Kansas fills the eye.
Swollen with blue-green wheat, veloured with bristling corn; all the Earth falls beneath its compass. The lush wonder of it was ordinary to me, growing up, even as it seemed to upswell below me. Trudging from elementary school to framed home was like walking on the uppermost of Earth.
Its edges eclipsed all the unseen wonders of my childhood -- from my Book of Marvels, My Weekly Reader, my encyclopedias and stories -- all hidden beyond the bowl, the forever curve, the thick hide, of plain Kansas.
"Not for you," murmured the flat horizon.
Paris, pyramids, mighty peaks -- not just beyond but under the yards of black earth, the mighty loam, the tentacled turf of triumphant Kansas. No bedrock, where I was raised. Just deeps of soil, and then soil again. I crawled on the only world as if on a colossal dome. No wonder I ran away: I had to get over that edge to see if the world was really real.
And I had to run because Kansas goes on and on, in me, around me, beyond my determined stride. Kansas is forever.
We held June bug races on an overturned china platter we found, blue and white and chipped, dug up from the ancient dump at the end of Eby Street. We lay in the cool of the garage, bare bellies on the grey, swept concrete, three radiating spokes from that platter, our Keds kicking, lazy and random.
Their thin, geared legs ratcheted up, tapped down, carefully placed. Crabbed as archbishops, each was carefully placed within the small rimmed circle at platters center, and still they tumbled.
Three boys, three june bugs; each had his champion. The winner was the bug who didn't fall, the one who made it off the slow curve to the platters edge, onto the dry oil stain below. Only to be lifted into the center again.
This was the boy I was, the one in the middle, between older and younger brother. Bored from comics, done with the morning bike rides in the fields at the end of 82nd Street. Too hot. Father at work, mother busy inside: " I don't care where you go just go! I don't want to see you boys 'til supper!"
Three brothers waiting for the elm shadow to move across the macadam outside, waiting on the signs all boys know. The sun would surrender, the heat would loosen its knot. From time to time we would raise our heads like antelope, peer out the garage door into the white burn, alert to small changes, signals that the cooling had begun, and we could get back on our bikes. Two of us, anyway. Kirk, the youngest, with his heart condition, was only allowed to ride after dinner, and sometimes after breakfast.
We rested chins on fists; with the least possible effort we lifted our june bugs up, placed them into the faint blue line that circled the obscure initials in the center.
"Not yet! he hasn't reached the end!"
"He will, you win this one, OK? Let's start again"
"Put him in the middle middle, not on the line!"
"That is the middle!"
The small corrections of boys, applied to each other, a touch upon each other like rough cloth on lathe-turned spindles. The exactitude of fair, the small distinctions of justice.
"Just put him down once; if he falls he falls!"
"Mine's missing a leg! i should start him lower down."
"Just go find another one, then."
Prairie talmudists we were, splitting hairs, divining intentions, distinguishing the subtlest advantages.
These were the bugs we were dealt today. Chris did not get up. The fat-fendered chevy rolled by outside, heading for Grandview; Darryl LaVitus's hoodlum brother's car. We caught the powder blue of it in our periphery. No one looked up.
The tall cypress in the Kaiser backyard swayed slightly; we all paused: Chris' eyes rolled to watch it, Kirk bent his head; I raised up, my wrists pressed hard, fingertips grazing the cement.
The pattern of shade shifting through the neighborhood, times the breeze in the treetops, divided by the deepening of the pale blue above Sally Todd's roof, squared by the noise of other boys down the block, the squeak of bike tires, over the clack-ak-ak of pinochle cards clothes-pinned against spokes, from somewhere over on 83rd Street: this is what we parsed along with that small movement in the cypress tree. Was it time? Were we past the hottest part of the day? Could we return to the the streets again?
I eased back down. Chris and I glanced at each other. Having taken our eyes off the bugs we didn't know whose was whose, Kirk and I. Chris lifted his deformed bug and put him on the floor in front of him, flipping him this way and that.
I took the better of the two, determined by the sheen on his back, some frantic scrabble he had. Kirk let it go, didn't make a fuss, being the youngest. And he didn't want us to go. He let me pick, to keep us there a little longer. He put his on the platter agin, then put mine next to it.
I sat up. "They're all the same," I said.
"Mine has five legs," Chris said.
"They never get away," Kirk said, grinning. He wanted us to stay.
Chris crushed his crippled bug under his fist. He inspected the dark brown bits of shell, the white goo, stuck to the side of his hand, then smeared it on the floor, on his dungarees.
"Let's ride," he said.