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.

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