Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


premature fiction

The Boy With Strong Hands

The first sea­son he picked black­ber­ries he was eight years old. He worked hard and talked lit­tle. He want­ed the farmer to know he was seri­ous and use­ful, not like most of the old­er, white kids who laughed and ate as many berries as they boxed. He decid­ed to be like his old­er broth­ers who picked more berries, faster than any­one except the most dili­gent women whose hands seemed nev­er to grow tired and did­n’t seem to notice the scratch of the thorns and branch­es. Women like his moth­er, who did not help their sons as they picked, only smiled occa­sion­al­ly and told them to keep work­ing if they passed them car­ry­ing box­es to the end of a row.

The faster you pick, the more they pay. And they always notice when they pay.” His broth­er Emiliano told him. His third sea­son, jefe and the farmer both noticed the boy with strong hands. He picked fast and nev­er over loaded his box­es, keep­ing the best berries on the top. Jefe asked him to fill in on a crew of grape pick­ers, then work pick­ing a late field of straw­ber­ries, and then more grapes.

By sum­mer’s end he had earned almost as much mon­ey as Emiliano. His moth­er cried when his father said, “Gabriel’s becom­ing a man already.”

No. He should be a boy a while longer.”

Why? He’ll only get into trou­ble like we did. More work, less trou­ble.” Emiliano had told jefe that Gabriel would work this fall.

No more work this sea­son. Play soc­cer. Go have fun. And use your mon­ey for new clothes.”

Gabriel reached across the small old kitchen table to put his hand over his moth­er’s. “I want to work, mama. Maybe we can stay here in this house anoth­er year.”

His father smiled at him. “We will be here more than one year. Jose has a good job here. His boss owns this house. He wants us to stay. He has work for me, some­day he may have work for you too.” Jose, his eldest broth­er, had worked for Trot Sneed for the last two and a half years. Earlier this sum­mer, Jose had moved his fam­i­ly to this old house, deep in the peach orchards.

And you go to school this year.”

No, mama.” Emiliano said it more quick­ly than he meant to.

Yes, you bring him there. And tell jefe that he’s going to learn some things. Yes, I know what you told him, Emiliano. Don’t let your broth­er be your lit­tle jefe, Gabriel.”

Okay.” Gabriel sat back in his chair, a lit­tle ner­vous about not work­ing, about the American kids, and about going back to school. “When does it start?”

And his moth­er smiled, reach­ing to take his small strong hands in hers. With new tears bring­ing light to her dark eyes, she said, “Mi bien chico. Mi muy muy bien mucha­cho.