2013: Adam Middleton-Watts: Boy

Boy
Adam Middleton-Watts
(EXCERPT)

When Glen got to work, hungover and irritable, the boy was sitting on the steps, scratching at something on the scuffed concrete near his feet. The boy wasn’t his, but Beth was crazy, she kept telling Glen he was the father, no matter what Glen or anyone else said. She also said if Glen would unclamp his wallet long enough to pay for a paternity test, the goddamn uncertainty he felt would be put to rest, once and for all.
Of course Glen had done this, but Beth chose to forget it. Glen knew there was no point in doing it again. She would just say it was done wrong and needed to be done again, and then again and again after that, until the results offered her what she wanted to hear, which of course, they never would. Instead Glen paid Beth a monthly amount, telling himself he was just helping out. He could afford to do that. They had never been married. He wasn’t obligated by law. But there was history there. Still it bugged him all the same. Glen knew he could handle cancer any day better than he could handle crazy.
Hey, Glen said. The boy looked up, his mouth creased a little at the edges, but it wasn’t a smile. Not really. Glen figured the kid didn’t have much to smile about at the best of times. The boy was silent. Your mother drop you off? The boy nodded. Have you eaten? He shook his head no. Jesus, thought Glen, the kid’s a damn mute. Come on, he said, let’s go inside.
Glen unlocked the main gate and the boy followed. Glen closed the gate behind them both and locked it again. The crew wouldn’t be in for another hour or so. He walked across the gravel lot with the boy keeping close behind. Glen lit a cigarette and unlocked the trailer that served as his onsite office. He flipped the lights on and beckoned the boy inside. Glen dumped his bag on the couch and went to make coffee. He looked inside the fridge and found a few eggs, some milk not too long past its expiration date, a pound of butter, four assorted bottles of beer, and a small block of cheese dotted with little clumps of blue. He checked the cupboard above the fridge and found a box of Frosted Flakes. There was a cluster of crummy bits at the base of the box. Glen shook these out into a bowl, gave the milk a sniff and then a shake and added this to the crumbs. He took a spoon from the drawer and set the bowl and spoon on the table. Dig in, he said. The boy did, eating like he hadn’t for days. Jesus, thought Glen. He sucked on his cigarette and waited for the coffee to brew.
The boy quickly finished the last of the floating flakes and brought the bowl up to his mouth and drank off the milk. He set the bowl on the table and stirred the spoon around inside it. Glen poured himself a cup of coffee and sat across from the boy. You still hungry? The boy nodded. Want an egg? The boy shook his head no. You don’t eat eggs? The boy shrugged. Shit, kid, you gotta say something, you know? The boy shrugged again. Glen put his chin in his hand and smoked, blowing the blue plumes above the boy’s dark head. The boy continued stirring his spoon. Neither one spoke for a while.
I’ll tell you what, said Glen. Let that hold you over till the crew gets here, then I’ll take you some place for a real breakfast. How’s that sound? The boy rubbed his lips together and nodded. All right then, said Glen, sounds like a plan. They sat like that for another ten minutes or so. The boy with his head dipped down, eyes hidden. Glen sipping his coffee and smoking his cigarette. He looked at the boy.
You know your mama ain’t supposed to drop you off here anytime she feels like it? You know she can’t be doing that, right? I could get in trouble for this, son. You understand me? I got a boss to answer to as well, you know? It ain’t just me out here, doing whatever I want. Your mama knows this well enough. I don’t know what the hell goes through her head, I swear I don’t. The way she just decides on a thing, thinking it’ll be fine no matter what the hell comes of it. The boy said nothing. He picked at something on the table and Glen saw how long and dirty the boy’s fingernails were. Glen shook his head and lit another cigarette. He watched the boy.
Who do you think I am, son? he asked the boy. The boy looked up and gave his head a little flick. Glen could see the eyes now, dark and watchful, much too old for so young a face. I mean, what’s your mama tell you about me? The boy shrugged and gave his mouth a little twist. What’s she call me when she talks about me? And I ain’t talking about cuss words. The boy almost smiled at this. Glen did too. Does she say I’m your daddy, son? The boy shrugged. Glen took another drag on his cigarette. What do you think? The boy looked at Glen. Glen guessed him to be about ten or so. Maybe more. You think I’m your daddy? Is that what your mama keeps telling you, that I’m your daddy? Is that what you think?
The boy looked down again. Glen felt miserable for the kid. Beth had no business doing the boy wrong like this, lying to him like she did. Maybe if the boy were his Glen could fight for custody. Maybe he should fight for it anyway. If he wanted it.
Get up, son, he said. The boy frowned slightly. It’s all right, I ain’t gonna hurt you. Get up, I wanna show you something.
The boy stood slowly. Glen stood and took another sip of coffee. Okay, he said. Come on. He led the boy down the narrow hallway of the trailer. There was a bed in the back room. Rumpled sheets and mounds of dirty clothes. Cigarette butts and empty beer cans. A couple of glossy magazines with large naked breasts on the covers. Glen quickly covered these with a dirty shirt and pointed to a long narrow mirror hanging on the fake wood-paneled wall. He guided the boy by the shoulders and stood him before the mirror. Glen stood behind him.
Look, he said. Take a good look, son. The boy looked. What do you see? The boy looked. He shrugged. He said nothing. Look at your skin, boy. Glen gently moved the boy’s hand up by the wrist. The boy didn’t resist. His hand hung limp near his face. You see that? Glen said. You see the color of that? The boy looked. Glen brought the boy’s hand down again and then placed his own large hand in front of the boy, just below the boy’s chin. Glen turned his hand back and forth. You see my hand, boy? You see we ain’t the same color, you and me. We ain’t even close is we? The boy gave an almost imperceptible shrug. And your mama, Glen said, she the same color as me, right? The boy rubbed his lips together. His eyes were beautiful and bright. Man and boy looked at themselves in the mirror. Glen shook his head and kissed the top of the boy’s head. Come on, he said, let’s go see if them lazy bastards got here.

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