The Bitter in the Sweet, Ambit Magazine

Short story The Bitter in the Sweet has been published in Ambit Magazine!

Extract below, or buy issue 223 in bookshops now or available from Ambit’s website

The Bitter in the Sweet

The Sugar Man is eight years old. He stands on shoeless feet, knee deep in brown water, and feels mud, beneath which, at the left foot, a hard stone is resting under his sole.

In one hand the boy, already heir to an empire of sugar, raised on sugar, grown just a bit fat on the spoils of good, white, Brazilian sugar, in one hand the sugar boy, stout and strong and eight years old, holds a fishing rod, connected by a thin slack line to the surface of the water. In the other hand he holds a rock, which he picked from underneath the other foot.

No one at this stage predicts that this boy will grow into a Sugar Man of great determination and vision. Who will pick drops of melted sugar out of the earth, still hot, with his bare hands and shake his head. His stubbornness may already be evident, his self sufficiency: he’s out here alone after all, and this may be his family’s land, but it’s a long way from his family’s house. But the parts of an adult you can see in a child of eight years old must be treated carefully, they are tinted with retrospect. ‘He always loved nature’ his mother will say after he’s grown up, rolling her eyes (which after years have sunk back, gleaming, in their sockets, peeping like dark animals from burrows), ‘He always did love nature, my boy’.

He has the fishing rod so that he can catch fish, and he holds himself stoutly, well centred, on both legs, in preparation for a bite. He holds the rock to throw at the alligator who he knows has an appetite for sturdy legs. The alligator’s hours at this bend of the brown and limpid river are as regulator as circumstances allow. So are the boy’s. For the alligator it might be an unexpected kill upriver, near the stalks of sugar cane, green legions, something stumbling from the banks, which makes it sluggish. For the boy it might be, once in a blue moon, a hand on the shoulder ‘…right there young man…’ The wedding of a cousin, the discovery of neglected schoolwork, the occasional flurry of concern, passing quickly.