Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501
This story depicts a young narrator, at the precipice of adolescence (he is thirteen or fourteen when these events take place), who is learning how to make his way in the world. He views knowledge of sex as one way in which he can feel like and learn to become an adult, especially because his peer group feels this way and because he is constantly teased by family members about sex. One uncle in particular is really raunchy, at one point asking the boy if he has "wet his whistle yet": a not-so-subtle reference to the act of sexual intercourse.
Frankie finds himself in the fort he made with his friends, looking at naked pictures of women, when the self-appointed leader of the group, Buster, directs everyone to drop their pants and masturbate while he does. All the boys follow suit, as Buster
made it like if [they] didn't follow [they] weren't cool [. . .].
Frankie describes both the fort (such a childlike thing) and his own sexual feelings (such an adult thing), as though "things was working" when he begins to think about his crush, Ruby. We see his position clearly here: one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood.
The boys want to know what's happening with the makeshift brothel that operates out of the slaughterhouse, and Buster tells Frankie,
"Think of the girls[.]"
Frankie, however, really only seems interested in Ruby. She lives in the very poorest part of town, and she is angry with him. He says,
She was mad on account I kept reaching for more than she wanted to give and then stopped showing up to see her. Which was the truth. She pushed me to it.
His overwhelming desire to feel like a man, to feel in control, compels him to act in a way that confirms what Ruby's mother has told her: that Frankie is "like all the rest" of the boys who only want one thing from a girl—sex. He pressured her in his attempt to mature, and he killed their relationship. He realizes that he "liked her special" and ruined it with his advances; he "felt sorry and mad at the same time."
Eventually, it is Ruby that Frankie sees being "sold" at the slaughterhouse that night, a "stinky virgin" according to his friends. Now he sees
Ruby with lipstick and done-up hair, and even in that tight red dress that would never let [him] see the color red again in peace, she looked [. . .] like a butterfly just out of its cocoon.
Perhaps Ruby gave up on finding a boy who wasn't "like all the rest" and so gave herself over to this work in order to earn some money and lessen her extreme poverty. She seems to have given up on the dream of marriage and children with a nice man, though she may be a little drunk in order to bolster her resolve. In the end, this turn of events has forced Frankie to mature quickly: his innocence gone.