STAY PONY GOLDBOY
[First appeared in Kelp Magazine]
The stable doors underneath the church were imperfect. The old school building had been tacked onto when the parish expanded, the opposite of when a snake grows, back around when everyone in Ohio started to have their own car, their own identity on the highway, that first firsthand understanding of inexplicable speed.
The Pinewood Derby takes place in what used to be a stable, what now houses a gymnasium for the elementary school students who go there, with God squeezed in-between mathematics and science like an afterthought, but at least it’s something (especially if you got boys for children).
When they are seven or eight they are old-enough to sit on the stage with the priest, the person who, as long as they’ve been alive, has been a medium for God. They sit at his right side like it’s nothing. They’re so fine and so cool.
After school one day at their Boy Scout meeting, they are each handed a small block of wood. The pine measures 7 x 1-3/4 x 1-1/4 inches and is soft, the kind of wood they make the boxes, but not faces, of drawers from. You just push the thing back into the frame if it gets a dent. Pine comes all warped like marble cake and psychedelic drugs, chaotic and loud in any room where it’s featured, but cheap.
Marcus cuts into the flesh of a peach with his pocketknife.
“Mom’s gonna be mad if she sees you took that thing out,” Cal says, as the blade of the knife dips into and out of the peach again, like something swimming in the distance.
“So? I already got my pocketknife card.”
“Yeah, but just with one corner—”
“That means that I get to use it—”
“Not until you have all four!”
“Would you shut your fucking mouth,” Marcus hissed at his brother. “First of all, you’re only a Tiger.”
“So you don’t even know about being a Bear—”
“Yes I do,” Cal whined and it went on like this until the sunshine let its shoulders relax all over a too-blue Ohio. Everywhere it was warm instead of snowing.
Marcus returns the pocketknife to his mother’s sock drawer while Cal’s getting in trouble for leaving his lunchbox at school again and doesn’t really say much during dinner. As soon as he’s through, he’s upstairs in his room and staring at the unhatched block of wood, trying to think about it—to imagine its future possibility—in subtractive terms.
“I heard that he flipped off Father Klaus and now he’s in a whole other Scout Troop.”
“I heard he told him to go fuck Jesus.”
The boys hadn’t seen Tevin in well-over a week, not since he’d been sent to detention very publicly during an assembly meeting—an event that had too many witnesses and so whose details were overburdened with elasticity and seemed to shapeshift by the minute.
When Tevin did come back to school, he wouldn’t say where he’d been, or actually say really much of anything. Marcus and his friends had tried all of the old tricks but couldn’t convince him to resume his role in the room. When the behavior continued, the boy became the object of obtuse speculation (“I heard they gave him a lobotomy”) and wild, upsetting rumor (“nah, I heard from Kenny Fass that they shipped him to a special camp for gay kids and they electrocuted his balls.”)
Anyway, Tevin was back in class and back at church and back at scout meetings and was the last to get his little pine block.
“Shit. He’s gotta get to work fast if he’s gonna get his car done in time.”
“I can’t believe he lost a whole week!”
The seven day delay in Tevin’s production had been spent by the remaining scouts and their parents or uncles or aunts (or whoever was helping them with power tools) prepare for the big day, typically with the child coming up with the concept and drawing where to cut on the car, and then sanding it after the adult does the work. The car was painted by the child and wheels were attached.
The more detail-oriented (and possibly sociopathic) parents of these scouts research and acquire special wheels, grease, and weights.
Tevin, who started a week late, asked his uncle Bobby for help making his car look like a Playstation controller, which took half a Saturday to complete. They did not use special wheels or grease. They didn’t know those were things people did. They spent the afternoon working and cracking jokes and
listening to records in Bobby’s garage, and then he drove the little man home.
“Mom knows about the pocket knife,” Cal whispered to Marcus in the dark.
“No, she doesn’t,” Marcus sneered from his bunk. “What are you even talking about?”
“I heard her on the phone in the kitchen.”
“I heard her say He’s Doing Little Things To Act Out.”
“No I’m not.”
“That’s what she said.”
“That doesn’t mean she knows about the pocketknife.”
“Yes it does!”
“Besides, I put it back exactly where she had it in the drawer.”
“She said it on the phone!”
“She said I had the pocketknife?”
“That’s what I said.”
“No, you said she said I acted out.”
“And about the knife—”“Which I don’t. I’m too-old for that.”
“Yes you do.”
“No I don’t.”
“Uh-huh! You always act out you’re like the Super King of Acting Out.”
“Well, you’re the Superking of acting stupid.”
“No I’m not—”
“Yes you are—”
Father Klaus always looked forward to the Derby. The day felt Olympic, or something, as if they were taking part in a truly human threshold crossing, like they were participating in something ancient or important, “except in Athens,” he is telling Dave, Troop 138’s Scout Master, “the boys would have
ridden on horses.
“Funny, then, that we do all this in an old stable,” he says with a wry smile.
The event is absolutely packed. This is the Superbowl for this small-scale boys’ organization, the pièce de résistance of the calendar year.
“The one night even Jesus can’t ruin,” Marcus’s best friend, Adam, says as the boys bow their heads for Klaus’s blessing of the event.
And then they’re off!
The preliminary rounds of the evening take the entire first half of the event to complete—not only because this is the bulk of the cars but because they’re quite literally slower. This is the part of the evening where pageantry comes into play, where decoration and the superficial get their moment to shine before it’s time to open up the floodgates of this bloodbath, after the snack break at halftime.
The track runs the length of the church’s gymnasium and has cameras positioned at the end of its woodwork to verify results within a fraction of a second, to make certain no undeserving little bastard boy should go home with a trophy. To protect the Natural Order.
See adults with whistles stopwatches clipboards and pens. See not only the families but the relatives in the stand.
See the car shaped like a real car shaped like a spaceship shaped like a Twinkie. See the car that looks like a little kitchen sink.
See the Power Rangers Superman Ninja Turtles car. See the pirate ship, fighter jet and Batmobile. See the lone top-heavy obtuse Oxford shoe.
See your breath in the air in the parking lot.
The parking lot leads right into the gym, where all the action is. Adam’s the first one to ditch the event, and a few friends follow him.
Cal tells Marcus not to go.
“Just chill, dude.”
“We have to stay. You have to—”
“Cal you sound like fucking Mom. You know that, right?”
“Shut up. Shut the fuck up, okay?”
“Marcus, are you coming?” Adam asks.
Marcus turns back to his brother. “Just shut up, you’re being afucking idiot,” he says before turning to join the other boys.
“Come on, Tev,” Marcus says to Tevin as the Scouts make their way outside.
Cal watches from the bleachers as they exit.
“But it’s my car’s next,” he says to no-one. He suddenly feels all the strangers, around him in the crowd.
Marcus hears the sound before he sees them.
“Adam! What the fuck!” he yells.
Adam and this kid Thomas are trying to hit the parapet of the building with rocks.
“Specifically,” Adam says, flinging another rock toward the top, “we said the winner is the first one who can bop the nose on Mother Mary.”
“Oh, this is bad,” Tevin says, under his breath.
Marcus lets out a nervous laugh. “Come on, guys. What the fuck?”
“I wanna see if I can crack it in half,” Thomas laughs, whipping a stone at the statue.
“Stupid fucking night, anyway,” Adam says, “plus now we’re in the bullshit zone where everybody has to wait for all the baby cars—”
“The retard cars.”
The boys laugh. Marcus winces.
“Yeah, well. They’re probably about to break soon, so like—”
“What are you, a pussy?” Adam turns to face Marcus, suddenly.
“Since when did you get all soft, Marcus? I know Tevin here’s had his brain scrambled or whatever. I know he’s useless, but when did you become a fucking baby?”
“I’m not a baby.”
“You wanna see about it?” Adam asks, taking out his pocketknife.
“Where did you get that?”“It’s mine.”
“You don’t have all the corners on your card.”
“So you can’t have your pocketknife—”
“Says who? Says—what, the police?” Adam gestures wildly around, waving the knife. “I looked it up, dipshit. It’s not against the law.”
“Put. Down. The knife.”
“Pick. Up. A rock.”
Marcus and Adam stared hard into each other’s eyes. The quiet roar of another room from just inside the gym.
Marcus leans down, slowly, eyes on Adam’s pocketknife.
He picks up a rock.
“There he is.”
“I told you he wasn’t a pussy.”
“Shut the fuck up, what’s the game?”
“Right in-between her eyes. Like you’re an assassin.”
“Right. Not the nose?”
“Fuck the nose. Get her right between. Right at the bridge.”
Marcus lets the stone rip.
It’s Andy Carlyle’s dad who’s headed to the parking lot to smoke at the tail end of the first act who hears the building’s window shatter and rain down on the pavement and then the little bubble of whispers and patter of feet.
“You missed my car,” Cal says to Marcus, who doesn’t even hear his brother speak, but instead just stares straight ahead, eyes unfocused, into the great big eternity of light illuminating the gymnasium’s glossy floor.
“Folks, I’m afraid I’m going to need your attention,” began the Scout Master. Dave pressed STOP on the CD providing soundtrack to the race. “If everyone could just take their seats.”
The Scout Master looked around the room at the polyphony of familiar faces, taking his time.
“I regret to inform you. It’s just been brought to my attention that something rather unfortunate has just transpired outside, in the parking lot.”
Cal turned from the Scout Master to his brother.
“Shut the fuck up, Cal,” Marcus whispered, bobbing his knee.
“And we are going t0 need to sort of. Well, to put a pause on this evening’s festivities while we work all this out.”
Father Klaus walked up to join Dave in front of the assembly.
“It seems that someone—or someones—were throwing rocks at the building outside.
“And I believe.
“I think what. Seems to make sense.
“Is to take a moment.
“With Father Klaus. Here.
“With the thinking that maybe.
“W-would come forward.
“And ask for forgiveness.
“and we could all work this whole thing out, together,” he said and then he handed the microphone to the priest. The race track stretched behind the two adult men like a microscopic world. The house lights, in the gymnasium, on full.
No one said a word.
Outside, you could hear the traffic pass by the church grounds, which only reminded anyone who was listening of the parking lot, which only made the room and the situation feel more claustrophobic.
No one said a word.
No one said anything, following Klaus’s prayer, for so long that Dave chose to speak again:
“We can wait for the rest of the evening, folks.
“We don’t have to have a Pinewood Derby.”
This received audible groans—especially from the younger scouts. Marcus could feel Cal’s eyes like hot daggers.
“You have nothing to fear,” the Scout Master said.
Marcus looked over at Tevin, then at Adam and Thomas, who were sitting in the corner of the risers.
Thomas looked down at his knees.
Tevin looked straight ahead.
Adam looked at the Scout Master.
Marcus could feel his brother’s eyes digging into him.
“I’m gonna tell Mom about the pocketknife.”
“Cal shut the fuck up or I’ll cut you with the pocketknife—”
“I’m gonna tell Mom about—”
“Dude, seriously. I need you not to fucking suck for just even like five minutes. For once. Shut the fuck up shut the fucking fuck up, okay?”
Cal’s energy sank like a stone. his brow furrowed. The emotion swelling to his face confounded his features so that they didn’t make sense, anymore.
He drew back in his chair and got quiet.
“I have to tell you, folks. It’s this part right here—this silence— that brings me the most shame of all.”
Marcus looked at Tevin. Tevin was shaking.
“Perhaps the culprits are all gone home.”
Cal turned back to face his brother, slowly.
“But then again, in a minute, if no one comes forward, we’re going to have to take attendance.”
Cal dug daggers into Marcus’s temple with his eyes.
“Thirty seconds, folks.”
Marcus watched a bead of sweat roll down Tevin’s cheek in the gym light.
And Adam, just staring at the Scout Master. Like it was nothing.
And Tevin shaking.
“You’ve turned into a real dick since they got a divorce,” Cal says to Marcus.
Tevin stands up.
There is a bright light like infinity.
Toni Kochensparger is a writer from Kettering, Ohio, who now lives in Queens. You can find them on Instagram @gothphiliproth. Stay Pony Goldenboy first appeared in Kelp Magazine.