The Distance Between Them
By Shawn Scheer
He falls again. His face is battered and nearly unrecognizable. The skin above his eyes is torn open cascading ruby red down upon his face. Its thickness and salt steal his vision. He digs his fist into the dirt, pushing himself up.
“Stay Down!” The man shouts in warning.
The boy keeps pushing though until he is up on his knees. The motion looking as painful as it must be. He gets a foot under him and pushes up, struggling like Atlas with a world upon his shoulders. He’s hit again though before he can stand. He’s airborne for a moment, his legs flailing like a rag doll, before gravity and its inherent cruelty spikes him back into the dirt.
“Stay down.” Repeats the man as he rubs his sore knuckles. This time though it sounds more like a plea than a warning.
The boy, still on the ground, turns over spitting out a mouthful of blood turning the dirt underneath his face into mud. The last shot caused his teeth to puncture the flesh under his bottom lip. He draws a breath that resounds in a wheeze and begins his assent back to his feet.
“I told you to stay down!”
“Yea, well you told me a lot of things.” The boy responded, his voice shaky and sounding as weak as death.
“The only thing smart about you boy, is that mouth of yours.”
The boy ignores the man’s words, much like he’s done for most of their relationship. He rises to his feet, barely standing with his thin legs trembling underneath him. Abandoned by equilibrium, he staggers like a drunk wiping at his forehead trying to stop the blood from blinding him.
“I think you’ve had enough, boy.”
“Think again old man. I’d rather die by your hands than to live another minute under your rule.”
“Is that so?”
“I ain’t runnin’ now, am I?”
“I suppose you’re not.”
The boy stabbed forward with a looping right that was no where near the mark. The momentum sends him spiraling back to the ground.
“What are you thinkin’? You can hardly stand let along fight, you damn fool.”
The boy knew the man was right. He began to cry, futilely trying to mute his sobs. The man walked over and picked the boy up in his strong arms and carried him into the house. He sat the boy in the bathroom and began to draw him a bath. While the water ran he knelt down next to the boy and began to treat his wounds. Neither the boy nor the man spoke as he set to work with the cotton balls and peroxide. Words seemed like commodities that neither could spare. The boy’s mother did the talking for them both, but now she was gone.
“Damn boy, you took a good lickin’ out there. Why couldn’t you just do as you were told?”
“Cuz you’re not my dad!”
“Just because I’m not your dad doesn’t mean you’re not my son. Wash up. Dinner will be ready soon.”
The boy did as he was told.