A coming of age tale
'When Zachary Beaver Came to Town'
November 11, 1999
(CNN) -- An honest coming-of-age story about a 13-year-old boy struggling to find himself in an imperfect world.
The line moves slowly, and when people exit the trailer, some come out all quiet like they've been shaken up at a revival. A few say things like, "Lord-a-mercy!" Others joke and laugh.
Finally we make it to the front door. I hand Paulie Rankin four bucks and glance down at Tara. Legs crossed, she's bouncing like crazy. Paulie pulls the pipe out of his mouth. "Hey, the kids doesn't have to go, does she?"
"Do you?" I ask her, not intending to sound as mean as it comes out.
She shakes her head, making her two tiny blond ponytails flop like puppy ears.
"She better not", says Paulie. He rubs his chin and watches her suspiciously as we climb the trailer steps. I grit my teeth and repeat Paulie's warning. "You better not."
The cramped trailer smells like Pine-Sol and lemon Pledge and it's dark except for a lamp and sunlight slipping between the crack in the curtains. A drape hangs at one end, hiding the space behind it. And in the middle of the trailer sits the largest human being I've ever seen. Zachary Beaver is the size of a two-man pup tent. His short black hair tops his huge moon face like a snug cap that's two sizes too small. His skin is pale as buttermilk, and his hazel eyes are practically lost in his puffy cheeks.
Wearing huge pull-on pants and a brown T-shirt, he sits in front of a television, watching Password, drinking a giant chocolate milk shake. A TV Guide rests on his lap, and a few stacks of books and Newsweek magazines are at his feet along with a sack of Lay's potato chips. Three Plexiglass walls box him in. The walls aren't very high, but I figure they keep brats like Tara from poking him. After all, he's not the Pillsbury Doughboy. A sign in the corner of one wall reads, Don't Touch the Glass, but if someone does, a squirt bottle of glass cleaner and a roll of paper towels are next to the TV. There's no denying it--this place is clean with a capital C. And with the exception of a dusty bookcase filled with encyclopedias and other books, it's as sterile as a hospital. A gold cardboard box is on the center shelf by itself. It seems weird, standing here, staring at someone because they look different. Wylie Womack is the strangest-looking person in Antler, but I'm so used to seeing his crooked body riding around town in his beat-up golf cart that I don't think about him looking weird.
Miss Myrtle Mae steps forward, lifting her camera. "Mind if I take a few pictures?"
"Yes, I do," the fat kid says.
Miss Myrtle Mae lets the camera drop to her chest. "You like books, I see. I work at the Antler library."
Zachary Beaver ignores her.
For once Tara is quiet, but Cal is anything but speechless. He wants to know everything. Like a red-headed woodpecker, he pecks, pecks, pecks, trying to make a dent.
"How much do you eat?" he asks Zachary.
"As much as I can."
"How old are you?"
"Where do you go to school?"
"You're looking at it." Zachary never once smiles or looks us in the eye. He focuses on that game show.
Then Cal asks, "What's in the gold box?"
Zachary ignores him, his gaze dragging across Cal's face.
I wish Cal would shut up. Besides embarrasing me, his questions sound mean. But Zachary only looks bored and kind of irritated, like someone swishing away a fly.
I don't ask questions, but I think them. Like how did he get inside the trailer? He's way too wide to fit through the door. Tara's stupid chant plays over and over in my mind. Fatty, fatty, two by four. Can't get through the kitchen door. I'm surprised she hasn't started singing it. I look down at her.
Her bugged-out eyes water, and one hand covers her mouth. The other is locked between her crossed legs. A yellow stream trickles down her leg and wets her white Keds.
I jump back. "Jeez--!"
Zachary looks up from the TV, his eyes flashing, his wide nostrils flaring. "Do I smell pee? Did that kid pee in here?" He points toward the exit, the flesh on his arm flapping as he punches his finger in the air. "Get her outta here."
Every eye in the trailer stares at us. Except Cal, who is snooping around, picking up stuff. I want to yank Tara by her ponytails, punt her like a football, and send her sailing through the air, across the street, toward her house to knock down Juan as he arrives at Scarlett's door. Instead I grab Tara by the hand--the one that covers her mouth--and whip through the exit, past the waiting crowd. Taking long strides so that Tara must run to keep from falling, I cross two streets to her house, where Juan sits on the left side of the porch swing, holding Scarlett's hand. His number-five iron is at his feet, and he wears a white T-shirt with Don't Mess with Super Mex printed in ink across the front.
"He was soooo fat!" yells Tara, running inside their house. A great big wet spot covers the rear end of her shorts.
This has got to be my lowest moment ever. I swerve around, trying to avoid Juan and Scarlett.
But it's too late. Juan calls out, "Hey man, I didn't know you baby-sat.
Copyright © 1999 by Kimberly Willis Holt
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