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The Backyards

by TJ Nickel  
1/09/2008 / Short Stories

It took ten years for his lessons to sink in, and while I don't remember all of the lessons, I remember the very moment of the first sinking. I was on top of the world, or maybe rather 'a world', when it happened. He didn't speak a word, gave only a look, and the vibrations of his body finally released that singular tear that somehow through time, at each demonstration of compassion, had learned its boundary at the edge of his eyelid. For the first time ever, he needed to switch roles.

He often comforted me in my boyhood. Lessons I somehow knew would eventually matter to me in life were given to me, by him, as if free - never costing the actual tear. Father cried, beat, and swore; his lessons cost us both. Uncle held the tear, held the hand, and held his tongue. His lessons hadn't taken hold, hadn't washed into me, hadn't cut the skin, or released their venom. They surrounded me, waiting on me like he now was; there on the porch, a crouched and hurting man, just one of him - and I dare not name him and singularize him for he was all around me and in this moment I would enter a generation of him in multiplicity. I held back the tear, bore the vibrations of my soul, rolled up my sleeves and took the seat next to him on the concrete porch. In my silence, my memory found me.

"Uncle," I said, "did you see me git 'em?"

The bird was dead, picked off the telephone line with my bb gun.

"Yes. Don't ever do that again."

"Ah, c'mon, it's a bird like any other. Ya do it all da time."

"Not in my backyard."

"Ah, see, this here's a jungle of its own," I informed him.

"I know, son."

The word 'son' pained me deeply and thrust me into confusion. I turned from him and looked for another bird, took aim, steadied my nerves by transmitting them through the gun, it now trembling in my calm palms, andand then he tackled me from behind. The gun fired a miss, at least at its target, but caught Jenny in the leg. She fell and screamed. I never screamed at pain. I should've been female. I would've handled labor without noise if I'd been able to resist the urge to self-abort a fetus like all those scabs turned scars covering my body.

I hated scabs, at least the first time. I counted them the next night and removed the necessary ones. Twenty were new, so they all needed to go. If they regenerated, these twenty could stay. After this accident, I couldn't stay, and Uncle couldn't return. I waited three days to peel father's scab, and the white scar of him was tattooed to my soul. Uncle took me in.

A week later, in his backyard, I shot Uncle with my bb gun. The tear swelled, but stayed behind its invisible fence. I stared at the tear as I closed in on him, seeing myself reflected in a multitude. He stood there, questioning my soul as I closed, still aiming.

Quietly, with a stern but polite tone he said, "Not in my backyard."

I lowered the gun. He never picked the scab from the bb. I never shot him again; he'd regenerated.

And there on my porch, ten years later, the world had shot him with something much more powerful than a bb gun and it had been so bold as to commit its act of violence inside the walls of his home. Aunt had been taken from this world, and her taking had uprooted his invisible fence. I placed my arm around him, hoping to scab him up. He took my arm from around his shoulders, squeezed my hand, and dropped it. I knew why without speaking. He'd make this one into a scar.

Uncle moved in. I began the descent from a world's top to find myself readied yet green for a new one. His eyes never swelled again; mine enforced a strict perimeter. Ten years later, in my backyard, he picked up a bb gun and shot me in the eyes. I never picked at a scab again, not even the regenerated one on my soul.


TJ Nickel is a Christian husband, father, student, and freelance writer striving to dive deep into the human condition and point to Christ. You can visit TJ's website at:

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