A short story.
Casper was holding his breath again. He was really proud of himself. This time he held it for at least 70 seconds. He wondered if his father noticed how calm and flat his chest was as he sent the Snake sailing through the air, meeting Casper’s soft and bony legs again and again. Probably not, he thought to himself. He hoped his father didn’t think about anything while he was beating him. It was too much for him to bear to believe that his father knew he was beating the life out of his only son. Maybe his father thinks he’s a lumberjack, big and strong, arms bigger than both of Casper’s legs put together. Maybe he thinks he’s just cutting wood. He had to think of something else while he hit him, Casper always told himself. Nobody could think of their own helpless child suffering like this and hit him anyway.
The Snake was getting old and worn. They had been together for quite some time now. Casper remembered when his father got him. They actually bought it together, kind of. They were at Macy’s and his mom was trying to buy his father a new suit. He had the black one that he wore to church on Sunday’s but she insisted it was time for him to get another. She picked out shirts and ties to match, just like a lady who worked at the store. Casper loved to watch his mother in action. She got so excited about the little things, like which colors went better against his father’s tan skin. In her frenzy, she turned toward a rack of belts, hanging like snakes holding onto tree branches for dear life. The buckles shimmered and shined and the belts swayed like dangling cobras as mom turned the display. Casper watched his father’s eyes. He could have sworn that they lit up as his mom spun the rack ever so slowly. He looked as though he had been hypnotized. When his mom slowed the rack down to a halt, his father seemed to snap out of his daze.
Casper watched as he fingered the belts in front of him. There were soft thin leather ones, ones that seemed to be made out of rope and then there were the killers: the ones with the old fashioned buckle, thick and heavy black leather, imposing like death. The big brown ones scared Casper too, but not like the black ones. Casper felt his pulse quicken, hoping his father would break the mold and pick a fashionable thin one, like Casper’s mom had bought for him. He watched as his father waded through the serpents, like he was strumming a large stringed guitar. Casper almost gasped when his father’s fingers stopped at an immense and especially wide belt. His father slid his fingers along the shiny body all the way down to the tip. He took it off the rack and handed it to his mother. “I’ll get this one”, he said. Casper saw his father pivot slowly in his direction and let a stealthy smirk cover his lips. Casper knew his father’s new pants were not the only ones to see that belt. He would probably see it much, much more. Casper tried to make eye contact with his mother. When that failed. he just spoke up, “Maybe you should pick another one, one of the skinny ones, too.” His father turned to his, forcefully this time and quipped “Be quiet, Casper.” His mom, though, thought it was a good idea. His father grunted something under his breath as Casper’s mom picked a thin and slim brown belt from the rack and tossed it onto the pile of clothes in her arms. 2 belts at least increased the odds that he might get a reprieve. Casper knew better. That brown belt never ended up in his father’s hands and it never came near to his tender thighs, his skinny arms or his hollow back. It was always the Snake. Always.
Casper hated holidays. Not the big ones when everyone was home and he was safer from fury. He hated the stupid little ones. President Day and all those like them. He knew his mother would still have to work but his father would have those days off. Being a mailman had its perks his father would jeeringly tell his mom. The spa never closed on those holidays and so she always had to leave.
Casper knew what was going to happen next. He would try to stay in bed as long as he could. But when he would hear his father’s footsteps coming down the hardwood hall, he knew how the morning would play out. He could hear his father in the kitchen, digging like a gopher through the cabinets, looking for his special pot. Casper hated the sound of pots bagging together. It was like the sound of evil laughter to him and it made his stomach turn.
His father loved hot cereal; Oatmeal, Wheatina, Cream of Wheat and the like. He ate it every morning before leaving for work. Casper was so happy to see the empty pot in the dish rack, cleaned out and shiny. His father ate the same breakfast everyday. Fortunately for Casper he left so early in the morning, he was never awake. Mom knew Casper hated hot cereal and so she never made it for him. She would always make him something he liked, like sweet cold cereal or eggs and toast. But his father didn’t care. It was what he ate as a kid and Casper was no better than he was. So, when Father was home for the holidays, breakfast was the same.
His father called him from the kitchen. “Get up for breakfast, Casper.”
It always flowed out of his father’s mouth so smoothly, like nothing unusual was going to happen. Especially the way he said his name. Casper wondered how his father felt when he was born. Almost every father was happy to have a son or so the story goes, especially when he’s the firstborn. But, Casper’s aunt Lucy told him one night that when his father, who is so brown, saw his little white body in the hospital, he took one look at him and said, with apparent astonishment, “He’s as white as a ghost.” That’s where the name Casper came from. Casper still hoped that one day his skin would become more like his father’s and less like his mother’s, so lily-white and Irish. Maybe father would like him better. Maybe he would give him a new name like Marcus or Jeff or something.
Casper crawled out of bed. Barefoot, he walked into the kitchen and sheepishly sat down at the table. His father was standing in front of the stove. He turned around to acknowledge his presence and Casper could see the bowl in one hand and a big wooden spoon in another. His father turned back to the stove and Casper watched his big arms lifting from the pot and ending in the dull yellow bowl. Casper always hoped that somehow it would be something else that was set before him on holidays like this. But, as the bowl landed in front of him, he knew this would be just like the rest.
“Eat”’ his father commanded.
Casper lifted the spoon that was waiting on the table. It was a heavy old spoon, just like all the rest that his mother got after his grandma died, big and silver. Casper twirled it in his hand ever so slowly, his little fingers barely able to control the thing. He looked down into the bowl. Brown with little white dots, the cereal steamed up toward him. He took a deep breath. Then he took another deep breath. His father was still standing at the stove. He was fixing himself a bowl of cereal too. Except, his eyes had a hungry longing in them, the same one he got when he was eating pizza or steak. How, Casper always wondered, how?
“I said eat, Casper.”
Casper focused back on the bowl. It was still warm, hot even, probably too hot to eat right now. Casper hesitated.
Faster than lightning, his father slammed his hand on the table.
“Eat it now!” he said firmly.
Casper jumped and drove the spoon in to the bowl. He lifted up a spoonful into his mouth. The usual happened next. Without warning, his stomach played traitor and turned inside out. From deep inside of him he could feel the shudder of his stomach muscles tighten. Like a hydrant, he threw up the cereal into the bowl. The bitter bile dripped off his lips.
His father walked out of the kitchen.
“You’re still gonna eat it”, he said.
Casper could hear his father going back down the hallway, into the bedroom and into the closet. The sound always got muffled when he was way in the back of the closet. Casper knew what that meant. His father was hunting for the Snake. Casper quickly mixed the cereal around, hoping to make it look like he had eaten some in his father’s absence. The wretched smell was almost too much to bear. But Casper knew he had to eat it. He took another spoonful, this time holding his breath and swallowing hard. He barely tasted it. His father walked into the kitchen carrying the Snake. The belt dangled from his hand, folded in two. He rushed across the kitchen and snatched Casper from the chair dragging him into the living room.
The first beating of the morning wasn’t so bad. His legs stung and throbbed in the old chair.
By now the cereal was getting cold and thick. Casper wiped away the last tear from his check and lifted the spoon again. His father left the kitchen. Casper knew he would be back in a few minutes. Casper took another spoonful of the cereal. He forgot to hold his breath. The cereal came back up, not as quick this time and a little quieter than before. Casper sighed and wiped his mouth on his pajama top.
When the cereal got cold it just got thicker and thicker, like cement. It reminded him of how mud would dry, with cracks where the water had disappeared. Casper picked up the spoon and stood it up tall in the bowl. He let it go to see if it would stand up on its own. It did, for a second or two, and then it slowly started to make its way toward the side of the bowl. Casper was quick to grab it before it hit the side. He didn’t want to bring his father into the kitchen just yet. He would come on his own in a minute or so.
Casper stood the spoon up again. It stood in place longer this time. He had the back of the spoon facing him. For the first time he noticed writing on the back of the spoon. Certainly it was always there, he thought to himself. He just never noticed it. The writing was small but clear. It must be the name of the maker he thought to himself. It said “Parker” then “SS”. Casper thought for a minute. He knew that Parker must be the name of the maker of the silverware, but what did the “SS” mean? He thought for a moment and then it hit him; sterling silver, of course. He wondered who “Parker” was. There’s a kid in his math class with the last name Parker. Casper wondered if they were related. Probably not, he concluded.
Parker was a strange kid. He kind of kept to himself. He wore the same orange shirt just about every school day. Casper could always tell when Parker’s mother did the laundry, for those were the days when Parker would wear an oversized, long-sleeved t-shirt. It was probably his dad’s, Casper concluded after much thought.
Parker was a strange kid, indeed. He never would play at recess. No matter what you did or said to him, he wouldn’t run or play ball or jump rope. One of the other kids said he was a wimp or something like that. They would say all kinds of things about him. But, no matter what they said, he wouldn’t play.
It was especially sunny that day, right after a morning shower. The kids were all so happy the rain had stopped before recess that when the bell rang, they just ran outside with glee. I guess Parker was happy too. He started to run but halfway across the playground, he started to wheeze and cough, dropping down to his knees. The teacher watching them saw him right away and ran over to him. She pulled out something from her pants pocket. It looked like a weird lighter, almost “L” shaped. She put it to his mouth and told him to breath. She pushed down on the top of the thing and he took a deep breath. Slowly his breathing returned to normal. Casper was so intently watching that he didn’t notice how quiet the playground had become. Everyone was watching. The teacher noticed soon enough and sent everyone back to play.
Later Casper asked Parker what was wrong with him. Parker told him in a quiet voice that he had asthma and wasn’t supposed to run. He said his mom would be so mad at him for doing it. Those inhalers cost a lot of money, he told Casper, and they could barely afford it. He was only to use it for emergencies. That’s why he didn’t play. He was afraid of making his own emergencies, he said.
Casper felt so sorry for him after that. Some days, Casper would sit with him during recess and talk about comics or something else that Parker liked. It just seemed so unbearable to Casper that someone couldn’t play. Recess was were Casper felt the most free and he couldn’t imagine anyone not knowing that freedom.
The spoon started to make its way toward the edge of the bowl. Casper caught it just in time. His father reentered the kitchen. Standing behind his chair he lifted Casper up. It was as if all the gravity in the room had disappeared and he was flying through the air, held up in the tightening grip of his father’s hand. Casper, dangling, looked over to see the Snake in the other hand. Together, they were heading toward the living room for round two.
Casper held his breath and wished recess would come much, much sooner.