Daddys Gone and Mama’s Married the Wrong Man. Borrowed to the Bone. Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

Daddy’s long gone, and Mama married a man who enjoys tormenting children.

The kitchen faucet’s constant drip was the only sound for several seconds after Clark uttered his ultimatum. Ben Tom knew that his uncle spoke the truth about Buck Blanton, his mother’s new husband. He was meaner than a junk yard dog. But that did not excuse Uncle Clark’s theft. “How you gonna explain to Daddy how you stole the guns he bought for us?”

“First place, your daddy’s long gone. That bitch he married ran out on him and he went off the deep end. Left you boys behind to go off chasing her and her new man. He should have left me money to pay for your keep instead of buying those guns. I just did what he should have done in the first place.”

Ben Tom’s chest swelled. “That ain’t so. He’s got a job traveling for a big oil company. Said he would send money, that he would come back for us and bring her with him.”

“You believe that crap about working for an oil company as a mud-man? Even if he did have such a job, which I doubt, he’s off looking for his woman. When he finds her, he’s likely to kill her or her boyfriend or both.”

All the boys’ eyes filled with tears. Trez started to sob.

Clark pointed at Trez. “Let’s say your daddy does bring that bitch back. Only one of you she ever wanted was Trez there. You ever wonder why she just wanted him?”

He nodded as if to affirm his own unfinished accusation.  “I knew that woman before your daddy did. He don’t even know she’s got an unnatural attraction to little boys.”

Clark bent and put large hands on the table. His hands looked more like a musician’s than the sometimes violent thief they belonged to. He stared at his manicured fingernails and thought of the home safe he had cracked the night before.

He might not have much education, but he was cunning, skilled at his craft, and knew it. “Look here, boys. I’m the only thing standing between you and Buckner’s Orphan’s Home. Your daddy told you that. I heard him.”

He straightened and filled his chest. “I’m just doing this for your mama out of the goodness of my heart. I ain’t got no kids to take care of myself. Thought you boys would be grateful and maybe help out around here. Instead, you’re giving me grief about the way I make a living.”

The boys had heard threats about orphanages most of their lives. As their parents struggled with abject poverty, trouble with the law, and marital infidelity, it had seemed the only resort on many occasions. The constant reminders had left them with an unnatural fear of such places.

Trez looked at Ben Tom. Willy looked into his uncle’s eyes, still pointing the fork. Ben Tom stood and started picking up the chipped plates and coffee cups. He scraped the remnants into an open garbage can by the kitchen sink. “We’ll stay here.”

Clark took a deep breath and nodded. “Well, that’s settled then. Best get on to school.”

The boys stared at each other. Ben Tom shrugged. “We don’t know where the school is.”

“Then you better get started a little early. I don’t know anything about schools, but anybody on the street can probably tell you where one is. I think there’s one about ten blocks south of here.”

They ran hot water over Clark’s toothbrush and shared it. They took turns in the illegal outhouse because the water in the bathroom did not work. There was no hot water heater, so Ben Tom hauled water heated on the stove to the bathtub. Willy refused to bathe, then Trez, so Ben Tom set an example.

When he finished, he forced Trez into the used water and ducked his head under it. When he tried to do the same with Willy, he was met with a steak knife Willy had taken from the kitchen.

Ben Tom started to take it away, but thought better of it. “Go to school nasty, then. You’ll embarrass me and Trez.”

Willy waved the knife. “What’s the use of bathing? We ain’t got no clean clothes.”

Ben Tom dropped their filthy underwear in the tub, thinking to leave them there to soak. But when he saw how full of holes they were, he dropped them all in the trash.  They walked out in the street wearing the clothes they had slept in.

Even in wrinkled and dirty clothes, the three boys walking in stair-step formation like soldiers going to war made quite a sight. They were all handsome, blessed with broad shoulders and narrow hips, olive unblemished skin, dark brown eyes protected by long eyelashes. Though Willy’s was greasy and matted, each boy had thick, black hair with just enough curl to make it look even better when it was windblown or mussed. It was as if God had given them the gift of good looks and good bodies to compensate for hard times.

But the boys were unaware of their good looks, only of their shabby clothes and lack of a real home. They knew what awaited them in another new school. Ben Tom had to restrain his two brothers from turning back twice. After six blocks, they spotted another group of children about their age walking with books and followed them.

Without an adult to enroll them, they spent most of the morning sitting in the principal’s outer office. Ben Tom sneaked out as soon as they were left alone and ran to the phone booth he had spotted next to a nearby A&P grocery.

He dug the crumpled wad of paper with his mother’s phone number out of his pocket, deposited a dime and dialed.

Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.

You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.

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