by Anne Hedonia

The shock of landing face first in a cold, gray puddle was far and away secondary to the shock of what had sent him there.

He dragged himself to his knees in the muck and looked back, small hands clearing water - if not disbelief - from his face, young pink lips spitting bilge. His dampening hair was still streaked with golden brown then, shorter than the length it would eventually achieve, but with the rain's help, still in his eyes.

And you'll not be back, boy! Else you fancy a beating to hasten your last breath!

His father was a blurred figure in a hazy doorway whose light still beckoned despite what young Jack Sparrow knew to be past it. His mother was a smaller, cowed figure behind. He waited three aching breaths for her to protest. His whole body panicked when she did not.

Left to his own, he mustered a protest, claimed his rights and a knowledge of the Way Things Were Done, his tiny voice a parody of authority in the din of the rain.

And with a hearty, mocking guffaw, the answer had come back.

Even bellowed imprecisely from his father's drunken lips, it sliced like a bone saw. At that instant its truth slithered beneath his skin, shivered into his limbs, became gospel.

It had stung to carry it - until he learned.

Weeks later his clothes and face wear grime like a red A to the chest, and his eyes do the nervous dance of the survivor.

He confers outside a baker's shop with an older boy, someone who's telling him what to do, someone whose grin is slippery, whose eyes aren't trustworthy. Jack sees the meaning of this anew: not just teasing or thumps to the head or prized possessions held too high to reach. The difference now between eating and not, between keeping what is his and a gnaw in the belly like dying.

He makes a decision that will guide him the rest of his days.

The older boy has outlined the plan to his own satisfaction. Jack nods and enters the store a few moments later, loading goods into his threadbare clothing as the older boy distracts the clerk.

Then, at their meeting place, the older boy sees nothing but Jack's back a hundred yards off, tiny and growing tinier, his flying bare feet whisking himself and his bulging clothes away.

The older boy gives furious chase, but strength and age aren't speed and he's too tall to see the holes in the fences that Jack uses for doors, much less fit through.

When a flailing arm past a broken fence slat proves pointless, the older boy's head appears above the wood and bellows his indignation: We had an accord! You're breaking the rules!

Jack knows the answer, and it makes his young lip curl upward, anticipating the swarthy mustache it'll one day carry:

The only rules that matter are these, he calls back. What a man can do and what he can't.


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