The Life to Come
By: Brandon Daily
Derrick came home from his first day of kindergarten with a bleeding lip, a cut just beside his eyebrow, and the beginnings of a bruise on his cheek.
When his mother asked what happened, Derrick only looked to the ground and shook his head.
His mother called Derrick’s teacher and asked what happened during the day, but the teacher said she didn’t know, that he must have fallen from the swings or tumbled off the slide. “Lots of kids get scraped up at recess,” the teacher said. And this seemed to suffice for Derrick’s mother, at least for the time being.
But it kept happening. Every few weeks Derrick would come home with fresh scrapes, new blood on his shirt, marks on his arms, his neck. When she bathed him, she saw the yellow patches of old bruises on his back. Still, though, Derrick refused to say a word about it. In those moments, she could only hug him tightly. At night, though, she’d sit alone, wishing her husband was there to hold her, though he was dead now two years. On those nights, she’d wrap her arms around herself or around a pillow and let the tears fall.
By the end of that year, Derrick had come home bloodied and bruised a dozen-plus times.
At the kindergarten graduation, she sat beside the rest of the parents—all smiles and snapping pictures from them—and stared at each child’s face, studying the eyes and noses, looking for a mouth to draw tight or a fist to clench. It had to be one of them, she thought to herself. She looked at the other children so intently that she missed Derrick’s name being called, missed him walking up to take his certificate from his teacher.
In July, she broke her lease at the apartment and moved Derrick and herself to the neighboring town. She couldn’t stand the idea of Derrick going into first grade with that same class. Maybe it would stop in the next grade, but she couldn’t take that risk. So, over the course of a weekend in late July, she drove boxes of their belongings the twelve miles to the new place with Derrick sitting quiet in the back seat. In the rearview mirror, she watched him looking out the window, seeing the trees and buildings and people blur past him.
In that moment she was terrified. What would become of him? Would he be able to stand up for himself someday? Or would he go through school constantly being beat, having it happen so often that he’d become an expert in hiding the blood and bruises from her? Would he turn to violence himself someday? Alcohol or drugs? Would she read about him in the paper years from now or hear some story on TV about her son shooting up his school, killing all those who pushed him around for so long? The other kids interviewed, saying that he was such a quiet kid, that they didn’t know him at all.
Was there a way to save him?
She didn’t know. All she had was right now, and so she turned around and smiled and told him just how much she loved him.
Brandon Daily is the author of the novel A Murder Country, which was awarded the Silver Medal for the Georgia Author of the Year Award--First Novel in 2015, and The Valley, a 13th Annual Best Book Awards Finalist--Literary Fiction. He has a collection of short fiction, Darkening, that will be published in the fall of 2019. His short fiction, nonfiction, plays, and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, and his one-act play “South of Salvation” was performed and won first prize in the CAST Players One Act Play Festival in 2012. Brandon currently lives in Southern California with his wife and son.