The Outside Boy

Joel E. Stewart


'I could see the riverboat from the dune there.' I said. 'It was sort of misty but you could see a long way at the same time.'

My mother grunted amiably and continued fiddling with the tangle of wires in her hands, I folded mine and sat. Outside the veranda made noises to itself as though the fading light was sucking the creaks and cracks from the wood as it pulled away. The old porch expands and contracts so much in the weather that you can hear the vine leaves ratchet across one another.

'In the raised vegetable bed... What are those Snake-tail things all sticking out?' I asked.

'Your step-father caught them before he... before he went. There are hundreds out in the dunes. You must mind you don't get bit.' My Mother said.

'But why are they in with the cabbages?'

'They fertilize them, from below... or something.'

'I think they probably just scare them upwards.' I said.

It was almost dark out. In as well, but for the sewing lamps. Shadows rugging the boards and carpet scraps. No Moon tonight, just a puffed out glow of silver air.

And two figures on the veranda.

'Mother,' I said, 'the door.'

Rounding the doorframe I spy-holed the pair of them. The Man, hunched and immobile, stared in at the window, hand raised to knock, but not knocking. The boy, facing the door, still also, but pent up and electric. I opened the door. Night breath sieved the screen.

'Hello... Yes?'

The Man turned, neckless and short in his cabbage-green overcoat.

'What, you just leave your boy out?' He said.

'Whose boy? I'm the only boy in this house. And I am in, too.'

'Leave us be. He's not our boy' Said my mother from behind me.

The outside boy stood, storm still.

'I know a place.' He spit-mouthed suddenly.

I don't know what he meant, but he scared me very much. Quick as I could I thought of good things. Patterned cloth in layers, wide water, smiles. And I shut the door with a rattle.

The Man turned back, in to the window. Shoulders shifting imperceptibly, settling and setting. And the boy set too, as he was, swathed in diffuse silver glowing. At once still and yet writhing, like a sack of snakes.

Mother and I extinguished the lights and climbed our beds, silent.

And I lay and glass-eyed the dunes as they pooled silver sand in and outside my window. My window over the vine topped veranda.

They would both be gone come morning, for sure.

Text & Illustrations copyright Joel Stewart 2005