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.”