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Rated: E · Short Story · Family · #801758
An old man teaches a young boy. Winner Writer's Cramp 1/15/04
         He’s got a long way to go, I thought, as I watched the boy from the window of my workshop. He had come out on the front porch of the house across the street dragging an old pillow, a bow and some arrows. He propped the pillow up against the railing at one end of the porch and took his bow and handful of arrows to the other. It looked like one of those bows you’d buy down at Wal-Mart, in the toy section. The arrows had a wide rubber tip and the fletching was made to imitate Native American arrows from long ago.

          Well at least he isn’t wearing buckskins and a headdress, I said to myself as he nocked the first arrow and drew back the bow. The arrow arced through the air and fell to the porch floor about halfway to the target. Not much chance of anyone getting hurt with that bow, I grinned. With a quick look around to see if anyone had seen what had happened, he nocked a second arrow and sent it in the direction of the pillow. It landed a few inches from the first. Shoulders slumped forward, he retrieved his arrows, tossed the bow in the corner of the porch, and sat on the porch steps with his head in his hands watching the world go by. I went back to sanding the bluebird house. Occasionally, I would glance out the window at the boy. He made several more attempts with the bow, but always had the same results.

         I’m not sure what it is, whether it’s the subconscious sound of her footsteps, the light flowery scent of her perfume, or what, but I can always tell when my wife is approaching long before she gets there. Maybe it has something to do with being married for forty-five years. I find we do complete each other’s sentences with alarming regularity. I felt her glide up alongside me and follow my gaze across the street. “How old do you think he is?” I asked her.

         “Probably nine or ten, I’d say. They just moved in yesterday. His mom stopped over to use the phone. She’s a single mother. Divorced. It’s just her and him. His name is Eddie. They seem nice enough, though I think she’s a bit scared.”


         “You know, the usual, new town, out on her own, raising Eddie by herself. Who wouldn’t be a little scared?”

         “He looks lonely. He was trying to teach himself to shoot that bow, but I don’t think that bow’s going to help him learn.” I could feel my wife’s eyes watching me without ever taking my gaze from the window. I had been sanding the birdhouse in the same spot for at least ten minutes. Long enough that I knew I was going to need to replace the board before I painted it.

         “I know what you’re thinking. It’s been a long time since you shot a bow.”

         “Not that long, besides, it’s like learning to ride a bike. Once you learn, you never forget. I’ll just give him a few pointers”

         “You know, he’s not Jimmy, ” she said with a note of quiet sadness.

          “I know”. Silent for a moment, I thought about Jimmy, our son, gone these many years. I allowed myself the luxury of a few moments of self-pity. I wondered where I had gone wrong. What had driven Jimmy away from us and into a world of drugs and death?

         “Well, there’s no changing your mind once it’s made up. You make sure you talk to his mom first. You know how people are these days about their kids.”

         “Yes,” I said. They should be careful, I thought. They should wrap them up and keep them away from all the evils of the world.

          “I guess I’ll set a couple more plates for dinner tonight. You make sure to invite them.” I could hear the amusement in my wife’s voice without ever looking at her smiling face as she headed for the door

         “I will.”

         As I walked down the driveway and started to cross the street, Eddie ran to get his mom, as any well-trained child should do when faced with an approaching stranger. I introduced myself and explained why I had come over.

         “You know how to shoot a bow?” Eddie asked with some surprise in his voice. “Did you ever go hunting with a bow?”

         Patiently, I answered Eddie’s questions and we spent the rest of the afternoon talking and practicing with his toy bow. I showed him the proper stance and how to let the bow float in his hand. I explained how the bow wasn’t very strong and we moved closer to the target so the arrow would reach it. I taught him to find his anchor point and to sight down the arrow. His mother, Mary, came out and watched us as we played together, the old man and the young boy. She brought cookies and milk and we sat on the porch and talked as Eddie let his arrows fly. The sagging of his shoulders was gone now and the lonesome look on his face was replaced with a smile and the bouncing energy and enthusiasm of a nine year old.

         As we walked across the street together to our waiting supper, Eddie reached up and took my hand. I thought about Jimmy’s old archery equipment in the back of the workshop and wondered if one day Eddie would grow into it. I thought of all the things an old man could teach a young boy, like building birdhouses.
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