gone(…) He finished university and went back to school, and relinquished his independence and self-will to the simpler discipline of being closely monitored by a number of gifted or at least well intentioned teachers. He enjoyed the solitude of being warily respected if not genuinely befriended by his classmates, and excelled in examinations and assignments. He lost his virginity in the second year to a much older local girl who he would secretly visit most evenings or after school if she was free from work at the local department store. The last time they had sex, in his own bed at home while his parents were out for the day, he told her he couldn’t see her for a while because he had too much homework. In truth it was beginning to feel too weird, and he’d learned from her all he could. His bedroom smelled of her cheap perfume for days but neither of his parents said anything. She had a body builder boyfriend who occasionally rang her doorbell unannounced, and he would frantically launch himself off the first floor balcony to hide in bushes behind a fence, lest the man beat him to a pulp. It was so exciting he could barely believe it was happening, and though it had occurred to him that she was probably the neighbourhood slut he was no less grateful. They met much by chance at a party hosted by the older sister of one of his friends, and the girl offered to drive him home. She parked in the darkness under a tree by the river and was on him and above him in the front passenger seat before he realized what was happening. He was terrified and bewildered, yet she seemed satisfied, and him moaning “oh, wow,” to himself only seemed to excite her more. The next morning he washed his dog.

As time passed his world seemed to contract, bound by the streets and parks around his quiet suburban home and regulated by his loving parents’ rules and cautions on where he could hang out after school and what time he had to be home before dinner to do his homework. He felt only comfort and familiarity in exploring his world within those nurturing and protective confines, though he would grumble and struggle with homework that seemed to get simpler, but harder, and having to clean his room. He spent much time alone, to the consternation of his mother, but amused himself happily creating fantastic constructs of imagination that sprang enthusiastically from magical places like the Evil Empire and the Alien Planet. As his physical world contracted and simplified, so his playful imagination flowered to occupy the calm and untroubled days, and seasons that increasingly felt like they would go on forever. His days were full of little, eventful, miraculous obsessions that existed purely in the given moment before he dismissed them and hurried off to the next challenge, be it to read a book or draw a picture, to play with his toys or fight monsters in the back yard. He gave no thought to his past, nor questioned it, and could barely remember what he had done at school that day when his father asked, so he would mumble “stuff, dunno,” and promptly forget that he had even been asked a question. The future, the next moment, was always full of limitless possibilities that occupied his mind fully, or at least until he had to go to bed.

He had a dream one night that brought his mother to his bedside to comfort him, and though he could not articulate it clearly, he described a man standing alone on a street not dissimilar to their own neighbourhood. The man was burdened by regret and sadness, standing in the rain in the dark under a streetlamp before a row of houses but looking at one in particular that the boy was sure he knew. When the man had turned back to look at him lying in bed the misery and confusion had overwhelmed him, and he cried out. His mother stroked his cheek and held his hand and spoke to him lovingly, but he was afraid, and slept fitfully.

The next day after school he rode his bicycle around the streets in the area, peering cautiously up and down each road for any sign of the man, but there was none and would not be, he reasoned, for it was daylight and the sun was shining, and his mother had assured him it was only a dream and could not hurt him. He stopped before the house when he found it, then leaned his bike against the neat wooden fence and approached the front door. The street was silent and empty and he could hear no sound of any cars or trucks on the roads in the city around him. He could feel only his heart beating and the shallow rise and fall of his chest as he breathed in and out, and his hand shook as he raised it to ring the bell. He heard a single clear chime within the house that seemed to vibrate and crack inside him and his resolve suddenly faltered. He was about to turn away when the door opened.

She was old, yet still beautiful, with long silver hair and clear, steady eyes and an evident grace and poise which staggered him. She greeted him silently with an inquisitive nod and curiosity, then paused and gasped slightly, a brief and soft whisper that drew a hand fluttering to her mouth. They stood framed in the doorway under the single, unbroken pane of pale blue sky, and everything was still until she lowered her eyes slightly in acknowledgment and ushered him into the living room. The walls were pale peach, glowing in warm strips of afternoon sun that shone through slanted bamboo shutters on windows edged with loose tresses and knotted bands of lace. She motioned to one of two chairs set before a long, low coffee table and he sat, letting his school bag fall untidily to the polished wooden floor and shuffling his feet hesitantly. Then she sat beside him and took his hand in hers for a long time, and though he trembled initially he did not pull away. (…)

© andrew wheeler