500 Words—The Boy, The Shoes and the Parents


He was wearing an old blue jersey and an old pair of pants and had on boxing shoes. The boy stopped in the hallway to take one last look at himself in the mirror. He lifted his chin and looked down his nose at his reflection, squinting his eyes and tugging at his shirt as if he were adjusting a suit coat. He felt tough.

Just as he spun on his heels to face the door, he caught a glimpse of his mother in the mirror, watching him from the living room. She had one hand wrapped around her waist and the other covering her mouth. The boy knew the look.

“I’ll be fine, Mom, really. I’m just going to work with a trainer. Think of it like I’m taking piano lessons, if that helps.”

“Do you want your father to go with you?” his mother asked. “Frank! Get in here and walk your son down to the gym!” She hollered down the hall for Frank who was in the kitchen. He was making a sandwich, but she thought he should help.

Frank came into the hall, wiping his hands on a towel. “You look good there,” he said as he patted the boy on the back. “Knock ’em dead.”

“Knock ’em dead?” the mother asked. “Knock ’em dead?” She repeated her question with a higher tone and a bite to the consonants. “Is that all you have to say? He’s going off to a gym, and not the kind with basketballs and nets. They’re going to teach our son to hit people and to take punches!”

She held her son’s jaw between her thumb and forefinger. “That sweet face, and he’s going to let people hit it. I just don’t understand.”

“Mom, please,” the boy pulled away and looked at his father for a little help. “Dad, tell her. I’m not going to get hurt. I’m going to box. It’s a sport. Would you tell her?”

Frank put his arm around his wife. “She knows. She just doesn’t like fighting.”

“No, I don’t. And I don’t understand why you can’t put all that energy into some kind of sport that isn’t about beating people up.”

The boy tilted his head, furrowed his brow, and exhaled through his nose. He made his way toward the front door, walking backwards to get there. “I’m going now, OK?”

“OK, fine,” his mother said, resigned to losing this one battle. “Be careful.”

“I will,” the boy said as he darted out the door, letting it slam shut just as his father yelled after him, “And have fun!”

He rolled up his sleeves as he took long strides down the sidewalk but then decided he’d look better with them just shoved up near his elbows. He had picked old clothes for his first time at the gym but wished his shoes didn’t look so obviously new. He dragged them in the dirt a little to seem like he’d been in the ring before.

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