“But why can’t I, Dad?”
James stared into the imploring eyes of his ten-year-old. Those blue piercing eyes he’d inherited from Lisa.
James hardened his look, “Because your mother’s afraid for you.”
James took a step closer and his son stopped protesting immediately, shoving his hands behind his back where James knew he was twisting his fingers—an anxiety coping mechanism James had instilled in him. “This conversation is over, young man. Now go to your room, and I’ll call you when it’s time for dinner.”
Rick looked so small and sad walking away with his head hanging low. But James stood stern until his son had left the room.
‘But why?’ Rick’s unfinished sentence hung over his head like a knife about to drop.
He wanted to know the answer himself. They still had a few good years before they had to worry about Rick being peer pressured into alcohol or cigarettes. Why wouldn’t his mother let him be be a normal kid and play with the others after school?
“Just the thought of it makes me uneasy, James,” she’d told him when he wondered aloud. Thrusting the empty plates in the sink, she’d turned to him before he could reply. “Let’s not talk about this anymore, ok?” And she’d opened the recently-closed bottle and poured herself another glass of wine.
But, honey. If we block out all his chances of making friends, he’ll never learn to socialise.
James wasn’t brave enough to voice his thoughts. Not when she was almost drowning her third drink.
Lisa wasn’t an alcoholic. But ever since they’d moved out here, she’d been growing increasingly insecure. She wouldn’t speak to the neighbours, even though they’d made countless efforts to be inclusive. At least she still had work to look forward to, James had assured himself. The only good thing about his sudden transfer was that Lisa’s company had a local branch as well.
“A black boy was running around with a gun—inside a school! I just saw in the news.”
Lisa took a deep breath trying to calm herself. She didn’t need her mother to remind her what she’d already seen and heard three hours ago. She never missed news like this.
“Mom, we’re in the Virgin Islands. That won’t happen here.” Not when over 70 percent of the people were black.
“But, dear, I was so scared,” trembled the voice from California. “I know it’s only for a year, and you’ll be back home soon. But I can’t sleep at night knowing what these people are capable of.”
“Mom. I gotta go. My boss is calling me right now. Talk later.”
Lisa hadn’t slept well since they’d moved from Pasadena a month ago. She didn’t need her mother blowing into an already raging fire.
“Yes,” affirmed James.
“That’s right,” replied Lisa.
“I’m Estelle, the nurse at Markson Junior High. There’s been a small incident, and we’ve admitted your son at the Lifeline Childcare Hospital. Can you come right away, please?”
Lisa arrived panting and flustered, just as James was asking for directions. Estelle assured them all was well, and insisted they meet Dr. Peterson before seeing Rick. When they entered his room, the doctor was reading Agatha Christie.
A Marple mystery, classic. James would smile when he recalled the incident hours later.
Peterson offered them water and explained what had happened.
Two boys had gotten into a brawl in class and Rick had tried to intervene. In the action that followed, one small fist had shoved Rick and he’d fallen against a desk, bruising his arms. The other kid had raised the alarm and insisted on bringing him to the hospital in case Rick had hurt his head.
He hadn’t, the doctor assured the nervous couple.
Tears streamed down Lisa’s eyes. James was shaking.
“Was it a black kid?” Lisa spurt out at the doctor harshly. “The one who pushed my son?”
“Lisa—!” James wrapped an arm around her, trying to pacify her, shocked at the outburst.
The doctor was shocked too. After all, he hadn’t expected her to display such hatred. At least not when he was black himself.
But he remained calm. Retaliation made no sense in this case. Instead, he replied cooly, “In fact, no. The boy who saved your son is black, though.”
He picked up his book again. “Make of that what you will.” And continued reading.