Some Things You Can’t Hide
“It don’t look too bad,” Steven said over the wind blowing through the windows of the blue and rust Chevette.
“What do you mean by ‘too bad’? Is Mom gonna notice it or not?” Dan divided his attention between the road, his kid brother in the passenger seat, and the rear view mirror.
“Oh yeah. You ain’t hiding that. Best to tell her about it up front, take your lumps, and be done with it. It’s not like you started the fight.” Steven tore open a Snickers bar. “You want half? I’ll share if you do.”
Dan frowned at the roadway that disappeared too swiftly beneath the hood of the car; the car he had worked all summer to buy. And now he was sure to lose it on the first day of classes. Mom drilled it into their heads every year—no fighting. Not at school. Not after school. Period.
“Hey!” Irritation peeked around the edges of Steven’s voice. “You want half or not?” He pointed to the open candy bar when Dan shot him a confused glance.
“No. You can have it all, bro. I’m not hungry.” And he wasn’t. He was too worried about what his mother was going to do and say when she saw the bruise around his eye. He reached up and touched the swollen skin at his cheekbone and winced. A lean to the right and a quick glance in the mirror showed angry purple and red clouds forming under the surface. Some of the guys would call it ‘a real beaut’ but Mom’s rules on fighting pretty much meant she was going to take his keys…even if it did mean she had to drive them to school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoons.
Dan slowed the car as they approached the collection of houses clustered around the Baptist church facing the road. He turned left into the drive that circled behind the house and let the engine’s idle ease the vehicle to its spot under the big oak tree. Steven started to open his door when the car stopped.
“Don’t say anything to Mom. I’ll tell her when I come in. OK?” Dan kept his hands at ten and two and stared at the crop duster flying spraying the adjacent cotton field. Heat ticked away from the cooling engine.
The younger boy looked through blond bangs at his brother. “Yeah. It’ll be alright.” He clapped Dan’s shoulder. “You did the right thing.”
“Thanks. I know that. I hope Mom understands.”
“She will.” Steven got out of the car, slammed the door, and ran up the back steps to the old farmhouse.
Dan’s mother was tending several steaming pots of vegetables and a cast iron skillet with what smelled like pork chops. He wasn’t sure if it was good or bad that her back was to him, but he let the wire spring pull the screen door shut behind him. “I’m home, Mom. I need to tell you something.”
She stirred the black eyed peas and checked skillet. “I know. Mr. Chesterson called a bit ago and told me about your fight. Let’s see the damage.” She wiped her hands on her apron and looked up at him. She turned his head so the light fell across the right side of his face. “Well that’s a beaut, ain’t it?”
Dan stared at her. She should be expressing anger and disappointment, maybe even screaming and yelling, not admiring his shiner. Did she call it a beaut?
“Close your mouth before flies get in.” She turned back to the stove. “We don’t have any steak for that eye but there is a bag of store-bought sweet peas in the freezer. Put those on it to bring the swellin’ down. Then sit an’ tell me what happened.”
Dan pulled the frozen bag from the top of the refrigerator and held it to his eye. The cold stung but soothed the hot stretched skin, too. He sat at the table. “Well… Ok, so you know I was in a fight. How long am I in trouble for?” A tear rolled down his cheek. He was glad the peas hid it. “Are you gonna take my car?”
She turned the pork chops. “I’ve not said anything about trouble or takin’ your car. You’re as bad as your daddy was, jumpin’ to conclusions and running off ahead of things. Just tell me what happened, Dan.”
He swallowed. “You know the Kennedys that moved into one of those houses up on Laughlin Road?” She nodded. “Well, they don’t have much and the clothes Bert wore today were obviously hand-me-downs and pretty threadbare. Monica Perkins started in about his clothes and makin’ fun of him. He was pretty embarrassed and tried to walk away but Butch Cunningham and a couple of his friends hemmed him in and start hittin’ ‘im.” Dan put the bag of peas on the table. “I couldn’t stand by an’ let it happen, Mom. It wouldn’t’ve been right.”
Dan’s mother faced him and he saw tears in her eyes. “And that’s the right reason to fight, boy. You fought to defend someone else. You fought for honor. Honor’s something that can’t be hid; hidin’ it makes it disappear.”
Author’s Note: This vignette was written in response to an Inspiration Monday prompt.
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