The Rule

The Rule
{Graphic violence, brief nudity, strong language}

Kelly watched Devin sing and dance. He sat leaned way back in the old brown vinyl overstuffed chair in Devin’s bedroom. He and Devin were thirteen. They grew up best friends, but were two different boys. Devin was straight, and Kelly was gay. The year was 1966, and the hippie scene had spread out across America with it’s message of peace, love, and music.

The stereo record player, played the Rolling Stones single, Satisfaction. The record was old and scratchy, but it played well on the nice stereo, with a turntable and two speakers. Devin got the 45rpm single last year when it came out and it went to number one on the Billboard charts. The stereo was a hand-me-down from Charlie, Devin’s older brother, with nice speakers and Devin had them separated across the room for better stereo effect. It had one of those round plastic accessories to fit over the center spindle to play a stack of 45rpms. Charlie gave him his old rock and roll albums, too. It wasn’t cool to listen to Chuck Berry anymore.

Everyone talked about who listened to what. Music helped define who they were. Charlie bought the best music like The Kinks and Cream, but secretly listened to rockabilly like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins in his own room. And Elvis Presley, of course. Devin, and by extension, Kelly, listened to what Charlie got tired of. Charlie was old, seventeen, and had a job and bought the records.

They could smoke in Devin’s room, although Kelly didn’t smoke, but everyone else did. Devin’s mom was cool with it. Devin’s mom’s house was the place to hang. He had the coolest mom. Devin had the coolest room with psychedelic black-light posters. Kelly’s dad would get drunk and come in and tear down anything he hung on his wall.

Devin, his hair buzzed close to his head, took a deep pull off his Marlboro. He started the song again and acted like he had a microphone in his hand. He spun around and faced Kelly, lip syncing, smoke billowing from his mouth. “I can’t get no-o,” he sang, spun, and shook his ass snapping his fingers. He jerked his head back around over his shoulder, “sa-tis-fac-tio-on.” Kelly winced at the smoke, but laughed at his friend shaking his ass in his short-shorts. The cotton shorts, blue with white trim, fit tight on his buns.

Kelly put his head back and laughed, mouth wide-open again as Devin did a modified twist move and swiveled his ass to the floor in front of him. Devin spun and they both sang together, “Cause some man came on the radio, telling me more and more, bout some useless information…” Kelly laughed. Devin could sing, but he couldn’t, and it embarrassed him.

Kelly shook his legs in time with the music laughing, first swaying and knocking his knees together. Kelly wasn’t very coordinated, but Devin sure was. Devin was so graceful, athletic. Dancing, rhythmic gymnastics, sports needing coordination like basketball, it all came easy for him.

Kelly, on the other hand, could not hold up a bat, let alone swing it at a ball. He called himself a freak. Freaks were different from hippies. His skin was pasty white. He wore his hair long. It was frizzy. Even in 1966, in these times of revolution, Viet-Nam, and long hair, boys chided and mocked him for looking like a girl with his long hair… and a homosexual. He was homosexual, but he shrugged it off most the time. He made no bones about it. Kelly cross-dressed often. He wore items from women’s costume jewelry racks, bracelets mostly. He wore lipstick and eyeliner on weekends. He was a freak! What of it? He was doing his thing.

Janice, Kelly’s older sister, laughed at him when she saw him in panties and bra. If he got his allowance he would run buy an item of women’s apparel from the discount store. It would undoubtedly wind up in his sister’s drawer after Mother did laundry. Mother drank.

He neither dressed this way for school, nor when his father got home. He led two lives. One life was a straight boy with long hair when his father was around. Today was the other life. He was with his friends so he “could let his freak flag fly,” he liked to say. He could dress and look the way he wanted. He wore short-shorts like Devin, a tie-dyed t-shirt, fingernail polish, a light shade of red lipstick, eyeliner, and a black choker. His long, frizzy black hair was below his ears on both sides parted in the middle.

Today, he had on his best panties and a flat white training bra beneath his gray t-shirt. He wanted to be his… sexiest for Devin. It embarrassed him to think this way, and would have died of embarrassment to talk about it. He practiced not acting too… sissified. If Devin winked at him he fought the urge to put his fists to his cheeks and squeal. He knew Devin liked girls, but he didn’t care. He had crushed on Devin since he learned what these feelings were.

Devin danced over to the turntable and turned the music up. The volume brought his big brother, Charlie, into his bedroom, followed by his big sister, Brenna. Brenna was a hippie chick. She wore hip-hugging big bell bottom jeans, had straight ironed hair with a red bandanna head band, and she wore beads around her neck. She never wore a bra. Charlie was what Kelly thought of as a “greaser,” and an asshole. Charlie never deviated from the white t-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the short sleeve, rockabilly style, and his hair slicked up with oil. He marched over to the record player and lifted the stylus. It scraped and made the loud irritating rrriiip noise at over half volume.

“Whoa, easy man. Not cool! You’ll scratch it!” Devin said.

Charlie was pushy. He bullied Kelly, and anybody else smaller than him. Charlie liked to pick Kelly up by the front of his shirt to let everyone see his bra and laugh at him.

Brenna walked by. Kelly gave her the peace sign. She nonchalantly gave it back without looking at him. But, she stopped and smiled at Devin.

“Heavy man!” Brenna said and looked back at Kelly. “Kelly has a hard-on for you!” She said pointing at his crotch. Kelly couldn’t believe she said it in front of Charlie.

But, Kelly’s panties did bulge out the bottom of his blue shorts. Kelly quickly covered it with his hand. She went to the opposite corner of the room and plopped down on the bean bag beside Devin’s bed. Charlie looked up from where he squatted, perusing the album collection. He wanted to play something different.

Devin had a rare moment of intuition. “Kelly. Did you get a hard-on watching me dance?”

The room was silent. “No,” Kelly said. His face was red.

Charlie stood and turned around. He was angry. “Liar. Stand up!” Kelly stood from the chair holding himself. “Now, move your hand.” He looked down and slowly removed his hand from his crotch. He knew Charlie would make him if he didn’t.

They had made a rule when they first found out Kelly was homosexual. It was cool if Kelly hung out with them as along as he did not make a move on either Charlie or Devin. “I know the rule. I would never have tried anything. You know I won’t act on it,” Kelly said.

“But the white panties all sticking out the bottom. Everybody can see it. It’s fucking nasty,” Charlie said. Kelly tried to “will” his erection away.

“Look,” Devin said, “Kelly’s our friend. We know he’s queer. But he’s cool. He’s never broken the rule.”

“Wow, dude. Gay, please. Use the word gay instead of queer.”

“You ever sucked a dick, Kelly?” Brenna asked. Charlie laughed.

“Have you?” Kelly asked.

Brenna fidgeted with her bead necklace and suddenly looked up as if a thought hit her. “I asked you first.”

Kelly rolled his eyes. “Wow. Let’s be cool, guys, I wore the wrong thing today. My shorts are too short. I’ll go home, and we can all take a chill.”

Charlie kept the argument alive. “But you got all horny for my little brother. And getting horny is breaking the rule.”

“The rule doesn’t talk about feelings,” Kelly said.

“Getting a boner for another dude is making a move!” Charlie said. “My buddies on the football team said you breathing is wrong.”

“It’s making love,” Brenna said looking off into space, “and love is cool.”

Kelly hung his head. He wasn’t going to fault Brenna for starting this. She wasn’t bright enough to foresee the possibilities. The main thing was, he didn’t want Charlie’s temper to escalate. He walked toward the door to leave, but Charlie crossed the room and got in his way. “Where you going, faggot? This ain’t over.”

“I don’t want to fight.” Kelly felt for the small, two-inch pocket knife in his rear pocket. He and Devin had sharpened the pointed blade until it could shave hair from his arm. It was his best memory of Devin.

“It ain’t up to you, sweetheart,” Charlie said laughing.

“Charlie, leave him alone and let him go,” Brenna said standing up.

Charlie’s demeanor turned up a notch, more serious. “Shut up, hippie whore,” Charlie said, never moving his glare from Kelly. Kelly looked from Brenna to Charlie and back. Charlie called his own sister a whore. He didn’t know how she’d take it, or what would happen.

“Peace and love to you, too,” Brenna said and sat back down.

Charlie lifted Kelly’s chin to look him in the eye. “Tell the truth and this will be all over. You wanted to make a move on Devin, didn’t you?”

“I want to make a move on a lot of boys. It doesn’t mean I try to!” Kelly was on the verge of tears. “I can’t live the life I want, not out in the open. Some… Someday, boys like me can walk down the street holding hands, but it isn’t now.”

Charlie scoffed. He gripped Kelly by the front of his t-shirt, wadding it up in his fist, and jerked him to his face. “Not in my lifetime. Answer my question, queer boy, or I’ll put out both your eyes.”

Kelly turned his head to relieve the pressure of Charlie’s stare. Kelly nodded.

“Say it!” Charlie shook Kelly.

Kelly cried, “Yes! I wanted Devin.” Charlie eased his grip. “I’ve wanted Devin since… I’ve known… about me. Since I found out some boys see me!” Charlie grabbed him hard. Charlie’s knuckles jammed hard into Kelly’s chest and Charlie jerked him forward and threw Kelly to the floor on his hands and knees. Kelly started crying, hanging his head. “But I never acted on my feelings! Never! Not once!”

“Get up!” Charlie said breathing hard. Kelly used the seat of the chair and pushed himself up. His eyeliner spread, and his tears streaked black runners down his cheek. “Now we vote,” Charlie said.

Kelly slowly shook his head.

“All in favor of ending this with Kelly according to the rule, raise your hand.”

Charlie looked around the room. Brenna raised her hand. She wanted to stay on Charlie’s good side. Devin stood in the middle of the room. He and Kelly had been friends since Elementary School. Charlie glared at Devin. He had to live with Charlie. It was either vote with him or face his wrath. Devin sighed as his hand slowly came up.

Kelly’s lip quivered. He shook his head. Not Devin, too.

Charlie raised his hand and grinned. “Goodbye forever, queer boy.”

Realization burst into his brain like the atom bomb. These were my lifelong friends. Boom! Gone! Pain! Tears ran like the frozen pipes outside his folks’ house do in the winter. He walked out of the room, out of the house, with his forearm across his face, head down, crying.

He went outside into the late afternoon, to the sidewalk, and turned left toward home. He threw his arm down and took staggering steps. He looked back at Devin’s bedroom and the light was on. The big oak in his yard had dropped its load of leaves. Fitting, he thought, done and cast aside. He wiped tears with the back of his hand. He saw Brenna dancing, waving her hair around. Music played. Inside the house, they laughed. He cried.

He hung his head and walked toward home. He crossed a small bridge and entered the neighborhood with some businesses and a green area with a fence. There was an alley past the fence beside a business, a carpet store he remembered, and he turned down the concrete ally. The building was on one side and the chain-link fence the other.

“Come on, guys,” he said to himself, “everybody in this town knows what I am. I wore fingernail polish to school.” Tears flowed. “I never did any harm to anybody. I never even touched anybody. And Brenna, the answer is no! I’ve never touched another boy, let alone fellatio. I’m a virgin! I’ve never been kissed!” His chest hitched, and he cried hard.

It’s all my fault. No one even likes me, forget loving me. I’ve ruined my Mom and Dad’s life. My Dad hates me. I have no friends.

He ran half the length of the alley and dropped to his knees. He unfolded his little pocket knife, yanked his shorts and panties to his knees. He had been proud of the pubic hair when it had finally grown in. He promptly shaved it off. The memory made him smile.

He pulled his penis taught and screamed as the tip of the knife broke the skin above the base of it. He pushed the little knife deeper and felt it give and he knew he was inside his scrotum. He held his penis to the side and started sawing. Blood spewed as he sawed. When he cut the base of his penis down to a slim piece of skin, he snatched it off the rest of the way and screamed.

He tossed it aside and smirked through tears. “The little tattletale,” he said.

He gripped his scrotum and pulled, stretching the loose skin out tight. The little blade was slick with blood and his hands shook, but he fumbled the blade in position and cut the tight scrotum skin. Between muffled screams and grunts between his teeth, he finished cutting off the scrotum. With gritted teeth, and one last wide open loud scream, he grabbed both his testicles and sliced through the vas deferens and the veins, and dropped his testicles to the ground.

He rolled forward hitting his forehead on concrete with hands cupped over his castrated crotch. Blood poured through is fingers. He cried until the darkness of unconsciousness overcame him.

He lay on the warm white concrete, rolled in a bundle, and bled to death.

***

The police found him later, sticky in his drying blood. His white skin and tousled hair was hard to recognize as a human boy on the white concrete.

One officer knelt beside the body, removed his hat, and looked up at the other officer. “Do you see what happened here?”

The standing officer nodded yes, shook his head no, nodded yes, and shook his head no. “My son is his age,” he said at last. The officer’s voice broke and he had to turn his head.

***

Inside Devon’s room, the record stopped, and he went to the record player to turn it over. He glanced out the window and saw people running left, toward town.

“Something bad’s happening out there. Let’s go and see what’s going on!” Devin said, and he ran out of the room. Brenna followed. Charlie followed her.

They ran across the small bridge to the green area at the edge of town where the first of the buildings are, the fence enclosing the green area, and ran to the alley beside the furniture store. There was a small crowd gathered and Devin started pushing through.

He pushed his way to the front. Devin put both hands on his head and dropped to his knees. He saw Kelly holding his crotch doubled over. He saw the dried blood, and the penis by the wall where the police put a marker. He saw the men putting a white sheet over his crumpled balled up body on the white concrete with all the black dried up blood.

He looked back, and Charlie had his head and shoulders through the first line of people in the crowd.

“It wasn’t me,” Charlie said. Charlie ducked away. Devin jumped up and ran after him, pushing back through the crowd.

Charlie was on the sidewalk going over the bridge with this hands in his jeans pockets. Charlie glanced over his shoulder at Devin. He shook his head. “I didn’t do this,” he said. He walked on. “It wasn’t me,” he said.

Devin knew he was going to have hell to pay when he got home but he hurt. His heart hurt. He was in shock at what Kelly did to himself. “It was you!” Devin yelled. “You, you son of a bitch!”

***

Later the same day after dark, two police officers went to Kelly’s home a few blocks from where Kelly killed himself. The Vogel’s was the name above the mailbox by the door. One officer knocked, and they waited.

“Vogel means ‘bird’ in German,” one officer said.

“So, it’s the ‘Birds’,” the other officer said straight-faced. They chuckled. The house was an old, dilapidated wood frame craftsman in very bad repair. Paint peeled away. There as a tarp on part of the many gabled roof to cover leaks.

“This duty blows,” the first officer said.

“No shit,” the other officer said.

A woman came to the door with a drink in her hand. The breeze from the opening door brought the smell out to the officers. It smelled like straight whisky. The ice clinked, and she smiled at the them. She was dark-haired, early forties, attractive. She could barely stand, gripping the door knob. She smiled at them, but said nothing.

The officer removed his hat. “Mrs. Vogel?” She still held to the door knob, head weaving, still smiling. He looked at the other officer. A young woman arrived at the door and took Mrs. Vogel by the shoulders.

“One moment, please, officers,” the young woman said. She wore hip-hugger jeans and a hippie crop-top blouse which didn’t hide much of her big breasts. She led her mother to the living room and sat her in a chair. She returned to the door. “I’m Janice Vogel. I’m Kelly’s older sister. If you don’t mind, I’ll come out on the porch and talk to you. Both my parents have been drinking.” Janice opened the screen door with half the screen missing and stepped outside. “You’re here to tell me my little brother committed suicide today.”

“Yes, we are. It’s one of our duties to inform the family.”

“In a town this size, we hear things before you do, I’m sure. I went to the scene and named his body and signed their paper while the coroner put him into the hearse. The coroner told me how he died, although he was reluctant to talk to an eighteen-year-old girl.” His generation knew hippies were ignorant vagrants. It was a given. The police officer thought she was a hippie, but after listening to her talk, conceded she had above average intelligence.

“We are very sorry for your loss. If you will pass it on to your parents for us, it will be appreciated. Since this has been ruled a suicide, the police have closed this case. If you have any questions, feel free to call us any time.”

“I do have one question, if the family doesn’t claim the body, what’s done with it?”

“Um, I think the first place they check is the university medical school to see if they need cadavers for the students.”

“Good! Excellent! It would be fitting. Donated to science. Thank you very much, officers.”

She went inside and shut the door.

They walked to the street, to the cruiser. “Ain’t love grand,” one officer said to the other.

***

The next day, Devin stood in the alley between the building and the fence. Kelly killed himself yesterday afternoon and an entire day had gone by. Devin could not sit still. He came here twice. He begged his mom to talk to the Vogel’s to find out what they were going to do. The urge to do something for Kelly was overwhelming. He was going mad. The guilt for dumping Kelly as a friend was overwhelming. They had done this to him. He and his stupid family had pushed Kelly to his cliff edge, and he jumped.

He stood beside the spot where Kelly had used the pocket knife and did what he did. Devin gave it to him for his birthday. He stood with his head down looking at the alley where the fire department had washed the rest of Kelly into the drain yesterday. It was dry and clean. “Gone,” Devin said, “like his life never happened.”

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Anonymous wrote this about The Rule. There are some spoilers:

Hi Tom,

Your title grabbed me. It told too little to guess anything about the story, and it was too intriguing to ignore. It’s a good title. You could say the rule is what gets Kelly killed.

(…) skipping spoilers

Your writing is to-the-point, and you don’t shy away from difficult topics or scenes. It’s something I appreciate… The story is sad indeed, in the “this needs to be written about” kind of sad. What I mean is that this story could have happened, and maybe did (though I hope not).

Kelly’s character is described in precise strokes, in how he speaks, what he wears, the feelings he has for Devin. I think the name “Kelly” is feminine too, is it not? At any rate, his characterisation is excellent, and there is just too much to it for me to quote all bits that make me imagine him so clearly. I feel bad for him, that his life ended the way it did. He may have been a transgender, but we’ll never know.

You addressed the issue of guilt, of who has the fault. I’m glad you did, because it’s a question with no answer, but the story would have felt incomplete without it. It gets the reader to think, as well. We still have discrimination nowadays, although in most countries it has gotten much better.

Your story is not only sad, but revolting. The contrast between the peace and love attitude, and Kelly having to abide by the rule of not showing his feelings, not following his heart, is striking. I enjoyed reading it for the way you handle the words and craft the story, but the thematic left a lump in my throat.

Well done.

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