June 14, 2009

fragment from an unfinished short story

They named him Hector, but he didn’t live up to it. So they chopped the name down to a curt and humble syllable: Heck. He was a late and desperately desired child, hard to conceive and harder to raise. His father had been a weak man who succumbed to his foibles while Heck’s mother was still fanning herself on the porch, awaiting deliverance. Alone with her daughters, she settled on this state of affairs as the cause of Heck’s inconsolable wailing, which could go on for hours and often did. His mother rocked him in her arms and sang her sweetest songs. A dull rage would start to tighten between her bony shoulders, and then her prim little daughters took their turns. His screams revved like an engine. Some days there was nothing to do but leave him in the crib and rest their worn nerves outside in the thick wet air, where the hum of the cicadas dulled the pitch of his cries. By the time he could talk, the threat of his tantrums hung over them like a thunderstorm that would not leave. It was the sound, most of all, that kept the tired women under his thumb. His demands crowded them into the corners of the house. By then it took only a dark glance to achieve his aims. They would do almost anything to avoid the exhaustion of appeasing him. When he was sixteen, and they were all wrung dry, his mother sent him to live with her war-hardened brother across town. As if, much too late, that might cure him. The day he left, he turned back from the sidewalk and saw his older sisters glowering at him from the safety of the porch swing like the meek inheriting the earth.

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