‘Strays’ by Mark Richard

Strays by Mark Richard, 1988

The magic trick:

Never normalizing the boys’ plight

‘Normalize’ became a popular word to throw around in debates during the Trump Era. As in: Don’t stop being outraged by everything lest you normalize his behavior.

Well, the young narrator in this story never stops being outraged. He and his brother are in a tough spot, left to fend mostly for themselves – with the occasional help but mostly hindrance from Uncle Trash. As he reports the incidents of their situation, he never disregards his frustration, discomfort, or fear. So the reader never normalizes this situation. It’s always perceived as incredibly problematic. And that’s quite a trick on Richard’s part.

The selection:

Uncle Trash rakes everything my brother and I owned into the pillowcases off our bed and says let that be a lesson to me. His is off through the front porch door, leaving us buck-naked at the table, his last words as he goes up the road, shoulder-slinging his loot, Don’t y’all burn the house down.

I am burning hot at Uncle Trash.

Then I am burning hot at our father for leaving us with him to look for our mother.

Then I am burning hot at my mother for running off, leaving me with my brother, who is rubber-chinning and face-pouting his way into a good cry.


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