I’m up first, he thought with a smile. The old man had been up before him the last two days. Joaquin had already figured out the routine. He rolled the furs into tight bundles and piled them into an empty space beside the fireplace. He tossed in a handful of tinder and added another log.
Joaquin retrieved two bowls and spoons from the counter beside the sink. He filled each with a measured amount of cereal – one to a line on the inside of the bowl, and the other his best approximation. The bowl with the line was the old man’s and it was dented and chipped from years, perhaps decades of use. Joaquin’s bowl was shiny and new, well new enough. It had obviously never been used before. Joaquin stared at the bowls and their analog to himself and the old man.
“Good work, kid.”
Joaquin nodded and watched the old man retrieve milk from the refrigerator and pour equal amounts into each bowl. When they’d finished eating, Joaquin washed them in the sink and laid them on the counter.
“That’s good,” remarked the old man.
Joaquin turned to his new host and raised his eyebrows.
“A man keeps his home and community clean.” The old man nodded as if these were universal truths.
Joaquin leaned against the sink, and the old man continued. “A man keeps his body and mind clean and he only communes with those who believe in living by these same ideals.”
Joaquin looked toward the Jack Daniels bottles lined up on the floor.
“Don’t worry, kid, I’m already a man.”
“I’ve heard people refer to themselves as men before,” Joaquin retorted through tightened jaw. “It usually happened before I got hit with an empty beer can.”
“Oh boo hoo. You think you’re the only boy to ever felt abused by others?”
Joaquin’s ears burned, but he held his tongue. The rest of the day went per the exacting schedule the old man kept in the small cabin in the Canadian wilderness.
* * *
Joaquin awoke in the old man’s cabin. The spider webs were gone. The old man had him clean the wood the previous day. Joaquin sighed and rolled his furs and blankets into tight rolls. He stoked the fire and fed it another log. The morning had progressed as it had days prior, with Joaquin performing all the chores and duties the old man had previously done for himself.
After dinner, the old man made no attempt to clear the dishes. “Why am I doing all the work around here?”
“I thought you wanted to be a man?”
Joaquin scowled and the old man shook his head sadly. “A man is concerned about other people. He does things for others willingly without the expectation of pay or reward.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Joaquin retorted. “My whore of a mother told me that before she took a different man to her bed. My so called friends told me that before I sat outside of a convenience store with the engine running.”
“Cry me a river, kid. You think you’re the only sad sack with a sad sack story?”
Joaquin slammed the plates into the sink before starting the precise cleaning ritual the old man had demanded.
“Apparently, no one taught you ‘cheerful.”
Joaquin sighed, looked toward the ceiling and continued his cleaning.
“A man looks to the bright side of all situations. He cheerfully does tasks that come his way. He tries to make others happy.”
Joaquin finished his chore and put everything in its place. He walked to the door, put on a makeshift fur coat and picked up the axe leaning against the door frame. The old man followed suit.
A bird was hopping along the ground in search of a meager existence. Joaquin raised the axe to strike, but the old man’s hand stopped the childish display of anger.
“A man is kind. He understands that there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he himself would want to be treated. He does not hurt or kill harmless things without reason.”
“Damn it, old man!” Joaquin seethed as he relinquished the axe. “I don’t need your lessons on being a man!”
“Obviously you do.” The old man tenderly touched Joaquin’s shoulder. “You keep telling me of the hard life you lived on the streets of Seattle. I’ve got news for you kid, there are places on this rock far worse than Seattle or Los Angeles. There are places on this planet where a human being can be killed just for being a woman. Warlords terrorize entire communities with fear and violence. There are poisonous religions that teach intolerance. When a man sees these injustices, when he sees rules and laws that are unfair, he tries to have them changed in a legal and orderly fashion rather than disobeying the law of the land.”
The old man stepped closer to Joaquin. “These lessons as you call them should’ve been taught to you over the course of your childhood. By learning these lessons as a child, you learn to face injustice and danger even when you’re afraid. A man has the courage to stand up for what he thinks is right, even if others laugh at or threaten him.”
Joaquin fought to hold in tears – tears he didn’t know he needed to shed.
“You told me these last few days of your failed attempts at being a hero. A hero is just a man who acts on these lessons, these thuths. Follow these lessons and you will be a hero, Son. A shining example to others. Having money doesn’t make you rich. A man knows he has to work to pay his way and help others. He saves for unseen needs. He protects and conserves natural resources, and carefully uses time and property.”
The old man reached for Joaquin’s other shoulder. “A man is polite to everyone regardless of age or position. He knows good manners make it easier for people to get along. A man is a friend to all. He seeks to understand others. He respects those with ideas and customs that differ from his own.”
The old man drew a sobbing Joaquin into an embrace. “A man tells the truth and keeps his promises,” Peter whispered between sobs. “Honesty is part of his code of conduct. A man can be depended on. A man with these qualities is someone I’m proud to call son.”
Joaquin nodded, tears and snot against Peter’s fur jacket. They stood, embracing as the sun set west of the cabin. Joaquin didn’t know it at the time, but the tough love Peter doled out that evening was a turning point in both their lives. Their old lives set as did the sun and their new lives began as the moon shone it’s triumphant path across the night sky.
[1180/37,527]B.J. and I talked about this scene over and over. I knew this would be an important turning point for the story. Parts will need to be tweaked, but I feel the emotions I wanted to convey are here.