Prompt: Write a scene in which a boy asks for new shoes.
His mother’s home was always kept clean and warm and bright; but those days were many months gone. . .
Tonight, the house was all shadows and sawdust and the sugary stink of moonshine. The boy peeked out from behind the molded door jamb and eyed his father wearily before entering the kitchen; he held a pair of red shoes with canvas tops which were torn and patched and so covered in the winter mud that they couldn’t truly be called red any longer; and said in a small, questioning voice, as if each word could tear down the plaster walls around him, “Father? Sir?”
The man sat on a metal stool screwed into the tile floor, leaning over the laminated countertop, and cradled his face in his hands.
“Who’s that?” he asked.
“It’s Tomas, sir,” said the boy.
“Your son . . . sir.”
The man lifted his wet face and glowered at his son through quavering red eyes. “Yes,” he said. “One of my son—” He choked on the word and stopped up his sobs with a long drink from an unmarked bottle of liquor then brought it down with a crack. The boy recoiled and held the shoes close to his chest. “Don’t,” said the man. “Don’t do that.” He beckoned the boy with a lazy hand gesture and pat of his knee. “Come.”
Tomas’s hair was silky black, four inches long around the top, closely clipped above the ears and neck. His hands were small, even for a boy of nine, and he twisted the shoes like he was squeezing lime juice for his father’s drink as he stepped forward.
“What do you got there, eh?” asked the man.
“Nothing,” Tomas said, “My shoes is all.” He displayed them for his father. The man shakily leaned in so his nose almost touched the brown laces.
“I see them,” he said. “God they smell. What are you putting them in my face for?”
Tomas pulled the shoes close again and took a step back. He had come this far—farther than he believed his heart could take him—and unless he planned to avoid his friends all winter break, or lose a few toes doing it, he had to finish what he came to do. He took a long draw of breath, then said, “Father, they’re falling apart and I can’t walk outside with them anymore and they can’t hold on to the slippery sidewalks and I feel the wind blow through the holes and when I come home I have to crunch the ice from my socks and—” he blew out the air and tried to continue, but his father pinched his brow together, squeezed his eyes shut, and shook the whole mess from his ears.
“Sh-shush’ it,” he said. “Shush it up. I don’t see nothing wrong with those shoes. We’re not going to spend twenty dollars on new shoes. Do you pay rent?”
“I’m nine,” said Tomas, flaring his nostrils.
The man took another swig from the bottle. Two streams of stinking syrup dripped down his jowls that he didn’t bother to wipe away. “You’re telling me we don’t have one damn pair of shoes you can wear? Not one?”
“No,” said Tomas. “Well, there are . . . Nevermind.”
“What?” asked the man. “Dang it son, you tell me!”
“There are some shoes, newer shoes, Benny’s shoes.”
The man floated back in his stool with the look of a man who has just awaken from a deep sleep. He lifted the bottle to his lips then lowered it again. With a terrible sob and a bestial cry, he hurled the bottle over his son’s head and it shattered against the white moulding where Tomas had entered the room. Tomas began to cry.
“Don’t,” said his father. “Don’t you even think about touching your brother’s things. You hear me? Do you?”
Tomas turned and ran weeping from the room, bounded up the stairs, and slammed his bedroom door. Father or no, toes or no, friends or no; he knew it was his last night in that house.