To a fifteen-year-old boy, even women in comic books were a turn-on. From Pinboy, published in 2012 by Cormorant Books.

I just have the vaguest images of Polly’s face left in my memory bank, and even less of her mother’s. What I do have might be invented from whole cloth, or from the images I do have of the cloth that covered just about their whole bodies but in such a way that you might prefer that to nakedness. I see long light brown hair blown in the breeze around their faces or moist with sweat and lying across their cheeks. So their long thin dresses, wind or sweat. I see that roundish Russian beauty you can’t help associating with potatoes and warm beds and tractor mud. While I was entranced by Moonbeam McSwine, she was no Russian and I never saw her legs move up a ladder.

When you are a fifteen-year-old boy, or at least when I was a fifteen-year-old boy, even the women in the newspaper comics or comic books could turn you on in a second. I was a mountain-climbing kid, and there were times when I onanized on the pine needles on the forest floor, except that we did not really have a forest—it was more like a tree, then some dry couch grass, then another tree, then some rocks, then another tree.

As to the women in the comics, there were some good ones in Terry and the Pirates, though I can’t remember their names. The Dragon Lady was kind of scary, and showed up transmogrified to an empress in one of my recurrent dreams. I’d be on a sloping tile floor, sweating in my torn clothing, trying to crawl uphill toward this magisterial and cruel figure who was probably going to have me whipped if I reached her feet anyway.

Al Capp was the best, though. Daisy Mae was pretty well as pulchritudinous as Moonbeam McSwine, even though she was blond and did not hang out in the pigsty mud. Stupefyin’ Jones had me a little scared. Betty and Veronica didn’t raise much more of a buzz than did Miz Beasley. Wonder Woman was an interesting prospect, and though I did not know why, I approved of her high red boots and golden lasso. And Sheena of the Jungle? Those torn shorts, and all those vines! I pictured her in my orchard.

I waited for it to get moderately dark. Daylight Saving Time was hanging on by its fingernails. I put my pile of Sport magazines in chronological order. I went around the house and emptied all the ashtrays into an old coffee can. I read one chapter of The Weapon Shops of Isher by A.E. van Vogt. This was before I knew that A.E. van Vogt was a Canadian, from a Mennonite town in Manitoba.

Finally, it got dusky enough, and out I slipped into my old hightop sneakers, black with a white star over the ankle bump. I stopped at Frank’s pool hall, picked up a Sweet Marie chocolate bar for survival rations, and yucked it up on my way into the back room where the tables were. This way Frank would provide me with an alibi, just in case. I went out the back door and turned right, headed for Sawmill Road.

My shoes crunched on gravel. Machines in the packing house and the cannery and the juice plant and the box factory had gone quiet for the night. There was the occasional truck up on the highway, gearing down as it became Main Street. I heard a woman’s loud laughter from a shack among the toolies. A little acid pain made itself known in my stomach. For less than a second the image of Jeanette naked except for an arm cast flitted behind my eyes. But no, no for a certainty, that was not what I was interested in when I was interested in Jeanette. I wanted to know whether it would seem all right for me to want to protect her if I could. I was not thinking of a reward. Along with everything else, I was still a personal voluntary Christian boy in secret, trying to do mysterious good and disappear without a sign.

She hadn’t even offered an explanation. Surely, when a girl appears at school after the summer vacation with a cast on her arm, someone will ask her what happened. I didn’t have the nerve to, but surely someone would, some less complicated person. Maybe a teacher. She would have had to tell a teacher if the teacher asked, wouldn’t she? I supposed that no one had asked. That, it struck me as I crunched gravel alongside Sawmill Road, was sad.

In my head, as was my private custom, I was an anonymously heroic secret agent behind the lines, looking for an angry fox. Not knowing who he was made my job harder and more worthwhile, nearly enjoyable. I stepped into the tall couch grass beside the road, bringing the crunching to a sudden stop. I stood still, straining to hear anyone who might be straining to hear me.

It was as quiet as can be. The river slid by without a sound. I could barely hear myself step further down into the weeds, headed for the water, planning to come to Jeanette’s house from the side and then the back. It had been months since I’d been crouching around there. The Sweet Marie was melting in my shirt pocket. When I got to Jeanette’s house there was a light in the kitchen but nowhere else. I stood up straight in order to look for her.

I heard a sudden intake of breath, so I turned to look into the illuminated greenery behind me, but something—a baseball bat, a lead pipe, a two-by-four—smashed into the arm I had put in front of my face. A voice pronounced most of the unpleasant words I knew. I was on my face in the wet weeds, my left hand holding my right arm.

“The fuck out of here,” said the dark shape above me.

I moved for a while on my knees. Then I got up somehow and felt my way back to the road and headed for home, holding my arm. I wanted to kneel down again but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back up. I walked all the way home, and got inside the house without my parents’ seeing me. They were in the kitchen playing cribbage. I had pissed in the yard, so I went straight to my bedroom and lay on the bed without turning on the light or taking off my clothes.

I lay on my back with pain possessing my arm from the shoulder to the fingers. Then shock put me to sleep.

Read Jill Mandrake's review of Pinboy, first published in Geist 87.

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