The second Tuesday of every month, Sammy’s parents went to the Borough Council meeting. He stayed home, because he was 12 and who cared about zoning and stuff like that?
For three years, Ron Jenkins had been the mayor, a position earned by winning a majority of the borough’s 164 eligible voters, of which only 103 came out on Election Day. The position meant nothing to anyone but Ron and his wife, Cindy, who also served as the Council’s Treasurer. It was an unpaid position, and Ron had run unopposed in last year’s election. Even Sammy knew well enough not to brag about it at school.
Very little of Sammy’s life merited bragging. He was terrible at sports and not much better in school. He had failed the fifth grade–held back, his mother said, as if that made a difference. Any friendships he’d made in the previous six years ended when summer vacation did. His new classmates remained distant; they were a little afraid of him, like Stupid was contagious. But yeah, his dad was the mayor. Great.
And he’d screwed Tina Novak. Or so he’d told a few kids. Small town people talk, and no one in Bradleysburg believed Tina was a virgin. Her sexuality became her identity for those who didn’t know her, and the impulse toward moral superiority drove these same ill-informed gossips to relate her supposed misadventures to anyone who hadn’t heard them. It was a good way to get attention, even if your story bordered on ridiculous. And Sammy’s story was ridiculous, but a few of the younger kids bought it.
Sammy’s parents were devout members of the First Church of God. (They would never attend the Church of the Brethren! Can you believe the pastor there lets his son date her?) They did not discuss sex with him, other than to say it belonged to marriage. What he knew of it came from the magazines he’d found buried deep in his father’s large tool cabinet. Pictures of women with breasts the size of their heads, their mouths open and tongues extended, dog-like, to lick the hairless penises of out-of-shape men. There was no context for this imagery; the captions read Hungry Slut or Take That, Bitch! but nothing else.
Sometimes he dreamed about those women–their bleached and permed hair, their tanning bed complexion, the stretched skin of their breasts–and woke up feeling like every bit of blood in his body had flowed to his crotch. All he could do was wait for the sensation to die out, not that he really wanted it to. Council Meeting nights provided his best chance to examine his father’s secret magazines without fear of being caught.
He was in the garage when his mother came home unexpectedly. She called from the front door, interrupting his attempt to decode the gymnastic complexities of a pic labelled Her First Gangbang. Sammy shoved the magazine back into place and made his way towards his mother’s voice, adjusting the bulge in his pants so she wouldn’t notice.
“Where were you, hon?” Cindy Jenkins stood in the front hallway, her right foot still propping open the door. “I’ve been yelling for you.”
“I was looking for a screwdriver,” he lied. “My doorknob is a little loose, and…”
“Dad can fix that later. I thought you might want to see something.” She waved him onto their front porch and pointed across Main Street to the borough building. A group of men stood gathered around the rusted old town flagpole, engrossed in discussion. His father was there, and a few men from the Council.
“They’re going to take the flagpole down,” his mother explained. “It needs to be sanded and painted because we just ordered this huge new flag, and we want io be ready for Veterans’ Day.”
The pole rose thirty feet into the air, screwed into apyramid-like concrete base. It stood ten feet from the borough building, right in the center of town.
“Hey, Ron,” Cindy yelled. “I brought Sammy out so he can see you drop the pole on the borough’s roof!” She laughed.
“Cindy, we don’t need to hire someone. Stop worrying!” Ron smiled and went back to talking with the other men.
“Your father is so hard-headed! I’m the treasurer and I know we have the money to get a professional to do this. But he wants to save the money. I said, ‘What if it falls into Main Street or into those power lines or on top of you, Ron?’ But he just says it won’t. He’s probably right. You know him–always right.”
A few neighbors had come out of their homes to watch the flagpole come down. Ike Randall was on his porch, sipping a beer. Sammy could see Tina Novak standing outside of Mel’s, and his minded flashes a vision of her posed like the magazine women. He felt himself stiffen, and then he remembered his mother standing next to him. He tried desperately–unsuccessfully–to think of something else.
The men began turning the flagpole, which wobbled in the slight September wind. Ron stood, holding the pole at shower height, his thick hands tightly gripping the rusty iron. The metal rose slowly and the men held tighter, careful to keep control. Soon it was out of the base, and for a moment everything looked good.
And then the pole began to tip. Even with five men holding onto it, it was top-heavy. The men strained against it as it slipped, which made it even worse when the iron touched the high voltage power line.
Sammy saw the men thrown to the ground, the pole still touching the wire. The men were fastened to the metal by the strong current, and their bodies quivered, and smoke rose from their backs. Their hair caught fire and a sound came from Cindy’s mouth that Sammy would never forget.