Promises charcoal drawing
Promises short story illustration. Charcoal drawing by author.


There was a primitive ritual enacted each night at dinner time.  Before the table was cleared and the dishes washed, there would be all sorts of crying and melodramatic talk about church and how the Lord had plans for the boy, and why it was important he not drink beer or chew tobacco or do the other things his father did.  Then his mother Dolores would make him promise that he wouldn’t drink or be like his father.  But that came later.

First there would be a huge fight with the boy’s father, usually about the father’s drinking or about all the time Dolores liked to spend at the stores in town.  Then, after an hour or more of shouting, the father would slam out the door and stand in the yard and drink a few more beers before he came back in and went to bed.

Usually Dolores would be in tears by the time the boy’s father stomped out of the house.  Actually she would be well beyond tears.  She would have her head down on the dinner table and be sobbing.  She would say things that caused the boy and his sister to cry as well.  Usually she would say that no one loved or cared about her and that she didn’t know why she even bothered and she might as well just go jump off the Greenville bridge.  Then the boy would start to cry and beg his momma not to do it.  Then Dolores would say she wouldn’t, and she would tell the boy about her own father and how he was an alcoholic and how he was the best man until he started drinking and then he got mean and that’s why he hadn’t been able to live with them most of the time when she was a girl.  Then she would talk about the boy’s father and his drinking and make the boy promise that he would never drink or be like his father when he grew up.

The boy’s father pretty much behaved like an ass before he stomped out the door, so the boy never hesitated to promise, no matter how prejudiced the wording of the promise or what his mother had done to cause or aggrevate that evening’s fight.  The boy would be in tears and promise over and over again.  Anything to get his mother to stop talking about jumping off the bridge.  It never made the boy feel like he was selling out his father or giving in to something that was weak or inappropriate.  At least not at first.

short story by Joe Riverson Smith