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.