Author: Sawyer Ricard
He’d punched Bobby Jacobs today.
He wasn’t supposed to. He knew that. He knew it was Wrong. He knew it was Wrong even before his Momma had come to get him from school, all sighs and disappointment, speaking soft words as he clung to her waitress apron that always smelled like milkshakes and cigarettes. He knew he wasn’t supposed to.
He knew even as they caught the bus back to their house, their small shack in South Dakota. The little lean to with its crumbling mailbox and creaky screen door, the old iron protesting the movement of both grubby, little hands and big, dirty ones, ones that slammed it against the peeling wood.
He knew as he mounted the old stairs, heading for his room with its frayed quilt knitted by Ms. Thompson two Christmases ago after Daddy had figured out his logging job was more important than Momma.
He knew a lot was Wrong then.
He was smart though. He knew that Bobby wasn’t supposed to call his Daddy a “Good for Nothin’”, a “Lazy bum” or anything that made the other eight year olds gasp and cover their mouths, eyes wide with terror at being caught by teacher Mrs. Harrison. His Daddy might still come back. He didn’t need to hear those words. So he’d swung.
Not hard enough to hurt. He knew it hadn’t hurt even as he sat on the bed, ratty sneakers brushing the ground as he listened to Momma getting ready to go back to work. Bobby was tough. He himself wasn’t. A little hit from the quiet kid at the back of the class wouldn’t hurt. But Bobby had cried anyway. Just enough to get him in trouble. He’d seen the kid’s look when he was pulled away, teacher’s grip on his wrist as tight as it would be on the ruler for swats later. He’d been smiling.
No, he knew it hadn’t hurt, and he knew it was Wrong. But it was worth it.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, how the sun had set through the dirty window. But soon it was too dark for him to see the neighbor’s old pine, and too quiet for him to hear much beyond his own sniffling. So he just pushed off the bed even though Momma had said not to. She said that a lot lately, with her tired eyes and tired voice. He should be good, he should. But. But. But.
He just crawled halfway under the bed, shirt pulling up rough against his ribs as little fingers wrapped around the old book. This was Wrong too. The book had been in the trash at school, about to be thrown away. He’d seen the stars on the front, not the ragged edges or the ripped cover. He knew it was Wrong, that he’d be in trouble if he found out. But he had to.
Pulling the book out and tucking it under his arm, he headed towards his window and pushed it open, climbing out onto the flat part of the roof. This was his favorite place in the whole world, for sure it was. He spent most of his time out here if he wasn’t at the church or the restaurant waiting on Mommy. He wasn’t even in his room, with its printouts of the sky from the library in town where he had the wondrous thing they called the internet on the computer. They didn’t have a computer. Bobby had said stuff about that too but he’d forgotten by now.
Instead he just squinted through thick glasses and fumbled with an old flashlight, secondhand much like everything else in his house. Owned by someone else, given by nice people at Christmas and his birthday. Someone had said pity once but he didn’t know what that meant. Momma’s face hadn’t been happy so maybe it wasn’t good. Maybe it was Wrong too. He was careful not to use that word.
But for now, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that maybe he’d have no supper that night, that maybe tomorrow he’d have to go to detention at recess and not play. All that mattered was his book full of words he couldn’t say. He’d tried to look some up at school but his teacher had said he should look at other books, that the ones he struggled with were for grown-ups. But the kid books didn’t have what he wanted.
He found the page he’d been on, finger on the picture and breathing harsh against the cool fall wind. It would snow soon and then he couldn’t see the stars. He had to learn their names before then. Stars were happy, stars were fun to learn. He had to learn and show Momma that there was still something to be happy about. That even if she came home smelling like fried food and smoke, that even though she hadn’t smiled in the longest time, that there was a reason to not be so sad anymore. He looked up, looking for the same picture his hand still touched.
There. In all the Wrong, there was the Right. The star was there, exactly where it should be.
Edited by: Anna Grace Dulaney