Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Poor News Badly Delivered Pt. 2

The old man nev­er stopped shak­ing. He shook as he ush­ered Hernandez through the back door and into the kitchen. He shook as he asked his wife to give them pri­va­cy. He shook as she brought them cof­fee. He shook as he sat across from Hernandez at the kitchen table and he shook as he sipped his cof­fee with milk and sug­ar. Hernandez could not remem­ber him shak­ing the day before or any oth­er of the few times their paths had crossed in the last two years. So before bring­ing up the boy, or more accu­rate­ly, con­tin­u­ing on about the boy, he asks, “Are you ill, Mr. Sneed?”

No. Not sick. Never sick a day in my life.” He near­ly spills cof­fee lift­ing the old bake­lite cup to his lips and after sip­ping adds qui­et­ly, “Not well, either. Not myself.”

Is it the boy?”

The boys. Boys. More than a man ought to ever see.”

Not a word, but a deep sound from Hernandez’s throat. It is all he can offer — an impov­er­ished frag­ment of sym­pa­thy meant to keep the man from drift­ing into too dark a grief.

Pickem sighs and lets his eyes fall to Mable’s home­made rag rug in front of the kitchen sink. Then with­out look­ing up, “You know about the oth­er?”

Yes.”

Who told ya’?”

I shouldn’t say.”

No,” Pickem brings anoth­er shaky sip of cof­fee to his mouth, “you shouldn’t.”

Mr. Sneed, I–”

Wa’n’t Trot or Kenny, I bet.”

Hernandez waits before answer­ing, watch­ing Pickem Sneed. The old man still faces the oth­er direc­tion, his head not quite still, but his eyes slide over to watch him. He knows, though he can’t say why, that if he shows this old man some­thing here, he’ll get more in return — it’s some­thing like a pok­er game. “No, not them.”

Didn’t fig­ure.” Pickem clears his throat and turns to face Hernandez, look­ing slight­ly more com­fort­able, if not tru­ly calm. “You don’t wan­ta know about the boy. That won’t help ya’. You wan­ta know about the man done it, that’s yer job ain’t it?”

Yes sir.”

I don’t know him, but I seen him. Full in the face.”