The Sugar Shack
The summer of ‘84 brought the hottest heat wave Vermont had seen in 40 years. Pine tree bark soaked with the sap and perspiration of my back peeled away, unmasking the scent of July. The midday sun had cast its glimmering reflections of the lake into my eyes, and with my hand, I wiped away the drop of sweat that fell gingerly from my forehead. I made my way from the pine tree to the sandy trail leading to the shack. Sugarman, or Shugie as he was called by his friends, yelled from the porch that lunch was ready. I glanced at my feet, noticing for the first time that I had an unbearable sock tan. It must have been all of the days in Flatbush, playing basketball in my Adidas, riding bikes with my younger brother, and hiking in the Adirondacks every moment I had the chance. Glancing back at the lake, the sun caught my eyes once more, and I began the uphill walk to the shack. It was an old shack Shugie had purchased in ‘82 for $2,500, and as I stared at the rotted boards that held it together, I was reminded of my past.
“Son of a…” I cried, falling to the ground. The rock I had stepped on slipped from under my foot, producing an agonizing pain in my ankle.
“Stupid honky,” I mumbled. To the left of me stood a tall oak tree, and as I pulled myself against the trunk to rest, the sun blinded me once more. This day, among the other terrible, wicked, awful days, was the worst. Shugie had hogged the magazines, Heather did not want to come over, and the heat drove me from the hot attic where I slept to the cool shade of the Pine tree. It was another day in the life of me. Hot, sweaty, and rejected, I sat at the foot of my only friend, the tree. After adjusting my ankle into a more comfortable position, I shut my eyes. I tried not to remember Flatbush, the abuse, or anyone. I just wanted to run away. The shack was almost like Flatbush, except without the abusive father who sold me to the ladies who lived on the corner. Though it was only for weekends, I felt as if my time in that house lasted an eternity. I treasured the time I was allowed to play basketball with my younger brother, Bernie. My dad had said that he was too young to go to the ladies on the corner, and that when he reached that age, he would take my place, and I could work at the store in town. The store was strange, I thought. It was dimly lit and I was never allowed in any of the rooms. My father had said that when I was older, I would have a room there, and that with enough work, I could make him proud. That’s all I ever wanted, really; I just wanted to make him proud. It was not until my birthday that I realized what the store really was.
I remember brushing the window curtain away, watching the ladies on the corner slap my father and cry as my father swung back. His blows to their cheek left them red and dazed, but as my father walked that cracked sidewalk toward our house, I knew I would never have to go back there. I knew I could make him proud, now. He opened the door and strolled into my room. After taking the suitcase from the closet and packing it with a few of my clothes and my toothbrush, he handed it to me and led me out of the room. It was a pretty room, and though I was a boy, I knew what that meant; it meant that the walls, soft with the texture of wallpaper, were mine. It meant that the old, heavy dresser in the corner was mine, and that the springy bed that squeaked in the night was mine too. While my father ushered me to the car, I could see Mrs. Dorothy watching us. Her face looked blank, and it reminded me of the blank piece of paper my father had given me to draw on when I was sick. I only had one crayon, but I was content.
My dad and I drove down the road until we reached the store, but before we turned into the empty parking lot, he pulled into an alley. Red illuminated the leather seats of our car as the sun shone off of the bricks. My father stopped in front of a door labeled, ”Private.” We got out, and with suitcase in hand, I stepped into my new life.
It was dark inside of the store, and though I had been here countless times, I had never seen this part of the building. My dad held my hand as we walked through the hallway and into room 223. He let go of my hand, opened the door of my room, and led me in. I looked around with awe at my new room, which was far from being as pretty as my old one. Without the window, ceiling fan, and springy bed, the room was far from perfect, but it would do. The door slammed behind me, and my father was gone.
Shugie yelled from the porch, “Lunch is ready!” Hopping my way to the porch, I opened the screen door of the shack and limped to the table. It was salomy again.
“Son of a…” I responded to Shugie’s lunch. He did not hear it, but I made sure that he knew I was not happy with his lunch options. I ate it anyway, and when I was done, I limped to the couch and laid down.
My room was cold in the winter, and with no fan in the summer, it was unbearable to
live with only my hand to fan me and one blanket to keep me warm. Though I had a few visitors, they always demanded the same thing from me. I gave it to them; I was making my dad proud. I don’t remember how long I was in that room, but one night I had a visitor who took me from the room. She told me I would be happy with her, so I left the room to enter a house. I could not leave the house, but I had more room to walk around and it was well lit. The lady who had taken me from the room was named Heather, and soon, she had moved me into the shack. Another boy was there, and his name was Shugie. His real name was Sugarman, so we called it the sugar shack. It was cozy and I was allowed to walk around the property. The large lake, towering trees, and soft sand held me to this beautiful place. It was as if I was lifted from that dark room into heaven. I still had to do what I had always done with Heather, but Shugie helped, and together we earned our right to stay in paradise.
That was the beginning of my stay at the sugar shack, but as the time drifted away like the logs on the lake, I missed my family. I missed Bernie and my dad. There was no basketball at the shack, but I kept myself busy by rolling up my blankets and shooting at the hamper in my room. It was the only thing I could think of to pass the time, yet I wanted to go home. I wanted to ride bikes and play basketball with Bernie, but I thought it was impossible. I knew I was in Vermont, but where is Vermont?
I opened my eyes to see Heather rubbing my chest. Ice had been placed on my ankle, and she was singing something. After sitting up, we sat in silence for a moment, and I asked,
“Can I go see my family?” She laughed and inquired about my day, but I asked again. She continued to dodge my question, and finally, I stood up and slapped her like my father had done. Heather stared in amazement that I had crossed the line she had drawn. We stared into each other’s eyes for several minutes before Shugie broke the silence.
“I’m going home.”