I entered this short story into a short story contest hosted by Gotham Writer’s Workshop. The contest was called “Tell it Strange” and had two quotes that those who entered had to respond to. The quote that I responded to was “There’s something wrong with everybody and it’s up to you to know what you can handle.”
He stared into the mirror. His pale skin was almost translucent in the harsh, bathroom light. He turned his thin, long face to one side. The mirror reflected back his hollow cheeks, his sharp cheekbones, and the profile of his long nose. A strand of jet black hair fell in front of his dark, chocolate eyes. With a long finger he flicked the strand back into place. The sight of an angry looking pimple rising from the center of his cheek made him frown. With a thumb and forefinger he gave the growing blemish a hard squeeze. A gasp escaped his thin lips. A searing pain cut under the skin. Defeated, he dropped his hand.
“Christopher?” a woman’s voice floated through the bathroom door. “Are you in the bathroom?” Natalie called.
He sighed, his mother had returned home from work.
“Yeah,” he answered slowly opening the bathroom door.
His mother walked down the short hallway leading from the doorway around one side of the staircase. Her tall, slim figure was fitted in a sleek dark gray business suit. Her dark black hair was swept up in a loose bun; a few stray ringlets framed her ebony face. Her high heels clicked a soft melody on the wooden floor until she stopped in front of the bathroom.
“What’s wrong? Do you have a stomach ache?” she questioned placing the back of her hand on his forehead.
“I’m fine, Mom.” He groaned backing away from her reach.
Natalie crossed her arms, “Pull up your shirt.”
“Pull up your shirt. Now.” She ordered.
Christopher begrudgingly obeyed. A wide bruise was spread over his thin abdomen. Its redness had already begun to fade into a purplish blue with a tinge of sickly yellowish green around the edges.
“Who did this?” she demanded.
He remained silent, his eyes glued to the floor.
“Christopher Daniel Smith, I want to know the names of those who did this to you. I will not stand idle while a bunch of punks assault my son.”
Her rage peaked when he still refused to answer her. Try as she might she couldn’t help, but be angered at Christopher. Ever since she had become a mother on that rainy October night almost fifteen years ago, she had promised herself that she would love and protect her precious little sunshine. She knew that the older he became, the more struggles would emerge. The two of them had successfully hurdled through the preteen years, but she had been mentally preparing herself for the rebellious teen years since the day he entered the world as a tiny, perfect being. He was only through the first half of his freshman year and was already coming home with bruises, black eyes, and scrapes almost weekly. With each injury came the same argument. She would urge him to stand up for himself.
“No one can push you around if you stand up for yourself.” She had told him time after time. When he would nod meekly she would attempt another approach by demanding the names and numbers of the boys who beat him up.
“I would like to give their parents a piece of my mind.” Natalie would always snarl.
In actuality, she wanted to give those boys a taste of their own medicine. Let their parents feel the horror she had felt the first time Christopher came home with a black eye. Let them lie awake at night worrying about what might happen to their son if the punching and kicking got old. Would weapons be next? Christopher finally tore his gaze from the floor. Slowly, his eyes rose to meet hers. Her heart broke when she saw the tears glistening in his eyes.
“What’s wrong with me? Why am I so different from you?” he begged.
“Nothing is wrong—“
“Yes there is!” Christopher shouted, his tears started to roll down his pale cheeks; “Look at me!” he gestured to his tall, lanky, body, “I’m skinny, ugly…”
“You are not—“
“Do you know what the biggest problem is? I’m white! You’re black and I’m white. How is that even possible?” he sank to the floor, his back against the wall, knees pulled up to his chest. He rested his head on his knees and began to sob.
Natalie lowed herself beside him, wrapping her arms around his shaking body.
“You’re white because your father was white. Life works in mysterious ways, sometimes the best things in life don’t make sense.” She smoothed his hair behind his ears.
“The things they say about us…” Christopher sniffed, but trailed off to sob harder.
“I know it’s hard for you to understand right know, but people’s opinions about you don’t matter; not in this world. You’ll drive yourself bat-shit insane if you try to make everyone like you.”
Christopher gave a small chuckle at the sound of her swearing. Natalie smiled as her son lifted his head to look at her. His eyes were rimmed with red, his face blotchy and wet. Even in his moment of devastation, Natalie noted as she wiped his tears away with her thumbs, he was perfect.
“What do I always tell you? There is no question that you are my son. Look at your eyes, look at your hair!” she gave his shoulder length hair a light tug, “You also have my fire. Right now it’s glowing faintly in your belly. Oh, right about here.” She tickled his ribs, the spot where he had been the most ticklish since he was a baby.
“S-stop, Mom! Quit i-it!” he laughed gasping for breath.
Natalie brought her hands back to their position around him. “You are a strong you man, strong enough to light the fire in your belly. There’s something wrong with everybody and it’s up to you to know what you can handle. When that line is crossed and you can’t handle things, come to me. I’ll always be there to help you through everything life throws at you.”