by Lynn Perretta
photo courtesy of Doug Beckers at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dougbeckers/
“Camping is a good way for men to bond,” Mark said, looking at David from across the campfire.
David grunted, shrugging his shoulders, and poked at the fire with a stick. Nearby water sloshed against the rocks at the shore, probably from a boat further out on the lake. The wind rustled the trees around David and Mark, and David sighed in response.
“It’s important to your mother,” Mark said. “I have to be a father to you, and I’d like you to be a son to me.”
David stared into the coals. They glowed red, and he saw mine carts among them, pushed by slaves. He felt the pressure against his buttocks of his slingshot. Earlier in the day he demonstrated his skill by killing the rabbit that Mark was now cleaning. It seemed funny to him that he was talking about family bonding with blood on his hands. Funny and primeval.
David wondered if Mark really knew anything about being a father. Did he ever teach anyone to throw a ball? He was pretty good at building a camp fire, but as David’s father used to say, anyone could do that. He wasn’t very good at fishing, though. He had made so much noise around the water that neither of them could get a bite. That was why David pulled out the sling shot in the first place.
“I know it’s been hard on you and your sister since your father died,” Mark said. David shrugged his shoulders, tracing the path of slaves moving mine carts through the fiery mine of coals. “I know how close you were. I’d never try to replace him in your heart. I just want the chance to carry on for him, make sure that you two and your mom are taken care of and happy.”
“We were happy,” David said. In the mines an ogre lifted a whip and snapped it above the heads of the slaves, urging them to work harder and faster.
“I know my rules are a little stricter and you never had to do chores before. But I do them too. It’s important that we help your mom, now that we can’t afford to pay Rosa anymore.”
“We could afford to pay Rosa,” David said. “Before you came along.”
Mark paused a moment and looked up at David again. David wasn’t really sure if he was hurt or angry by what he’d said. His eyes were squinted and his brows were close together, but the firelight marred any emotion that was supposed to be conveyed by it.
“That isn’t fair at all,” Mark said. “That isn’t fair at all. There are always things that grown-ups need. You’ll understand that one day. We all can make a few sacrifices to make sure we can all live happy, right?”
David shrugged again. He fingered the stone in his hand. “I guess.”
He found the stone by the brook that feeds into the lake. It was the size of his thumb with sharp, pointed edges. Running his thumb over it, it was still cool, despite being held all day. It was a special stone. A primeval stone.
Across the fire, Mark struggled with some part of the rabbit. Maybe he was having trouble pulling the skin off around the legs. David stood, pulling the sling from his back pocket.
“David, can you get me more water?” Mark asked. His attention was focused on whatever part of the rabbit was giving him problems. David loaded the stone into the sling. “This is getting messier than I thought it would be.”
Mark looked up and his eyes widened.
Perfect. Bigger target.
“Sure thing, Pops,” David said. “Here it is.”