This piece came out of a writing exercise where we had to show a character in transition in under 900 words.
JASON slouches down the sidewalk, his skate slung over his shoulder. The school bus passes him. His chums hang out the window, waving and yelling. He should be on the bus, but walking home takes longer.
When he reaches the field half way between the school and his neighborhood, he mounts the fence, sitting astride the top rail.
The horses are back: a black stallion and a dappled mare. In opposite corners they sample the grass grown long in their absence.
Jason digs into the pocket of his denim jacket for the sugar cubes he always carries in the hope the animals are there. The paper wrappings are lint covered and worn from his fingering while he hangs around waiting for nothing.
He whistles. The mare raises her head. She comes over, her hoofs beating a steady clump, clump, clump against the damp earth.
Holding one hand flat, he puts an unwrapped cube on his palm. She nuzzles it, wetting his skin.
The stallion looks up. He comes over to check his chances for a handout. He pushes Jason with his head. The boy gives the stallion a cube. Although he reaches out to stroke the big horse, the stallion walks away without looking back.
The mare stays, letting Jason stroke her head, silken hair against hard skull. She whinnies softly. He puts his cheek against her long nose, breathing in the smell of horse flesh still damp from an earlier shower.
Jason's street has bungalows so close neighbors could almost shake hands out their windows. He ducks between Mrs. Frederick's brown house and her lilac bushes. Their perfume makes his eyes water. From his purple cage he surveys his own home.
A blue Ford pick-up is in his driveway next to the postage-stamp lawn. Its cab is angled toward the street. The open back is positioned almost at the front door. His Uncle Tony and his father come out with cartons, three stacked on top of each other. The Dole pineapple logo is printed on them in blue and yellow ink. Some boxes are sealed; others are open. The two men wear jeans and white T-shirts.
"This is the last," Uncle Tony says. "Let's roll."
His father sets the box in the truck and looks at his watch. "Where is that damned kid. He shoulda been home by now."
"I can't wait," Tony says. "I promised I'd have this baby back by 4:00." He pats the fender of the truck.
Jason's father disappears into the house. In a couple of minutes he reappears. After shutting the door behind him, he pulls a key off a ring then shoves it through the mail slot. Before hopping into the passenger side, he scans the street.
Jason scratches his forehead on a lilac branch. He rubs the blood off with his hand. Long after the truck is gone he slips out of his hiding place and into his house. It's quiet. Even quieter than it is usually is after school when he is the only one home.
The black metal CD-stack next to the ash-filled fireplace is half empty, but not the upper or lower halves. Instead, the slots are filled spasmodically as in full, full, empty, full, empty, empty, empty, full. He checks which ones are gone: Dire Straights, Guns and Roses, U2 – most of the rock is missing. His favorites. Left are his mother's John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Dave Brubeck, Betty Carter.
The red Barcalounger where his father watched TV is gone. The rug where the chair rested is a matted square. It's cleaner than the rest of the carpet.
The desk in the corner has open drawers. When Jason peers in, he sees only dust. The computer on the desk is in its normal place. Taped to the screen is a note in his father's handwriting.
Jason takes the note and crumples it. He bounces it off the wall, and it lands in the waste paper basket. No one is there to say "perfect shot".
Going into the kitchen, he looks around. Nothing has changed. He opens the refrigerator, which once was filled with good things to eat. There is a wilted head of lettuce, brown around the edges, and a carton of milk advertising lost children.
Taking the carton, he sniffs and gags. He pours it down the drain, watching the little clots in the white stream of liquid disappear.
For a long time he stands at the kitchen sink, looking out the window into the kitchen next door. No one is home there either. Then he goes back into the living room and picks the note out of the trash and puts it in his pocket, still crumpled.
He walks upstairs to his tiny room, where he lays on his single bed and looks at the ceiling to wait for his mother to come home.