Aimee Bender selected Joe Bond’s “Damico” as the winner of our 2018 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers contest. “With swift, fierce sentences, the story covers a lot of ground,” she said, “and we meet a group of boys I cared about quickly, and meaningfully. It kept my attention and I found myself invested in the narrator, and Damico, and Freckles, and Harley—and all the desperate ways they— and all of us– want to care and be cared for. Survival and vulnerability somehow live side by side in this story, and the words seemed driven by their own internal urgency.” Without further ado, the winner:
A peer named Harley ran off and stole a motorcycle. We didn’t know what kind. Somebody said he wrecked it and tore off his leg. Somebody said he was still riding, that he’d called from Canada. It was hard to get good info.
We decided he wasn’t coming back. I took his Bible. Another peer took his condoms. Damico Sears took his pictures from home.
There were twelve of us. When a kid ran away or lost his mind or was otherwise removed from the program, I always swiped his Bible. Peers thought I was religious, but that was where they hid their money. They laid their bills out flat—a one slipped into the book of Job, a five wedged into Mark and so on. I gave a couple of bucks to Damico. He had a baby somewhere. It needed things.
Damico was sixteen. He told us stories about holding his baby in the palm of his hand. The truth was, he had never seen it. He didn’t know its name. He was pretty sure its birthday was in December, though. In December, the baby was turning one and Damico was going to be there.
Couple weeks after Harley went AWOL, we got a new peer. Fat kid with copper hair. He thought he had an attitude.
“Wipe that look off your face,” we told him the second he walked in the door.
The JTOs—juvenile treatment officers—shaved his copper hair down to his scalp. We could hear him putting up a fight. We dragged him into a shower, stripped him down and blasted him with ice-cold water. His skin was soft and freckled and lumpy.
“He’s got tits,” one of us said. “This peer’s got tits.”
Damico paired off with him and tried to teach him the Orientation handbook. Freckles called him a motherfucker. Damico took a smoke break.
It was 1988. They let you smoke cigarettes at boys homes back then. You could pair off with a Graduation phase, step outside and get away from the group for a few minutes.