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.