By Luke Beling

Sydney had one eye. I used to ask him, when he’d drive me to school, what happened to the other one. He’d tell me a different story every day then laugh through a set of crooked, stained teeth. I marveled at how he’d reverse our big car down the steep driveway. It was his left eye that was missing. He’d rotate his head in a complete circle to make sure he didn’t hit one of mom’s pot plants or the family dog. 

When he wasn’t steering the wheel, he worked odd jobs for my dad:  cleaning furniture, collecting leaves from our pool, or mowing the lawn.  The only things he and dad shared were the vices they kept. Occasionally I’d find empty beer cans on the car floor. Sydney’s eye would come up from the road for a moment to find me in the mirror.

 “Those are your dad’s.” 

I’d smile, unconvinced.

“When did he start drinking beer?”

He’d give a big laugh, like a jackal on a carcass, then turn his eye back to the wheel.

The cigarettes were easier to hide. Both men were chimneys without a summer, and they took them from the same carton. 

Most mornings, the garage door, wide open, kept Sydney with a puff. 

“Can you take me to school, Sydney?”

“Let me finish this smoke, and then we’ll go.” 

He’d ask me about my dreams and if there were any girls in my class that caught my attention. As I grew older,  he taught me how to play the guitar. He sang ancient songs about his great ancestors. 

We paid him enough to survive life in the squatter camps. Dad used to tell him how lucky he was to have his job, to have a steady income. Sydney kept it all in his chest. He could’ve hidden a pistol under his shirt, but his face would’ve never told it.  

Late one day after coming home from school, I saw dad’s red car in its place. Dad hardly ever came back before dark. Eventually, the pub would kick him out when they’d had enough of him. I came up the driveway to an open garage door with a table on its head and varnish oozing out of a tipped-over bottle. I placed the dripping piece on its legs then sealed the container. An outburst stole the air, a collection of swearing mixed with Sydney’s name. My bag fell off my back. I sprinted up the stairs and out into the backyard. Sydney lay face-first in the dirt, soiled in blood, his eye locked on mine:

“Run.” He said.

Dad sat on the edge of the pool. His ankles swirling in the water held his socks on his feet, and a cigarette ruined in his mouth. “What do you want, Boy?” 

My eyes went between the two men. “What did you do to Sydney?” 

His words struggled under a slur of booze and anger. “Sydney didn’t sand that table before varnishing it. He’ll come right from here on, though.” 

I thought about pushing my father into the pool.

Instead I ran to the kitchen and fetched a cloth, ice, and water. When I’d returned, Sydney was still lying there, lifeless as though struck by a bolt of lightning. 

“Run. Run as fast as you can.” He said.

I wiped the blood from his mouth and gently pushed the cup of water over his lips, over his tongue. 

“I’m so sorry, Sydney.” 

“You leave him alone, Boy.” My father’s voice rose in anger.

I ran as fast as I could. I shoved my father in, head first, a weight of stone to the bottom, then up like a lifejacket. 

I pulled Sydney to his feet. My heels dug into the ground like roots while my back and arms almost came out of place. He wobbled. Dad frantically doggy-paddled to the shallow end. Sydney put his arms on my shoulders, and I dragged him like a broom, the cleaning of a crime. Dad came out with a flying fist, but the spirits and the water and the rage took him, making him tumble on the hard concrete.

“You take this and get out of here, Sydney.” 

I gave him cash to catch a taxi. 

“I’ll wait with you and help you on.” 

We sat under the shade of an old oak. I sat; he lay like a beaten criminal. His black skin camouflaged under the branches, battered and bloodied. 

I squeezed his hand, wrapped my soft scarlet-flesh on his calloused palm. He turned his head, a small trickle of red saliva sputtered from his mouth, then fell in slow motion, depositing on his neck, ending in the grass. 

He rubbed his pants before finding the dirty rag I’d used to wipe his face and guessed it was better than what he had. The flow had mostly stopped. His open wounds stared out into the world. His hand tightened a vice grip to a loose strand, gentle but firm. 

“He stole it.”

I leaned in, my ear resting on his bloodied lip. 


“Your dad.”

The cage of my heart folded on top of itself, rusty sides of shame destroyed by a torrent of wild rain. I sprung to my feet. I pulled my hand from Sydney’s as though I had some part in the crime. 

“It’s not your fault. You ran as fast as you could.” 

Born in South Africa, Luke Beling left home at 19 on a tennis scholarship. In 2007, Luke graduated from Campbellsville University with a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature. Luke has had several short stories published in journals and magazines, including: Quiet Shorts (2012), Eyelands Flash Fiction (2019), Academy of the Heart and Mind (2021), and New Reader Magazine (2021). Luke works as a director of tennis for a private club on the Big Island of Hawaii and as a content writer for an emerging surf brand. Luke is also an indie-folk songwriter with over five-thousands listeners per month across all streaming platforms.

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