He was talking about me. He was angry with me, again. But I didn’t understand what I’d done to make him so mad? I tried. I always tried to make him happy. But it never worked. He just got madder. He just hurt me more and more. And I felt his disappoint deep inside me. I couldn't sleep, and all the worry made my hands shake. I… I was so confused. I didn’t mean to make him mad. I tried… I really, really tried.
He moved to the table where my mama was preparing food. He swiped out his arm and all the dishes crashed to the floor. I put my hands over my ears when my baby brother began to cry. I rocked on the floor, humming under my breath to block out the sounds. I hated the sound of screaming. It hurt my ears. It made my chest hurt and my stomach feel bad.
But my hands covering my ears couldn’t block out the sounds—the crashes, my baby brother’s screaming, his booming voice.
“I’ve spoken to Pastor Hughes. He believes the boy could have evil in his body. Hell’s flames could be flowing in his veins. That’s why he acts like that. Why he acts retarded.”
I stopped rocking and held out my arms. I turned them over to inspect my veins. But I couldn’t see any flames. My mind started to race. Evil? I had evil inside me? Flames ran in my veins?
Not wanting them inside me, I scratched at the veins in my wrist. I didn’t want flames inside me. Maybe by taking the flames out of my blood, he would like me? Maybe I’d get to know what he wanted from me?
Hearing the floorboard creak, I looked up. He had stepped forward. I stared at his face.
His skin had gotten paler. He and mama were both staring at me. Their eyes had gotten bigger. Mama’s hand had lifted to her mouth. But his face was red, his mouth was tight. Something was wrong, but I didn’t know what.
Without taking his eyes off me, he said, “You see, Mary? You see how he feels the fire under his skin? See how he claws to get the flames out? The Pastor has warned us all of this in church. He’s told us about the signs of evil in our kin.”
My fingers froze on my skin. I looked down and there was blood trickling from the vein. I felt my chest relax knowing that I’d let some of the flames escape. I lifted up my wrist to show him. To show him that the evil flames were leaving my body, just like he wanted.
But he stepped back, his mouth no longer tight. Instead his lips had parted. He turned to my mama. “I’m calling Pastor Hughes. I’m taking him straight to church.”
My hands stopped moving when he mentioned church. I didn’t like that place. I didn’t like the Pastor. I didn’t like the snakes they held. I didn’t like the drink that made their bodies thrash on the floor.
Mama ran forward and took hold of his arm. “Please, Michael. Leave him be. Or,” my mama took a deep breath, “or maybe we should take him to a doctor? Maybe this is more than we can understand? Maybe this time we should get a real doctor to help us… to help him.”
He stopped dead, and his eyes narrowed on my mama’s arm. “A doctor? You know our faith, Mary. You know we shun medical care. If we pray hard enough, if we’re pure and humble, God will heal… if not…” He pushed my mama back until she hit the table in the room. Mama cried out in pain, and my stomach rolled. He pointed in my face. “Then you end up like this. Riddled with sin and evil and retardation!”
I flinched and curled down on the floor. He scared me.
I watched him reach for the car keys. Then he walked toward me.
But I didn’t want to go. I shuffled as far back into the corner as I could, all the time holding out my arms.
He grabbed my wrists. He began pulling me from the corner, but I fought back. I kicked out my legs, I hit out with my arms. He only squeezed my arms tighter. It hurt, but I kept on fighting to get free.
“No! Please!” My mama cried from beside me. “He’s not evil. He’s not—”
But he threw back his hand and caught my mama across the face. “Get back! Get back and see to your other son that’s crying. The son that, God-willing, will not be anything like this one!”
My mama stumbled back, then suddenly, he slapped my face. It hurt so much that I slumped to the floor. He picked me up by the collar of my shirt, and put his face next to mine.
“There’s an evil living inside you boy. An evil I’m gonna make damn sure is exorcized. Make you normal. Make you right. No more looking through me when I talk. No more weirding people out when you walk into the room. Making us fucking embarrassed to have you as a son.”
He dragged me out of the house. I looked for Mama, but she was at the back of the kitchen, nursing my baby brother. She looked to me as I passed, and tears were streaming down her eyes.
She never cried. Why was she crying?
“Mama!” I called out, but on a sob she turned her back.
He strapped me tight in the back seat of the car. I fought against the seatbelt. I didn’t want to go to the church.
My head throbbed. Eventually I stopped moving. I couldn’t get out and he wasn’t letting me go. Because I had evil inside me. Because I had flames flowing in my blood.
Lifting my fingers, I put them on my arms and began to dig in my nails. I thought of fire, of flames. I thought of their colors—orange and yellow. I thought of their heat. But I couldn’t see flames in the veins on my wrist. They looked normal. But they weren’t normal. He said that was why I didn’t understand what people wanted from me. Because of the evil bringing the fire in my blood.
I knew I was different. I knew I didn’t understand what people wanted from me. I knew I didn’t react right to some of the things people said. That was why I didn’t speak to anyone anymore. It was why I had no friends. It was why I didn’t answer people’s questions. Because I knew I wouldn’t do it right. I wouldn’t know what answer to give. And people would get angry with me. They would cry. They would walk away. They would leave me alone, and I wouldn’t understand what I’d done wrong.
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