Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press and Washington University in St. Louis. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Commonweal, Guwahatian Magazine (India), The Galway Review (Ireland), Public Republic (Bulgaria), The Osprey Review (Wales), The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey) and other magazines. Some of his work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.dpbs
Freckles They Called Him
Walter Branham, a retired teacher, and his wife Victoria went to Applebee’s, the chain restaurant, for lunch one day last week. First time they had gone there. Usually they go to an ethnic restaurant but Victoria wanted a salad. Walt as always was obliging.
The restaurant host was a young man who as a child had attended the middle school where Mr. Branham had taught for years.
That was a long, long time ago but Mr. Branham remembered him for one reason. Back then everyone had called him Freckles.
When Freckles recognized him, he said, "Mr. Branham, it’s good to see you. I haven't seen you in 30 years. I never had you for class but it was always nice to talk to you at recess. You were a lot of fun.”
Mr. Branham said he was glad to see him too.
Freckles turned to Victoria, bowed slightly as some Southerners are still apt to do, and said,
"Miss Victoria, I never met you, but I have heard so much about you from my friends."
Mr. Branham looked at Freckles sternly and said,
"I divorced Victoria four year ago. This is my new wife Agnes. She can cook."
Freckles was very embarrassed. “I'm so sorry, Mrs. Branham. I didn't know. It’s been so long.”
Victoria looked at her husband and said, “Walt, you should be ashamed of yourself. I am Victoria, and I am his wife. He’s not married to any Agnes. There is no Agnes. At least there better not be.”
Freckles looked at Mr. Branham, laughed and said, "You got me again, Mr. Branham.”
At their table the Branhams overheard Freckles telling the waitresses about the joke. They all laughed, including Freckles.
Mr. Branham told his wife he never knew the story behind the nickname. He was afraid it came about more as ridicule than good-natured ribbing.
He had always called Freckles by his surname. Jackson.
In fact he called him Mr. Jackson. He had called all the children by their surnames—Mr. Smith and Miss Jones, whatever the name might be. It made the children feel grown up and they seemed to like it.
Mr. Branham told his wife he couldn't imagine any adult wanting to be called Freckles but he couldn’t remember Mr. Jackson’s first name if indeed he ever knew it.
At the middle school, even the guidance counselors called the boy Freckles.
In this small Southern town, Jackson was a surname as common as briars in a briar patch.
But thirty years ago when he was in middle school, Freckles was likely the only black child for miles around with that nickname.