Like Father Like Son

Eleven-year-old Michael doesn't require a crystal ball to inform him it is going to be a bad day.  The brown paper bag on the kitchen counter with its nefarious contents is the only oracle he needs, the strangled sob from the bedroom that escapes his mama's throat is as good as a countdown, like grains of sand falling through an hourglass.

He rushes his four-year-old brother, Darryl, out into the muggy heat on the south side of Chicago.  He leads him by the hand to a nearby construction site to play their favorite game.  The workers didn't show up today; the boys have the place to themselves.

Among the abandoned panels and swept-up debris, Michael finds a gun.  He places it in the back of his pants just like he's seen Pac-Man, his next-door-neighbor, do.

The boys happily ramble and playfully make believe, a childish reprieve from parental shouts and drug dealers slouched in their troubled neighborhood until Darryl accidentally knocks Michael into broken boards and his pants rip on a nail.

"Michael?  What did I tell you about messing up your clothes?"  He can clearly see the dark hood that will fall over his daddy's eyes as he bears down on him.

"Michael?  I done told you to stay outta your daddy's way."  His mama's usual response as she cleans the cuts and kisses the bruises.

Fear falls on Michael in full force.  He is tired of the beatings, he doesn't want his bruises kissed. He lifts a 2 x 4 and tears into his brother, hitting him just like his daddy hits him.

Darryl cries and begs, just like Michael does.  He cowers and covers his head with his little arms, just like he's seen his big brother do.  Michael doesn't hear him.  Michael can't see him.  All he can see is the way anger changes his daddy's face into something worse than any monster Michael is able to imagine.

Then Michael sees.  Then Michael hears, but he hears that there's nothing to hear any longer.  He nudges Darryl with his foot, but Darryl doesn't stir.  He kicks Darryl.  "Get up!
Take it like a man!"  His daddy's words roll off his tongue.

Darryl lies still.  Michael bends, frantically shakes him.  "Get up!  Get up!"  Tears roll over his cheeks. "Quit playing around or you'll really be in for it!"  Michael fights the truth until he has to face it, then he screams.  He gathers his baby brother onto his lap, rocks back and forth and wails to God and all of His angels to help him, but Michael is left alone.

The sun is beginning to set behind the tenement buildings when Michael lifts Darryl and slowly makes his way home, scenes of his daddy's brutality and his mama's tolerance harassing him like bullies in his mind.  Daddy's cruel hand has been extended to Michael only, never to Darryl, and his daddy always says it's for his own good. Michael figures his daddy must see something awful in him.  Now he knows why daddy beats him.

As he nears his house he notices the shadowy figures of his parents on the porch.  He feels a calmness invade his heart, replacing the fear completely.  What is there to be frightened of when the worst has already happened?

Michael tenderly places Darryl's form at their feet, watches the horror register on his mama's face as she begins to shriek.  His daddy's eyes rage into Michael as his mama keens.  Without removing his gaze from those angry eyes he says, "You're right, daddy.  I gotta take it like a man."

Michael raises the gun to his temple and pulls the trigger.