Stefan’s half way up the oak tree, his 10-year-old limbs propelling him onwards. His brother, Luke, kneels on the ground below, shaping an arrow with his penknife, a bow slung over his broadening pre-teen back. Gregory, the youngest brother, feels in the pocket of his shorts for his secret treasure, folds small fingers around it.
‘Hey, Babyface!’ shouts Luke. ‘You wanna help with these arrows?’
Gregory shakes his head, runs quickly into the house.
Mom’s upstairs moving things about.
‘Anyone seen my pink slacks?’ she calls, as Gregory slips into his room.
He hears her open a window.
‘Has anyone seen my pink…’
‘No!’ chorus Stefan and Luke.
Gregory picks his way through Lego bricks, train-track, denims and t-shirts, being careful not to stand on his plaid hunting jacket, the one that looks like Dad’s. Mom loves that jacket, loves it so much she bought the same jacket for Luke and Stefan too. My Southern men she’d said, photographing them, posting them on Facebook.
From his bedroom window, Gregory watches his brothers.
‘Bow down before your king!’ commands Stefan from the treetop.
Luke looks up at Stefan.
‘Shoot me!’ Stefan dares him.
Luke charges his bow, sends an arrow skywards. Gregory’s breath catches as Stefan topples, falls like a cowboy in a Western, his arms outstretched, before smacking into dusty ground.
‘Get up, stupid!’ Luke says, laughing.
Stefan doesn’t move.
‘Stefan!’ Mom calls racing towards him from the back door.
She kneels beside Stefan, her ear to his mouth.
‘Fooled you!’ Stefan yells, pushing Mom away and rubbing his grazed elbow.
‘Bastard!’ says Luke. ‘You’re a dead man.’
‘Ha! You thought I was, you mean!’ says Stefan, getting up and vaulting the picket fence. Seconds later, Luke is after him and Mom is looking at them the way she did when they had their ‘men’s men’ photograph taken. She’ll tell Dad later and he’ll smile, talk of boys being boys, before looking at Gregory, challenge in his eyes.
Mor-ti-fi-ca-tion. The word his mother used when she spoke of the boy next door who’d had his ear pierced. Gregory says it now, likes how it sounds. He takes the treasure from his pocket, removes the lid. The pink is so pretty. If Gregory listens carefully, he swears he can hear it sing. This is the colour he’d seen on his father’s cuff that day he’d come home early from school when Mom was away. Dad had grabbed a tissue from Mom’s dressing table, pretended to blow his nose but really he’d been rubbing his mouth. When he’d turned to face Gregory, Gregory had seen black lines around his father’s eyes, like someone had circled them with a pen.
Tired Dad had said when Gregory stared at him. I’m just so tired.
Gregory puts the lid back on the lipstick, opens his wardrobe and slips the little tube in with the pink slacks beneath the box for his Nerf gun. A perfect match. He’s chosen well.
Gina Headden’s writing has been published on audio platforms and in fiction and non-fiction magazines, including, amongst others, Lightbox Originals, Ellipsis Zine, FlashBack Fiction, Longleaf Review, Sunday Herald Magazine, The Casket of Fictional Delights, Funny Pearls and NFFD’s Flash Flood. Gina lives in Scotland and tweets @gmdfreelance.
Image via Pixabay