For my birthday, my sister Marisa got me a writer’s toolbox to help with writing prompts. I decided to try it out. What follows is the first piece from using it for ideas.
He swore on his mother’s grave, but then he swore on just about everything. The swearing was something he learned from his mother, so swearing on her grave felt appropriate. Never break a promise because a promise will come back to break you. His mother was not even dead yet, which doesn’t make it any clearer as to whether swearing on her grave made that oath any stronger or weaker. This has long been an open question in philosophical circles. And one which we won’t solve today either.
But the fact that he would swear on her grave all the same gave the proclamation a sense of gravity. It seems impossible not to have one when broaching the topic of mother’s mortality. And that grave aspect loaned him a modicum more respect from his father. Jay had never sworn on his father’s grave, and that never seemed to bother him, just like it never bothered anyone else who went around swearing on graves. But the particularity of the swear did bother Jay’s father. This time yesterday, Ray, Jay’s father, would have never guessed he would hear such a swear today.
“That’s how confident I am that I know number 32 will win today. I’m swearing on mom’s grave.”
“And how,” Ray asked, “can you be so confident?”
“Well, yesterday I rode down to the tracks and talked to Tom.”
“Wait,” Ray interjected, “who’s Tom?”
“I know I mentioned him before; you just don’t listen. Tom’s a guy who helps out in the pit crews. Says 77 — who’s been on a hot streak lately — has an issue with the engine that came up in time trials this week. It’s going to set him back big time.”
“Why would you believe this Tom?”
“Because he’s betting an entire week’s salary on the race tonight. Twenty-five bucks.”
Ray just pulled into the parking lot of the race track and the car rumbled over holes and bumps in the dirt field.
Ray said, “I heard, just yesterday, that his team has made the car run the best it has in weeks. I’m still putting my money on 77.”
Jay rolled his eyes and said, “That’s the bullest crap I heard all day.”
The last lap of the race did have 32 in the lead after heading the pack for the last 20 laps. But then 77 was able to slingshot just under 32 in a tight corner that 32 rode a little too high. Down further in the stands Jay heard Tom yell curses and crumple a beer can. The 77 car crossed the finish line as the flagman waved the chequered flag in his whipping fashion.
Ray leaned over and whispered into Jay’s ear. “When ever you next get cocky and self-sure, think back to when Tom lost twenty-five bucks at the races.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jay muttered as he tossed a handful more sunflower seeds into his mouth. He looked over to his right and almost choked on the seeds: Mary-Ann was gesturing for him to come over. Ray turned to settle up with his pals before the next race began and Jay was able to duck off.
Mary-Ann looked nervous as Jay got closer. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
She held out a piece of paper for him to look at. A line of items and prices was listed and at the bottom, a total circled with red ink. In the same red, at the top, was written ‘DUE 2NITE!’
Jay still wasn’t sure what to make of it. “What’s it?”
“Remember when I got us all those snacks and sodas the last few weekends? I thought it was for free since Chat liked me, but now he said I owe him all that money tonight!”
So it was a bill she forgot to pay, or one she never thought she had to pay.
“That’s more than I make in a month of chores and odd jobs around the neighborhood. I don’t have anywhere near that kind of cash.”
“I didn’t think you would,” Mary-Ann said. “I hoped you would be able to talk to him.”
Jay scoffed. “He’s on the wrestling team and hasn’t lost a match all year. You think his big head will listen to me?”
But then Jay thought back to what his dad just told him. When ever you next get cocky and self-sure, think back to when Tom lost twenty-five bucks at the races. It wasn’t likely Jay would get cocky and self-sure too often. But taking on the lead of the wrestling team would certainly count.
“Well then,” Mary-Ann said, “just ask him if you can pay him back later.”
“Me? Me pay him back?!”
“Well, when Chad came over to me, I said you was the one who wanted all that stuff in the first place.”
“You might have just as well tossed me under the bus,” Jay said.
A red tint came to her cheeks and she looked to the ground. “Sorry”, she said sheepishly.
“Either he pulverizes me or Dad gorunds me for asking for that kind of money.”
“Look, I didn’t mean to,” Mary-Ann said. “I panicked.”
“Well you know what?” Jay said, “I’m not paying him. You may have thrown me under the bus, but I’m not letting it roll me over If you won’t tell him the truth, he’ll just think I’m stiffing him the cash, and I’m okay with that.”
“But then he might lose his job at the concession stand,” Mary-Ann implored.
“This is your problem that you’ve now made both his and my problems. You paying him will fix all this.”
“But I don’t have that money either.”
“Try telling your parents.”
“But I’ll end up grounded too.”
“And Chat would keep his job.”
“Ugh, you’re no help at all!” she yelled at him and then ran off.
Jay’s head fell into his hands. His opinion of Mary-Ann belly-flopped and he felt annoyed. Jay didn’t want to go back to his father all worked up, so he decided to take a walk around the area underneath the stands nad he dove around and between the support pillars.
A little while later, he sat alongside his dad and watched a few more races. This was all Mary-Ann’s problem and he wouldn’t let it ruin the rest of his night.
THe next day at lunch, in the outfield of the baseball diamond,Chad approached Jay, fuming. “You jerk, you got me fired!”
Jay played dumb, “How’s that?”
“You didn’t pay, which means Mr. Merrick figures I stole the food. So he canned me. You’re going to pay with either money or your face.” Chad stood up tall and held his fists in front of him.
“Look,” Jay told him, “Mary-Ann blamed it on me because she didn’t have the money. I’m not paying you for something I didn’t do.”
“And now you’re going to blame a girl?” Char laughed and looked around as he held out his arms. “Well look at who’s a man! Can’t even fess up when he’s messed up.”
“I’m telling you the truth,” Jay said in one more attempt to soften Chad’s mood.
“The truth is,” Chad raised his voice, “that you’re dead!”
Chad sprinted at Jay and hunched over to tackle Jay from the midriff. The wind left Jay’s chest as he smashed into the grass. Chad moved to try to pin one of Jay’s legs, but Jay moved his leg out of the way and the knee connected with Chad’s temple. Chad rolled off, stunned for a moment, during which time Jay stood up and regained his breath.
Chad stood up and held his head as his anger grew. He let out a yell and charged Jay again, but his balance was a bit off so Jay was able to side-step and bring down a fist to knock Chad flat.
Seizing his chance to end this on his own terms, Jay straddled the prone Chad and wailed on him until his knuckle skin split and his hands screamed in protest. Or was that Chad screaming? Jay only let up once Chad coughed up a tooth and groaned in pain.
Coming off the adrenaline rush left him worn out as he staggered to his feet, hands dripping blood, probably Chad’s. The other kids in the field stood back and let him pass as he headed toward the school building.
Not only would he be grounded by his dad, he’d likely be suspended from school. All because Mary-Ann wouldn’t tell the truth. As he walked into the bathroom and turned on the faucet to clean up, he gave a weak laugh. “At least I didn’t pay with my face.”
But the smirk quickly subsided as he thought back to what his dad told him. Heck, he didn’t even have to be cocky and self-sure to lose his twenty-five bucks at the races.