Florence and the Boy
He wakes up on the shore of a vast lake. It is clear to him that he cannot stay here next to the rippling waters. Dragging his feet, he walks into the pine forest, the sound of a car echoes up ahead and the boy quickens his pace. When he reaches the road, it is dark. The car had long since passed.
He looks up at the sky; the pale fingers of light creeping across night’s black veil. The sight saddens him though he knows not why. There is a rushing sound as a car speeds by nearly hitting him. After it leaves, the street reverts back to its usual state of peace and quiet.
The boy looks down the road where the car went; it had stopped. A man gets out and begins to run towards him---the boy is puzzled. The man shouts something incomprehensible and a woman jumps out of the vehicle. She proceeds to run with the man towards the boy, both their faces holding terror. They must be afraid they’d hit him.
Wind whips through the tall pines, screeches filling the air as the branches rub against each other. The boy smiles at the sound. The man and woman draw closer to the boy, but he does not move. The woman falls to her knees next to the boy murmuring soothing words to him while the man paces nearby.
The woman takes the boy’s chin in her hand and turns his face to hers; he stares deep into her eyes. Her eyes are filled with worry and tears are threatening to flow from their blue depths. Then the boy smiles again, the most innocent, saintly smile the woman had ever seen. She seems relieved and calls for the man to come over.
He kneels down next to the woman and together they look at the boy. The boy looks back, the smile now gone from his face. Man and boy stare at each other for another moment, until the man looks away.
The woman looks at the man, but says nothing as he motions for her to come with him. She shakes her head and hugs the boy close to her chest; his face contorts into a frown at the close proximity of the woman. Rolling his eyes, the man grabs the woman’s arm, pulling her and the boy back to the car. Happily, the woman kisses the man and picks the boy up.
The boy looks back at the forest, his eyes begging for me to save him. I wave to him as the woman outs him in the back seat of the car kissing him as if he is her child. Then she gets in and the car continues on its way with one more passenger: a small boy maybe five or six years old with a head of white blond hair.
Silently, I turn from the fading taillights and face the slowly receding night. I still had other tasks to accomplish before I came back to the boy.
The boy stands in the stark white kitchen silently watching as the man yells at the woman. He is crying and makes no move to wipe away his tears. It had been one year since the couple had found him in the woods; he was now seven.
The boy winces as his adoptive mother slaps the yelling man’s face. He knows what will come next---the man will grab the woman’s wrists in one large hand and hit her with the other. Than she will start to cry and the man would come to his senses, apologizing profusely. They would become friends again for a week, maybe two if they were lucky, but the woman would do something bad and his father would hit her.
He looks over at the pictures on the table. One is a happy couple on their wedding day and the other is of the same couple with a light haired boy. That picture was taken a year ago today, I think. As the man and woman continue screaming, he shuffles to the counter and picks up the photograph of the happy couple. He doesn’t know what turned the happily married man and woman in the first picture into what he is seeing now.
Knowing their fight would go on through the night, the boy slowly backs out of the kitchen. He doesn’t want them to know he’d been watching, though it was hard to imagine anyone sleeping through a fight like the one they’re having. Silently, he slips into his bed pulling the covers up over his head to drown out the noise. I frown, I wish there was something I could do to stop him thinking these thoughts.
He knows I’m here; he’s known it for two years. I’m always here, inside everyone’s head and by now he knows his parents aren’t the man and woman. He wants to know why they fight, but I never tell him even though I could.
The shouts are still ringing through the single story house. Slowly, he draws his pale hand from under the covers reaching out to me. As his had reaches to mine I take it. He jumps a little as we make contact; he hadn’t expected me to touch him.
He smiles and pulls on my hand. His adoptive parents are still yelling; I feel sad for the boy who thinks of me as his friend. I don’t feel, well, anything for anyone normally. I haven’t felt anything for anyone since I died, but there’s something about this boy though, his dark eyes make me want to care.
Again he pulls on my hand; he must want me to sit on the bed. The bed doesn’t make a sound as I settle onto it, but the boy doesn’t notice. With a shaking finger he points to the door, points to the man and the woman. Then he speaks to me for the first time.
Make them stop Florence, he says.
I rise and walk to the door. I look back at the boy still sitting up in his bed; he smiles at me. Hesitantly, I smile back then disappear through the door.
Minutes later, the man and woman stop.
The boy is asleep now, cuddled with his blankets. Slowly, I sit and pull them up to his chin. I smile, something I’ve been doing more often since I met the boy. His breathing is slow and rhythmic; it reminds me of when I was little. How my mother used to sit on my bed until I fell asleep and of how my father played the piano for me.
I sit for another while, until the sun begins to rise. The man and woman are where I left them last, on the floor next to the shattered photograph. Kneeling down, I let the glass caress my fingers as I reach for the picture. I don’t understand how the man and woman fight, love is supposed to be forever.
The boy comes to stand by me, also looking at the picture. His dark hair is rumpled and his eyes hold a darkness they should not.
Florence, what happened…why were they yelling?
I think for a moment, I knew the answer once a long time ago. I want to tell him they were angry at each other for dropping the photograph, but I couldn’t lie. I stood up next to him. The boy just wants them to be happy again.
They yelled, I whisper in his ear, because that’s all they could do.
He looks at me like he’s going to ask again, but all he says is: Okay.
And then he walks away, back into the bedroom. I stay a while longer before drifting to the front door: the milk was going to be delivered soon. The boy would come out and join me when it arrived. He loves milk.
Behind me the woman and man lay on the floor. They weren’t moving, not even breathing. Did I do that, I wonder, did I kill them? I can’t remember what happened last night; when I try, all I feel is anger, my fury at the man and the woman for ruining the boy’s life.
I hear the boy moving around in his room and suddenly he runs out. I fly to his side faster than I could ever have imagined, prepared to help. He tries to reach out to me, but this time I flinch away. I’m afraid of what I’m seeing: the boy’s eyes are wide and I can see the light of years past burning through them.
Florence, he whispers, what did you do?
He tries to grab my arm again, growling when he can’t catch me. I scream at him and he stops tilting his head to one side, considering me. I wish he couldn’t see me, I think.
Florence, I know you did something bad, he says. Where is this coming from, I wonder; he’s never been like this.
There is a knock at the door, I run to it and yank it open. It slams on the wall; the boy flinches at the sound. The deliveryman stared through me at the boy; he kept looking from the boy’s face to the dead man and woman.
He drops the glass milk bottles on the front step and runs back to his truck. The boy tries to run after him, but stops and looks down at the slowly growing puddle of milk.
Why’s it broken?
I smile; the boy is back to normal.
Did I break it Florence, he whispers. I move to put my hand on his shoulder, but before I can, he sits down on the front step. He’s crying and suddenly I feel bad for wishing that he couldn’t see me.
No, you didn’t break it, I say sitting next to him.
He looks up at me, the feral light is still there, but above all I see he’s scared. I hug him close to my body and whisper, I’m sorry, into his ear.