirmed under the arch of a rainbow painted on the wall. Billy licked his lips where he stood by a round white cloud at the rainbow’s end. He was a small boy sketched on pieces of tissue paper and glued together at the joints with dots of paste. His pink ears fluttered around his head like powdery moths. They reddened and turned hot when the fluorescent lights caught them.
Groups of children puddled around the baptismal font and beside the wall of flat shelves holding pamphlets about the holy sacraments. Joe and his friends laughed and clapped one another on the back. They stood together like parade of lions.
The first graders trailed in with Billy at the end of the line. His pushed his fists into his pockets. His cowlick stood up and he licked his lips. With his hands in his pockets and his bent elbows held tight against his sides, his scapula looked like small wing plates, flapping along the hinge of his spine. He caught sight of Joe, and pink washed his cheeks. Joe lifted his arms in the air and shook his head, mouthing, ‘Chammmpion!’ Billy smiled and licked his lips until they were shining under the vestibule’s lights.
‘Who’s he?’ Joe’s friend asked. ‘That’s my brother,’ Joe replied.
‘Why do his lips look like that? They’re all wet. It looks like he was sucking his own dick.’ The boy scrunched up his face. ‘Fucking gross, man.’
The oil of flowers was thick in the air, and the students’ laughter was hollow between the slate floor and the high ceilings. Billy floated in a basket held between Joe’s upturned palms.
‘Man, I’m always telling him to stop that shit,” Joe laughed and pushed his friend. ‘He never listens.’
Billy looked at the charcoal tiles and pushed his hands deep into his pockets he rubbed his knuckles along his thighs. His back was a box of spilled toothpicks. He stood still so he didn’t upset the pile.
The heavy church doors opened slowly, and the students shuffled forward in groups. Joe knocked his fist against Billy’s shoulder and said, ‘I’m just messing with you, man.’
Billy’s eyes picked up the shine from the floor’s slate, and he turned to the wall, teardrops pooling in his eyes like tiny universes. His eyes and lips were wet and shining. He walked into church with his class. The other students wore belts and sweaters, and he felt the air pull a grainy tongue over his wet lungs and liver.
(tie in to beginning)