Aunt Peggy by Ron Jon Jones

Aunt Peggy, a boy, stood outside the Dunkin Donuts and watched his father pull away. His face felt as pink and as warm as the red neon sign. His father had taken him out for coffee for their weekly visitation. “What the hell are you wearing?” His father had asked. Peggy was wearing a red, Indian-patterned shirt and orange corduroys. He stuffed his hands in his pants so that his father wouldn’t see that he bit his nails. The father played with Peggy’s shoulder-length hair, and went into a lecture on personal hygiene. The boy’s carnie-barker mustache had overgrown, and you could see the greenish-blackheads stuck to the corners of his nose.

“Do you think girls will come near you like this?” his father said. Peggy wanted to say so much but he didn’t want his father to yell. He wanted to say that his wardrobe was supposed to turn people off; the only way to be noticed was to look absurd, it seemed. He wanted to say he was proud of his nickname. His grandmother had said, “Will you cut your hair, you look like Aunt Peggy!” The poor boy didn’t have any aunts.

But Peg didn’t say anything to his father; his mouth was closed a full forty minutes. When his father demanded that he speak, Peggy picked up a lit candle from the table, and poured the wax onto his own hands. “What the—” his father blurted as Peggy smiled, holding up his hand to watch the wax dry. After proving that he was truly rebellious, Peggy wanted to get high.

Half a dozen small-town teenage thugs blocked the donut entrance, leaning handprints into the windows. They liked to joke about the towel-heads having to clean the windows off at five AM. A short guy sat on a bicycle, twitching like a weasel with spiked hair. A rail-thin kid, wearing a black bookcover as a do-rag, sat on the curb next to a blond boy who could have been eight years old. They all listened to their leader, a man of about thirty, with bad acne and a bad sneer. His sequoia arms were crossed, accented by a black, sleeveless shirt that read “Enter da Dragon,” in graffiti lettering. Yes, there was a dragon on the back. Like the younger crowd, he had attached a long chain to a Velcro wallet. It was supposed to intimidate you.

Peg didn’t like these people, but he had come here for a reason. “Hey, DeCarlo,” he said to the leader, who raised an eyebrow, “Dude, uh, can I get a twenty?”

“Well how you know me?” DeCarlo looked Peggy up and down. He noticed Peg’s clothes were all a little too tight; the spaces between buttons were bending on his shirt and his gut stuck out of the corduroys.

“Reputation,” Peggy said. DeCarlo smiled and slapped the weasel-boy’s palm. But Peg continued, “Among the skanks.”

DeCarlo raised his eyebrows. He wouldn’t have thought this hippie could be a punk. Still, he had to respect a man with quickness. “Well, I go for quantity over quality, you know?” Peg held up the crumpled bill. “It might take a while. We got a very professional system.” He winked at the bicyclist, who rode away into an alley. Then DeCarlo said, “Maybe you wanna get a few donuts while you wait?”

“Oooh,” said the skinny kid. “He didn’t.” But the eight-year old’s mouth was hanging open, he was standing on his toes, pulling on his leader’s shirt. Something wasn’t right.

“DeCarlooo,” the eight-year old cried. “Don’t cop to this wigga. Everyone knows he gay!”

A hush fell over the crowd, but Aunt Peggy started smiling. “I’m not gay.” He said. Then he waited a second and thought about it. He decided he would screw with their heads. “I’m only bisexual.” He smiled at their open mouths. What could they do?

The weasel spoke up “What, so you like sucking—”

“Not yours,” Peggy chuckled.

“So, like, you must want your own brother.” The eight-year old said.

“Do you want your sister?”

“I’m not gay!”

“That makes sense,” Peggy said. He looked like an arrogant prick. All he could think of was getting back home, back to his records, out of his head and thus out of this suffocating suburb. His mother told him that in college everyone would be just like him.

“You ain’t gay!” DeCarlo said. He spoke as if he were quoting common knowledge. “You ain’t bi, you ain’t straight, you ain’t nothin.’” The bicyclist came back now, a worried look on his face. DeCarlo nodded to him and he made the silent exchange with Peggy. The nod meant that DeCarlo wasn’t going to let some punk keep him from making money. Aunt Peggy wasn’t worth it.

“And how do you know what I am?” Peggy asked.

“You nothing cuz you ain’t never touched no one. Never touched a woman, never touched a man. You just punkin’. How do you know what you want if you never got any!?” The whole crew laughed now; a ring of ridicule encircling Aunt Peggy.

Peggy felt the plastic baggie in his pocket. He looked at DeCarlo, the way his face was long and narrow like a horse. Peggy thought he could smell stupidity rising off of him like BO. And yet he had made a question that Peggy had suffered over seem so simple. Other people thought DeCarlo was right; it wasn’t fair. He knew he should leave soon, but he could at least get the last word. “Well, if I were gay, I sure as hell wouldn’t want you!”

This only made them laugh more. Girls had joined the crowd now, chunky girls in pink halter tops. They sounded like hyenas, uneven, hysterical. They were spitting on the ground too. “A’ight, aight,” DeCarlo said to quiet them down. And they quieted.

“Boom!” DeCarlo shouted as he stabbed his fist within an inch of Aunt Peggy’s face. Peg flinched, he even stumbled a little. But then he stood up as straight as he could and put his face within an inch of DeCarlo’s. Just stared him down. Tears were welling in the corners of his eyes, but he tried his best to look mean. And then he wasn’t sad. The hairs on his neck stood up; he knew he had to get out of there.

Peggy pulled down his shirt, and he fixed the flowered collar. “You know what the difference is between me and you? I don’t know where I’ll be in a year…” He sounded a lonely note when he said this. “But I do know that you’ll all be right here, in this spot, twenty years from now.”

“And loving it!” The kid on the bike said. But everyone else was quiet. DeCarlo wished no one else was around so he could show Aunt Peggy a few things. But Peg was walking away by now, thinking that he had won. He should tell Dad about this.