We sat on the curb. Dad, my older brother and, of course, I. It was the part of the parade when the politicians walk by waving, and people watching pretend that they care. The marching bands were next. Their beats, bombastic and driving, always got my legs wiggling, my toes tapping.
“Ya know,” Dad said to us. His words spoken slowly and cryptically, as was his usual manner. “He cut off the natives’ noses and ears… ya know that, don’t ya?”
My brother, being smarter and cleverer than I, nodded his head. “Yeah, him?” He pointed up to the banner hanging over the passing parade. On it, the famous portrait of the Explorer.
Dad smirked. “Yep.” He pulled my ear, then my nose. “If you didn’t give him riches – gold and more gold – the rotter chopped off your ears… or nose.” Dad flicked my brother’s nostril. “Maybe both if he was feeling particularly devilish.”
The idea of someone cutting away parts of my body sent chills into my bones.
And the October sun beamed on and warmed the parade route.
As waves of shivers lingered under my flesh, Dad gripped my hand. He ran his index finger along my wrist.
“The next time you run into him,” Dad spoke into my still-there ear, “that next time… still no gold to give up?”
I stared down at my hand, held within Dad’s tight grasp.
“Shake your head, son. When I ask, ‘Still no gold to give up?’ you shake your head in response.”
My eyes found Dad’s. My brother watched us, smiling.
Dad asked, “Still no gold to give up?” The words carried something heavy.
I shook my head.
“Then, slice!” He drew his finger across my wrist and lifted my hand into the air. “You lose your hand!”
I pulled my hand away from him, clutched it to my cold chest.
“Ah,” Dad went on. “A perfect placement for your hand! Because that’s where it shall dangle! Around your neck, laying on your chest!” He pointed his thumb toward my brother. “Your sibling here, he gives the evil menace the gold he so lustfully craves. And -” Dad slapped my brother’s chest, “he gets to wear a token around his neck… but, that expires after a while. So, you’d better pay up, boys!”
Dad laughed. The sound reached the opposite side of the street. People looked over.
He reached out and put his arms around my brother and I. Held our shoulders, then pulled us close to him.
“But,” Dad sighed, now holding our heads, “in the end, he probably just kills you anyway… gold or no gold… He’s a rotter. He’s crazy… and, oh! He kidnaps your daughters and sells them! Don’t want to leave out that detail…”
The neighboring town’s high school marching band drummed its way by us. Batons flew into the sky. Twirled in front of the Explorer’s grim face. His painted image glared down upon all of us. Wishing to take our gold, our hands, our lives.
I lifted my head from Dad’s heartbeat. “Why are we here, then?” I asked him. “What are we celebrating?” I looked to my brother. Looked to the Explorer, his deathly gaze.
Dad waved to a passing float, made up to look like an old, wooden boat. The Mayor stood atop it, dressed in a costume to resemble the Explorer.
“I don’t know, son,” he said. The mayor returned Dad’s wave. “Just enjoy the parade.”