Rushing, passing judgment on potential members of the fraternity, determining worthiness, Squib and I conversed with a bookish dweeb. Squib winked at me so as to pretend we thought him frat-worthy. We egged him on, making him think he would fit in with the brothers of the house. You should have heard his lameness, how he chatted with us in a dingy corner of the downstairs living room, going on and on about his hobby, collecting butterflies.
"I love being a lepidopterist. It's so cool to mount them," he said. Squib and I hardly kept straight faces. There was a brother majoring in zoology, who would have enjoyed talking to this flaming faggot. Another member, an English major, extolled some novelist, I later learning about Edward Bunker, reading "No Beast So Fierce" in the joint. Squib urged me to join him, urinating on the fuck-off's bed sheets, calling him "Jewboy." The fraternity never accepted Jews but we called him that anyway.
Squib and I were leading the oatmeal-faced hick on, knowing we would blackball him when his name came up for a vote. After that, Squib turned on me, nicknaming me Possum. "Every house needed a Possum," he told me. I looked up "possum" in the dictionary my uncle gave me as a high school graduation present, my name, Maxwell Wart, embossed on its leather cover. I thought one definition, "feigning ignorance," was wrong. I never could feign anything.
Around midnight Squib undressed, standing naked, holding his soft, skewbald, purple and white penis in one hand, the other hand wrapped over it. "Which hand is it in, Poss?"
Without a pause, I said, "Your right one," though I had no clue. To say that I was not turned on would be inaccurate.
"No, point to it," he ordered.
"You gotta touch it," he said, quickly changing hands, confusing me. I resisted, saying to myself, enough's enough. "Find the lady, Poss." Later I understood that was an expression dealers in three-card monte used to cheat marks, speedily passing the cards over a small table on a busy city sidewalk. Squib, growing up there in St. Louis, was familiar with slang I never knew. I touched his closed fist and he opened his hand, saying, "No way," and then unclenched the other. "That one, Poss," his dick larger.
Back in bed, he asked from the top bunk, "Poss, do you believe in God?" I lay beneath him, thinking how far behind my homework was, waves of fear sliding over my body at the prospect of flunking out, perspiring under the sheet. I lay silent.
Squib said, "You're pathetic, Poss. Sure there's a God. Why don't you go to the window and say 'Goodnight God'." Though a little chilly, I got up, threw the window open, shouting, "GOODNIGHT GOD." Squib laughed like a banshee.
"That's why the brothers call you 'Possum', one gullible freak-a-zoid," he said. Back in bed, Squib threw his cum-towel at me, hitting me in the face.
"How do you like my sperm smell, Possum?" I dropped it on the floor, wanting to heave.
One night, in our bunks, Squib began pleasuring himself, humming and ohhing as he performed the deed. "Raquel Welch, won't cha love me," he moaned. I took up the slack, saying things like, "Oh, Squib, what a charmer, I'd like you to give me your big hotdog," and, "When Raquel pulled up her skirt, spreading her legs for you, your bone grew larger than ever," and, "Raquel grabbed your tight, hot nuts and stuck your gigantic thing into her mouth," and after I said, "When she stuffed your shank between her liquid lips, about to swallow your oozing, melted cream cheese," I added, "She stopped, pulled away, telling you were a low life, nothing but poor white trash, thinking you're hot shit, all the while you're nothing but a loutish, working-class, no account loser who deserved only fat, swarthy, $20 whores."
"What the hell. You wrecked it, Poss. I'll get you for that," Squib said. This from him who had done it seven times in a twenty-four hour period, taping it as well. He once told me he and his buddies used to prowl the streets in their car, looking for pretty girls. As they drove around, seeing blacks, they would scream, "Go back to Africa, you groids."
Weeks dragged on. I started skipping classes or sat there, not taking notes. One afternoon, down in the house's dining room, Squib talked with the cook and his helper. Both black, the chef a muscled former boxer, the younger helper and he preparing dinner, I following Squib into the kitchen.
"This here is Possum, boys, take a gander at him, will ya. See, doesn't he look like a possum to you guys?"
"Oh, Squib, no he doesn't," said LeRoy, the cook.
"Oh, come on." Squib said. "Watch him get red when I say, 'Groids are ok if they stay in the kitchen but not if they sit next to me in class.'" I saw them blush, but they stopped smiling, frowning. I saw black slave faces in daguerreotypes like theirs. I would not want to be around Squib ever again in the presence of blacks.
Squib beckoned me into the pantry, then scooted out, closing the wire mesh door, padlocking it.
"Oh, let him out Squib," LeRoy said.
"You don't belong in there. That's for food, not people," said his assistant.
"You boys darn well know that's where you all belong. Possum's just a poor old Negro, too. Stowed away in prison comes as naturally to you two as it does candy-ass Possum." The faces of the cooks looked serious, LeRoy telling Squib to unlock the door, they had to get things in there for dinner. After ten more minutes of gabbing, Squib told the two that he, Squib, would never hear blues and soul singers in that nightclub on Delmar Boulevard because the customers would draw knives and kill curious whites who dared entering. Then he unlocked the door and I went to the room, shaken. Why the hell had I signed the frat's white-only oath after Hell Week, fatigued after thirty-six hours of enforced wakefulness.
Winter, in St. Louis, was not as cold as in the northern Midwest, where I was from, but whenever I put on my insulated boots, Squib said something like, "I wish I had warm booties like you" or, "How come an ugly Possum can have folks who could afford such luxury?" or, "If you go down to coontown, wearing them at high noon, you'd get mugged, knifed three ways to hell and back." One week later, when I looked in the closet, they were gone. "Where'd my boots go, Squib?" He looked at me, laughing. "Maybe LeRoy in the kitchen seized them," he said, a gleeful expression on his face. Then he balled up a fist, stuck it on my chin, spitting in my eye. "One foolish chump, you are."
When my record club's Johnny Cash album arrived, I played it once. The man in black, singing of darkness, of light, hope and gritty armpits. Then it went up in thin air. Damn that Squib. I wanted to kill him, cut off that pinto cock of his, jamming it into his mouth.
Instead, I found a room off campus. I packed my things, leaving the record player behind. An alum of the fraternity bought me a six pack of Budweiser, and after sorting out my stuff in a larger room than the cramped frat room holding Squib and me together, I sat staring, sipping warm beer, staring onto apartment buildings across the street.
Though much freer alone, I, further on, would spend years in a single cell or in a separate unit housing prisoners for their protection.