All Those Freckles

by Alan MacLeod

Jack has a patch on his eye. It’s black and shiny, sort of like a pirate wears. We all like it. Jack says that there’s something wrong with his eye, so he has to wear the patch for a while. Then he’ll ditch it. “It’s cool, you look like Captain Hook,” Dave says, laughing, and throwing his arms up the way he does.

            He tweaks the angle of the patch a bit, and looks over to where he sees a couple of  the girls chirping and twittering like birds. They’re watching him. Jack has the kind of shaggy look, with an easy grin and skateboarder clothes, that the girls like. His face is young and sharp featured. He wears a blue toque that smells like wet dog when it rains. Once, he put that wet thing right under my nose and rubbed it around. I gave him a shove and told him to piss off.

            We were four years old, at daycare, when we met. I was a great admirer of his because he brought chocolate bars, and he got into mischief. Like the time we found ourselves in the kitchen alone. All the lunches were lined up in paper bags and buckets on the table. Jack looked at me with a huge grin, and dove in. Pretty soon he surfaced with a bulging, white bread sandwich stuffed with brown and red stuff. He ripped it apart, took a great bite out of his half, and fixed his gaze on the ceiling, smacking his lips, and drooling. This seemed a wondrous and horrible thing, to grab somebody’s lunch like it was your own. It was my first peanut butter and jam sandwich. I was hooked. So, that’s how it started.

            Jack’s a great guy, but his dad’s a hard-ass. Once Jack said, “My old man keeps shouting at me to ‘man-up’,” like he couldn’t believe a dad would say that.

            “So where’d you get the patch?” Dave asks, all innocent like. “Not that I want one, of course.”

            Emma and Mia, the chirping girls, laugh at that one. They know what he’s up to. “Let me try it on,” is what I want to ask, but I don’t.

            Jack ignores Dave. He looks at the chirpers, and shrugs and grins the way they like.          “What about you two? Want to try my patch?”

            They walk away, looking back over their shoulders with those half smiles they save for Jack. They’re both blonder than blonde, wearing bright, fancy clothes, and kinda looking down on my plain browns and blues. They pretty much look like they stepped out of Teen Vogue, compared to my L.L. Bean deal. They make fun of Dave by throwing their arms up behind his back, and crossing their eyes with goofy laughs. They’re like those soft, furry kittens that can scratch when you least expect it. Once, I asked Emma why she liked Jack better than me. “Cause you’ve got all those freckles,” she said. That hurt. I turned away, and didn’t look their way for a few days. I doubt they noticed. Ditched, just like Jack’s patch is gonna be. Mom says freckles fade. I hope so.

            I got the brilliant idea of faking a bad eye to get a patch. I figured it couldn’t hurt my chances with the chirpers. My Mom walked into the kitchen that night, busy as usual. With my left eye covered, I squinted at the calendar on the wall.

            “What are you doing?” Mom asked me. Her big eyes were boring holes in me.

            “Nothing.”

            “Sure you are,” she said. “What’s wrong with your eye?”

            “Well, I guess I’m not seeing so good with the right one. Do you think I should get it checked?”

            Of course she did. She made an appointment for me to see the eye doctor. We went in the next week. This guy with a light on a band around his forehead, trapping a black curl, came out to meet us. Even though it was cold outside, he wore a short-sleeved shirt. A bunch of papers rustled in his hand. He called my name in a loud voice. My mother pushed me to follow him into his office. This strange cat made me nervous. Then he pumped me with questions, his face up close to mine, checking my eyes out. Waves of garlic blew over me. I held my breath, and tried to talk at the same time, stumbling over my words, which were mostly made up on the spot.

            He raised an eyebrow and stared at me.

            “You sure about this, son?”

            “Yessir.”

            “Okay, let’s get on with it.”

            So, he put me through all those freaky tests, looking at the letters, one eye, two eyes, the other eye. All the while he hummed a little ditty, murmuring some of the words and smiling. It bugged me. I couldn’t place the tune, then it came to me. It was that Billy Joel song about honesty. His foot tapped every time that word came in the song! My face got hot and red. There was a funny little twitch in his right eye. I couldn’t ignore it, and that made things worse. Just as I was about to burst, he pipes up with, “Sorry son, but you need glasses.”

            Before I could stop it, I heard myself blurt, “I don’t want glasses. I want a patch.”

            “A patch won’t help son. You need glasses.”

            “Do we have to tell Mom?”

            “Sorry son,” he said.

            Sick of his sorrys, I worried about the next step. Sure enough, the glasses were all dorky and clunky looking. “Mom, no…,” I moaned. She gave me the no nonsense from you buster look with thin lips and her eyebrows pulled down. Short sleeves leaned over me, selling to my mom. Gagging, I pushed back out of range. Finally, they settled on a pair of “practical,” heavy, black-framed monsters. Short sleeves got all delicate as he placed them on me. The mirror showed me an alien from Mars pretending to be a kid. All bug-eyed and stunned, I yanked them off, and backed out of the office. “Hey, I don’t like those goofy things. All I wanted was a patch.”

            “What a nice man. You’ll get used to them,” said my Mom. “What’s all this about a patch?”

            A sinking feeling stabbed my guts.

            “Oh, nothing.”

            I looked away, avoiding her strong eyes. Then a man shouted, “Watch out,” as we crossed the parking lot. This distracted her away from my misery. I wish I had said  “No, I’m not wearing ‘em.”

            The man turned out to be Jack’s father, Walter, whom neither my Mom nor I really knew. We’d seen him, sure, at different events, but I just thought he didn’t like us because he kept to himself. Walter’s a short, stumpy fella, with one of those salt and pepper crew cuts bristling out of his scalp like an angry rug. A trucker’s wallet hung out of his back pocket chained to a belt loop on his blue jeans. He was so fearsome looking, he made me want to holler for a cop. Walter walked over, stiff and erect, full of himself. “Don’t you see that truck backing up?” he demanded.

            He looked at me closer. My heart jumped up a bit because of how Jack talks about him.

            “ You’re Jack’s friend,’ he said. What are you two up to today?”

            “Well...,” my Mom stammered, like she was unsure what to make of this guy who looked like a blaring horn.

            I bounced in with, “Getting me some stupid glasses.” I was already planning where to stash those ugly creatures.

            “I guess you’ve seen Jack’s patch,” he said. “Makes him look like a weakling or something.”

            My Mom got very still. I recognized the warning signs. I saw those eyes of hers coming to land hard on poor Walter. I waited. She’s not very big, but when she focuses on you like that, watch out!

            “Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “I think he’s kinda brave for wearing that patch. I like it. Might be good if you did too.”

            Yes, I thought. I liked her for sticking up for my friend. She’s got spunk. Plus, I saw my chance here.

            “Wish I had a patch.”

            Walter rocked back on his heels, all wide-eyed. He twisted away, peering back at us, and clicking his tongue.

            “Well, I should get going, see you around, I guess,” he said. No doubt, I thought.

            We watched him retreat, my Mom shaking her head. She had a disgusted look on her face, with her nose all scrunched up. I knew this was not good for Walter. Then, she eyed me, as if she finally got it.

            “Oh! Now I see why you want a patch. It’s the cool Jack thing isn’t it?”

            Busted. Before I could own up or deny it, she said,“Poor Jack though, what a piece of work that man is.”

            My Mom doesn’t usually talk like that. It got me thinking, on top of all the other stuff on my mind. My sleep felt restless that night, and the next morning I was groggy and quiet at the breakfast table. Dad sat with me, not saying much either. Mom waltzed into the room, startling us both.

            “So, who’s Emma?”

            “What...?”

            “Yah, last night in your sleep, I heard you yell out, ‘No, Emma, No’. What’s going on?”

            I couldn’t breathe. I glanced over at Dad in desperation. He winked at me and turned to Mom.

            “Marion, he’s a boy, boys have secrets, let him be now,” he said, in that half serious, half not way of his. He finished off with a smile aimed at us both. He can be a winner, my Dad.

            “Must be pretty serious if she’s making it into your dreams,” she said, walking away with heavy steps.

            I gave him a grateful look. He patted me on the shoulder and took off after Mom. Gonna talk, I guessed. They do that. Mostly, the Dad is pretty serious. He’s got that buttoned down look. The shirt, the tie, the jacket, hair all done up neat and short. Once in a while, he comes through though. Let’s me see the wild country underneath all that calm. Like this one time at the table talking about his hometown.

            A strange thing came out of nowhere. He burst into a gleeful, nasty version of a song me and the boys sing in the school locker room. Well! I loved it, wanted to join right in. I’m fourteen after all. Just as I opened my mouth to sing, Mom shut him down with that steely look and a “Tom! What’s got into you?” He shrugged, winked at me again, and looked off to the side, perhaps lost in those yesterday thoughts. I love him. He’s so different from Walter.

            Later that Spring there was this baseball game against another school. Most of the kids were there, along with the parents. Jack, patch and all, was on third. I was on second trash talking, egging him on, but he didn’t seem into it. I noticed him standing back too far, stamping his feet, shaking and shuddering.

            “You Okay?” I asked.

            “Yeah, I guess.” He took a quick look over at the stands.

            I cut my eyes in that direction. There was Walter, with that piercing screech, like a braying jackass.

            “Smarten up Jack. Move up on the ball, don’t be such a damn chicken. Get into the game.”

            It was awful. A grown man yelling those things at his son in front of everybody. Gotta hurt. One look at Jack convinced me of that. He was all slouched over like he’d been hit or kicked. Worse, he looked as if he might cry. His lip all curled, and his eye wet. I searched for something good to say, but then heard the thwack of the ball coming off the bat straight at Jack. I shrieked, “Watch out.” The ball smacked off his shoulder into the outfield. The braying got louder. Jack looked like he could crawl into a hole. I felt helpless. What to do?

            The inning ended. We jogged side by side, heads down, to the bench. That terrible trumpeting was getting closer. Full of dread, I looked at Jack who gave me a quick flash of facial misery, then tucked down further inside himself. I was terrified to see Mr. Jackass zeroing in on us. I felt Jack’s pain. A tear dripped down his cheek. My heart burst. I knew I couldn’t let his old man see this.

            Then, out of nowhere it hit me.

            “Jack, don’t look up. Hand me your patch.”

            “What...?”

            “It’s okay, just let me have it for a minute.”

            He pulled it off, and slumped again. His Dad was almost upon us, hollering all the way. My heart pounded. In one swift movement I yanked off my glasses and put on the patch, pivoted, and stood between Jack and his father. Somehow able to face him, I stared a hole through him with my one eye. He stood on the brakes, frowning and hesitating with his head tipped to one side. Terminated in mid-gallop. I grabbed my chance.

            “Hey! How do you like my new look? Can you take my picture?”

            I handed him my phone, and did my best pirate pose, with my hat on backwards. He sucked in a breath and gulped, maybe realizing that we were being watched. It toned him down a bit. With a strangled sort of sigh, and a fake smile twisting his lips, he lifted the phone and snapped a couple. The moment passed. I rotated, and in one motion handed the patch back to Jack, squeezing his shoulder. He had glazed-over shock in his eyes as he tracked his Dad slinking away.

            “Quite the day,” I said to him. “Now I know what a patch feels like. I like it.”

            “Yeah.”

            My Dad stepped up from the background with, “Yes, Quite the day.” Good man. Mom beamed along beside him. And then, the biggest charge of all. Blond Emma made her way over to me, flashing a brilliant smile.

            “I like what you did.”

            Wow, I thought, that feels so good, freckles or not. I smiled and kicked the dirt. Dave was behind her this time, winking, throwing his arms up like he does. He mouthed silently, just for me, “You dog you.”

About the Author

Alan MacLeod is a writer with short publications in a number of literary magazines including: The Antigonish Review; The Nashwaak Review; Blank Spaces; Dreamers Creative Writing; Beyond Words; and The Leaf.