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Chapter Three: Pa’s Rage

Jack was soaked and shivering as he stumbled across the Espinosa’s fields toward their house. Lightening lit his path before the rumbling thunder vibrated through his body. The sound of thunder was replaced by angry shouts as he neared their front door. Jack’s fear and anger were reawakened. He realized, Jorge, his stepfather, was home from work. Jorge sounded drunk again. He was probably beating Jack’s mother, Esther.
Jack threw open the door ready to confront Jorge, and protect his mother. All the electrical lights were on. The room seemed bright following the darkness outside. The shelf-top radio was yammering away in the kitchen.
His short, heavyset stepfather whirled to face him. Jorge’s dark face was contorted in rage. His fists were clenched. He stood over his weeping wife cowering at his feet.
“¿Dónde estuviste todo el día?” Jorge shouted in slurred Spanish, wanting to know where Jack had been all day.
Jack tried to explain that he’d had football practice before he’d gone to the Sobel’s to assist a neighbor.
The fact that Jack had wasted the day playing football served to enrage the elder Espinosa further. Jorge ranted “Quién te dio permiso para practicar deportes? Se supone que estás aquí ayudando a tu madre mientras estoy en la fábrica.” He wanted to know who gave Jack permission to play sports when he was supposed to be home helping his mother while Jorge was working at the factory.
Jack knew he should keep his mouth shut, but the sight of his mother curled on the floor with a bleeding lip and a swelling cheek was too much. He stepped toward Jorge while shouting that sports were his way off the farm. His coach had said that if he was good enough that he might get a free college education at University of Michigan.
This tipped it for Jorge who’d only gotten through the fifth grade. The glassy-eyed Mexican asked Jack if he thought he was better than everyone else. Jorge threw a haymaker toward the youth’s head. Jack was a hundred pounds lighter and nearly half Jorge’s age. He easily dipped beneath the sluggish arm and fist before having to duck again when Jorge returned with a left .Jack’s rage had peaked. He used the heel of his boot in an attempt to stomp Jorge’s toes only to be reminded that Jorge wore steel-toed boots while working at Ford’s Northville Valve plant. Jack realized the fatality of his error. He’s drawn himself too close to the drunk. Jorge screamed with rage. He wrapped Jack in a rib-crushing hug with his bear-like torso. Jack found himself briefly staring at the ceiling before being hurled to the floor with enough force to knock the wind from his lungs.
Jack had enough experience to know an offense was useless now. He curled himself into a protective ball with his arms wrapped around his head. Jorge sensed a defenseless victim. The drunk started in on Jack with his feet, gleefully kicking his stepson’s back and head.
A particularly vicious kick spun Jack enough that he found himself on his back staring into Jorge’s contorted face. The elder Espinosa reared back to deliver a finishing punt. Jack used the opening to drive his foot into the old man’s crotch with a vindictive crunch. Jorge’s eyes bulged in shock before the intensity of his intestinal agony struck his dulled senses. Jorge doubled over with an exhalation of foul breath.
Jorge was bent over Jack with a string of drool hanging from his cringing mouth. Jack kicked upward with a mule’s strength to tattoo his boot manufacturer’s label onto Jorge’s lowered forehead.
Jorge flew backward before toppling onto his back. Jack was on the older man’s chest in an instant. He pinned Jorge’s arms to the floor with his knees. Jack pulled out his nail. He pushed its point into Jorge’s neck.
Jack could see the fearful understanding and acknowledgement in his stepfather’s wide eyes.
“Pinche cobarde.” Jack hissed, cursing the old man’s cowardice before slapping the Jorge’s head sideways, and crawling off him. Jorge rolled on his side before throwing up. Jack took the chance to deliver a few kicks to drunk’s back and ribs. Once Jorge had emptied the contents of his stomach, he struggled to his feet, bid his wife, “Adios,” and stumbled from the house.
Jack and his weeping mother heard Jorge’s Model -A struggling to crank over a moment later. Jack was happy when it finally caught and chugged away into the storm.
Jack lit some more lights to check on his mother. Esther hugged him while ensuring he was okay. “You shouldn’t have angered him, Jack. He might not come back.”
“Good riddance, I say,” Jack responded. “At least he won’t beat you anymore.”
“But you don’t understand, Jack. I can stand the beatings. We need his weekly pay. We bought this farm on a contract with the previous owners. We must make monthly payments. That’s hard to do with the unsteady income from a farm. We need his money to eat during the winter. I can stand his occasional beatings if it means food on the table and a warm house during the winter. Michigan winters will be deadly cold compared to Texas.”
Jack hugged his sobbing mother. His bruised arms and back screamed in pain. “That’s what I was trying to tell Jorge, Ma. The coach says I can get a college education for free .When I graduate from college, I can get a good job and take you away from here.”
“Oh, Buck-o,” Esther said warmly as she cupped Jack’s face in her hands, and turned his eyes toward hers. “You’re still so naïve, and have so much to learn about life. Nothing in life is free for people like us. Life demands payment for each moment of happiness it provides.” Sometimes I think it is better not to hope. If you live without hope, you’re never disappointed.”
Jack’s heart and soul rebelled against this philosophy. “How can you live without hope, Ma?” He protested. “Hope is the only thing life can’t take away from us. It costs nothing, and yet it’s the only thing one needs to achieve greatness. If you believe in yourself and have hope in your future, you can do anything in America. Hope for a better life will always drive me to keep trying. Hope guides my life. To give up on our dreams is to die.”
“That’s why love you so much, Jack,” Esther expressed, “You have so much drive. But I warn you. To continue to hope in search of your dreams will cause you much pain.”
“Then it is pain I will gladly endure. The fear and pain of failure is far worse. It you’re okay, I think I’ll go to bed. I have to be up early to do my chores before practice.”
“Sure, Buck-o,” Esther said. A tear rolled down her cheek as she finished, “I’m sorry for an old woman’s foolishness. Don’t ever give up hope. You graduate from college and achieve your dreams.”
Jack kissed away her tear before going into the back room and closing the door. Jack’s mind continued to rage as he listened to his mother’s weeping in the next room. He drifted toward sleep thinking of his old life. He dreamed of a better life.
It was near dawn when he heard Jorge’s noisy return. Jack rolled from his warm bed, and dressed. He went into the kitchen to find Jorge at the table huddled over coffee.
Jack didn’t acknowledge his stepfather’s presence. He exited into the dim morning light to use the outhouse before dunking his head beneath the hand pump. The crispness of the well water was enough to slap away Jack’s sleepiness. He was reminded of the beating he’d taken the previous evening. His neck was stiff and ached. There were bumps on the back of his head where he’d been kicked. His face felt lopsided with swelling. There were loose flaps of skin inside his mouth where his teeth had bitten into his cheeks. The extent of his body bruises and aches weren’t evident until he entered the barn, and began tossing fresh straw into the horses’ stalls before scooping out oats to feed them. His back and ribs were so battered, he found it difficult to bend or even inhale. Jack was wondering how he’d survive practice. He checked beneath the protesting hens, and removed any eggs.
After checking for fertile eggs and replacing them, he took the remainder into the house to fix breakfast. He found himself wishing for leftover slices of Mable to accompany his fried eggs. His recollection of Mandy drove away any desire for Mable meat. Jack was further disgusted to hear the moans and bed creaking coming from his mother’s bedroom. It was clear why Jorge had returned. Jack went about rebuilding the stove fire before retrieving the lard can, He sawed some slices from the rock-hard bread loaf. After patting at a misbehaving hair cowlick, he used the lard to grease down his hair.
Jack wasn’t surprised that the dirty dishes from the previous night remained in the sink. He returned to the hand pump to retrieve the water needed to wash enough dishes to save his mother from Jorge’s wrath before drying and restacking them.
Jack was soaking up the runny egg yolk on his plate with the last of his toast when Jorge exited his mother’s room still pulling up his pants.
“Ah, that smells good. Hey, boy, your mother has given me an appetite. Fix me breakfast.”
“Sure, old man, “Jack responded with an evil grin. “ Take a seat and relax. I finished the coffee, and was working up to making your breakfast.”
“It’s about time you showed me respect,” Jorge said. “I guess I showed you who the real man is around here.”
Jack silently cleared his dishes before placing a clean plate before his seat.
“You certainly showed me, viejo,” Jack spat with the same evil grin. Jorge appeared upset over being called an old man, but his expression changed when Jack pulled down his pants, climbed upon his chair, and squatted over Jorge’s plate.
“Sit tight, ya old fart, and I’ll show you just how much I respect you. Here’s a breakfast deserving of someone of your pathetic statue.”
Jack was in mid-performance of his breakfast preparation before Jorge realized that Jack was about to crap on his plate.
“Aye, Estás loco, chico! Crazy!” Jorge screamed. He backed away from the table so fast, he knocked over his chair. “You want another beating?”
Jack hopped down from his chair. He pulled up his pants, and responded,” Do you?”
Jorge frowned at Jack. He apparently decided his stepson couldn’t be bullied or buffaloed further. Jorge stormed toward the door. He whirled to point a shaking finger at Jack.
“I ain’t finished with you and your mother, boy!” Jorge shouted. “I’ll be back after work. You better be here, and my dinner better be on the table.”
“Oh, you can count on me being here, pinche puto, but you might not like what you find on your dinner plate if you didn’t enjoy your breakfast.” Jack responded defiantly. Pure hatred radiated from Jorge’s expression as he left.
“Oh, Jack,” Esther wept from the door of her room. “I wish you wouldn’t anger him so. His madness will only fester at work. He’ll come home even drunker tonight. Who taught you that foul language?”
“Now who is being naïve? I grew up in the rat-infested basement of a hotel” Jack responded. “And let him come home drunk. I’m ready for him. God, I miss our old life in Houston. I gotta get going, or I’ll be late.” He gave his mother a peck on the forehead before assuring her, “I’ll be home early.”