The Scrap Boys are ghosts these days, haunting small town summer streets, the four blocks that make up downtown. They drift past the sandwich shop and the dry cleaners and the florist, past the post office and Jerry’s Bar and Grill, stop to salute at the Salvation Army, try hang out in the Dollar General when they get hot or hungry.
All summer, up and down, up and down Main Street, the Scrap Boys strut and preen unseen, unseen by the skinny blonde girls from school walking to the coffee shop, unseen by the high school boys who smell of beer and smoke and hang out in the alleys talking about the tattoos they will get and the shit-box cars they will buy as soon as a mother’s boyfriend comes through with the job he promised, promised months ago. The skinny blonde girls from school, the high school boys, they all look past the Scrap Boys, look right through them on the summer streets. Ghosts.
Three backyard haircuts, three sunburned necks sticky with grime and sweat, three bare chests, sunken and rib scarred, three t-shirts hanging like warning flags out of cargo shorts back pockets, but only one shared heart, rabbit quick and fragile. Scrap Boy 1, Scrap Boy 2, Scrap Boy 3, neighbors by chance, brothers by choice, where one goes the other two follow sure as thunder follows lightning.
Bad Betty is the only person downtown with ghost sense. She can feel the Scrap Boys presence in the nerves running across her back before they even enter her Dollar General. They pull their t-shirts on, slouch in, heads down, hide behind a mom wrangling a stroller and two moon-eyed toddlers through the automatic door, and still, before all six Scrap Boy feet are planted in Dollar General Bad Betty has turned red and grown eight feet tall. Tongues of fire dance in her eyes. Bad Betty sees the Scrap Boys.
She calls the Scrap Boys heathens, says she knows they’ve come to take food off her shelves, eat what they grab in the Dollar General bathroom, says the Scrap Boys leave empty chip bags, sad as cicada husks, slick with salt and grease and Scrap Boy fingerprints all over her bathroom floor. Bad Betty kicks the air behind the Scrap Boys as they flee. Flailing arms, churning legs, a Scrap Boy whirlwind blows back out onto Main Street.
The old ladies walking past Dollar General turn their heads when they hear the whoosh of the Dollar General door, but they don’t see the Scrap Boys come tumbling out. The old ladies look right through the Scrap Boys. Ghosts. But the old ladies see the dog licking the sidewalk in front of the sandwich shop half a block away, and the dog sees the Scrap Boys, sees all of them.
The dog is black and beagle sized, but square-headed, barrel chested, mostly bones where muscles should be. The dog is dusty and uncollared. The dog is flea-bitten ears that don’t match and a high-pitched bark lonesome and welcoming, the call of a mourning dove.
The dog becomes a bottle rocket zooming toward the Scrap Boys’ tumult. “Hey, boy, hey boy,” the Scrap Boys yell, and they forget all about their empty bellies, the racks of puffy potato chip bags, forget all about Bad Betty, the Dollar General general, forget how it feels to mostly be invisible. The dog sings in his high-pitched bark, wags his tail, bounces in a circle around the Scrap Boys, and the Scrap Boys’ heart becomes a roman candle, shoots comets, pop, pop, pop, one after another, rooster tails of shimmering sparks, pop, pop, pop. Fire flowers. “Hey, boy, hey boy.”
And then the dog is gone, bottle rocket reborn, but racing away from the Scrap Boys, away from Bad Betty rumbling out of Dollar General still kicking like a Rockette. She chants “No loitering, no loitering,” like the words are a prayer, an incantation to ward off spirits.
The Scrap Boys run away from Bad Betty, run after the dog. They run to the rhythm of the dog’s nails clicking against the sidewalk, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, like a toy choo-choo train, run until they can’t hear the dog’s nails anymore and the dog is just a black dot in the distance, heading out toward the overpass, the abandoned bottling plant. The Scrap Boys run until their lungs burn and their legs are numb. And they keep running.
The Scrap Boys run after the dog like it’s their job. The Scrap boys run after the dog because it is their job, ghosts doing the work of ghosts, relentless as memory, trailing this creature that loved them.