Notorious in the West(3)

By: Lisa Plumley



 Mother, he meant to say, but suddenly he wasn’t so sure.

 Was she a good mother? Mary’s mother was a kind woman. She was gentle. She never would have said such harsh things to her own child. All at once, Griffin was sure of it. He straightened.

 “Good what?” his mother demanded. “I’m a good what?”

 He could tell by the wounded sheen in her eyes that she knew the praise he was withholding. At the same moment, Griffin realized he meant to keep right on withholding it. There was no way he’d give in. Not even to make her feel better. Not this time. If that made him as rotten as she’d said—

 It did make him as rotten as she’d said, he understood just then, and felt despair rush through him. Of course his mother was right about him. She was his mother! She knew him, inside out.

 “You can’t say it because you’re evil, like him.” Her voice cut into his self-condemnation, scattering his thoughts like the hot embers he shoveled all day at the glass factory. Her gaze pinned him in place, making him listen—making him endure the way she scowled at him, from his scruffy boots to his newly shorn dark hair. “You’re cruel,” she judged. “That’s the mark of it, right there on your face. Everyone can see it. Especially me.”

 “No. I’m not marked.” Somehow, Griffin found the strength to raise his chin. “There’s nothing wrong with my face.”

 But even as he said it, his voice quavered. His throat closed up. It ached, just like his hands did. He’d clenched his fists, he saw, without realizing it. Because he knew his mother was telling the truth. After all, people had stared at him his whole life. They’d pointed and whispered. They’d laughed.

 They’d turned away. Away from him.

 Even at the glass factory, where he’d earned some respect, they’d nicknamed him Hook. Hook Turner. Griffin hadn’t blamed them for that. His oversize hook of a nose was conspicuous. The nickname had begged to be given. But now he wondered...

 Did everyone see what his mother did when they looked at him? Did everyone see his lack of character, his lack of strength, his lack of goodness?

 You’re evil, he heard her say again, so callously and calmly. You’re rotten inside. You’re cruel. Everyone can see it.

 Reliving those words, Griffin felt a hot rush of shame. There was no point sidestepping the truth. Ever since his voice had deepened and his shoulders had widened, his features had matured, too. He’d definitely inherited his father’s nose.

 And with it, it seemed, his father’s wicked nature.

 All Griffin could remember now of his father was his husky laughter and—hazily—his face, with its similarly prominent hawklike nose and incongruously merry eyes. Edward Turner had been scarred by the same disfigurement that now marked Griffin.

 He’d been made uglier by it, even to his wife.

 Of course he had. After all, everyone knew that having a good moral character was what made someone nice to look at. Virtuous women were beautiful. Decent men were handsome. That was why they were admired. Griffin didn’t know how he’d let himself overlook that fact. Maybe he’d just needed to. Until now.

 “That’s the inheritance of the Turner men,” his mother went on. “I’d hoped you’d be spared. Now I can see you were not. You’re rotten, through and through.” She gave him a punishing look, confirming it. “It’s as plain as the nose on your face.”

 If that was meant to be a joke, it wasn’t funny.

 From somewhere, though, Griffin found a glimmer of defiance. Maybe this didn’t have to be the end of him—the end of hope for him. It was whispered that, someplace in the city, Edward Turner was prospering. That he’d made good, despite his glaring nasal defect. Maybe Griffin could do the same.

 Not that his father’s success meant much to his starving and abandoned family. To them, he might as well have been dead.

 Maybe he hadn’t been able to bear the sight of his son....

 Griffin fixed his spine. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll work.” I’ll work like my father did. “I’ll overcome it.”

 At that, his mother burst out in unpleasant laughter. “You can’t overcome that, boy!” She pointed. “It’s ludicrous to try.”

 But Griffin knew that he could. He had to. What other choice was there? He couldn’t go through life with his hated defect being all that people saw when they looked at him.

 It was bad enough that he was helpless to hide it. He couldn’t wear a bandito’s bandanna, like a desperado from a dime novel. His only hat wasn’t big enough to obscure his face. And now, with his hair cropped so closely, his nose was even more noticeable. No wonder his mother had chosen today to tell him these things. Doubtless, she’d taken one look at his protruding feature and been overcome. That was why she’d been so cruel.

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