A Hero of His Own

      His mother slid the plastic card over the spot once more, firmly pressing down as she gave the spot another pronounced upward flick of the wrist. On his leg now was a little red bump just above the knee where the stinger had been.

      “There,” she said, wiping his nose. “I think I got it all. Not so bad.”

      She smiled and lifted his chin.

      Jackie had stopped crying and kissed her on the cheek. 

     “Thanks, mom,” he said, and gave her a hug before running back to play on the swings. He played until his mother called him for dinner, and they ate together at the small round table, just the two of them.

      By the time he’d eaten and had a bath, he was tired. Crawling between the blanket and sheets Jackie laid his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. After his bath, his mother had put a special lotion on his leg where he’d been stung and told him not to scratch it. She’d made him promise not to, and he’d promised. Lying in bed, though, his leg itched and he found it hard to fall asleep.

     Through the window, Jackie watched the deep blue of dusk turn black as night fell, until outside he heard the telltale sound of a truck door slamming. The rear of the kitchen by the fridge and stove shared the wall behind his bed, and Jackie heard the kitchen door open and his father come in. He could hear his parents talking, and chairs being pulled out from the table. There was the crack of a beer and another, then the clinking of silverware and he knew his father was eating the plate his mother had made for him before she put away the leftover spaghetti from dinner. They, his parents, continued talking while his father ate. A few minutes passed and Jackie heard his mother tell his father about how he’d been stung that day. 

      “He was playing out by the swings,” she told him. 

      “Where was he stung?” his father asked.  

      “In the thigh.”

      “He ok?”

      “He’s fine.”

      “Did he cry?”

      There was the sound of something being set down. 

      He asked again,

      “Did he cry?” 

      “Yes, Jack, he cried.” 

      His father murmured something, but Jackie couldn’t hear what. After that it was quiet for a minute, just the occasional clinking of silverware. When they started talking again it was about something else and he stopped listening. 

     On the other side of the wall, Jackie rolled over in bed. 

     He’d been playing on the swings when the bee had landed on his leg. He hadn’t moved but it’d stung him anyway. It hadn’t hurt much; he’d been more surprised than anything. He’d called to his mother through the open kitchen window, telling her he’d been stung, but when he’d seen her come running out with her purse he’d gotten scared that she was going to have to take him to the hospital or the doctor’s office to get a shot or surgery or something. Sitting there in the grass, scared, upset, and holding his leg, he’d cried a little as his mother easily removed the dark little sliver with the hard plastic edge of the credit card. 

     Now, lying alone in the dark, Jackie’s six-year old face burned.

     He didn’t sleep much that night and his leg itched a lot. 

     The next day at school Prince McCutcheon cut ahead of him in the lunch line, pushing right in front of him. Prince was a year older than him, a second grader, and bigger and stronger and didn’t even bother looking at Jackie as he did it. Jackie felt his face starting to burn again, and without thinking, he turned the older boy around by the shoulder. The smack of his fist into Prince’s mouth made a loud sound, and as it did one of Prince’s teeth flew out of sight. Prince put his hands to his mouth. His eyes welled up and he burst into tears.

     “I’m telling my dad,” he choked out between sobs as he was led away to the school nurse, Mrs. Kurtis.

A few minutes later Jackie was dragged to the principle’s office. He was given detention and his mother was called to pick him up. On the way home, she didn’t say anything. But once they were in the driveway and parked, she turned to him.

“I’m very disappointed, Jackie,” she said. “That isn’t how we handle our problems. I know your father will be disappointed, too, when I tell him.”

     Jackie wasn’t allowed to play outside that afternoon, and he was sent to bed early, directly after homework, dinner, and a bath.

His leg still itched, though not as much. His mother had applied the ointment to his thigh again after his bath. Lying in bed he watched through the window as the soft yellow of afternoon sun faded into bluish dusk. 

     He was proud. He’d won his first fight. 

     He thought again of the tooth flying away and disappearing, and of Prince’s face when he burst into tears, and how Prince had cried and said he’d tell his dad on him as he was led to away to the nurse. He’d been surprised and a little scared at having knocked Prince’s tooth out, though not as scared as he’d been sitting alone outside the principle’s office not knowing what would happen next. 

      He hadn’t cried though. He’d faced it all like a man and was happy now. 

      Lying in bed, Jackie wondered whether the tooth fairy would visit Prince that night. He wasn’t positive, but he was pretty sure you needed the tooth for that. He supposed someone could’ve found it and put it in one of those little plastic sandwich bags. He remembered when Gina Shelton had lost a tooth during recess, playing on the monkey bars; they’d put her tooth in one of those. 

      Night fell and he listened for the sound of the truck door slamming in the driveway.  

      The first two knuckles of his right hand hurt a little and he massaged the sore spots beneath the blanket with his other hand while he waited for his father to get home. 

      He could hardly contain himself, a smile lighting up his face alone in the dark room.   

      His father, he was sure, would be proud.

      He imagined Prince telling his dad about what happened when he got home. He’d leave out the part about him crying, Jackie felt sure of that. His smile widened, and he laughed quietly, alone in his room.