Talmi sat in front of the girl he loved, in the darkness, under a table out of all places. His breathing stilled as she gently took his hand and cradled it in hers. Rose’s eyes flickered up to his face and were cast down again as she blushed. Talmi sensed that she was nervous too.
“Do you want to get married?” Rose asked in a hushed tone. Her dark chocolate eyes were wide and full.
Could I have a place to fit all this love? Won’t a person blow up from having too much of anything? Talmi smiled as Rose snuggled against him.
“Let’s get married so I won’t have to leave you! If we’re married, the folks that would be taking me home would have to take you too!” she said. Talmi shook his head but Rose protested.
“Now don’t argue with me Talmi! We’re getting married and that’s that. It’s a good thing you can’t speak. Miss Grinch always told me if a woman ever has a husband, he must be born mute. You’re my soul mate Talmi and I can’t let you go. If I leave, you leave with me.” Talmi placed a finger on his lips to quiet her down but she pushed his hand away and leaned forward.
“You have to kiss me now.” Rose whispered. Talmi nearly stopped breathing, but his heartbeat doubled in speed. He had never kissed Rose before or any other girl for that matter. Her face was centimeters away from his face. Her eyes were wide open. Talmi gulped and closed his eyes, leaning forward to touch her lips, feeling her frizzy red hair touch his cheeks.
At that very moment, the tablecloth that covered their private kiss flew up and Miss Ginch poked her head through to catch the two children.
“I knew it!” she screeched, holding a candle, wearing a ridiculous lacy pink and white bed cap. Rose screamed as Miss Ginch grabbed her arm and pulled her out from under the table.
“You little insect! Lucky for you, you’re going for good tomorrow! Get your prissy little rump back to bed!” she said, giving Rose a rough push. Rose sobbed as she left and Talmi scrambled out of the table, only to meet Miss Ginch’s hand twisting his ear. He let out a sharp gasp and twisted his body just as she wrenched his ear.
“Trying to be Casanova aren’t you, you little mute! Upstairs now!” Miss Ginch said, giving him a hard push up the stairs. Talmi’s ear throbbed in pain as he trudged up the stairs. The old wooden stairs had wheezed under his weight. He arrived in front of dark and worn door of his room. Pushing the door gently, it swung open and Talmi heard the hush and giggles coming from the row of beds in the long room he had shared with the rest of the boys in the orphanage.
“It’s Talmi. Where did you go Talmi?” Joseph, the boy next to Talmi’s bed asked. Joseph was Talmi’s closest friends. Joseph was only a few years older than Talmi and had been missing two fingers in his left hand. The other children quickly learned not to tease Talmi because of Joseph. Often times, Joseph would warn them that he had lost his pointer and middle finger in a fight with a rabid dog and an armed thief, but Joseph only confessed to Talmi it was due to an illness as a very young child that he had lost his fingers. Even if everyone had known that Joseph had lost his fingers because of an illness, Talmi had little doubt that it would change their fear of him.
“He probably went to tinkle. Didn’t you Talmi?” asked another boy. Talmi looked over to Edgar, who sat up on his bed, his gaze fixed above Talmi’s head, looking at no one in particular. There was a loud slam from the doorway and everyone turned to see Miss Ginch standing there with a snarl on her face.
“You lot are going to be the death of me! Go to sleep or I’ll throw you into the streets!” Miss Ginch yelled. Talmi jumped into his bed and quickly pulled the covers over his head, hearing Miss Ginch close the door behind her and still rambling as she went down the stairs.
“She never comes inside to put us to sleep.” Edgar said, settling himself to go to sleep.
“How can she with that fat arse of hers? Her arse would be stuck in the doorway and the last thing we need is this bloody building to fall with us in it. You’re lucky you can’t see her Edgar, she’s a sure fright.” Joseph said. The boys in the pitch black bedroom giggled at Joseph’s quip and soon fell asleep for the day ahead of them.
Talmi jerked awake from his sleep. Joseph shook him vigorously, looking relieved to see him finally awake.
“Talmi! Rose is leaving with her new parents and she’s screaming for you!” Joseph said quickly.
Last night’s kiss and Rose’s promise to take him with her had all come back to his mind. Talmi threw his covers to the side and bolted for the door. Joseph followed behind as they raced down the spiral wooden stairs into the main hallway. He the felt cold and damp tiles beneath his feet, its crevices dark with dirt and grime. Talmi spotted Rose standing next to her new parents. Rose was wearing a bright white fur coat. Her new mother wore a coat that matched Rose’s and fixed a matching hat on Rose’s head.
“You look splendid Rose.” said the woman. Rose gave her mother a half hearted smile and looked away, then locked eyes with Talmi.
“Talmi!” Rose screeched. Miss Ginch, who had been waiting patiently for the parents to leave with Rose pursed her lips and flared her nose at the very sight of Talmi.
“Mrs. Nelson! Mr. Nelson! We must take Talmi with us! I can’t live without him, please!” Rose begged, holding on to Talmi tightly. Talmi felt his throat constricting and his eyes stinging from the tears. He held on to Rose tighter than before when he had seen Miss Ginch bustling towards them. With a firm grasp on his neck, Miss Ginch was able to pull him back but Rose securely clung on to him, showing no intentions of letting go.
“I say let go of her!” Miss Ginch barked. She shook Talmi by the neck who shut his eyes tightly and opened his mouth in pain, not being able to make any audible sounds.
“You’re hurting him!” Rose screamed, swinging at Miss Ginch while trying to hold Talmi. Mrs. Nelson, a thin woman with short brown hair and a large pointed nose came over to take Rose away from Talmi. Talmi had met Rose’s mother before and never forgot the words she had said to him along with many of the parents that would visit in hopes of adopting a child.
“That’s the mute boy isn’t it?” Mr. Nelson asked smoking from his cherry red pipe. He stood straight in his grey English cut suit and poised with a hand in his pocket.
Mrs. Nelson bent down to Rose and brushed her shoulders as if she had just rolled around in dirt.
“Sweetheart there are so many other boys you would like. This boy cannot even speak and has no place in this world for himself, much less you. Be a good little girl and let’s leave, your home is waiting for you.” Mrs. Nelson said standing straight and taking Rose’s hand.
“This is my home. Talmi is my soul mate.” Rose said her voice breaking. She looked over towards Talmi with her large brown eyes welled up in tears. Mrs. Nelson laughed at Rose, still pulling her towards the door where their carriage waited.
Mr. Nelson’s twitched his large curled moustache and drew in the smoke from his pipe that rested from the side of his mouth. He gave a nod at Miss Ginch who gave him a grin that Talmi thought had been due to a bite from a mad dog.
“You have a good day Mr. Nelson.” Miss Ginch said. Mr. Nelson left through the open doors and boarded his carriage. Talmi only saw a glimpse of a weeping Rose before the coachmen whipped the horse and rode off. Talmi felt a sharp squeeze from his neck and he was turned around by Miss Ginch.
“You little dumb bastard.” She hissed.
“Don’t call him that!” Joseph roared. Miss Ginch snapped around to Joseph, narrowing her eyes at him. Joseph stood red faced breathing heavily at Miss Ginch.
“And who are you supposed to be, telling me this?” Miss Ginch asked, grabbing his ear and twisting it. Joseph let out an angry growl and made a swipe for her hand.
“You’re no one to call anyone names! Just because you run this orphanage doesn’t mean any of us have to put up with your abuse! You’re just a miserable fat lump of shit that’ll never get married!” Joseph yelled. There were a few audible gasps including Talmi’s that followed behind Joseph’s comment. The children from the stairs above watched in horror as Miss Ginch turned towards them, her eyes bulging in rage and her face red with humiliation.
“GET TO YOUR ROOMS!” she bellowed. The children didn’t need to be told twice. They scrambled away and locked themselves in their rooms but Talmi knew that they were trying their best to listen through the door. Talmi looked over to Miss Ginch who trembled in her own rage, gawking at Joseph.
The last image of Joseph in Talmi’s memory had been when Miss Ginch grabbed Joseph by the collar and dragged him into an empty room for a sound lashing. The last words that Joseph had told Talmi rung in Talmi’s ears.
“Save yourself Talmi! Whatever you do leave this place! Be anywhere but here!” Joseph yelled through the door. His screams and yells were drowned down by the crack of a leather belt.
Talmi had been unable to sleep that night. He curled into a ball, listening for the slightest indication of Joseph’s return. He wanted Joseph to walk through the doors and complain about the welts on his bottom that Miss Ginch had given him but a small nagging voice in Talmi’s mind kept telling Talmi that he wasn’t going to see Joseph anymore.
He was killed. He was killed. He was killed.
There were voices outside, and the sound of a shovel hitting the earth. Talmi furrowed his eyebrows, listening to the sounds of digging. He lifted his head from his pillow and craned his head to see two men digging into the soil. An oil lamp was set beside the working site where the men were digging, its feeble light, casting enough luminosity for the digging men and their pit.
“What do you suppose they’re doing?” Edgar asked from his bed. Talmi swallowed nervously, feeling his entire body go numb as he stared at the digging men. A few boys crept out of their beds and huddled themselves around the window, watching the men finish their digging. It was a small space but was large enough for a child. The men disappeared from their sight and came back a moment later, carrying something that was wrapped in a white sheet.
Something slipped out of the white sheet, revealing an arm and a hand with two missing fingers.
The next morning, everyone was in a sullen mood. Talmi stood in front of the window in the room that he shared with Joseph and the rest of the boys in the orphanage. He watched the dark lump of fresh dirt where Joseph’s body lay, feeling a pain in his chest, as if he had been punched. Losing one of his best friends and the girl that he loved, all in the same day had broken him.
This doesn’t happen very often to other children except cursed ones like me. Talmi thought.
His lower lip trembled and tears slipped from his eyes, releasing whatever he had been holding since yesterday. He rested his head against the window pane and sobbed silently, feeling completely abandoned. Talmi felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned around to see Edgar standing behind him, his large ice blue eyes gazing straight at the window, missing Talmi’s face.
“You haven’t eaten anything this morning.” Edgar said.
“I’ve learned a lot about this world. I was born without sight and I’ve been told that I wouldn’t last very long, being blind and all…Miss Ginch told me.” Edgar patted Talmi on the back. “I believe her. So many people visit this orphanage, but as soon as they find out we’re disabled, their rejection is the coldest. I can’t see their faces but I can hear their disgust…I can feel their disappointment. Sometimes I think I am always letting everyone down because of my disability, that because of my blindness, I’m disgusting. But really Talmi, we’re disgusting to everyone.” Edgar said. The rims of Edgar’s eyes slowly turned red as he cried while he spoke to Talmi. They both stood there in silence, sniffing and wiping their tears.
“He’s in a good place now.”
Talmi and Edgar turned around to see Jody walking in, Rose’s best friend. Jody was unusually thin with straight jet black hair and a face so pale and pointed; Talmi could have sworn that she was already dead.
“I know of someone kind enough to take all of us in. He has a place for all of us in his Kingdom.” Jody said, peering out of the window to look at Joseph’s grave.
Talmi’s eyebrows rose. Who was this man that had a Kingdom that was kind enough to take everyone in? Why hadn’t Talmi heard of him before? Edgar mirrored Talmi’s expression but voiced Talmi’s thoughts.
“Who is he?” Edgar asked. Jody paused, looking at both of them.
“Our ultimate Father…God.” Jody said. Talmi felt his shoulders slump slightly. Yes he had heard of God before. Edgar sucked his teeth and walked away from Jody.
“That’s all a bunch of rubbish. I don’t believe in God. If he existed, he wouldn’t let children like us live with a Devil like Miss Ginch.” Edgar said. Jody quickly ran over to Edgar and prevented him from leaving the room.
“Then you explain where Joseph has gone.” Jody said. Edgar pursed his lips in annoyance.
“He’s in his grave.” Edgar responded. Jody brushed off Edgar’s answer and started to explain to Edgar.
“Joseph’s in His Kingdom. That’s the only reason why he hasn’t come back. Don’t you want to join Joseph? Talmi, don’t you want to see Joseph again?” Jody asked. Talmi nodded at Jody but wondered about Rose. What if he wanted to see Rose again?
“Do you both honestly want to stay here for another minute of your lives? What happens when you both become too old enough to stay in this orphanage? What will the world do with homeless children like us? What will the world do with one blind boy and one mute boy? What will the world do with a girl that spits out blood every morning? If we’re here, that means no one else wants us. If we’re in the hands of Ginch, we’ll be in the hands of worse. Joseph was spared and he is happy where he is. He’s not going to come back to us…we need to go to him.” Jody said.
Talmi thought over what Jody had told him and Edgar. It seemed that Edgar had too considered what Jody had said, but still seemed skeptical about an Almighty Being.
‘Where else would Joseph’s soul be?’ Talmi thought. The door opened and the rest of the boys walked in, surprised to see Jody in the room.
“What’s she doing here?” a boy asked pointing at Jody.
“I’m here to help you escape this place. There is a place better than this world, away from people like Miss Ginch. We’ll all be treated like equals…we’ll all be loved.” She said.
“I want to be anywhere but here.” Edgar said softly.
So would I. Talmi thought.
Jody walked out of the room and the boys turned towards Talmi and Edgar, their faces searching for an explanation.
Jody returned back to the room with a bundle of rope. She distributed the rope among the boys and swung the rope over the beam and tied it tightly. She made a small knot on the rope, creating a noose for the neck. Talmi observed the noose on the beam. He touched the loose prickly fibers, mulling over the future. There would be no worries about someone having to adopt him or reject him. There would be no worries about being thrust into the cruel world and manage independently.
“Sweetheart there are so many other boys you would like. This boy cannot even speak and has no place in this world for himself, much less you. Be a good little girl and let’s leave, your home is waiting for you.”
Talmi felt a stab of pain in his chest as he thought about Mrs. Nelson telling Rose about his place in this world. Rose was happy and healthy. She had a home waiting for her, but not for Talmi. Jody had been right; Talmi’s ultimate destination was in God’s Kingdom, a place where all children can live equally.
“Save yourself Talmi! Whatever you do leave this place! Be anywhere than here!”
Miss Ginch sat in her plush chair, picking her teeth from her afternoon meal. She picked up her cracked hand mirror and observed her reflection. She bared her teeth, observing her yellowing teeth and the large prominent mole on the side of her chin. There was a knock from the front door and she whipped her head around to the door and back to the clock. It was exactly noon.
“Cripes, the inspector!” she hissed. Miss Ginch tossed her mirror on her coffee table and endured a small struggle as she got herself up from her chair. There was another set of knocks, deeper and harder.
“Coming!” Miss Ginch shrieked. She waddled towards the front door and opened it to reveal the inspection officer, Mr. Crowley, beside him a young and handsome looking man.
“Mr. Crowley! What a surprise!” Miss Ginch said, opening the door for Mr. Crowley. Mr. Crowley took off his hat, exposing his crop of pure white hair.
“I believe I have telegrammed days before about my inspection. How do you do Miss Ginch?”
“I am doing very well. My orphanage welcomes you with open arms, shall I call the children?” she asked, batting her eyelashes. Mr. Crowley gave Miss Ginch a warm smile and shook his hand.
“That won’t be necessary Miss Ginch. We will only look around and leave as soon as we can. Have you met my son, Jeremy?” Mr. Crowley asked, placing a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder.
“How do you do Madame.” Jeremy said quickly.
“My, my, you look just like your father when he was younger!” Miss Ginch said, grinning at Jeremy who gave her a polite smile. Mr. Crowley and Jeremy walked around the orphanage and noted that everything in the first floor had been marked to satisfaction.
“Now the children’s rooms if you may.” Mr. Crowley said seeing Miss Ginch nod and lead him upstairs. Jeremy observed the dirty handrails of the staircase and pulled out his handkerchief, walking up the stairs and wiping his hands.
“This is the room for our precious little ladies.” Miss Ginch said opening the door. Mr. Crowley and Jeremy looked around the girl’s room and noted that none of the girls were there.
“They are all probably playing with the boys.” Miss Ginch reassured seeing Mr. Crowley nod.
“Miss Ginch, how many girls have been adopted from your orphanage this month?” Mr. Crowley asked as they towards the boy’s room.
“Two girls.” Miss Ginch answered.
“And how many boys?” Mr. Crowley asked, scribbling the answers down. Miss Ginch turned the doorknob of the boy’s bedroom.
“None at all. Seems that boys aren’t very much liked-” Miss Ginch stopped to see Mr. Crowley and Jeremy’s mouth dropped open, their eyes wide and aghast.
“Oh my Lord.” Mr. Crowley croaked. Miss Ginch turned around, seeing the sight of 11 dead children hanging on different beams of the ceiling, their faces blue, their tongues blue and swollen in their mouths and their bodies lifeless as they swayed back and forth. The only things that were heard were the creaking of the beam as the bodies moved and the gentle wind of the open window.