Jacob glances sidelong at his son as the little boy comes out into the garage.
“Mommy says I should come help you,” he says.
The kid’s only six, he’s no help to anyone, and in fact he probably broke this picture frame that Jacob’s gluing back together. If it wasn’t him it was his little sister, but she isn’t tall enough to reach it as far as Jacob knows. They don’t keep one of those stupid height charts.
Marley, that’s his son, is starting to look like a girl himself. His hair is growing out long enough to match that girly name his mother gave him. Jacob will have to tell his wife to cut it soon.
With the word “cut” still in his head, Jacob watches Marley reach past the hacksaw hanging on the edge of the work bench and slice his little arm.
“Goddamn it!” Jacob grits, before his son can even start to whimper. He shoves the boy back and sees that he lands safely on his ass before flinging the lid off the first aid box. He tosses the band-aids towards Marley (the little cardboard box can’t hurt anything, so Jacob doesn’t bother to see where it lands) and tells the boy, “Put a band-aid on before your mother sees it.”
“Okay,” Marley says. He isn’t crying. He hardly ever cries around his father, and that’s because you give kids permission to cry and fuss when that’s all you do around them. Valerie’s always flapping her hands around their son, letting him think that every little bump and scrape is a disaster. He’s got all his booster shots, let him get hurt.
At least that behavior’s gone down since baby Lindsay was born, and Valerie’s attention is divided. Better still that there’s a girl in the house so Valerie will learn how to contrast them. She keeps wanting to do everything her mother did for her, but hello? Boys and girls need to be brought up different. Now he can point out stuff and say, “That’s what’s done for Lindsay, and that’s what’s done for Marley.” If parents don’t teach kids how to act right, who will?
Marley’s being so quiet trying to put his band-aid on one-handed that Jacob forgets he’s there. He closes the picture frame in his vice and steps back to make sure it’s lined up right and nearly stomps on the kid. Big help!
“Marley, Jesus, go sit in the driveway already!”
The kid rolls up off the ground placidly and takes the band-aid box with him. Once he sits down just outside the garage door, he dumps them all out on the ground. This Jacob does not yell at him about, only watches him at it. Marley won’t make a mess, he’s already stopped making messes; he’s going to organize them all from big to small.
Jacob remembers when he thought this was cute, and useful. He and Valerie would say stuff like, “Hey buddy, why don’t you get the dishes out of the dishwasher and stack them big to small on the counter?” Valerie let him do it to her coupons when she took him grocery shopping. Jacob let him sort out his change every night. He used to think, All right! I’ll have this kid doing our taxes any day now!
But now it’s getting weird. His room looks unnatural. Even the boy’s rooms in catalogues don’t look like that, they know boys leave clothes hanging on things, some dirty sneakers in the corner, building blocks on the floor, something. But Marley’s room looks like it belongs to a dead kid. Everything stays there because no one has the heart to dismantle it, but mom still goes in to clean once a week, and she straightens the life out of everything.
Jacob shakes off the crawling sensation and goes back to ignoring his son. Eventually the sun starts to set, and Marley is called in to wash his compulsive little hands for dinner, and Valerie asks Jacob about the cut on his arm, how he got it, was there rust, does he need to see the doctor, and Jacob tells her, “I put a band-aid on it, it’s fine.”
In ten years, Marley will be cutting his arm intentionally, and Jacob will want to simply slap a band-aid on that too, but it won’t fix the real problem.
The cuts will go from big to small.
L.A. Fields is the author of The Disorder Series and My Dear Watson, a queer Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies of horror, erotica, and academia. Find her online at la-fields.livejournal.com.
This story is sponsored by
Adamar, book one of The Hennion Chronicles — Adamar and his friends race to save an alien world, humanity’s future and the woman he loves. They must unlock a secret from the dawn of creation, now used by an emperor to enslave his people, so they can stop his sadistic rule and open a portal to home.