He walked past the abandoned biscuit factory to the community playground. Two children were on the swings. Three teenagers shot baskets. It was August and there was no school.
Lourdie Jones was thirteen. He lived in the village of Shadrack, population 456. He lived with his daddy. Lourdie’s mama had died the year before when she was thirty-three. Ever since, Lourdie’s daddy was a miserable man.
Lourdie was hurting, too. Lourdie had two friends, Kalie Buckles, she was twelve, and Billy Nutmeg, he was fourteen.
Lourdie stopped walking in the playground and looked down at the pavement. A beetle crawled across the pavement. It looked like it was heading for a grassy patch at the edge of the playground.
Lourdie sat on his haunches and watched the beetle scurry toward the grassy patch. It had about a foot to go. Lourdie poked out his forefinger and flipped the beetle on its back. The beetle’s legs waved in the air. It was still trying to walk to the grassy patch but the pavement was gone.
Lourdie watched the beetle’s legs wave in the air. He looked at the grassy patch and then he stood up and walked out of the playground. He stopped at the Dairy Queen and ordered a cheeseburger. Billy Nutmeg was in the Dairy Queen.
“I saw you down at the playground,” said Billy.
“What were you doing?”
“I turned a beetle upside down.”
“Why did you do that?”
There was no answer really. Lourdie took the cheeseburger and a Coke and walked along the street to his house. His daddy was drinking whiskey and watching TV.
Lourdie stood there and looked at his daddy. He said to his daddy, Do you ever wish you were dead?
His daddy didn’t hear him or didn’t care to. He kept drinking and watching TV. Lourdie went into his bedroom with his supper and closed the door.
The next morning he went back to the playground, to the spot where he had tipped over the beetle. It was still there. It’s legs weren’t moving. Lourdie poked it with his finger. The beetle kicked its legs.
Billy Nutmeg came up behind him. He looked down at Lourdie Jones sitting on his haunches and he looked down at the beetle.
“Is that the same beetle you turned upside down yesterday?”
“It’s still wriggling its legs.”
“Not for long, I bet.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“What do you care?”
“It’s cruel, for Christ’s sake.”
“It’s a stinking beetle, for Christ’s sake.”
Billy Nutmeg moved on. Lourdie Jones went to the Dairy Queen and bought a cheeseburger and a Coke. He walked on down the street to his house. His daddy was drinking whiskey and watching TV. Lourdie Jones went into his bedroom and closed the door.
The next day in the playground Lourdie Jones went over to where he had turned the beetle upside down. He looked down at the pavement. The beetle was still there, on its back. Its legs weren’t moving. Lourdie sat on his haunches and poked the beetle with his finger. The beetle wriggled it legs.
“Holy shit, you’re still alive.”
Kalie Buckles and Billy Nutmeg came up and stood next to him.
“Take pity on that lowly beetle, Lourdie Jones,” said Billy Nutmeg.
“Have you no humanity, Lourdie Jones,” said Kalie Buckles.
“A beetle ain’t human,” said Lourdie.
“To another beetle it is,” said Kalie.
“Damn straight, in the beetle world it sure is,” said Billy.
“You know what that beetle’s saying to you right now?” Kalie said. “He’s saying, Give me my legs, Lourdie Jones.”
“You’re an idiot, Kalie Buckles,” said Lourdie Jones.
“You’re the idiot, Lourdie Jones,” said Kalie. “He’s probably got a beetle family waiting for him back home, maybe in that grass over there.”
“Yeah, right,” said Lourdie.
“You don’t know anything about Mother Nature, Lourdie Jones,” said Billy.
“Mother Nature can go fuck itself,” said Lourdie.
“You have a filthy mouth, Lourdie Jones,” said Kalie.
“And a cruel streak,” said Billy.
Kalie Buckles and Billy Nutmeg walked away together and then Lourdie walked away.
Lourdie went to the playground the next day, to the edge of the playground where the beetle was. He sat on his haunches and looked down at the beetle. At first, it was still, like the day before, but when he poked it with his finger, it waved its legs in the air.
Lourdie went home, cheeseburger and a Coke, his daddy drinking and watching TV, Lourdie going into his bedroom, closing the door.
The next morning he went to the playground. Same routine. Lourdie sitting on his haunches next to the beetle, the beetle’s legs not moving, Lourdie poking it with his finger, the beetle’s legs flailing in the air.
“You are amazing,” said Lourdie Jones, “you are fucking amazing.”
On the sixth day, he poked the beetle and the beetle’s legs waved frantically in the air.
“Jesus Christ,” said Lourdie.
He suddenly felt the exhaustion of the lowly beetle. The lowly beetle’s exhaustion exhausted Lourdie Jones. He couldn’t take it any more. Maybe the beetle could, but Lourdie Jones couldn’t.
“This is crazy,” he said, and with his finger, he flipped the beetle over onto its legs.
“Go on, get the hell out of here,” Lourdie said to the beetle.
The beetle’s legs were on the hot pavement for the first time in five days. The grassy patch was a foot away. The beetle didn’t move.
“Go, goddamnit,” said Lourdie Jones, “go home to that grassy patch over there, if that’s where you live.”
The beetle didn’t move. Lourdie Jones leaned closer to the beetle and watched its legs.
“Move your legs, God damn you, you’ve only got a foot to go.”
The beetle didn’t move.
“Take a step, move, go home, get the hell out of here.”
The beetle’s legs didn’t move.
“Don’t do this to me, you beetle bastard,” Lourdie yelled, “don’t leave me like this.”
Lourdie Jones felt the heat of the pavement through the soles of his shoes.
Kalie Buckles was watching from the perimeter of the playground. She looked at Lourdie Jones kneeling beside the beetle.
There was pity in Kalie’s heart. She walked over to Lourdie Jones.