“You’d Better Learn”
by Thadd Presley
“This isn’t how it has to be,” John told the man who held the bolt cutters. “I’m tryin’ my best t’ hold everythin’ together.” He looked toward his wife. “And just look!!” Sobbing, he slowly lifted his hand and pointed. “Look at what I come home to.”
Blood was dripping from his hand and running in streams down his forearm. When he focused on the blood, he felt a wave of dizziness flow from his head to his mid-section. “She’s here sucking up the profits while I’m out working.”
“So, that’s where your money’s goin’. Big Daddy wanted me to find out what’s going on with you.”
The black man, held the mouth of the bolt cutters out, waiting for another finger. John’s ring finger was next in line. He focused his attention on the woman huddled in the corner crying. “That true? You stealin’ Big Daddy’s dope?” He patiently waited for a response. “Hey, you hear me. Look here! You smokin’ up your man’s money and making him late on his payments?”
She started to say something, but her voice failed.
“Tell me somethin’, John, seriously,” the the black man asked, “what you gonna do? You want me to take another of your fingers or do I take one of hers? Big Daddy wants two fingers.”
“Just tell him to give me more time. I’ll have his money.”
“I’m telling you. Time’s up. He’s using you to send a message to everyone else. He wants you to know that he’s finished with you.”
These words meant more to John than losing his pinky finger. He couldn’t survive without Big Daddy’s help. “Come on, man. Just take the other finger, but don’t cut me off.”
When the executioner cut the ring finger from the hand, the bone popped loudly as it broke. John screamed and his wife joined him. Lying on the blood covered ground was John’s two fingers. The newest one twitched, as if trying to crawl away. John’s wedding ring was still on the finger.
“My job’s done here, John. Be sure to have the money by Friday. I don’t want to…”
John looked up quickly, his voice barely a squeak. “You mean, I still have to pay?”
The black man sighed. “Don’t tell me you haven’t learned your lesson. You owe Big Daddy. Now, don’t you think it’s in your best interest to pay him?”
“But my fingers? God!”
“God?” The black man asked.
John lowered his head.
“I’ll not have you takin’ my Lord’s name in vain.”
“But, I really have to pay Big Daddy all the money?”
“If you don’t, I’ll have to shoot your wife in the face.” He looked over at her. “She’s the problem anyway, right?”
John stared at the floor, not wanting to look at his fingers. But, for some reason he couldn’t take his eyes off of them. Is this really happening, he thought.
“Am I really…”
The executioner slapped John in the face. “Yes, you really are. Now, wake up.”
John didn’t know what the man had said, but he answered, “Yeah, right.” A shutter went through his body. “You’re right.”
“Now, get him to a hospital.” He told the wife.
“What do I say to them?” John whispered.
“Tell them you got your fingers cut off because you owe for drugs.”
“Really?” John was light headed. The world was growing black around the edges.
“Woman!” The the executioner said, standing up. “Get your man to the hospital.”
She looked up, eyes yellow and dull. “What do I tell them?”
“Tell them you brought him to the hospital because if you didn’t a big black man said he was going to kill you.”
Her eyes flickered, showing the smallest recognition of life. “Really?” She asked.
Slowly she stood up and started toward her husband. He wasn’t looking at the ground anymore. He was limp. His head flopped back, eyes glaring at the ceiling. “Do you think he’s dead?”
“He will be very soon.”
Grief came over her, but then the executioner also saw relief. “I’m going to miss him so much,” she said. “He was my high school love.”
The moment was lost when the executioner spoke. “Big Daddy wants his money. He doesn’t care who pays it. Don’t let your husband’s sacrifice be for nothing. I’ll be back on Friday.”
“What! Wait! I can’t—”
“You’ve almost a week. You can.”
“I’ll don’t know how to come up with twenty thousand—”
“Well, you’d better learn.”
She sat in silence as the big man walked out of the small apartment.