The Dependents

By Ben Sumner

“Butchy!” Dorothy Henderson yelled out the kitchen screen window while she cooked a fried chicken dinner with mashed potatoes.

“Yes’m?” Butchy replied from the backyard, looking up from the hole he was digging to catch earth worms. Butchy’s real name was Albert, after his father. Everyone called him Butchy to avoid confusion, and continued to do so after Albert died five years earlier from a heart attack.

“Run down to the store and get me some sour cream, please.”

“All right, Mamma. You got me some money?”

“It’s on the counter.”

Butchy dashed in, grabbed the money and sprinted out the door. His slingshot fell from his back pocket onto the porch when the door slammed shut. The general store was a few blocks away.

Mamma looked out the window, gazing at her adopted children while they played. During the spring and summer, she let them outside most of the day.

“Why were their parents so heartless to give them up?” Mamma frequently spoke out loud to herself. She had no answer to that question, but kept asking it. A tear trickled down her cheek every time she thought about it. “God told me to take them. Even though we don’t got much money, no one is unfortunate enough to help the unfortunate.”

Franklin played in the sandbox. He was taught to cover it up when he finished playing, so the cat, Fluffy, would not use it as kitty litter. He shoveled the sand into the bucket, packed it tightly, then dumped it back in the sand, making a replica of the bucket’s round internal structure.

Michael sat on the swing, kicking his legs to rock back and forth. He would never go very high. One time, Butchy started pushing him a little too hard. Michael went flying off into Franklin’s sandbox, destroying one of the bucket models. Mamma made Butchy stay in his room for the rest of the day for that incident.

Erin climbed up the small, rusty ladder and slowly pulled herself down the sliding board. The steps of the ladder began to bend from her weight.

Herman played with the toy trucks on the dying grass. Mamma wanted to plant a new lawn when she saved up the money. She collected a social security check, but she had little left after she paid for their basic needs.

Seth sat in his wooden chair, looking at the bird’s nest on top of the house. He would sit there for hours, making chirping sounds whenever he saw the birds fly. Fluffy sometimes climbed onto his lap and cuddled. He did not really like Fluffy because she always tried to catch the birds when they were within reach.

Their ages ranged from 23 to 27 years, their I.Q.’s slightly higher. They had Down’s Syndrome, all given up by their parents shortly after birth simply because they were not ‘normal.’ There was not much more to their lives than what they were doing at any moment.

“Without sour cream, there might as well be no potatoes.” Mamma looked away from her children and continued fixing dinner. “We’re having a good meal tonight.” She said that every night. Never one to let herself or her family starve, Mamma twirled the scale to its two-hundred eighty pound limit, hiding it all under floral moo-moos. Her late husband weighed even more. Ironically, her four biological children were thinner, though Mamma always kept them stuffed.

Someone knocked on the front door. “Door’s open!” Mamma hollered. The screen door squeaked as Lizzy opened it.

“Hi Mamma!” Lizzy, Mamma’s daughter, walked in, wearing her suit from her secretarial job. “I found Butchy’s slingshot on the ground.” She placed it on the counter.

“Hello, Elizabeth Ann! Glad you came. Where’s your handsome husband?”

“Leroy couldn’t make it. He had to work down at the garage. I got you some money.” Lizzy and Leroy got married out of high school after dating since elementary school. She handed Mamma an envelope.

“Oh, dear, thank you. I hope you and Leroy are doing all right.” Along with Lizzy, Mamma’s grown boys, Chuck and Johnny, helped support their adopted family, but Mamma still had little left to save. Their worst financial crisis came 17 years before, when all 11 of them were living in the same three bedroom house, using all of Albert’s check each week. A few years later, Johnny, Chuck and Lizzy were old enough to get part-time jobs, taking some of the pressure off Albert and his 65 hour weeks as a crane operator at construction sites.

“We’re doing just fine, Mamma. Leroy’s gonna buy the garage soon. The owner really likes him, so he’s cutting him a good deal. Leroy needs to save up a certain amount of money before the bank approves his loan. He’s not asking anything from me, but I try to slip him a few bucks.”

“If you can’t afford to give me this, by all means, take it back.”

“No way, Mamma. It’s all your’s. Where’s everybody?” Mamma thanked herself and the Lord for raising Lizzy, Chuck and Johnny to think of the family first.

“The kids are out back. Butchy’s down at the store buying sour cream.”


“That’s right. In fact, dinner’s almost ready.”

“I’m gonna go say hi to the kids.” Lizzy walked out of the screen door to the fenced-in backyard. The surrounding fence stood six feet high, wooden strips bound together, sticking from the dirt. Albert and Butchy built a wooden bench that stood along the fence.

“Hi everyone!”

Herman looked up from playing with his toy trucks. He smiled, showing innocence and love on his face.

Erin got off her slide and bear-hugged her. “Hi Lizzy,” she said in her young girl voice.

Michael waved to her from his swing. “Hi Lizzy!” he said cheerfully.

Franklin waved to her from his sandbox. Seth remained in his seat, not realizing she was there. The only ones he paid attention to were Mamma and the birds.

A few minutes later, Butchy came running through the door. “Mamma, I got your sour cream!” Butchy’s IQ was 80. He made it through special-education high school with a little help from teachers who graded him on effort rather than content. He was a hard worker, and his teachers knew it, but they also believed he wasn’t capable of college. Now he would help Mamma with the ‘kids.’ The kids had gone to a school for children with Down’s syndrome, but were no longer eligible to attend after they turned 21.

“Thank you. Now gimme my change.”

“Oh Mamma, it’s only a few pennies,” he pleaded.

“I’ll let you have two. Gimme the rest.”

“Yes’m. Thank you.” He pocketed the two shiny coppers and put the rest on the table. Mamma was trying to teach Butchy the value of money, and had been for the past ten years. She had to teach him the value since they did not have much money. The store down the way had some cheap candy, and that was all Butchy was really interested in. Those pennies were all Mamma trusted him with since he lost so many things from his pockets.

“Don’t go saving it up for candy, now. You dropped your slingshot.” Butchy grabbed his weapon off the counter and went to his room.

Lizzy walked back into the house. “Mamma, the kids are looking good. They’re getting along by themselves out there. They don’t go hollering for you, do they?”

“Once in a while Seth starts crying. That’s about it. I’m able to leave em out there while I do stuff inside, but I go out and keep em company.” Mamma and Lizzy continued talking about life.

. . .

Three young boys rode their bicycles to the back of the Henderson’s home. They leaned their bikes against the fence and balanced themselves on the seats, staring over the backyard fence, rocks in hand.

“There they are.”

“See, I told you.”

“They’re monsters.”

“Give me some of them rocks.”

“Throw em!”

The boys open-fired a few handfuls of small rocks, striking the kids several times. Seth screamed as a rock hit him square in the forehead, tears and saliva spewing within seconds. A rock slammed into Michael’s chest, thumping him over into the fetal position, covering his head with both hands. Erin took one on the back. “Got you, monster!” one boy yelled.

Mamma heard the screams and looked out the window. “What the…”

“Let’s go!” The boys jumped on their bikes and took off.

Mamma and Lizzy ran into the backyard.

“Seth! Are you all right baby?” Mamma ran over to Seth, who was screaming and foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. Erin and Michael cried, while Franklin and Herman, who had not been hit, comforted the others with hugs as they did whenever one of them cried.

Lizzy stepped onto the bench, looking over the fence, unable to see the faces of the boys racing away on their bikes. “Come back here!” she screamed. “I said come back here!”

Mamma’s kids wailed, crumpling into her arms.

. . .

A week later, Mamma allowed the kids to return outside. Lizzy went searching for the three boys after the incident, but came home without a clue. Mamma did not think the rock-throwers would return, but she always kept her eyes on her kids from the windows when she was not out there with them. After raising three boys herself, she thought the rock-throwers would find other things to do instead, like chasing girls or picking on someone that had the chance to defend themselves.

Butchy was running around playing with the kids or with his friends in the neighborhood. He did not know the kids who threw the rocks, but Mamma kept bugging him to find out who they were. He could not find them. There were too many kids in that neighborhood to go pointing fingers. He never even heard rumors of who it was.

Day in and day out Mamma kept her eyes peeled. She would go outside and play with them for awhile and then come in and watch her stories on their 13-inch black and white television. She dreamed of having a big-screened television with a VCR and surround-sound speakers, but she knew she would never get that chance. Besides, Mamma had always put other people ahead of her. If she had the money for an entertainment center, instead she would grow a new backyard lawn for the kids and lend some to Leroy for the garage.

Another week passed. Lizzy and Leroy came over for Sunday dinner, but little else happened.

On a Tuesday afternoon during Mamma’s soaps, she heard Seth scream from outside. At first she thought it was a false alarm. Once in a while, Seth would start crying or hollering for her.

This time the scream was a little louder. Mamma got up from her easy chair and darted outside, seeing Franklin grasping his forehead. She saw a rock nail Michael in the shoulder. Even after they were all hit, more rocks came shooting from over the fence.

“Retards! Die retards!” The last boy’s head still poked over the wooden strips. His eyes locked with Mamma’s for a split second before he disappeared behind the fence.

Mamma ran across the yard, stepped onto the bench against the fence and quickly peered over. She could make out three boys on their bicycles pedaling as fast as they could down the street.

“You all come back here!” She screamed furiously. Her face reddened and tears rolled out of her eyes, hearing her kids shriek behind her. Her heart thumped loudly and she broke out into a sweat. “I said come back-”

Mamma fell off the bench onto her back, hitting her head on a bear patch in the lawn. She tried to scream but her voice ran dry. The color faded from her face as she clutched the stiffening pain in her chest. She couldn’t breath. All she saw was the light-blue sky with bunches of clouds almost welcoming her. Seth’s face came into her line of vision, his tears dropping onto her forehead but she could not feel them, nor could she hear his cries. Then she could not see him, or anything else.

Seth noticed Mamma had fallen, and he jumped out of his chair and ran to her. He had little knowledge and patience, but he knew Mamma was hurt because she fell. He dove onto her, arms reaching around her belly, screaming louder than he ever had before, his face as red as a new barn, tears and drenching his face, saliva dripping down his chin. He fell onto her quietly.

A few birds flew from the roof, over the fence, up into the air. Fluffy jumped on the bench, attempting to reach them.

. . .

Butchy discovered the bodies of Mamma and Seth about ten minutes later when he returned home from soaking neighborhood kids with water balloons, all in good fun in the hot summer weather. Knowing that Mamma and Seth were hurt, he dialed 911, just like Mamma taught him to do in case of an emergency. He managed to calm down the kids by putting them in their beds, but the reality struck him when he returned outside. As the ambulance pulled up, Butchy sat by his mother and his adopted brother Seth, weeping and mumbling Why?

. . .

After the ambulance took Mamma and Seth to the hospital, Butchy called Lizzy at work and told her the news. Lizzy tore out of her office to the local hospital, just in time to hear that Dorothy Henderson and her adopted son, Seth Henderson had died.

Dorothy died of a heart attack, one that was bound to happen because of her poor health, similar to her husband’s. Years earlier the doctors said Mamma’s adopted kids were not supposed to live past the age of three due to their retardation. Twenty-four years later the doctors said Seth died from shock because he saw his Mamma die.

Lizzy called Leroy at the garage and told him the bad news. Leroy, who was a lot less emotional than his wife, left work and called their family and friends. Emotional distress spread just as the news did to every family member and close friend.

When Lizzy came home, she saw Butchy sitting on the couch with Herman, Erin, Michael and Franklin, reading out loud The Little Engine that Could, a book he had refused to read before because it was ‘too childish.’ Every other book to Butchy was ‘too hard.’

Lizzy, tears in her eyes, explained to the kids that Mamma and Seth went to heaven. They cried slightly but understood, especially since they remembered when Albert died years before. Herman asked if it was because of the rocks.

“What rocks, Herman?” Lizzy asked.

“Boys threw rocks,” he muttered between tears, missing Mamma with every word, taking in the love around him.

“Did the boys throw the rocks again?” she asked.

Herman nodded.

“Oh my sweet Jesus!” Lizzy picked up the phone and called the sheriff.

The sheriff found neither the perpetrators nor witnesses, even after questioning everyone in the neighborhood.

A few days later Dorothy and Seth Henderson were buried in St. Anne’s Burial Ground, right next to Albert.

Lizzy and Leroy agreed to move in with Butchy and the kids. Chuck and Johnny would continue to help financially support the family.

During the day, Lizzy and Leroy worked, leaving Butchy to take care of the kids. Butchy vowed he was responsible enough, so Lizzy and Leroy gave him a chance at watching them himself, though they were always worried and called frequently. They also could not afford to hire a full-time baby sitter, so Butchy was their best option.

Butchy played with the kids the entire day. He got impatient with them sometimes, but he never left them alone. Ms. Buchanan, a long-time family friend and Mamma’s bingo partner, came over twice a day to help Butchy make breakfast and lunch. After work, Lizzy rushed home to cook dinner.

. . .

“Butchy, have them boys returned?” Lizzy asked over a fried chicken and mashed potato dinner. This had been the first time the family had the chance to sit down and eat together since Lizzy and Leroy moved in a month before. Usually, Leroy had to work late at the garage. When Leroy and Lizzy sold their house and moved into Mamma’s, Leroy had the money to get the loan and buy the garage. Mamma’s house was all paid for so they had no more house payments. Like most people in their town, they lived by the paycheck.

“I haven’t seen em. But I’m staying outside, keeping my eyes peeled.”

“Butchy, I’m gonna teach you how to use my rifle. If them boys ever come back here again, you have a legal right to shoot em.” Leroy said.

“Leroy! You’re not letting him use your rifle! You know what’ll happen if Butchy shoots em. He’ll go to trial and they’ll convict him of murder. We can’t afford a good lawyer to prove self-defense.” Lizzy looked up from her meal.

“That’s okay, Leroy. I’d prefer to use my bullwhip, here.” Butchy showed them his new hobby, which he kept with him most hours of the day, even during dinner.

“A bullwhip? Where’d you get that?” Leroy asked as he stuffed a fork full of chicken into his mouth.

“It was in Mamma’s private trunk,” Butchy said.

Lizzy laughed. “Now I recognize it. Mamma used to threaten Chuck and Johnny with it when they were fighting.”

“I gotta get me one of them,” Leroy said. He had been a father-figure to Butchy since Albert died. Chuck and Johnny couldn’t visit nearly as often since they lived further away, so Leroy was the only man Butchy could look up to on a regular basis.

“Erin, you want me to cut your chicken more?” Lizzy asked. Erin had chicken all over her bib. All the kids wore bibs. Mamma made Butchy wear one until the he was 12 because he was a sloppy eater. Actually, that had not changed.

Erin nodded her head. “Yeth,” she said.

“Cut chick’n,” Michael said.

Leroy pulled Michael’s plate to him.

“No!” Michael hollered.

“No, Leroy. Michael wants to do it himself.” Butchy gave Michael his knife and Leroy returned his plate.

“There you go, Michael,” Butchy encouraged him. “Cut cut cut!

Cut cut cut!” Michael replied.

“You’re doing great, Michael!” Lizzy was extremely impressed. With the exception of Seth, who was spoon fed all his life, the kids were able to use a special half fork, half spoon themselves, called a spork. Mamma never let them use knives, though she let Butchy run around with his weapons. He was careful with them and never threatened anyone, so she allowed it.

After Michael finished cutting his own chicken, they encouraged the others to do so as well. Erin tried it, but had a hard time doing it without Leroy’s help. Franklin and Herman got the hang of it.

“See, you just gotta have patience and teach em things. They ain’t much use if you don’t teach em new things.” Butchy had been wanting to tell this to Mamma all his life, but Mamma always stuck to the basics, keeping them entirely dependent with the exception of leaving them outside alone. Lizzy and Leroy nodded, both agreeing with Butchy.

“Butchy, what’d you do today?” Lizzy asked him, as she did every evening at the dinner table.

“The usual. Played with the kids outside. I was teaching em stuff.”

“Like what?” Leroy asked, not taking his eyes off Herman and his knife handling ability.

“Just stuff. You know, like doing things they don’t normally do. Like we’re doing now. Little things.” They ate for a few more minutes.

Leroy leaned over to Lizzy. “Are they all fixed?”

Lizzy replied. “Where did that question come from?”

“I was just wondering. I’ve never asked it before.”

“Mamma got it done years ago. I don’t know if Butchy is, though.”

“I ain’t what?” Butchy asked, wanting in on the conversation.

“You like gals, don’t ya Butchy?” Leroy asked.

“Yeah I like gals. Got my eye on Becky down the street. Haven’t been able to see her much since I’m staying here all the time with the kids. Schools starting soon so she’ll be away even more.”

“We’ll let you go see her on the weekends,” Lizzy told her younger brother.

“You know what sex is?” Leroy asked with a mouth full of chicken.

“Leroy!” Lizzy yelled.

Butchy blushed, reddening his cheeks. “Yeah.”

Leroy then spat out the question. “Butchy, do you got urges to be with that gal Becky?”

Butchy’s blush faded to a deeper shade of red. “Yeah.”

“Leroy, that’s enough. I don’t think he’s fixed.”

“What you mean ‘fixed’?” Butchy asked. They finished their dinner and continued the small talk.

Another week passed.

. . .

The three children rode their bikes to the back of the Henderson’s home.

“Hurry up! We’re gonna get them retards good.”

“You got the rocks?”

“Yeah, I got some outta that gravel pit down the way.”

“It’s too bad they weren’t outside that one day when we came.”

They approached the Henderson’s back fence, looking around to make sure no one was watching.

“I hope they’re outside.” They leaned their bikes against the fence and stood on the seats, rocks in hand.

Butchy, who stood in the house, saw the three boys’ faces through the screen door. “Now!”

Michael, Herman, Franklin and Erin stood on the bench, popping their heads over the fence to come face to face with the boys.

Herman shot a pebble from the slingshot into the jaw of another boy, then reloaded, firing another. The boy fell off his bike, getting a face-full of dirt.

Erin splashed a piss-filled water balloon into a boy’s face. Butchy had filled a few himself and left them under the bench. That boy fell off his bike, hitting the dirt hard, wiping his eyes with his shirt.

Franklin gave the last boy a face-full of Fluffy’s crap mixed with sand.

Michael snapped the whip at the first boy as tried to get up. Another boy, wiping the piss out of his eyes, stumbled over the boy on the ground.

Butchy had since run through the house, around it, to the other side of the fence, grabbing his Louisville slugger on the way, his newest weapon of choice.

When he arrived on the other side, the three boys were wiping the piss, sand and cat crap out of their eyes and the whip strapped around one of the boy’s legs.

Butchy brought the bat to each bike, smashing away, busting the handlebars, the tires, the seats, the kick-stands and the spokes, leaving few parts in good enough shape to pull off and use as spares.

The three boys, seeing that Butchy was demolishing their bikes, ran home, never looking back, never returning.

Michael, Herman, Franklin and Erin cheered, hands in the air, watching the boys until they were out of sight.

Butchy ran back around and joined them, happy that his patience and teachings paid off.