An excerpt from Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel.
I’m not a brainless idiot, but what does any kid know about anything? No one ever told me about the birds and the bees, so back when I was thirteen, I knew less than anyone. After four months of rubbing myself two or three times a day, something terrible happened. Instead of a dry shudder and a warm tickle, I squirted white pus all over my belly and it scared the holy shit out of me. Every bone and muscle in my body was shaking and I could feel my heart banging inside my chest. When the shivering stopped, I felt like I had pulled a muscle. I could feel the burn in my belly. My vision was wobbly and unreliable. For almost a minute I thought my eyeballs were going to tremble their way right out of their sockets. My pee hole was still oozing, but barely. The pus was obviously coming from something broken inside of me, a ruptured tube, a busted vein, something no doctor could fix without giving me sleeping gas and cutting me open.
I spent about thirty minutes just examining the goo, rubbing it between my fingers. Some of it was thick and bumpy but most of it was like milky water. I decided it was blood, some sort of white blood coming from some wound I’d torn open, probably my liver or a kidney. Maybe my appendix. All night I went in and out the bathroom, checking for more white blood, glad that the wound had at least stopped bleeding. I tried to convince myself I was still okay, because the squirt hadn’t lasted more than a few seconds, and there really wasn’t very much pus, just a couple of spoonfuls, though I knew something had changed because I felt different.
I hoped it was a small wound that would heal like knuckle scrapes and paper cuts do. But I couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t relax for a minute, imagining the pus building up inside. How long before it filled my stomach, flooded my lungs, drowned my heart? Should I stick my finger down my throat and make myself vomit? My eyes hurt from staring, my head wouldn’t stop pounding. I didn’t want to go to bed, certain I would die in my sleep.
The next day, I walked downtown to the library. I told the librarian I was doing a science project for school and needed a book on adolescent development. She led me to a shelf and left me there. I got the whole scoop. I wasn’t dying, no damage done. Just puberty, a word I’d heard Dave the crossing guard use a hundred times.
I read all about semen and spermatozoa. Semen, from the Latin, meaning “seed.”
There was stuff about nocturnal emissions (wet dreams), which explained the dirty looks and one hard slap my mother gave me after changing my sheets. I wanted to take the book home and read more, but I didn’t have a library card so when I was sure no one was looking, I slipped it under my shirt. It wouldn’t be stealing if I brought the book back in a week or two. The lady who showed me where the book was wouldn’t even know it was missing. I looked around. Another librarian was stacking books right behind me. I watched her lift a book off her cart and check its number. I wondered what she got paid for being a librarian, probably more than minimum wage.
I stood up to leave. The weight of the book caused it to shift and drop a little lower, I got ready to run. But then I thought how some other kid who didn’t know anything might need to use the book before he had a nervous breakdown and jumped into the Blackstone River. Plus, it was still raining, coming down hard, and the book might get ruined, then it would be worse than stealing and they’d lock me up for destruction of public property. No book was worth going to reform school for. So I dug it out of my shirt, dropped it on a table, and walked out into the pouring rain. Halfway home, a police car flew by, siren screaming. I watched the flashing lights and never felt so innocent.
About the author:
Bob Thurber is an old, unschooled writer living in Massachusetts. Over the last decade his work has received dozens of awards, including The Barry Hannah Fiction Prize. Visit his website at www.BobThurber.net