This story is by Tom Chambless and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She cannot see my pants! Peyton tried to stop the screen door too late. The old wood door banged shut. He did not mean to make noise. He planned to sneak upstairs to his room.
“Peyton? You’re home early? Put your books down and come help me!” His leather shoes clomped on the hardwood floor. She was in the dining room. She bent at the dining table in her house dress and apron with her brown hair up tight in pins. Peyton stepped into the dining room. Mother yanked a wad of silk and shuck from an ear of corn. He wanted to change pants, tell her about the good thing from school today, and tell the terrible thing later. She glanced and glanced again.
Mother’s face looked severe. He followed her eyes down. “You’ve wet your pants.” She said dropping her hands to her sides. “You’re in the ninth grade. Why?”
“I asked, but she wouldn’t let me go.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Wouldn’t let you go? Is that what you’ll tell your father when he gets home?”
He didn’t panic. “You’re not going to tell him, are you?”
“I have to!” She threw shucks down on the table.
“No, Mother, it was an accident!”
She bent to unbuckle his pants. “Stand still.”
He grabbed at her wrist.
Mother snatched free and drew back to slap him. He dodged to the side. Blood pounded in his ears.
Get these wet pants off. Blood pounded. He heard her, but it sounded far away, like in the next classroom. School seemed long and far away. He had raised his hand to go to the bathroom. The teacher said no. They had a pop quiz coming. He put his hands between his knees and bent over. The pressure was so much. He had to let a little go, but more gushed. The girl sitting beside him pointed and laughed. He pedaled his bike home fast.
Mother’s face was near his. He smelled her. Her breath was strong from coffee and cigarettes. Her chest rattled. She was about to tug his pants down. She shook him. Look at me!
“Are you deaf? Get them off!”
“Your pants. Get them off and put them in the hamper. I’m not climbing those stairs!”
Realization hit him. He stepped away. “No! I’m a man now.”
She leaned back and looked him over. “You got a hair or two on your chin, but you’re still a curly-headed, skinny, fourteen-year-old boy!”
Peyton darted through the living room, down the hall, and bounded up the stairs.
She yelled after him. “Men don’t piss themselves!”
I’m not a boy anymore! He stopped in the middle of the staircase. He crouched, clenched his fists, and hung his head. She didn’t see the changes he had gone through. He ran to his room and slammed the door.
He showered, changed into dry clothes, and did his homework.
She never heard the good thing. They called him to the office and the guidance counselor bumped him up to the fast-track classes. His new algebra and French teachers were there. They told him college prep courses would be a better way forward for him. They talked about getting into a good college. Father said poor boys never go to college. It made him feel good all the same. The counselor said his essay was imaginative and original.
This happened before he peed.
He twirled the dark curl hanging on his forehead. Now his gut churned. Everything soured. College prep was puke in his mouth. Father would be home soon, and the night would be twice as bad as the day. Peyton put his forehead down onto his French book and sobbed. “Oh, it hurts!”
Tears blurred his vision. As tears plopped, inky spots puffed on the page. He sniffed. “J’ai peur.”
Car lights slashed across the house.
It wasn’t what Mother said but how she said it. She didn’t yell. She talked. She stood at the bottom of the stairs and spoke in a normal tone knowing Peyton could hear. “Your father’s home.”
She spoke of doom. He looked at the bedroom window. Thoughts of backing out to the hall and charging out the window through crashing glass, and running down the street, flashed before him. But he would break his legs.
He put his sweaty hand on his book and the page stuck to it. They were down there talking. Mother was his prosecutor laying out his crime.
At the head of the stairs he saw his father at the bottom. He was dirty from his work. He was always dirty. His shirt and pants were gray and greasy. He smelled like grease and gasoline, and sour sweat.
“Get down here.”
Peyton took two steps down. “Please don’t whip me. I couldn’t help it.”
“Get down here, now!”
Peyton took one more step down. Father unbuckled his belt. “No, Father! Don’t whip me. I’m sorry.”
“Out there, in the living room!” He jerked his belt from his pant loops with a whip-crack sound. He needed the living room to swing. “Move, boy!”
Peyton’s own words rang sharp in his ears, please don’t whip me. His face got hot. He shook his head. His father’s angry face glared and threatened.
I’m fed up with begging. I can’t live like this. But, he’ll whip me if I stand up to him or don’t stand up!
“Boy, I’ll drag you down here!”
I’ve got to stand up to him, but how?
Father started up the stairs.
I’ll do this!
Peyton put his hands up as if he held a shotgun.
The butt was against his shoulder. His finger was inside the trigger housing, and his left hand gripped the stock for steady aim. Peyton said, “I’ve got a shotgun and I’ll shoot if you don’t BACK OFF!” He stood steady. He glared down the barrel at Father.
Father hesitated and frowned. He looked at the belt in his hand and back at Peyton.
Peyton stepped down. “I will SHOOT YOU if you come at me! Get in the living room!”
Whatever he did worked because Father nodded and dropped the belt. He turned with his hands up and started toward the living room. Peyton descended the stairs foot over foot making sure Father kept his hands high. Mother came from the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron.
“What on earth is going on here, Bill?”
“Careful Martha. Peyton’s got a shotgun.”
Peyton’s hands shook. He didn’t have a plan. He licked his lips and looked from Mother to Father buying time. He stepped to the right some. “Get over by him, Mother.” She cocked her head and squinted. He jab-stepped toward her with the gun.
Martha raised her hands. “Okay, okay,” she said moving close to Bill.
Peyton nodded. His purpose was clear now. “Here’s how it’s going to be from now on. Both of you are going to treat me with some respect.” He took a deep breath and his eyes filled with tears. “There’s not going to be any more hitting in this house!” His bottom lip quivered. “Even if I mess up!”
“Oh, Peyton,” Mother said. Her eyes went wide, and she frowned. Her chest hitched, and her eyes teared.
Father saw his chance and dashed forward. He gripped the shotgun on top of Peyton’s hands and twisted. He turned Peyton’s arms up and shoved. Peyton stumbled backwards and fell to the floor. Father whipped the shotgun to his shoulder and stuck the barrel in Peyton’s face.
Father panted. “Boy, if you ever pull a gun on a man, you better be ready to pull the trigger.” Father’s face was red and angry holding the gun.
It can’t end with me whimpering on the floor again! Peyton pursed his lips. He scrambled to his feet and threw out his chest. “That goes for yourself, too! I love you both so much. I don’t want to live afraid of you anymore. If you respect me, I’ll respect you. So, either shoot me or drop the gun!”
“Bill,” Martha said. She cocked her thumb and put her finger on the side of his head. “Drop the gun or I’ll shoot!”
Father pooched his lips and his eyes went wide. He brought the shotgun down.
Father calmed his hard breathing then sighed. “I’m going to have to ground you.”
Peyton nodded fast, “I can deal with grounding.”
“No more than a week, Bill. Remember respect. He showed he’s a man.”
Bill ran greasy fingers through his hair. “Alright. If the teacher says you can’t go piss, you grab your balls and get up anyway, you hear?”
“Yeah!” Peyton said. A few seconds passed. To Peyton’s surprise, Father gripped his shoulders and hugged him close. Mother joined them. They all hugged hard. Peyton saw his father’s wet blue eyes. They parted. Peyton smiled and said, “I have some good news.”