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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Father (as in paternal parent, not God) (04/10/08)

TITLE: Boy
By Ann Grover
04/17/08


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A pinwheel of pain whirled in Eli’s skull, and fire scorched his shoulders as the hoe handle struck him again.

“What took you so long? Wearin’ down my mule, workin’ him into the evenin’ like that.”

Eli looked at the mule, ancient and grey-muzzled, and thought the father’s words were like jutting, rusty nails, places to suspend accusations and excuses. He reached to unbuckle the harness, and once again, sparks ignited in his head.

“Don’t turn from me, boy. Show some respect.”

“Yes, sir.” Eli straightened, but kept his eyes on the dust at his feet. A beetle scuttled through the fine soil, distracting Eli, giving rise to envy, even covetousness in his simple heart, as he watched the insect scurry about and disappear in the dry weeds.

“You’ve no sense at all. Sent you out thinkin’ you was finally fit fer a man’s job, but yer no better’n a nursin’ babe. I was a fool.” The father shook his head despondently. “The good Lord knows I’ve tried my best, and this is my reward. Unruliness, laziness. Anything to say?”

“No, sir.”

“I figured as much. No remorse or repentance.”

The beetle had reappeared, and Eli strained to watch in the gathering gloom.

“No supper tonight. Sleep in the barn. Think on yer attitude.”

Eli - trapped midway to manhood - watched the father stride to the house where a single light glowed. Seizing the mule’s bridle, he led the creature into the barn and finished the unharnessing and got on with feeding. Twin trails twisted down each grimy cheek and, leaning against the warm mule, he smothered a sob.

Beneath the eaves in the loft, Eli burrowed into the loose hay, making a nest for himself. Warmed by his coverlet of dried grass and exhausted by his work and weeping, he slept.

Wakened early by the pale dawn and the irate shaking of the father, Eli harnessed the mule again.

“Do you hear, boy? Get a move on. Time waits fer no man, nor boy, fer that’s all you are.”

The mule’s head hung halfway to the ground, and dust swirled around each hoof as the beast plodded wearily beside Eli.

“Move.” The whip cracked over the mule’s rump. “Yer next, boy. Get the field finished today. I’m tired of tellin’ you.”

One step, two steps, ten thousand. Sweat ran in fiery streams down the centre of Eli’s back, and grit stung his eyes. The sun was an inferno, and then it fell, a luminous eye of heaven, staring, watching. Dragging the pitiful mule, Eli staggered home, the burden of congealed sweat heavy on his half-formed frame, the odour of fatigue tightening his nostrils. Yet, it was a soothing smell, fusing clay and cloying perspiration, warm and humble and upright.

The father was waiting.

“Yer late comin’ again. Look at my mule. Near dead.” The whip snapped rhythmically, tauntingly, in the father’s hands as Eli began to relieve the mule of the harness. “Hear me?”

“Yes, sir.” Eli sighed, a mere gossamer sigh, but heard by the father.

The pain was electric, white. Eli fell to his knees.

“I’ve had enough! Yer attitude, yer rebellious ways.”

“Father, I’m...”

“No use, boy. You’ve always been trouble and will always be trouble. Worthless. Ne’er-do-well. Sometimes, I rue the day you was born.”

Long ago, Eli’s mother had had a porcelain ornament that had fallen from the mantle and splintered into a hundred shards. Eli couldn’t remember what it had been. A cat? A ballerina? Now, he felt his spirit fracture in the same way. What had Eli been a moment ago? He couldn’t remember.

Despair swelled in Eli’s chest, expanding, pressing against his ribs until he couldn’t breath, then bursting out, like a bird taking flight. Lightning quick, Eli captured the whip from the father’s hand, held it aloft like a banner, and brought it down. A crimson thread appeared on the father’s cheek, then a fine rivulet. Again, Eli brought down the whip, on the father’s shoulders, his back. The father fell in the dust, shielding his face.

Eli stopped. Tears muddied his face. He dropped the whip.

“I’m sorry, Father. I’m not worthless. I’m leaving, and I’ll take this miserable mule with me.”

The mule turned baleful eyes on the boy as Eli tugged lightly on the halter. They walked down the lane, following the pace of the aged mule.

The father stood. “Boy?” Eli and the mule were barely discernible in the fading rays of the watching eye. “Son?”


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This article has been read 742 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sally Hanan04/18/08
Brilliant writing. While the events are more real than not, it was still a shock to have him whip his father. I liked the ending.
Laury Hubrich 04/19/08
This was so sad. A very good piece of writing. I felt each harsh word fall on the boy along with the whip.
Betty Castleberry04/20/08
Oh, wow. Such a powerful piece. I could almost feel the whip. I don't like this father very much, but I love the story. Very well done.
Shirley McClay 04/21/08
Excellent writing.. I could FEEL this line..."Despair swelled in Eli�s chest, expanding, pressing against his ribs until he couldn�t breath, then bursting out, like a bird taking flight."

I even resented the father saying Son at the very end!
Chely Roach04/21/08
I am in awe...this was magnificantly written. You described the cruelty so poetically, it made it ironic. I can't point our a specific line, there were too many; instead, I loved an entire paragraph: One step, two steps, ten thousand. Sweat ran in fiery streams down the centre of Eli’s back, and grit stung his eyes. The sun was an inferno, and then it fell, a luminous eye of heaven, staring, watching. Dragging the pitiful mule, Eli staggered home, the burden of congealed sweat heavy on his half-formed frame, the odour of fatigue tightening his nostrils. Yet, it was a soothing smell, fusing clay and cloying perspiration, warm and humble and upright.
Completely awestruck.

Jan Ackerson 04/21/08
Catharsis indeed! This'll do it!

I love the details like the beetle, the swirling dust, the porcelain ornament--these are the things that put your writing on a whole 'nother level from the rest of us.
Joy Faire Stewart04/21/08
Oh, what a story! The emotions are raw and the descriptions vivid. I was glad the son took the mule when he left, perfect touch.
Sharlyn Guthrie04/21/08
Excellent! I love the ornament imagery and also the change in the boy's spirit. The ending is superb.
Loren T. Lowery04/22/08
For many reason this was difficult for me to read, I could hear the "voice" almost too well. One of my favorite lines was this "They walked down the lane, following the pace of the aged mule." It is so very telling of the MC's true character. Great writing!
Helen Dowd 04/22/08
If your story was meant to bring tears to the eyes, you were successful. This story made me so thankful to God for giving me the father I had. What cruel treatment! I commend you for the way you developed your story. The ending was as it should have been. I was glad that Eli took the mule, who was also mistreated. I didn't feel sorry for the father, who deserved the whip, and deserved to lose his son...I am presuming the mother was not in the picture. She would have defended her son. I know she would have...Very good story telling...Helen
Joanne Sher 04/22/08
Just powerful. Amazing. Frightening. Wow. Masterful.
Dee Yoder 04/22/08
Wow. So many good things in this story and so many brilliant details about the characters! Excellent.
Sara Harricharan 04/23/08
So very sad. I felt more sorry for the father than the son. I wish I knew what caused the bitterness that reflected down to his son. It was sad the way it ended. Good job with emotions here.
Marijo Phelps10/08/08
I have you on author tracker and decided to treat myself in reading some of your formet pieces. WOW, starting with "jutting, rusty nails, places to suspend accusations and excuses" and going on from there. It is a GRABBER. Thank you!