THE ORCHID • by Lillian Duggan

I worry ‘bout that boy. Now that I know what he did.

I’d been thinkin’ bout goin’ to the hospital and seein’ the father — sorta like investigatin’, ya know? Then I could maybe tell if whatever was done to him coulda been perpetrated by a boy like that — skinny, quiet. God, only eleven years old. This town’s got plenty o’ talkers, and they said the old man was screamin’ to get the boy away from him when they was puttin’ him in the ambulance. I just thought it wasn’t possible to do a thing like that to somebody else. Seems the dear child did what he thought he had to do.

Man, if he was mine, I’d just love him and hug him all day long. But I had my chance at that, and Mister took it away. He done took everything, and somehow keeps takin’ when there ain’t nothin’ left.

Well, what can I do about that now? Some of us get to be mommas, and some don’t. Anyways, I got enough to keep me busy ‘round here, that’s for sure. For one thing, the damn dog is always barkin’. When he’s not barkin’, he’s eatin’. Mostly his food, but sometimes the chair legs, or, God help me, Mister’s church shoes. I’ve yanked those damned shoes outta that dog’s mouth four times already today. Don’t know how he keeps findin’ ‘em, ‘cuz I hide ‘em someplace different each time. But no matter what, they always end up hangin’ outta his mouth.

Thank God Mister ain’t actually ever been to church. Well, ‘cept our wedding day, if you count that.

This mornin’, Mister was near comatose on the couch, so I put the shoes on the kitchen counter and snuck off to church. The boy was sittin’ in the pew with his momma. And yes, I got those stirrings when I saw him. I mean, to find out if he’d really done it. It’s true he’s got the face of an angel, as white as Mister’s Sunday Florsheims. But the colors on his arms — those come from the devil.

So what I did was I followed him. Him and his momma. To see where they was goin’ after church, and it turned out they went to the hospital. She drives to the front and lets the boy out by his self. I had to think fast on what to do, so I park my car and get out to follow him in, but as I’m walkin’ through the parking lot she drives right by me. Right through the windshield I see her face and it’s like I’m lookin’ at my own grandmom, who happens to be right dead and gone. I tell ya, that woman has been wrecked by time. Or somethin’. She sure could use some help, I think. But what can I do? ‘Sides, God helps those who help themselves is what the preacher said this mornin’. All of us here are lookin’ for some help.

Well, I go to turn away and get myself inside the hospital when I swear I see somethin’ through the windshield that trips me up. There’s this spot on her cheek, up high near the eye. It’s like somethin’ I seen before, but only in the mirror. See, one time Mister gave me this shiner, a real hard hit, but after a couple a days it turned into a kinda flower on my face. Like an orchid, I guess. Purple splotches with dark dots and a real bright yellow color in the middle, sunny-like, ya know? Well I figured I might as well make the best of it, so any time I could get outta the house, I’d put a little eye shadow on it, gold in the center and purple for the petals, just to make it look prettier. But the boy’s momma don’t seem the eye shadow type.

So I go inside the hospital and see the boy walk up to the desk and talk to the lady there. She says, “Go on up to the second floor, honey.” I take the stairs instead of the elevator so he won’t see me, and I sneak real quiet behind him while he walks into the room and I stand outside listenin’.

I couldn’t hear too much. Sounded like the boy was cryin’, but the old man didn’t make a sound. After a minute or two, I moved just a tiny bit so as I could see inside. The boy was sittin’ on the hospital bed, leanin’ over, with that soft blond hair danglin’ on his daddy’s chest. He grabbed the old man’s arm just below the bandage on his wrist that seemed to be wrapped some sixty times. Then he kissed that bandage and was sobbin’ and sobbin’ and he said, “Sorry, Papa.”

Right there it was. A confession. It threw me so that I couldn’t do nothin’ but slide down the wall onto the floor.

It was a heroic thing he did, but I was sad that he had to.

He walked out the door slow and gentle and turned to see me sittin’ against the wall. When he stopped I could see his body hardly filled up the opening of the door, but in his eyes there was this steely shine in the center, like a glimpse of the man growin’ up inside him, with a man’s power. Power he’d have to decide how he was gonna use some day. I said, “Hi. I’m Jeanine,” but he didn’t say nothin’ back. I said I lived in the flat house on Slight Road, and he could come by some time if he wanted, and he turned and walked away.

When I got back home, Mister was still passed out on the couch covered in Jim Beam sweat. There was a new hole in his Florsheims.

Lillian Duggan lives in Westfield, New Jersey with her husband and two children. “The Orchid” is her first published story.

Rate this story:
 average 2.5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • powerful story. “that woman has been wrecked by time.” really like this line. Such great imagery throughout.

  • Ann Ormsby

    Nicely done!

  • MaryAlice Meli

    Strong voice, solid characters and powerful emotion well told, Lillian. It made me want to know more about what happened and about what is going to happen next. Write more.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    A generally well-written disconcering story of home violence and its traps. I sometimes found it a bit difficult to follow but the characterizations, the speech, were excellent.

  • I always look for story first, and this was a story. The suspense was timid but always there in the background. We know without knowing that something good will come of this incident. One negative. I don’t like dialogue to have the obvious speech pronunciation. It can be done with spelling, but not with altering words with apostrophes. Sorry, personal bias. Otherwise I really liked this story and the writing was strong.

  • Michael Stang

    Good effort trying to make the language work. Not sure it was needed, but it kept me busy. Your work displays strong themes. Advanced for a first time publicator– Congratulations.

  • Kathy

    First time publication? Congratulations! Lots to like with this story, but I especially liked the use of the orchid image – the contrast of beauty and bruising, the similarity of fragility of flower and face. I also liked line about “the colors on his arms….” One suggestion: when using first person POV, selecting words the narrating character (not you, the author) would use helps keep the reader grounded in the story. For example, the words perpetrator and comatose did not “sound” like the Jeanine I was imagining based mostly, I admit, on the use of dialect to establish her as a character. Looking forward to your next EDF story!

  • Mercedes

    Great hook! “I worry ‘bout that boy. Now that I know what he did.” Made me want to keep reading!

  • My only hicup was with ‘Florsheim’. Being British, I had to Google it. Otherwise, a thoroughly engaging piece.

  • JenM

    This was a great story! Congrats on your first publication! I really liked the way you juxtaposed the boy’s way of dealing with his father with Jeanine’s way of dealing with Mister.

  • Grammy

    Great first story. I like the symbol of the bruise becoming something beautiful. Isn’t it a challenge to us all? I am wondering what is going to become of the boy.

  • Lillian Duggan

    Thanks so much for the feedback and comments, everyone. I’m truly grateful, and especially love feeling part of a community of writers. Don’t so much love finding a missing period in my story, though—arrrghh.

  • Missing period found and fixed. I’m so glad you’re enjoying your first publication here, Lillian, and I hope we’ll see lots more stories from you.

  • Lillian Duggan

    Wow. Thanks, Camille! Excellent service!

  • Emma Schwartz

    Congratulations on your first publication. The ending sent shivers down my spine. I want to know more..

  • Kim Dixon

    A great story, real characters, I was there every step of the way. I enjoyed the ‘accent’ made it more real.

  • Randee P

    Lillian, your writing is powerful. The imagery of the orchid, melding pain and beauty was very creative. I wanted to read more about the characters, they were very interesting and you gave real insight into them with few words. Well done. I agree with statement above in using a few words that were out of character, however I did like how you used ‘voices’ giving even more insight into the depth of who they were. What a great start to your writing career!

  • Simone

    Excellent story with only one flaw – the change of tense in the paragraph that starts with I couldn’t hear too much. Your writing is so good, I felt I should point the flaw out to help your writing be even better. Congratulations on the publication! Oh, and I think the dialect is important to the story and characters.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    So–maybe I’m completely dense, but I need someone to lead me by the hand through this story and explain all the contradictions I see:

    The father is screaming to “get the boy away from him” and the MC is stunned by what the boy has apparently done to his father; I assume from the description of the bandage on the wrist that the boy chopped the father’s hand off, but the desk lady in the hospital lets the boy go right up to the father he mutilated? And the boy hasn’t been previously taken into custody?

    That “hi, I’m Jeanine, come up and see me sometime”–to talk about what, exactly? What help or wisdom does the MC have to offer this child, since she’s chosen to endure abuse over a lifetime?

    The paragraph describing the boy’s steely look is good writing–but as far as choosing to use that power inside him someday–didn’t he already just do that by chopping off his dad’s hand? I’d think everything after that is going to be an anti-climax unless he turns into an avenging Ninja warrior, or something…

    And I’m just wondering why mean drunken old Mister hasn’t killed that dog by now.

  • Oh, the voice! The imagery! I love this story so much.
    SO well done.

  • John Brooke

    Sad, too strong, almost. Courages writing of a deceptive vacuous story. Left me with lots of unanswered questions, which of couse was the writers intent. She has succeeded brilliantly.

  • Jennifer Ullman

    Lillian, what a great job on the piece! Proud of you!

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