THE CRIMINAL, AGED FIVE
“Infringement of a law, command or duty: Transgress.”

But, Officer, this is where I want to live. Beyond barbed wire, unencumbered by quarterly taxes, too much a badass to ever again recycle. I inhabit my rent-free cave-hole, sir. I am a woodsman with access to weaker people who find my musk illegally alluring. I want to be a prisoner the day he is released, able to live on the knife-edged fulcrum of seeing the green world new. Not a convict who has “done his time,” I need a jailbreak, a hacksaw in the birthday cake, some governor’s pay-off reprieve. I’ve always longed to be BAD. But a fellow’s trying too hard? means he is no damn good at that.

Photo: Roger Haile.

Born Presbyterian, I understood the meaning of sin before I could tie my shoes. They told me, age 5, there were Ten Commandments. I had only broken little ones, like stealing. I had only dishonored my parents, lied often, worshipped all other gods before Him.

Protestants talk so often about sin they have no time to bring one off. I sinned easily without considering it anything but living, getting what I wanted.

At age 5, sir? I stole a Tootsie Roll Pop, in front of my mother and the checkout girl. I was wearing blue and white striped seersucker shorts with an elasticized waistband. I plunged the Pop under my rear seam, casually backing out of the entire supermarket. Once safe at home I discovered I’d stolen a grape one. Not my favorite. But it being the wrong denomination made it taste both worse and finer. I sucked crime’s consequence.

I aspired to transgress bigger game. Two brothers lived next door. They were 3 and 4, easily led. They were not beautiful boys but both blond. All summer they ran around in short shorts and sandals and they turned a browner brown than my small-fry diversifying freckles allowed. Their names? Donny and Danny. Even then, a small sophisticate from nowhere, I rolled my eyes at such cuteness. If they were dogs, they might’ve been called Toughie and Tiger. Their parents were banal but the boys served as my playmates. I, born transgressive as well as Presbyterian, wanted to see them naked. I needed to know how penises other than mine looked.

I was not pre-sexual. No animal alive is. Still, with those two stripped naked, I would not have known to taste or touch them. I still lived in the “let me see it” stage. I figured the odds were on my side. I had one dick and they, between them, fully two, however minimal.

This occurred in 1953 before air conditioning was common in middle class households. I remember nudging our conversation toward what-all we boys had rigged, perky, between our white white legs. I knew that our backyards stretched too wide-open to allow the taking down of shorts; or even much promiscuous peeking into each other’s. So I managed to start my smut talk alongside the Donny-Danny home. It stood 20 feet from mine. Brothers seemed yielding. All was going well. When I first broached the topic, brothers acted shy but giggled, showing interest. (I still love it when I make a sexual suggestion and my victims do not run.)

Donny, he’d already crooked his thumb inside his shorts’ waistband. I saw his baby brother, Danny, notice, deciding how low he’d go. I heard a change of sound nearby.

I had accidentally (unconsciously self-destructive?) put moves on Don-Dan directly beneath an open window where their mother operated a sewing machine. The shift in her noise level meant she’d abandoned her Singer and was running out to scream at me. A skinny vengeful lady (unattractive) swooped around her home, already pointing toward my house. “Get away from them, you filthy, filthy little boy!”

I bolted, with one glance at Danny’s thumb inside his shorts’ elastic, the tease. His outraged mom knocked hard on my family’s screen-door. She told my mother what I’d just attempted. I already sat on the floor of my room, working my toy train, a Broadway-level simulation of innocence. Mother looked in at my butch pushing of phallic transportation along its appointed track. “You go to the bathroom. You wait for your father and take your pants down. He is going to wear you out because this will absolutely break his heart.”

But when, hours later, his car was heard crunching our driveway, Mom darted in and whispered conspiracy itself, “If you promise never to ask another boy for that, I won’t trouble him. Because, you know, he’d kill you! Promise?”

I crossed my heart, sobbing. But I had lied again.

Wanting what one wants, overstepping toward that.

Officer? What else is there?

Do what you will with me.

Contributor

Allan Gurganus

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