His right pinky fingernail ripped up causing blinding pain to run all the way up his arm. The boy yanked his arm toward his face and inspected the damage. The nail was only halfway off, meaning all he could do was bandage the thing and hope for it to fall off soon. The boy grabbed his already ragged shirt and ripped off a strip from the lower hem, wrapped it around his pinky nail and finger then tied the best left-handed knot he could manage.
A few stinging tears made tracks down his dusty cheeks as he inspected the rest of his fingers. Most of the other nails were already broken down to the quick from before he found the shovel, jagged and throbbing. He briefly considered counting the scratches on this hands and arms but figured there was no point. The one along the soft flesh below his right thumb was still managing to bleed even with the mud starting to fill it.
His thoughts turned to shade and putting his feet up, washing off his wounds. “No” he said out loud. He knew he had come too far to give up now. He stepped back and sized up his work. His hole was already getting rather large, and he figured he only needed a few more feet before it was finished. Taking a deep breath he jumped back in, picked up the shovel, and got back to work. He labored away not even noticing he was now favoring his right hand.
Another hour or so and he would be done. “Almost there. Almost there” was the mantra playing in his head. Sweat beads rolled down his sun burnt and dusty forehead into his eye, causing him to pause one more time. He quickly wiped the sweat off, leaving behind a trail of blood and grime. Then whispered to himself, “almost there,” and started digging faster.
Done with the hole he managed to pull himself out and stretched his hands up towards the sky. Every muscle burning and aching, he knew he would pay for this tomorrow. One more thing and all would be ready. He slowly turned toward the house and even more slowly walked toward it. As he drew nearer to his home, the boy once again felt the familiar fear creep up his spine. The house alone, with its peeling greenish brown paint, the dirt caked windows, looked very uninviting. The front porch, white paint peeling, missing a few keyboards, and a few boards just sticking up in random places. A crooked smile daring you to enter. The boy knew the house couldn’t hurt him, but just a warning of the monster inside.
The boy shivered in the heat. Very quietly he crept up to the house keeping to the side, not to be seen through the open front door. He could hear the TV going, a good sign the monster was occupied.
On the side of the house grew some spider bushes. The prickly, dense, covered-in-cobweb kind. Getting down on his knees next to the bushes, he carefully reached under the first one and found what he was looking for. A large hose coiled and waiting, where he had carefully put it together last week. Dragging it out proved tougher than the boy had expected. The act of grabbing onto the hose and pulling was hurting his hands and arms again; the hose and his arms both felt extremely heavy. Finally with one last tug the boy was able to free the hose and started inching back along the side of the house.
He found the faucet and attached the hose end. Taking a deep breath while cringing up his face, his muscles tensed and he held his breath, turning on the water. The familiar clang and whining noises came from the pipe; nothing he could do about it now. This had to be done.
“Boy!” roared a voice from inside. The boy only paused for a moment, then took off at his fastest pace, grabbing the other end of the hose as he ran by. He ran, praying. The hose followed him like a large serpent after its prey. He kept praying; he needed the hose to be long enough. He prayed that the monster would stay inside. Dust followed his trail like a small cloud and when he looked back he couldn’t be sure what he saw.
Just a moment later he reached his hard-dug hole. He let the hose slide over the edge and watched as his hard-dug gift filled up with muddy water. He looked back behind him; the dust had settled and no one had followed.
He left the hose running into the hole and turned back toward the monster house. He thanked god for hearing his running prayers and begged to be able to finish this. “For her,” he whispered out loud. The screen door had creaked and squeaked for as long as the boy could remember. Pulling it open, it did not fail him. The monster was sure to hear its distinctive sound.
The boy crept carefully along the faded hallway carpet, careful to miss any of the noisy spots. Still the monster knew he was home. “Boy!” Knowing he could not avoid the inevitable, the boy headed toward the living room. The monster, as usual, was sitting in his throne, an overly used and faded brown recliner. The TV on in the background, the monster stared at its screen while taking a sip of his beer. After a moment or two he chose to acknowledge the boy. “Go in the kitchen and see what is taking your worthless mother so long. I’m likely to starve with the time it takes that woman to make dinner!” “Yes, Papa,” replied the boy and promptly left.
The kitchen was a mess. The kitchen was always a mess. His mother, dressed in a dirty and worn house dress, was stirring a pot. In mid stir her hand started shaking and she dropped the spoon on the floor. Picking it up and noticing the boy, she said, “Don’t tell him, it will be our secret,” then put the spoon right back in the pot. “Get mommy one of her medicines. I need my medicine,” she said, shakily lighting up a cigarette.
The kitchen table, an old tattered thing with one missing leg the boy was certain they had never actually used, was strewn with different pill bottles. He grabbed the “favorite” and shook out a pill. “Please momma, you don’t need this.”
“Shut your mouth boy, you don’t know what I need!” She grabbed the pill from his open, extended hand and swallowed it quickly. Ash from the lit cigarette flew to the floor.
“Oh baby, my baby. I’m sorry. You know I don’t mean to talk to you like that,” she rasped out as she took him into a shaky hug.
“You know your pa and I are trying our best.”
“I know Momma.” She stank of old sweat and cigarettes.
After another dinner fiasco, the TV was still on, like another child, more loved and showered with constant attention. The monster sat upon his throne his mouth wide open letting out a snore, a half drunk beer precariously close to spilling in his lap. Momma was on the couch, dozing in and out, a fresh bruise forming on her cheek.
The boy hoped she had not taken too much of her medicine to be waked up.
“Momma,” the boy whispered while shaking her shoulder gently. “Momma.” She woke with a snort and took a minute to focus her eyes on the boy. “Momma, you must come with me. I have something to show you.”
“I don’t know baby,” she wheezed, looking sideways at the monster to see if he noticed their conversation.
“Momma please! It will only take a minute,” the boy quietly pouted. She reluctantly nodded her head and held up her arm for help off the couch.
Very carefully the two took off down the faded carpet of the hallway, making sure to miss the loud spots. The screen door once again betrayed them and creaked upon opening. They both instinctively paused, holding their breath like animals being hunted. The monster stirred loudly, then started in on another loud snore.
They were in the clear. Down the toothy front steps and out into the lawn. The boy steadily led his mother to his hole. Her drugged state causing her feet to betray her at times. He held her arm the whole time helping her stay up, the bruises and scrapes from earlier in the day a distant memory.
“Look Momma,” the boy said. “Look what I made for you.” The water hole with its murky brown water sat in front of them. “Its a pool. Like nice families have,” the boy stated proudly.
“Oh,” his momma breathed followed by a small giggle. “How lovely.” The boy led her to the edge and helped her sit down. She slowly put her dirty bare feet in the cool muddy water.
“Oh,” she giggled again. Soon her legs were submerged with her housedress puffing up around her like an air-filled jellyfish. She kept going deeper until she was up to her neck. The boy went in after her. He grabbed her hand and helped her lie flat with his hand underneath her lower back for support. She giggled again.
“I’m floating!” she exclaimed delightedly. “I feel so free!” Now the only parts of her that were visible were her eyes, nose, mouth, and some of her dress. “Boy, this must be what it feels like to fly,” she said, moving her arms slightly up and down. The boy held her gently, but firmly, keeping her safe.
As the boy looked upon his momma’s face, he swore he had never seen anything so beautiful. Covered almost completely in muddy water, her arms stretched out wide, puffs of her now very murky dress floating around her. Her saturated mud-soaked hair floating around her head like a halo. She looked like an angel.
About the Author
Kristin Lee Karwatsky has lived in Pendleton, Oregon, most of her life. She is a single mother with a seven-year-old daughter. She attends Blue Mountain Community College full time and is going for a degree in Social Philology with a possible minor in English.