The year my boy Danny turned six, my wife Penny and me took him down to Lexington and got him good and scanned because that’s what everybody was doing back then, and, like they say, better safe than sorry.
He was a good boy and never got out of hand until he was seventeen years old and we got out of hand together. Around this same time Penny kept saying she was going to leave and stay with her sister in town. She said it enough that we stopped believing her, but the last time she said it, she did it. I remember the day and the hour. Friday, September 17, 2024. Quarter after five in the afternoon, because that’s what time her grandmother’s grandfather clock stopped when I kicked it over.
Danny heard all the yelling, and he came running downstairs and saw her standing there with her two suitcases and looked at me like I ought to do something. “Goddamn it, I’m not going to stop her,” I said.
“It’s your fault she’s going,” he said.
Penny hauled off and slapped his mouth. “I didn’t raise you to talk to your father that way,” she said, and at that moment I was of two minds, one of them swelled up with pride at the way she didn’t let him mouth off to me.
It’s the other one that won out. I reached back and gave her what she’d had coming for a long time now. I didn’t knock her down, but I put one tooth through her lip, hit her just hard enough so she would come back to us when she was calmed down.
She didn’t come back, though, and she didn’t go stay with her sister, who claimed not even to know where she was. One week, two, then on a Saturday me and Danny had enough. We hauled Penny’s mother’s pink-painted upright piano out the front door and onto the porch and then we pushed it off and picked up our axes from by the wood pile and jumped down on it. “You got to be careful, Danny,” I said. “There’s a tension on those strings that’ll cut you up bad you hit them wrong.”
It was pure joy, watching him lift that axe and drive it into that piano. Up until then his head was always in books or that damn computer. Dead trees, I’d tell him, got not one thing on milkweed and sumac, horsemint and sweet William. But now I wasn’t so sure, and now he’d caught on. “It’s what you do with the dead trees,” he said, like he was reading my mind.
I don’t know what came over us after that, and it’s not enough to blame it on our getting into the whiskey, which we did plenty. Penny had a old collection of Precious Moments figurines handed down from her own mama and grandmom. Children at a picnic, or playing the accordion to a bunch of birds, or hands folded in prayer, and nearly every little boy or girl wearing a bonnet. At first Danny said we ought to shoot at them—we had everything from assault rifles to a old Civil War service revolver that I’d be afraid to try firing—but then one Tuesday morning—by now it was November, and the old dog pens were near snowed under—he found some of the yellowjackets I had caught in glass Mason jars and forgot about. He found them dead in there and I saw him looking at them and he saw me watching but didn’t say anything, just went upstairs and came down with my old orange tacklebox, which was where Penny kept her scrapbooking things.
“You gonna scrapbook those yellowjackets, buddy bear?” I said.
He said his plan was to shellac them, but I could see he couldn’t near do it right. I said, “Here, let me show you how,” and showed him how to thin the shellac with turpentine and dab it on soft with the paintbrush bristles, which was something I knew from when things were better with Penny and I’d help her with her scrapbooks just so we could sit with our legs touching for a while.
He got good at it fast, and then we caught more yellowjackets and did what Danny had in mind all along, which was shellac them stiff, wings out like they were ready to fly, and set them on the Precious Moments figurines in a swarm.
After a while that stopped being fun, and it kind of took the shock away when every Precious Moment in the house was swarmed like that, plus we were running out of yellowjackets. “We got to get more minimal,” Danny said, and I could see what he meant. It’s like when I served my country in the African wars. You get to see enough dead bodies and before too long you get used to seeing them, and then you see another and it don’t mean one thing to you. But you run into one little live black girl with a open chicken wire wound up and down her face and maybe three flies in her cut up eye, that gets to you.
So after that, we got strategic. We’d put three yellowjackets right by a brown marbly eye, eye to eye. Or one, stinger first.
Nobody but us had got to see what we had done to the Precious Moments until a few days later when Benny Gil, our postman, came by with the junk mail, and Danny saw him and invited him in for a glass of water, and he saw what it was we were doing with the wasps, and he said, “Son, that’s sick,” but he was smiling when he said it, and it was then I knew he was a person who could be trusted. Up until then, he’d always been asking about my methadone, which I got regular from the pharmacy at St. Claire’s Hospital in town, on account of my back pain. He wanted to get some off me because he could trade it for other things he wanted.
This day I asked him, “Why is it nobody writes letters anymore?”
“It’s a general lack of literacy,” he said, and we started laughing because everybody knew that wasn’t why.
“It’s the government,” Danny said, but he was just repeating what he always heard me say, and I wished he wouldn’t get so serious in front of Benny Gil.
“They’re spying,” Benny Gil said, “listening in on us right now,” but he wasn’t serious.
“Best be careful,” I said, because now was a time to keep it light. “Benny Gil here is on the government teat.”
Benny Gil took a sip of his water and smiled some more. “That one,” he said, “and maybe a couple two or three others.”
Danny caught on. “It’s you we saw across the creek there, in the tall grass.”
“I been watching,” Benny Gil said. He leaned back in the wooden chair, put all his weight on the back two legs. I could see by the look on Danny’s face he was still thinking about how Penny would say not to lean back like that because it could put another divot in the wood floor, which was the kind of not-important thing Penny was always worried about. There was a thousand or more divots in the wood floor, and by now another one just added a little extra character.
Benny Gil leaned forward again, put his elbows on his knees so his face was closer to mine. “I know where Penny can be found,” he said.
Danny’s ears perked up at that.
“She wants to be found,” I said, “and I don’t care to find her.”
“Irregardless,” Benny Gil said.
“Where is she?” Danny said, and I shot him a look.
“Maybe,” Benny Gil said, “me and your Dad ought to go out back and have a smoke.”
Danny watched us through the window, and I wonder what it is he was thinking and wonder to this day whether whatever it was he thought had anything to do with what he did later. Surely he saw something changing hands between me and Benny Gil, and he must have seen us shaking hands, too.
What he didn’t hear was Benny Gil saying, “God didn’t invent thirteen-digit zip codes for nothing,” or me saying, “How many?” or him saying, “Sixteen,” or me talking him down to six. Six, I could spare, by careful rationing, and by grinding the white pills into white powder with my pocketknife, and snorting them instead of swallowing, which meant I could stretch out the supply until it was time for a new scrip.
Danny didn’t hear any of it, but maybe he knew something of it, because after Benny Gil left, he said, “You get to hurting again, I know somebody who can get you what you need.”
“Ben Holbrook,” he said.
“That’s the case,” I said, “I don’t want to hear of you talking to Ben Holbrook ever again.”
I meant it when I said it, but the problem was the methadone got better after I started grinding it up, and once I knew how much better it could get, I had a harder time rationing it, and ran out a week early.
Believe me when I say I know a thing or two about pain. I was wounded twice in Liberia, and got radiation poisoning from the Arabs in Yemen. Once in Minnesota I split a fourteen-point buck in half on a old fossil fuel motorcycle and broke nearly every bone in my body and knocked one eye crooked, and it stayed that way until I could afford to get it fixed. But, son, you don’t know pain until you get what I got, which is a repetitive stress injury in my back from solar panel installations up there on roofs in the heat or the cold. So when the methadone ran out, I forgot about what I said before, and told Danny maybe if he knew somebody he ought to give him a call.
Ben Holbrook was a skinny son of a gun, no more than maybe eighteen years old, pimple-faced, head shaved bald so you could see its lumps. Money was not a problem for us. Benny Gil wasn’t the only one on the government teat, he just had to work for his. Still, I didn’t like the way this bald zitty kid came into our house thinking he was the only one who could set prices in America.
“Who do you think you are,” I said, “Federal Reserve Chairman Dean Karlan?”
He was cool as a cucumber. “Supply and demand,” he said, “is the law of the land in Kentucky, U.S.A.”
Much as I didn’t like it, I knew he was right, and I paid what he asked, which was considerable, and he handed over three brown-orange plastic bottles, which was supply enough for my demand and then some.
Soon as Ben Holbrook left, I went into the bathroom with my pocketknife and dropped two tablets on the sink counter and chopped them to powder and made a line. Then I put my nose low to the Formica and closed off my right nostril with a finger and snorted the line through my left.
I must have left the door open a crack, because I saw Danny there, just outside, watching. He knew it was a thing I was doing, but I don’t think he ever saw me do it before.
I knew good and well that wasn’t the type of thing I wanted him to see. Any other time I would have thrown a shoe at him if I caught him spying like that. But when you take your medicine through your nose, it hits your bloodstream fast and hard. That’s why you take it that way. So my first thought was to throw a shoe, but before that first thought was even gone the juice hit my bloodstream, and there was my boy, his eyes looking at mine through the crack in the bathroom door, and if I ever loved him I loved him more in that now than in any ever, and right alongside that first thought was the second, which came out my mouth the same time it came into my head, even though I knew it was wrong as I thought it and said it. “Boy,” I said. “Come on in here and try a line.”
Some things you see like from outside yourself and from above, and that’s how I see what happened next. Right there, below, there’s big old me, and there’s my boy Danny, and I’m coming around behind him, putting my arms around him like I did when I showed him how to line up a cue stick at Jack’s Tavern or sink a putt at the Gooney Golf, and he’s got the open pocketknife in his hand, and I’ve got his hand in my hand, pushing down on it, showing him how to crush without wasting anything, how to corral the powder, how a good line is made. That’s me, leaning down, pantomiming to show him how. That’s him, fast learner, nose to the counter, finger to nostril. There’s the line, gone up like the rapture. Danny, standing up too fast because he don’t know any better, and the trickle of blood down his lip and chin, and me, tilting his head back, cradling it in the crook of my arm, putting the old Boy Scout press on his nose with a wad of toilet paper, saying, “Hold still now, baby boy,” and his eyes bright, and his cheeks flushed, and his voice like from a hundred miles away saying, “Lord, have mercy,” then, “Weird,” and us lying back, then, on the cold tile, his shoulder blades resting on my chest, both of us waiting for the hit to pass so we could take another.
The days and nights started going by fast after that, and sometimes there was no cause to tell one from the other. One morning or afternoon or midnight, for all I know, I went into my room and found Danny half-naked underneath the bed I shared for all those years with Penny, and when I asked him what he was doing under there, he said, “She’s been after us all this time,” and I said, “Who?” and he said, “Her,” and hauled out a stash of scented candles his mother must have left under there, cinnamon and jasmine and persimmon-lemon.
At first I thought he was talking crazy, but then he pulled himself out from under the bed and walked real close and put the purple jasmine one under his eye and struck a blue tip match and lit the wick, and soon as it started to burn his eye went all bloodshot and swelled up. Even still, I wanted to take up her case.
“How was she to know?” I said, but he was looking at me hard. “Turn around,” he said, “and look in that mirror.” And sure enough, my eye was tearing up and swelling and all the blood vessels were turning red.
“Benny Gil,” he said, “told you where she is.”
“That’s not strictly true,” I said, except it was.
“The general area, then,” he said.
“The general neck of the woods,” I said.
He went into me and Penny’s bathroom, then, and for some reason, even though we had being doing it together, I couldn’t go in there just then and do it with him. I could hear him, though, and then I heard a few more sounds I knew but hadn’t expected to hear, which were the sounds of him loading my old Browning 9mm, which I kept under the sink in case of emergencies. When I heard that, I got scared, because for a while now I had been feeling, like I said before, like things were getting out of hand, but now, him stepping out of the bathroom, hand around the grip of that nine, I had the kind of proof that makes it so you can’t look the other way any more.
“Killing,” I said, “isn’t a kind of thing you can take back.”
“I don’t mean to kill her,” he said. “I just mean to scare her a little.”
That was more sensible talk than the talk I had been expecting from him, but still not altogether sensible. He was angry, I knew, after finding those candles, and I can’t say I wasn’t angry, either, but when you’re young and full of piss and vinegar, caution is not a thing you take to naturally, and, besides, neither one of us was going through life in any kind of measured way at that particular point.
“I’m not saying she don’t deserve a little scaring,” I said. “When the time comes you’ll see me front and center, taking the pleasure you and me both deserve after everything. But what I’m saying is that the time isn’t come. Not yet.”
“Look around,” Danny said, and all around us was eighteen kinds of mess, some we’d made, and some that had just kind of grown while we weren’t paying attention. “Sheila,” he said, which was the name of a dog we’d had once who had abandoned her young before it was time, and all five of them had died, and who I had taken out back and shot because there wasn’t one good thing about a dog who would go and do that.
“We’re grown,” I told him.
“Not me,” he said.
There wasn’t much I could say to that, because it was true, but I got him to hand over the Browning, and then he went upstairs and didn’t come down for the rest of the night, and I figured he’d be down when he got hungry enough.
I went into the kitchen and made some pancakes and made some extra and wrapped them in foil and put them in the refrigerator so he could have them later. Then I put some butter and maple syrup over mine and ate them and drank some milk and fell asleep in front of a old Wesley Snipes movie and figured when I woke up I’d see if he didn’t want to put on his boots and go out into the Daniel Boone National Forest and hike for awhile and get cleared out the way the cold air will do you.
When I woke up, though, the car was gone, and the extension cord for the battery charger was running from the living room out the front door, and I followed it on out to the side of the house where we parked the car, which was sure enough gone, and with juice enough to go to Lexington and back probably. That’s when panic kicked in, and I ran back into the house, toward me and Penny’s bathroom, knowing the Browning was going to be gone, but hoping it wasn’t, and when I got there and didn’t find it where it should have been, I figured there wasn’t any way I was going to see Penny alive again, but I was wrong.
It was Penny who found him. It took some time, but after a while the authorities pieced together what had happened. Around six in the evening, they said, must have been the time I fell asleep. When the house got quiet enough, Danny went out to the shed and brought in the long extension cord and ran it to the car battery. While it was charging he loaded up three assault rifles, including the Kalashnikov 3000, the one made to look like a AK-47, but with the guts of a MicroKal, laser gun and flamethrower and all. He took the Browning, too, and my Bowie knife, and his old play camo war paint, and a cache of armor-piercing bullets, although he never did use any of it except the 9mm. Then he sat down and ate the pancakes I had made, and washed the plate and knife and fork he had used to eat them off, and left them out to air dry.
By time he got to Benny Gil’s house, he had worked himself up into something cold enough that Benny Gil didn’t argue, didn’t even need to be shown knife or gun to know it was in his best interest to give up Penny’s location and get Danny on his way. I don’t know what that means, exactly, except to say that Benny Gil is not a person I’ve ever known or heard of to be afraid of anyone or anything.
What Benny Gil told Danny was that Penny was staying with her sister’s husband’s nephew Kelly, a bookish boy we never knew well because he never came around to family things, probably because he, or more likely his mother, thought he was better than us, from what they call a more refined stock.
Kelly was, by then, well to do, UK law degree in hand, specialty in horse law. He even had a office at Keeneland and another at Churchill Downs, and if he thought as highly of himself as he seemed to every year on the television, sitting there next to some half-dead Derby owner who needed a oxygen tank just to breathe, sipping a mint julep, then I’m sure him and Penny made a fine pair.
There’s no way to know it now, but my guess is that Danny, when he heard of it, came to the same idea I did when I first heard of it, which was that something not-right was happening between Penny and that boy, but I put it out of my head at the time because it was too horrible a thing to look at directly.
At any rate, what happened next is the part of the story that got out into the world. Danny drove east on Interstate 64, stopped at the Sonicburger in Mt. Sterling and ordered and ate a egg sandwich, then headed toward the big expensive stone houses by the airport, where Penny and Kelly was shacked up.
When he got there, he rang the doorbell three times—that’s what Kelly’s security company came up with later—and nobody was home, and I guess he didn’t want to wait, and I guess he knew well enough what ended up being true, which was that there was something worse for a mother than to be killed by her son.
At the funeral, the preacher and everyone else said that wasn’t the case, that Danny was sick in the head and that these things happen in the brain, something trips or snaps or misfires, and then somebody is doing something they wouldn’t do if they were themself. But I think that’s the kind of thing people say when what they want to do is make themselves feel better instead of look straight ahead at the truth and all its ugly. Because what I think and pretty near to know happened goes like this:
When he got there, he rang that doorbell three times, and nobody was home, and he got to thinking, and what he was thinking about was clear enough to him, and what he was thinking was that he had come all this way to hurt his mother, and his stomach was full from that egg sandwich, and that Browning 9mm was in his hand, and what if instead of killing her and just hurting her that one time, what if instead he did himself right there where she would have to come home and find him, and wouldn’t that be something she would have to live with, and go on living and living and living? And wouldn’t that be the way to hurt her again and again, the way she had hurt him and us by running off?
So that’s what he did. He sat down in front of Kelly’s front door, and put the muzzle to his right temple, and turned his head so his left temple was to the door, and when Penny came home that night, what she found was the worst thing you can ever find, and when I heard about it, I couldn’t hate her the way I wanted to anymore.
At the funeral, they sat us both on the front row, but far apart from each other, with a bunch of her brothers and other male relatives between us so I would know clear as daylight that I was meant to stay away from her. But before the service got started, the preacher came over and asked if there were things each of us needed to say to the deceased, and we both said yes, but for me it wasn’t because I had anything to say to Danny. He was dead and gone and wherever it is he ended up, and that was hard enough to bear without making a show of telling him something he wasn’t ever going to hear. It was Penny I wanted to say some things to, and I thought maybe up there next to Danny she might in that moment have ears to hear them.
Her brothers didn’t leave the room when the preacher asked, but they did go stand in the back and give what they must have thought was a respectful distance. Me and Penny went and knelt beside the casket, her near his head and me near the middle, maybe three feet separating us. She bowed her head to pray silently, and I did, too, although I didn’t right then have any words to say, and then she said some things to Danny too personal for me to repeat, although I don’t think it would be wrong to say that the things she said, if they were true, moved me in a way I didn’t think I could be moved by her.
When she was done, she looked over at me. It seemed like she was able to keep from crying all that time until she looked into my eyes, and I was reminded that it was our looking into each other’s eyes that was happening while we were about the business of getting him made in the first place, and maybe that’s what she saw that finally broke her down when she looked over at me. Maybe that, and all the years we had together, the three of us, and how there wasn’t anyone else in the world who knew what those years were, and how there wouldn’t ever be anyone else again.
It was right then, though I didn’t say anything at the time because it didn’t seem like the right time, that I decided I couldn’t live in a world where Penny would go on being as unhappy as she had been made to be.
First thing the next morning I went down to Lexington again and went to the place where we had taken Danny when he was six years old to get scanned. It was gone, boarded up, the part of town where it had been now all but forgotten by people in business to make money. The only place in the storefront where the lights were still on was the WIC food stamp place, and I went inside and was told where to go on the Loop, to a part of town I remembered as Lexington Green but which was now called Stonewall.
The business had changed its name too, was now called Livelong, and occupied a building the size of a city block. The woman at the front desk said my number was A83, gave me a smartpad to fill in and told me to take a seat.
By time they called my name I had run my fingerprint and verified all my information and watched the screen that said the scan we had got was old technology, and while the guarantee we had bought was still good, the Danny we would get would eventually wear out, but would not age the way the ones they could make now could. We’d get him six years old, and six years old he would stay.
They made me meet with a kid in a suit and tie, and all he said was the same thing I had heard from the smartpad. He was looking at me funny, and I said, “All I want to get is the service I paid for eleven years ago, near to the day,” and he lowered his head for just a moment, like he was ashamed, and then he said, “You’re entitled to it, and we’ll give it to you if you want, but what you need to know is sometimes what you want isn’t the same as the thing we can give you.”
Even though he was a kid, what he was saying was true, and I knew it then, and it made me want to pound the sense out of him, and even so I wanted what I wanted.
I walked out of that Stonewall storefront that afternoon holding the warm flesh hand of a thing that moved and talked and looked for the life of me just like Danny did at six years old, and it was nearly unbearable, at first, to touch him or hear him say, “Now we’re going for ice cream, Daddy?” and to remember the bargain we had made with Danny the day we took him to get him scanned. You be good through this, we’d told him, we’ll take you to get whatever kind of ice cream you want.
So I said, “Sure, buddy bear,” and I took him to up the road to the Baskin Robbins, and he ordered what Danny always ordered, which was Rocky Road with green and only green M&Ms sprinkled over top, and we got a high table for two, and I sat and watched him chew exactly the way he used to chew, and lick the spoon exactly the way he used to lick the spoon. He said, “Can we split a Coke, Dad?” and I said sure, and went up to the counter and ordered a large Coke, and when I forgot to get an extra straw, I regretted it the way I used to regret it, because he chewed the straw down to where you could hardly get any Coke out of it.
After that he wanted to go walk the old stone wall like we always did when we came to Lexington, so I took him down there and parked the car and got him out and hoisted him up on the wall, and held his hand to steady him as he walked on top of it, and he said, “Tell me about the slaves, Daddy,” so I did what I used to do and told him about how all the black people in Kentucky used to belong to the white people, and how this very wall he was walking on had been made by their hands, one stone at a time, and the mortar mixed with probably some of their sweat and maybe some of their blood, too, still in it, and how even with all that Kentucky fought for the Union and could well have been the difference in that war. While I was saying it, I was remembering how I used to believe things like that, and the feelings that used to rise up in my chest when I said them, feelings of pride and certainty, and warm feelings toward my people I had come from. These were stories my own dad and granddad used to tell me and which I was now passing along to my own son, and this little Danny, walking along that wall, holding my hand, said the same thing the other little Danny had said in a moment a whole lot like this one but which couldn’t have been, if you think about it, any more different if it was happening on the other side of the world. He said, “It wasn’t right, was it, for people to keep other people to do their work for them? How did anybody ever think it was right?”
And I said the same thing I said then, which was, “People don’t always do what’s right, son, but you and me get the privilege of making our own choices, and we have to make good choices. That’s what makes a person good, is the choices you make.”
Right then is when we went off the script. Could be that something was wrong with his making, or could be that I wasn’t leading him right, but right at that moment, he took a wrong step and fell. He didn’t fall off the wall altogether, but he caught his shoe on a stone that was sticking up at a bad angle, and when he fell, he caught his arm on another stone, and it cut deep into his skin, and when he tried to stand up, he pulled away and didn’t seem aware that his skin was caught on that rock. I guess they don’t build those things in such a way that they feel pain the same way you and me do, because as he stood up, the skin of his arm began to pull away from what was underneath, which wasn’t bone or sinew, but cold lightweight metal, what I now know they call the endoskeleton, and what began to drain from him warm wasn’t his own blood, but somebody else’s, and the reason it was in there wasn’t to keep him alive, but just to keep his skin warm and pink, just to make him look and feel like someone alive.
“Danny,” I said. He must have heard the alarm in my voice, and I could tell it scared him. He looked down and saw his metal arm, the skin hanging off it, and the blood pouring out in a way that wasn’t natural, and then he gave me a look that sank my soul, and I realized what I should have realized before I signed what I signed, which was that I had got them to make a boy out of something that wasn’t a boy. All that was in his head was all that was in Danny’s head a long time ago, back when Danny was himself someone different than who he became later, and it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t know what he was, and the sight of it was more than he could handle.
His lip began, then, to tremble, in the way Danny’s did when he needed comforting, and I lifted him down off that stone wall and took him in my arms and held him and comforted him, and then, in the car, I stretched the skin back to where it had been, and took Penny’s old emergency button sewing kit out of the glove compartment and took needle and thread to it and got him to where none of the metal was showing. I didn’t take him to Penny’s like I had planned.
He was real quiet all the way home. He just stared straight ahead and didn’t look at his arm and didn’t look at me. Near Winchester I asked him if he wanted to hear some music, and he said all right, but we couldn’t find anything good on the radio. “How about the football game?” I said, and he said all right again, and we found the Tennessee Titans and the Dallas Cowboys, and I made a show of cheering for the Titans the way we always had, but when he said, “How come all their names are different?” I didn’t have a good answer, and after that I asked if he wouldn’t mind just a little quiet, and he said he wouldn’t mind, and I leaned back his seat and said, “Why don’t you just close your eyes and rest awhile? It’s been a long day and I bet you’re tired.”
He did. He closed his eyes then, and after some time had passed and I thought he was asleep, I stroked his hair with my free hand and made some kind of mothering sounds.
It was dark when we got to the house. I parked the car by the bedroom window, then went around to his side and picked him up like I was going to carry him sleeping to bed. I held him there in the dark for a little while and thought about that, carrying him up to bed, laying him there, laying his head on the pillow, pulling the covers up around his shoulders, tucking him in. It would have been the easiest thing to do, and it was the thing I wanted to do, but then I got to thinking about Penny, and sooner or later, I knew, she would have to be brought in on this, and even though I thought I had done it for her, I could see now that I had really done it for me, like maybe if I showed up with this little Danny she would come back home and the three of us could have another go of it.
But already this little Danny was wearing out. I could feel it in his skin. He wasn’t warm like he was when I had picked him up, I guess because the blood had run out of him on the stone wall. He was breathing, but he was cold, and a little too heavy compared to what I remembered. There wasn’t any future for him, either. I got to thinking about how if I put him in school, everyone would get bigger than him fast, and it would get worse every year, the distance between who he was and who his friends were becoming.
He was stirring a little, so I put his head on my shoulder, the way I used to do, and patted his back until his breathing told me he was asleep again. Then I went around to the front of the house and reached up to the porch and took down my axe from the wood pile and went off into the woods, down the path I had mowed with my riding mower a few weeks back, and which was already starting to come up enough that I had to watch my step.
I kept walking, him on my shoulder, axe in my free hand, until I reached the clearing. Then, careful not to wake him, I unbuttoned my jacket and got it out from under him and took it off and laid it on the ground. Then I laid him down on it and made sure he was still sleeping. Then I lifted up the axe and aimed it for the joint where his head met his neck and brought it down. In the split second right before blade struck skin, I saw his eyes open, and they were wide, and what I saw in them was not fear but instead some kind of wonder, and then, fast as it had come, it was gone, and all I could tell myself, over and over, was It’s not Danny. It’s not Danny.
© by Kyle Minor. Used by permission of the author.
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