Eyes Like a Tiger's

Words by Vanessa Couchman

Art by Sandra Eckert

The boy turned up when he said he would this time.

I handed him a plate of his favorite sweetmeats. I’d spent a whole day making them, as I always did.

“You haven’t been here for four years. Why don’t you come more often?”

“I keep inviting you to the city, but you won’t come. I’m a very busy man, Mama. It’s difficult to get away.”

“Too busy to see your mother after everything I did for you. I went once, anyway, and I didn’t like it. You know that.” I flicked a hand in the direction of his city. “I’m too old to travel now.”

He shrugged and fixed me with his stare. Eyes like a tiger’s, one of his school friends used to say. When his face hardens, he looks so like his father.

We watched each other in silence for a moment.

“I’ve often wondered why you beat me so often,” he said, “when we already got so many beatings from Papa.”

“Because you needed it.” I slapped my palm on the rough wood of the table. “When I got you away from your father, I swore you’d go to school. You were the first in the family. You weren’t going to be a failed cobbler and a drunk like him. I scraped my hands and knees raw with all the washing and cleaning, and I made sure you were the best-dressed boy in that school. But you were so wild.”

He sighed in an I’ve-heard-this-all-before way and drummed his fingers on the table. I caught a whiff of those cigarettes he smokes one after the other. They give him a permanent smell of bonfire.

“Always getting into fights, cheeking the priests in class. They only kept you on because you did well at your lessons, despite all the rest. Not to mention what you did to the neighbour’s cat.”

He raised his eyebrows in a question.

I wagged a finger. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten. Tying a saucepan to the poor creature’s tail and scaring it half to death. You were always off on some madcap scheme. And now you ask why I beat you.”

His lips curved in a half smile, at the memory of the cat, I suppose. He got that kind of thing from his father. I never knocked that out of the boy.

His mouth dropped back into a straight line.

“You made me wear pansyish things to school. The other kids said I was a mummy’s boy. You couldn’t expect me to let that go without a fight.” His bushy brows drew together. “Nobody makes fun of me now.”

How he’d changed since he was little. He was always short, nothing could alter that, but now he was stocky and round cheeked. His face was still pitted from the smallpox. I thought we’d lose him to it, like the other two, but he was a survivor. I vowed then that he’d devote his life to serving God. He almost did.

“I don’t really understand what it is you do now, my boy.”

“Well, you remember the tsars, of course.”

I pursed my lips. Fat lot of good they ever did us.

“I’m a sort of tsar.”

“You’d have done better to become a priest, like I wanted. They work little and live well. People respect them.”

His eyes narrowed. “I don’t think so. Anyway, people respect me these days.”

He lit another cigarette and shook out the match, leant back and blew the smoke towards the ceiling.

He turned his face and his tiger’s eyes to me. “You shouldn’t call me my boy anymore, you know.”

“What should I call you, then?”

“The people call me Comrade Stalin.”

About the author

Vanessa Couchman is a self-confessed history nut and lives in the past. This doesn’t stop her taking advantage of modern technology to write historical novels, short stories, and flash fiction. They are often set in France, where Vanessa has lived in an 18th-century farmhouse since 1997. Her flash fiction has been placed, shortlisted and longlisted in Writing Magazine, National Flash Fiction Day, Strands, Reflex, Cranked Anvil and Flash 500.

About the illustrator

Sandra Eckert is a doodler, a dabbler, and a messy and restless individual. An avid naturopath and off-the-road walker, she finds inspiration in the unscenic vistas and hidden places. While her interests currently lie in the world of art, she has been known to tend goats, whitewater kayak, fish for piranha, and teach teenaged humans. She is fascinated by the lessons of the natural world, both seen and unseen. Sandra holds a BFA with certification, and has continued her education both formally and informally, though she is too distracted to gather up her credits. She lives in Allentown with her husband, Peter, and her dogs, Jack and Tobi. Additional works are available here.