Slender Thread

Slender Thread

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Slender Thread

As his mother drove away, eleven-year-old Billy stood by the curb and cried. His mother was an abusive drug addict; still, she was all he had. Now he was to live with his aunt. A wave of desolation mounted in his chest.

Aunt Val had no interest in caring for him, either. Billy was left alone, living off peanut butter, stale bread and cereal. In the evenings he spent his time listening to the voices of the five children who lived next door, the laughter and shouts, and the firm voice of their mama sending them to bed.

On Sunday morning, as they packed into the car for church, Mama noticed Billy watching her kids from the shadow of his doorway. He looked like trouble: His face was defiant and his shabby clothes hung loose on his thin frame. What kind of life did this boy have? He made her uneasy; yet she saw the hurt that showed in his dark eyes.

Billy’s face haunted her while she sat through the service. When they got home, he was still there. His eyes followed the children as they piled chattering from the car.

Mama’s heart caught as her boy, Cecil, paused and asked, “What’s your name?”


“How old are you?” Cecil asked.

“Eleven, almost twelve,” said Billy.

“Me, too. Want to come inside? We’re going out to play basketball after we change clothes.”

Mama bit her lip as Billy followed Cecil inside.

The next afternoon, Billy came home with Cecil after school.

“Billy’s aunt ain’t never home, so I said he could come over here,” Cecil said.

But Billy didn’t fit in with the rhythm of their household. When the children did their homework Billy was a distraction, chattering thoughtlessly while they tried to concentrate. He used foul language and bullied the younger children. A sour feeling settled in Mama’s stomach. Billy was not going to be a good influence on her kids.

The following day, Mama saw Billy hanging around the front of the apartments when she got back from her job driving the school bus. A cigarette hung in his mouth. He ducked away when he saw her, which only made her dislike him more. After basketball that evening Billy came inside with Cecil. The boys had found an expensive tennis shoe at the courts and wanted to show it to Mama.

“I’m gonna buy shoes like these some day,” Billy bragged. “I’m gonna have all the money I want.”

Mama shivered. She could imagine how Billy would get the money to buy what he wanted. She didn’t like the man she feared he would become. Cecil was looking at Billy and the flashy shoe with envy. It made Mama angry; she didn’t want Billy’s kind leading her children astray.

When Billy left, she told Cecil, “I won’t have you hanging out with Billy. He’s not going where I want you to go.”

Cecil’s expression clouded. “Don’t,Mama. There’s something good in Billy. I know it. He needs us.”

Mama shook her head. She was adamant. Her family came first, and Billy was bad news.

That night she dreamt of Billy, crying while his mother drove away. He turned to Mama but she only shook her head. In her dream an older Billy faced her, his face hardened, his eyes cold. He wore the expensive tennis shoes. He stared at her in agony with a bullet wound in his chest, then collapsed and lay still on the concrete. Light flashed and an angel stood beside her. He asked: “Did you do your best?”

Mama woke and tried to push the dream from her mind. It could not be erased. Life had failed Billy. Would she fail him, too?

It was early. Light dawned outside. Mama tried to sleep, but when she closed her eyes she saw Billy sprawled on the concrete. She got up and went into the kitchen to start some coffee. The Billy of her dream was fresh in her mind—a lost little boy trying to act tough in a frightening world. Billy’s future hung by a slender thread. She could either hold it tightly or release it to the wind. She knew what she would want someone to do for her Cecil, if anything were to happen to her.

Later that morning, when Cecil came into the kitchen she said, “You were right about Billy. But there has to be some rules. You bring him home after school. I want to talk to him.”

That afternoon, Mama drew Billy aside. “I think there’s a lot of good in you and I want us to be friends. But there are going to be some rules. You come home with Cecil each day and do your homework without any talking. If you have any questions, you ask me. You and Cecil need to help me start supper, and you may stay and eat with us. If you work hard and stay in school, someday you’ll get those shoes you want.”

Billy looked into Mama’s face. She met his searching eyes. Then he nodded.

Mama patted his shoulder. “It won’t be easy. If you goof off, I’ll send you home. But I really hope you’ll choose to stay.”

Right off, Billy tested Mama and got sent home. But as the weeks passed, more and more often he stayed for supper. On Sundays he often went with the family to church.

Over the years Billy changed. His hardness fell away, he trusted Mama and her firm guidance, and he came to her whenever he had problems. Mama kept in touch with Billy’s teachers and followed his progress at school.

On the day of his high school graduation, Billy grinned as Mama snapped a picture. He raised the edge of the long green robe to reveal a present to himself, bought with money he’d saved from his summer job. Tears came to Mama’s eyes when she saw the new tennis shoes. She could almost feel the angel’s hand resting on her shoulder. Yes, she’d done her best.

Karen Cogan

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