Originally published in indicia, June 2016.
I walked into the yard to grab the mail and found a boy passed out in the heat. I made sure no neighbors saw me as I hoisted him up and hurried inside. You know how people talk. I lay him down on the couch and admired how his limp weight sprawled out, an unconscious eighty-pound sack of bones and meat. Twelve or thirteen, the boy had matted corn-straw hair and flushed cheeks, his heart pounding as if someone were knocking for me from inside his ribcage.
Unsure of proper child protocol, I nestled an ice pack on his forehead and brushed the wet strands from his eyes. His aquiline face gave the impression of guarded intelligence. The swollen mouth was drawn into a half-smile. While I waited for him to wake up, I rearranged his haphazard limbs to fit on the couch more comfortably. His eyes whirled under their lids whenever he was touched. You could only guess at his dreams.
I wondered about his panicking parents, if his situation warranted a doctor or an ambulance. My gut told me to wait. It was nice to have someone in the house, someone to whom I could offer a tour of the pond and garden when he awoke. I hoped he would appreciate my kindness and stay for lunch, telling me about his schoolwork, maybe mention what he wanted to be when he grew up. If he liked animals, I could bring him out to the rabbit’s nest and then show him the lakefront.
It had been so long since I was around a child, or had even been one myself, feeling like the world was perpetually watching out for me. Mailmen and shop-keeps used to stop what they were doing to say hello, total strangers offering to help me when I looked breathless and lost. When I was young, there had been so many people volunteering immediate, comforting deeds, and I thought nothing of them. If only someone could have warned me that growing up meant getting cut off, your support system dwindling until you were completely alone. Right now, this boy was stalled at the crossroads between child and adult, straddling the middle ground of discovery located between dreaming and consciousness. An inbetween state. From here on in, his life would be a process of thinning. All he could do would be remembering his past with care.
As he rested, I imagined the moment he would wake up, how I would sit quiet, biting my tongue to let him speak without any interruption, not willing to risk the role of an insensitive adult. If, after listening, I could translate my advice into relatable terms, if our gaps of understanding didn’t feel too wide, I might try to express which perspectives were worth holding onto, or how to prevent his heart from hardening while growing old. In the meantime, the boy looked so helpless, so cared-for and wonderful. I could imagine his parents standing in the doorway of his room at night after tucking him in, unable to comprehend the fragile beauty they had created in him.
Still asleep, the boy’s tongue flicked out, wetting his round, plump lips. I needed to kiss him. It wouldn’t hurt anyone. I would be gentle and discreet, endeavoring not to disturb him, wherever he was. Perhaps some cosmic shift would take place, our bodily barriers breaking like the shells of hatching eggs. We could satisfy the desire to leave our bodies and pass through the other person — becoming one.
I pressed my mouth against his. His milk-fed breaths emanated through me, his head cradled by my dominant hand. Part of me wished he would wake up so that I would be forced to explain myself.
I rose from the couch, dazed. I wandered through the house, stopping in each room as if seeing it for the first time. I thought about how my bed sheets were silkworm-spun, how the rough twill of the futon scratched my arms’ undersides. I read an article in the bathroom within a travel magazine for people who never intended on going anywhere. I realized that I never really looked at the paintings I’d hung up, how they were never able to please or inspire me. It seemed strange that I had this entire house to myself. There was no need for so much space. I gulped down a glass of ice water and marveled at the stillness of the backyard, a manicured open plane. There were no birds, cats, or chipmunks in sight. The grass stood motionless, the whole yard under my control. What I had told myself that I wanted.
I remembered the boy in the foyer who didn’t belong here. I sucked air through my teeth and returned to the couch where he slept. But the boy and my ice pack were gone.