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  • Writer's pictureRobert John Andrews

Short Stories: "Burthen"

“Burthen: A Fable”

May 10, 2023

Word Count: 1231

By all measures, dear friends, from Highlights Magazine to Sunday School Picture Books to Focus on the Family magazine (in the age before Podcasts), he was a disagreeable and dislikeable child. Oh, his mother started off loving him despite the pain he gave her in childbirth. Even the Obstetric nurses were heard whispering about his oversized and swelled cranium. Still, he was her long-awaited pride and joy. Motherly love was overflowing. It’s just that soon enough she experienced how draining it was to like her little boy. Throughout her pregnancy, days were spent painting the nursery and dreaming about reading stories to her son about Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin. Some dreams pop like a helium balloon. Others fizzle like a dud firecracker. She actually was relieved when her Ob-Gyn informed her she never again could bear another child.

She tried to nurse infant him. He never would choose which teat he preferred for his hourly succor. He seemed to want both at the same time. When his aunt presented him with a brand new rattle he used it to rap his aunt on her knuckles. Still, the family persevered in trying to shape him into a happy and pleasant little boy. Their efforts never bore fruit. Potty training was a particular disaster, so much so that his lack of bowel control continued well into adulthood. Little Burthen -- named after a wealthy elderly cousin of his father’s whom dear old Dad hoped would produce charity in his direction or at least an appropriate mention in his cousin’s will which they all anticipated would soon be read yet who disappointed them all by rallying and persevering beyond all medical predictions -- proved to all the family to be such a disagreeable child that they all agreed it was easier to give in and cater to Burthen’s moods. Their concessional inclination was soon imitated equally by his classmates and his teachers. His first grade teacher once dared to discipline him by making him take a time-out in the cloakroom. To get even for this grievous mistreatment, he raided everyone’s lunch box and ate all their cookies. Teacher learnt her lesson, he grinned, wiping Oreo crumbs from his pants. His Elementary Schoolyard tantrums could only be assuaged by letting him be chosen first at kickball or by his teachers pasting a star on his paperwork (one star was customary but he demanded three) or giving him a passing grade or by fibbing on his report card that he played well with others.

So it went into young adulthood. In High School they crowned him Prom King just to shut him up. He would have claimed the crown anyway. His date only agreed to be his Prom date having been encouraged by her Christian piety that her decency and generosity, compassion and kindness would inspire Burthen to become a reformed young man and use his gifts and talents for the Godly good. Burthen not only failed to buy her a corsage, but as soon as they arrived at the Prom he dumped her near the punch bowl and tried to dance with all the other girls whether they wanted to dance or not. It little mattered to him. He thought they all wanted to dance with someone as special as him. They should feel special for his attentions, howsoever prematurely fleeting.

One late afternoon, his weary and weathered mother finally persuaded her son with a promise of a snack from the corner Delicatessen (he did relish their cheeseburgers and Twinkies) to accompany her on a walk through the neighborhood. She was desperate to get out of the house. On the sidewalk outside the Delicatessen, a Corgi was leashed to a parking meter. Seeing Burthen, the Corgi started barking at him. Her stubby little tail wasn’t wagging. She snarled, her whiskers tingling from a dog’s innate and instinctive sound judgment. Burthen tried to kick the Corgi because she was so disrespectful but missed and struck his foot against a sharp goad that was lying next to the parking meter, spraining his ankle. “Stupid goad, dumb goldbrick goad,” he fussed and fumed, nicknaming the goad to insult it, his nascent jowls jiggering and thickening into a deep magenta. “Look what you made me do! Stupid goads. You got to watch out for them goads. They can jump out and surprise you.” Burthen scowled at the dog which was still barking at him. “I’m going to sue that Corgi’s owner. Dammit, I’m going to sue the city for putting this parking meter here.”

Burthen tried to take a step. His ankle buckled, sore and already swollen. “Take me home,” he instructed his mother. “I can’t walk, so carry me.” With that he leapt up onto her back as best as he could, clutching his mother around the neck. She bent over from the weight, her vertebrae creaking, hooked her arms under his legs, and stumbled home as best as she could.

Upon returning home, he refused to let go of her. During the walk home, Burthen decided he liked being carried around like this. He resolved never to walk again. Why should he when he could be carried? Burthen was insistent. The family had no choice, they felt. They did get him to agree that other family members and their friends could be recruited to carry him around. Except for them letting him slip off their backs for periodic hygienic emergencies, they all felt willing to carry him. Many of the recruited friends initially thought it was quite an honor to be considered so special that he would let them carry him around town. They considered themselves part of a special club dedicated to serving this young man. Burthen awarded them with special caps to designate how special they were. They wore them with pride. Mother, however, did draw the line at Burthen wanting to wear spurs. He even ordered a pair of Mexican rowels from a Western Supply Store.

After a year of carrying Burthen wherever he wanted to be carried, some members of the club started getting sore, their leg muscles cramping. They asked him, very politely, if he wouldn’t mind if they could take shorter shifts between exchanging him with another club or family member. Burthen’s response? He’d just clench them tighter around the neck and shoulders and hoist himself up higher on their backs. Two or three dared to let their arms sag but he’s wrap his legs around them tighter. When one cousin tried to actually rub Burthen against tree to try to get him off, Burthen bit the man’s ear and choked him into compliance. One of Burthen’s favorite activities would be to be carted around town and whenever he spotted a woman he’d cat-call and try to entice her with what he believed were attractive vulgar offers. Several times, the object of Burthen’s attention would try to slap his face but he’d duck and the fellow carrying him would end up being slapped.

Friends: Unless you are one of those who see your purpose in life is to be ridden, please do your best to avoid Burthen’s neighborhood lest you end up getting caught up in the club. I’ve lost several friends already to that club. It’ll be your own fault if you do, for to this day you can see them carrying around town a much bulkier Burthen with his even larger head because they just can’t get him off their backs.

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