Jakob Slifker

Blink by Academy Monthly

I.. well, I don’t play checkers for the game. Holden certainly does, and boy does he play to win. Me? Well, I play for the control. I get to choose where all of the pieces lie, and I can line all of the pretty little kings up on the other side and keep them there. Unmoving. Undying. In my control.

It’s a dreary day outside. “Raining like a bastard,” as Holden always says. We are playing checkers on the porch. Well, Holden is. I’m carefully controlling the perfect disks on the perfect squares of the perfect board. We’ve been here for an hour, chatting, holding hands, and playing when Holden gets this wrinkle in his nose like he’s smelled something bad. I’m about to ask him what is wrong when I hear it.

“JANE! ARE THERE ANY CIGS OUT THERE?”

My step-father.

I stare off into the distance holding in a tear, as Holden whispers, “Aren’t you gonna  answer him?”

I struggle to hold back tears. 

“JANE! I ASKED IF THERE WERE ANY CIGS OUT THERE!”

“Are you gonna answer?”

“JANE!”

I blink.

Suddenly I’m frozen in a moment, an instant that has replayed tens, hundreds of times in the years since my mother found this man, replaying again, in slow motion. He is standing over me, belt in hand. The sliver of sunlight peeking through the inky black curtains, drawn, sparkles off the silver buckle. My hand is on my shoulder, and it feels wet. I glance down, to see the muted crimson of my blood, on my hand, on my shoulder, on the torn front of my shirt. The worn leather of the whip curls, as his hand comes around, and I hear an unearthly scream, detached, and yet still in my voice. My step-father’s mouth opens.

“For Chrissakes, Jane! Are you ok?”

I blink.

I’m back on the porch hunched over, tears streaming down my face. Holden is kneeling over me, holding my shoulders, wracked with sobs. A single tear escapes my reddened cheeks and falls, slowly, glistening, shining and hits a square on the board. A red square. A bloodied square. 

Holden leads me, well, practically carries me over to the glider, where he sits next to me. He asks again if I am ok, but is only met with an unending flow of tears. I remember all of the movies, the parks, the games, we have played together. I remember looking into his eyes, and feeling a true sense of safety, of control, of home. The hours of holding hands, his broken hand, weak from smashing windows, and my weak hand, broken from years of my step-father. Holden asks once more, but then meets my tears with soft, sweet kisses, on my hands, on my neck, on my cheek. I desperately want his lips on mine, want the soft and careful persistence of his kiss. But he holds back. He can sense my fear. He can sense my pain. And he can sense as I stiffen at the view of my step-father in the window, and the tiny shake of his head.

I blink.

I am stuck in another moment. My step-father is stands over me once again, now with his hand on my neck, instead of my hand. His clothes have long come off, and I see the drunken fury in his eyes, a rage, insatiable by time. I can feel his rough hand on my throat, stopping the breath from escaping my lungs, keeping down the call for help that will call someone, anyone to my aide. But my real father is long gone. My mother does not care. Holden is nowhere to be found. I am alone. He pushes me back, and as I land on the bed, I feel the soft cushion of fresh sheets upon my bare back.

I blink.

Holden is holding me once again. He strokes my back in a soothing way, a million miles different from my step-father’s rough grasp. I gasp, suddenly short of breath, and scramble inside to clean up the tears, as well as the blood seeping onto my palms through the cuts my fingernails have left.

Boy by Academy Monthly

       Paint the fence on Saturday and let it dry on Sunday; paint it again on Monday and then again on Wednesday; go to the fields with the other men to work; wear your working pants; cover your head to not get burnt; you are a man, a strong man, help the others; help your Father carry the cane back from the fields; help the men load the cane into the mill; help them carry the baskets and the carts back to the farm; help your sister carry the okra back from the tree; this is how you stand like a man; this is how you dress like a man; this is how you talk like a man; this is how you be the man I have made you, not the boy you want to be; ask your father how to grind the cane; ask your father how to wash it, how to store it, how to take count of the harvest; is it true that you are learning how to sew?; make sure you give your day clothes to your sister to wash; give your sister your farm clothes and your town clothes separate, they mustn't mix; make sure you give her your church clothes separate; they need to stay clean from the rest;  

       what is this dress I’ve found, did you make it?; you can not make dresses for you to wear; you can not sew clothes on your own; your sister can sew for you if you want, and not dresses; you will work the field and play with the other boys, not sew; you will play ball and roughhouse and throw stones with the other boys; you will wear pants and shirts and dress as the man I have made you, not the boy you want to be; I don’t want to play outside and fight and throw stones; help your sister carry the baskets of laundry, they are heavy; when you go to Sunday school, stay there, don’t run off with the other boys; say your pleases and your thank you’s to your father, he deserves it; do what your father says, or you will be punished; if your father asks you to carry something, don’t question him; if your father sends you to fetch something, don’t question him; if your father asks you to tell him something, don’t question him; this is how to bully a girl; this is how to let a girl bully you; this is how to please a girl; this is how a girl will please you; this is how you keep a girl by you; this is how you let a girl keep you; this is how you command a girl; this is how a girl will command you; do not let me see you kill a bird with all the stones you throw; do not let me see you hit a girl when she’s done nothing wrong; if you see a woman carrying a big load when you are down by the market, you go carry it for her; if you see an elder walking down the street with his cane, you go support him while he walks; if you hear somebody call for help, you go help them; do not let me see you disrespect your father, or your teachers, and much less me; do not let me see you sewing ever again; do not let me see you wearing skirts or dresses you’ve made, or I’ll cut them up; do not let me see you braid your hair, or I’ll cut it short; do not let me see you playing and dancing and singing with the girls, or I won’t let you sing or dance or play with anyone; you will go outside and play with the other boys; you will work the farm with the men; you will respect your father like he did his; you will think before you curse in front of me; you will do your work and your responsibilities like you’ve grown; you will be a man, not the boy you want to be; I don’t want to be a boy; then you are a man; I don’t want to be a man; well then. What are you?