Recently, I had to make a decision about whether or not to call Child Protective Services. The boy involved is a smart boy. He is not a troublemaker. The people who needed to be reported were the boy’s parents who left him, alone, without any organized adult supervision for several days. In the end, I decided not to do it, but I have fretted over this decision every day since. This is my way of working it out a little.
Not a Tale for Children
His face is not a face. It is an onion to be peeled, a puzzle to be pieced together. His pain is so deep under the surface even he cannot find the center, the source. He remembers very little, but he recalls two sets of hands. The woman’s hands first: long, slender fingers pointing to her chest, and a heart beating there. These hands lifted him when he was tired and could walk no further; these hands ruffled his locks even when he hadn’t bathed; these hands felt like sunshine warming his knee.
The other hands were different. Those hands had fingernails sharpened to claws. Those hands had scarred knuckles. Those hands smelled metallic and gripped a gun with a feeling that he imagines is something close to love. He remembers bruises and fists and, finally, he remembers no hands at all.
He remembers the smell of grass vaguely, but then he is not sure. Maybe he is recalling warm bread with apricot jam, or the scent behind a baby’s knees, or the memory of a thick yellow comforter on a soft bed. A real bed. A place to rest a body or a head.
He remembers he used to have wings, feathers that extended from the center of his back, in the place where his shoulder blades met. His wings were eggshell-colored and silky, too — of this he is certain.
He remembers the day his wings caught fire.
It was the twenty-seventh day after they noticed the wind had stopped moving across the land. Twenty-seven days since the last orange butterfly visited the blue flowers that puffed out purple tongues. On that day, he felt a fist of fire cracking its way up his back and then his wings — which he had always been taught to believe could fly him away from the cracking cement and the muffled rumbling in the distance, the rubble — his beautiful wings turned brown and curled into wispy tendrils of dust.
It had not been a slow burning. His wings exploded into flame and the air around him turned brown and green. He remembers the smell of burning flesh.
Because he was ashamed of his loss, he hid for five days, coming out only at night to scavenge amidst the wreckage, searching for marshmallows and sunflower seeds and bits of cheese. After a while, he forgot what he was hiding for and emerged, small and pigeon-toed. Amazingly, no-one seemed to notice that his wings were gone. Tall, crooked shadows curved over his tiny frame and then rushed past, leaving him questioning if he had ever had them in the first place.
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