***This is a chapter (draft at moment) that I intend to appear early in my story, “The Kerning”.***
September 1972. The boy.
The boy had been taught not to cry. To show no weakness at any time.
It wasn’t that his parents were cruel to him. Far from it, his mother and father adored him and his older sister. When home, his father spent as much time as he could with the boy, playing with him, teaching him, passing down skills and traits. The boy learnt the best way to bait a line from his father during many sunny afternoons spent at the side of the creek, his mother happily watching them as she laid on an old blanket under the shade of a tree. Has father taught him the correct way to use his new catchers’ mitt, a present for his birthday, and how to pitch the ball with consistent, accurate results. He learnt to be disciplined, well mannered and respectful from his father.
His mother, Evelyn, a beautiful, warm, compassionate woman, taught him to read and to write. She taught him how to say his prayers. She showed the boy how to tend the small garden at the back of their modest house, describing the plants and flowers to him, explaining which ones were good to look at and which were good to eat. He helped his mother tend to their small flock of chickens, happy to feed and water the birds, dutifully cleaning them out and eagerly running to her with the eggs he collected. He learnt to be honest, truthful and considerate of others from his mother.
His father taught him not to cry. To not be weak.
Soon after discarding the training wheels, he’d lost control of his little red bicycle and had crashed into the mail box, grazing his knees, knuckles and elbow and partially loosening a tooth. His father had knelt down, pulled the bent bicycle off him and stood him up. Then, taking a clean handkerchief from his trouser pocket and unfolding it, his father had spat gently onto the cotton square and wiped away the dirt and grit from the boy’s cuts. Holding him firmly by his little shoulders, heaving from his sobbing, his father had quietly commanded him, “Stop your crying now, son, be a good soldier. Soldiers don’t cry.”
And, when helping his mother to the collect the cuttings after she had pruned the rose bushes, he’d torn his fingers on the thorns. On seeing the crimson drops spring from the cuts, he’d run to his mother in tears. She hugged him tightly and stroked his hair. Then, as he calmed and his crying softened, she kissed the blood from his fingers, telling him, “No need to cry, Eric. You don’t ever need to cry.”
The previous summer, the boy had been playing on the rope swing his father had rigged from a thick branch overhanging their back yard. The tree, a big, ancient elm, grew on their neighbour’s side of the fence and cast cool, welcome shade onto the boy’s yard. When last home on leave, the boy’s father had sought their neighbour’s permission to erect the swing. The Lutz’s, Harold and Bettina, had no children of their own and were more than happy to agree.
The boy loved the swing and played on it daily until the afternoon of the accident. Harold and Bettina Lutz saw the boy happily swinging as, returning from the grocery store, Harold pulled his battered station wagon into their drive. The car came to a stop, the old couple watching as the boy played, his head appearing above the fence panels then disappearing only to swing back into view moments later. The boy’s laughter accompanied the music playing on the car radio, the creaking of the tree branch and rope swing adding to an idyllic sound.
Harold smiled to himself. The Lutz’s had longed for a family of their own. Both were the only survivors of large families, Harold’s from Austria and Bettina’s from Poland. After escaping wartime Europe and finally settling in America, they had met late in life. Too late for children of their own. They had spent plenty of time trying for a family but, after three miscarriages and with Bettina nearing forty, they decided that, maybe, it wasn’t in God’s plan for them to be parents.
Harold was climbing the steps to his front porch, brown paper bags full of groceries clutched to his chest, when he heard the crack. He instinctively knew the branch had snapped and he turned quickly. Dropping his packages, Harold ran down the drive. The bags fell to the concrete, paper splitting and tearing; eggs shattering, milk bursting from Tetra Paks, canned goods rolling down the driveway. As he ran the sole of Harold’s loafer clad foot came down on a can of beans. Harold tried desperately to stay upright as the can skidded from under him but his balance and control had gone. His body arced and twisted into the summer air.
The energy created by his brief charge and even briefer spin through the air, drove Harold’s right knee solidly into the unyielding driveway. Two hundred pounds of weight smashed into his kneecap fracturing the joint. Pain tore through him as he lay on the ground clutching his knee and calling for his wife.
“Der Junge, der Junge!” The boy, the boy! Harold cried out to Bettina.
Harold was swearing violently in German and cursing his stupidity when Bettina arrived. With his wife by his side, Harold somehow managed to get to his feet and, husband and wife, they limped and staggered their way to the boy’s yard. In spite of his own agony, Harold’s mind filled with terrible thoughts of what he’d find there.
In the grooves worn in the grass by long weeks of swinging, trailing feet, and with dappled sunlight coming through the remaining branches of the tree sat the boy. His right arm held limply against his dirt covered tee shirt, the boy raised his head towards Harold.
Two faces, both ashen, both cut and bloodied, regarded each other. Piercing blue eyes, dry of tears, looked up at the old man.
“I didn’t cry, Mr Lutz, sir. I didn’t cry.”