Billy was late for supper again. He knew it, and he was sort of sorry, but he just couldn’t step away. It was just too much – the sun, the heat, the burn, the smell, and the sizzle. The power. It was beyond temptation for Lucifer himself, let alone any one individual with a variety of all too mortal faults, and he was that one individual.
He was well aware of his badness. It was pointed out to him on a daily, if not hourly basis, with a capital B, by his momma. It was a litany, a rosary of grievous faults – but the culpas were not meas, but rather, yoursas. They varied in the threnody and pace of their recital, but they stuck firmly to a common thread of evil doings. It was as though his momma had decided to make the twenty mysteries all Sorrowful ones, a tearful and histrionic listing of his badness, with the variations in levels of hysteria and whipping power dependent on her mood, which in turn was dependent on how long daddy spent after work with the uncles, chawing and drinking white lightning.
The Sorrowful Mysteries. Count, pray, count. Whip. His tracking of dirt on her clean floors. Whip. His rudeness to his elders, which apparently included strangers he had yet to meet; his vile Aunt Reba, whom his mother was well aware had touched him in places no boy should be touched at the age of nine; Father McHogarth, known to the entire town as a low-down, mean, rat-eyed drunk; and his older sister, now she had stopped being the whore of Babylon and found herself a respectable man with a respectable job. Whip. His creasing, dirtying and inevitable wreckage and destruction, simply through the act of buttoning, zipping, and/or pulling onto his body, any set of clothing other than one made of rags fit for usually for swine. Pray. His inability to understand that by not cleaning thoroughly behind, in, and around those monstrous protuberances he foolishly knew as ears, gigantic potatoes – the likes of which had never been seen before, and would likely never be seen again in this universe – would end up being cultivated, and no doubt harvested for the poor individuals starving somewhere in Africa, in the crustaceous soil to be found there.
Whip. Whip and bleed.
Cross, genuflect, amen. Trembling lips, tears in eyes, and a handkerchief pressed to her eyes as she felt Jesus and the Holy Mother beam down on her, in enumerating his sins for the Greater Glory of God.
Billy wasn’t convinced God, Jesus and Mary needed those sins of his to feel any glory – weren’t they all whooping it up in Heaven already? How did whipping him ‘til he pleaded “please Momma, no more, no more Momma, please!” give them anymore clouds or harps, or good shit like that?
Facing facts, he reflected, the whipping and the praying, the recitation of his dark sins, was happening whether he was late to supper or not; so why not make the most of this incredible discovery? Why not, in point of fact, enjoy his badness?
This was sense. This was rationality, as his teacher, Miss Stenson, would say. She knew what was what. This did not impress his momma one bit, who had been heard to mention within Miss Stenson’s hearing to several of the other more judgemental ladies who frequented early Mass, that it was possible – only possible, mind – that Miss Stenson was a tad fast. He knew Miss Stenson wasn’t fast. She just didn’t give two hoots for the joint opinion of the town gossips, of whom his momma was a leading light, and forgot to show due deference where due deference was clearly due. If she followed his example, and that of his daddy, nine nights out of ten, her life would be far smoother and simpler. But she beat on, and smoked her Lucky Strikes, and wore her trousers, and didn’t care.
And somewhere deep, deep down, in his roaring lion of a hind brain, behind his cringing and his cowardice, just like his daddy, he liked her all the more for it.
He shook his head, and crouched down again near the magnifying glass. The flames were licking higher as the last of the afternoon sun beat down through the thick, thick glass. The smell was getting stronger; it was almost a bacon-y smell, making his stomach growl involuntarily, mixed with a sweetish sour taint which he realised with a faint surprise was the scent of fresh urine.
If he got more wood, he decided, the tang of the pine would cover the bothersome piss aroma. Plus, the sun was nearly gone, and he had to make the most of the magnifying glass. Miss Stenson had said, quite firmly, that they all must have a turn with them, to conduct their nature experiments, and there were only five between a class of 32 children.
He ran towards the woods, and quickly gathered an armful of dead boughs. The fire was starting to really roar, in a most satisfying way.
It was only as the sun sank beneath the horizon, and the flames died down somewhat, leaving a pop and fizz of burning flesh, and the faint moaning of his momma began to subside, then stop, as her roasted heart finally gave out, that he realised the error of his ways. As he assiduously wrote up his notes, Nature Experiment by Billy O’Shaughnessy: how using a magnifying glass assisted me in creating a campfire in the wilderness, evading capture and preparing food, he made note of his mistake.
Prior to starting my experiment, I should have ensured that I trapped at least a rabbit or a squirrel in the pit with the threat I faced. Because although I succeeded in blinding the predator with the magnifying glass, causing them to fall into the pit, and starting a fire with the glass, using only the sun’s rays and dry kindling, I did not end up having anything to eat, although I did effectively get rid of the predator.
So I am still hungry, and I am also late for supper at home, due to my fascination with this topic.
I do think I should get a bonus mark for effort on this last point, Miss Stenson.
I take heed of this lesson, and note it well for my next Nature Experiment, to which I look forward greatly.
Billy O’Shaughnessy, aged twelve and three quarters, gathered his notebook and the magnifying glass. He looked down at his dead momma’s gently steaming body, sniffed some, and brightened a little as he remembered at least, even if there was no supper, there was also no whipping.
Then he started the long, hungry trudge home, remembering to extinguish the fire before he left, and to cover his momma’s body with the left over branches and burnt-out coals.
Miss Stenson did not approve of bad woodcraft, nor of leaving trash lying around for others to stumble over.