Short Story by Bobbie Remedios
“The problem is that people don’t think you show any gratitude for all they do for you.” The social worker looked at me earnestly from the other side of the desk. A pillar of paperwork was piled in front of her. This was my file, my history, my life. A Mom I adored, but they took me away when she almost died from an overdose. I hadn’t seen her since, but always got a birthday card with “Love you to bits” written on it. I kept those cards in the battered suitcase that held the few possessions I managed to keep with me as I moved around.
At first, an old bat who tried to make me take baths and eat her disgusting food took care of me. She wasn’t my mother and had no right to boss me around. I was only three, and mad at the world. During one of my tantrums, I punched her in the face. Needless to say, I didn’t show any gratitude for all she did for me. I was outta there pretty quickly.
The next place they found was in a family with lots of kids. They were older than me and meaner than hell. The parents weren’t really anybody’s parents. They got paid for taking us, though I didn’t know it then. My tantrums disappeared quickly after the father knocked me around a few times. The older kids teased me—no, tormented me–constantly. If I cried or complained, they took a whack or two from the old man, and after me again. I don’t know how long it took before the social worker caught on, but again I was removed from the household. I should’ve been grateful for that, but I was scared to death about where I’d go next. Nobody knew I was scared, though. I was one tough cookie by then.
A few more years and a few more homes followed those early days. Some places were okay; others were not. I managed. The okay places tried to be nice, but I had no interest in becoming part of their families; had nothing in common with them, and wasn’t going to get attached. They always looked at me sadly, unable to reach me, unable to find a child they could love, finally calling social services to find a more responsive, suitable child. Other places were nasty: parents expected me to be at their service, doing chores they were too lazy for, and taking care of snotty little brats they took in for money. They expected gratitude?
Now it was time for another change. As a twelve-year-old preteen, it was going to be harder to place me, the social worker pointed out. And my track record wasn’t too great either. I had a reputation as a troublemaker. What kind of family was willing to take me on?
“There’s a place that takes in troubled boys—it’s not just a group home, it’s a working horse ranch…”
“A horse ranch,” I snorted. “What the hell do I know about horses? What good would I be? I’m a city boy!”
“You’re growing up, Tommy.” She looked at me sternly. “The next placement for you could well be Juvenile Hall. Take a chance. I bet you’ll be a quick learner.”
I retreated into my detached shell, reigning in my seething emotions. “This world is totally out of my control. I wish I were dead or at least 18!” I thought.
Arrangements were made. A court-appointed companion accompanied me on the boring bus trip upstate to The Bar 7 Ranch. What a stupid name, I thought, scraping my sneakers in the dusty driveway.
A grizzled old guy came up and shook my hand. “I’m Gus. Come on over to the stable yard. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
My shoulders hunched. Hands in my pockets, I reluctantly followed him. Unfamiliar smells filled my head. Stinky, too, I thought, well, maybe not really stinky, but really a strong smell – animals for sure, but also another, more pleasant aroma—piles of hay, I realized as I entered the stalls. It was dark and cool inside, with snorts and rustling sounds. Gus stood by a gate and waited for me.
“This is Flame,” he said. “She’s a sweetheart. Her Mom died giving birth to her, and we all took over her care. We have so much other work to do around here, training and exercising every day; we thought we could use a person who’d be her special caretaker. Joe, one of the stable boys, will be close by to help and give advice if you need any. Mainly, she needs to be fed, watered, and exercised… and brushed down, of course. She just loves the feel of that brush rubbing her haunches.”
I stood there frozen. “What the hell am I doing here?”
Gus reached into his pocket. “Oh yeah, I forgot. Flame really loves her sugar cubes. I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.” Gus lumbered away and I looked at the sticky cubes he’d dropped in my hand. Slowly, I held them out to her. She reached over and nuzzled my shoulder before snorting up the sweet treat. I touched her head; the single white z looked painted on. Gently, I smoothed the soft hair. I heard a little sniffle and felt the damp, moist nose nuzzling against my cheek. My eyes started to sting as tears trickled down my face. I put my arms around Flame’s neck and started to shake.
“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you.”
This is our second feature from Ms. Remedios. Bobbie lives in Sonoma and San Francisco.