CORNSTALKS • by Dennis Milam Bensie

My husband and I bought a house out in the country on an acre of land. We spent as much time as we could outdoors. He took a lot of pride in caring for the yard, while I loved to spend time in my vegetable garden. We put a fancy swing set up for our son, Wayne, to encourage him to get out of the house more often.

We thought that living in the country was safer than the city until some corn started turning up missing from my garden. Whole stalks were being ripped out of the dirt every day. The stalks and the ears were nowhere to be found. It looked deliberate, but the corn wasn’t even ready yet.

Our neighbors were all nice people; families just like us. Henry and I caught Susan at her mailbox one morning and told her about my missing corn.

“I just don’t understand why anyone would come on our property and rip up my corn like that… stalk and all? I’d just give them the corn if they’d come to the door and ask.”

“You know, people are crazy. Remember last year… someone got into the Bates house up the road. All they took was a bag of clothes that had been set aside to donate uptown at the clothing center,” Susan said.

My husband piped in, “Whoever’s stealing our corn must need it more than we do. We’d better start locking our doors just in case.”

Later that evening, I went to the backyard to call my boy in for supper. Wayne was playing on his swing set and didn’t see me.

He had a cornstalk in his hand.

He’d broken the stalk down to about two feet of stem and just one long leaf at the top. He was talking to the stalk in a funny voice… but it was more like he was pretending to be the stalk.

I watched as he walked around holding the stalk up about head high like a flag: the long leaf was hanging down his forearm. He was having a good time flipping the leaf around. I could tell that he loved the leaf blowing back and forth in the wind.

The mystery had been solved, but I wasn’t sure what to think about my son stealing.

“Wayne, Honey, it’s time for supper,” I announced pretending I didn’t see his odd toy.

Wayne dropped the cornstalk in a panic. He looked real embarrassed. I waited until bedtime after his dad was asleep to question him about stealing from my garden.

“Son, why are you taking cornstalks from the garden?” I asked. Wayne got upset and started to cry. His reaction kind of surprised me.

“It’s okay, Son. I just want to know what’s going on. You had your dad and I scared that a stranger was stealing from us.”

My son was so disturbed that he couldn’t really answer my question.

“Listen, Son… please don’t pull any more of my garden up. Understand?” I said.

“Yes. I’m so sorry, Mom.”

He paused and asked, “Do you still love me?”

I was stunned that he would ask such a question. “Of course I do,” I answered. “I’ll always love you, Wayne, no matter what.”

My husband loves Wayne, too, but they don’t have much in common. I see other dads with their sons tagging along. Men going fishing or watching their sports. I wish my guys did stuff  together like that, but they just don’t have that kind of relationship.

I said to my husband more than once, “Henry, why don’t you take Wayne outside and toss the ball around with him or something? Go have some fun.” He always just ignored me.

I always try my best to stay out of my son’s business. But I started paying more attention to what my son was playing with after we talked about the cornstalks. I noticed him making a bunch of toys in his bedroom. He was always putting string or yarn or long strips of paper on some sort of a stick. Wayne had always been a creative boy but he always hid his creations.

I got a big surprise changing Wayne’s bed sheets one morning, I found a new Barbie doll hidden in the box springs. All of a sudden, it made sense to me: the cornstalks were his dolls. The leaves were his doll’s hair. I put the doll back where I found it.

I knew my husband wouldn’t allow his son to have a doll. He never handled his emotions very well. I love Henry, but I wish he had been a better dad.

I guess Wayne must “need” a doll. He probably saved his lunch money to buy it. The boy’s obviously clever enough to make substitute dolls out of whatever he could find before he got that Barbie. The thought of him going hungry so he could get a Barbie doll made me sad. Playing with dolls wasn’t hurting anybody.

There’s all kinds of messages hidden with that Barbie doll. I heard them loud and clear but I knew my husband wouldn’t. I decided not to tell him Wayne’s secret.

I went uptown and bought two Barbie outfits and put them in the box springs with my son’s doll. I taped a note to his gift that said, “I love you, Wayne, no matter what. Love, Mom.”

Dennis Milam Bensie’s first book, Shorn: Toys to Men was published by Coffeetown Press and nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the international gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011”. His second book, One Gay American, came out in late 2012. His short stories “My Cousin Deborah” and “Grade Books” can be read online at Bay Laurel. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs.

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