Thursday, April 26, 2007

an attempt

The Moose stood there, his upper lip quivering, outlined by the incipient growth of a downy moustache that would be his damnation. He looked down at his hands and saw that they were covered in blood. Looked up at the rest of the children, and back down at his hands. That was when he began to yowl in pain, more like the bellowing of an animal in heat, a sound that was born in the depths of his incomprehension.
The others sat and taunted him, throwing pebbles from the side of the road as he dragged the sled up the muddy path, all by himself. They were all red-faced and cheerful, their bellies full of fresh cookies, and he was cold, and alone. It was Maggie that noticed something was wrong and tried to call out to him.

They had lied, there was no baby calf that needed help. It wasn’t even the right season, and he should never have believed them, the calves only ever came out when the sun lasted until bedtime, and the air smelled of violets and grape hyacinth. It smelled like irises too, but he hated their pungent aroma and when they released it he lowed, covering his ears and rocking back and forth, looking for the comfort of his mother’s breast. She would smooth his dark red hair down, soothing him with his face pressed up against her flesh, her rough hands chapped from hard work. The children had laughed at him, “What did you think you’d find, Moose? A moose?” Quinn had called from behind a tree, and the rest of them, all colorful scarves and mittens, jumped out from within the bowels of the decrepit hollow oak tree that in summer served as the anchor for the swing that hung out over the swimming hole. They pointed and laughed, and he didn’t know why, couldn’t understand their words. He waited still to see if they would finally play with him today, but instead they started pelting him with chunks of ice and chased him down to the edge of the ice. He ran out onto it, and hot piss ran down his legs, a steaming trail that followed him as he limped. Maggie was the only one that looked back sadly over her shoulder when they were all running away, back up the hill. Moose had waited for them to come back, one hour, two hours until the rumbling in his stomach made him ache for his mother. His nostrils burned with the cold and his fingers were numb. He didn’t notice the chafing of the rope that he clutched against his frostbitten skin.

“Have you youngsters seen my John?” his mother had asked worriedly, out of breath, interrupting their fireside afternoon snack, wiping her hands on her apron. Mrs. Wright glanced disapprovingly at her neighbor, framed in the doorway, and then turned a sycophantic smile on her three giggling children. “I am quite sure, Miss Brown,” she raised her eyebrow pointedly as she reminded miss Brown that she was as unclaimed as her halfwit son, “that my little angels would have no occasion to spend any time with your… John.”
“I am sorry Nell, to bother you. Of course not, I had only hoped…”
At this, Maggie shot a look at her brothers Quinn and William, pleading with them with her doe-eyes.
“Mother,” fat William stood up with a malicious glint in his eye, “Miss Brown,” he parroted his mother’s own malice, “We’d be happy to help you find… your boy,” he only barely hid a snigger.
“Oh, do let’s,” added the frail little Maggie, regretting having left him out on the ice hours before.
“We’ll find that Moose, alright,” Quinn whispered nastily under his breath as the three children bustled out the door, and Ada Brown retreated hastily in the chilly February air to her cottage across the brook.

“No!” wailed Maggie as the boys pelted rocks at the shivering man-child that stood dumbly before them. “No, no, no…” she cried, as he covered his face with his bleeding hands.
“Shut up you little brat!” William’s face contorted in a purplish rage, “You're gonna get us in trouble if you keep defending this piece of brown shit…” and Quinn chucked the rock-filled snowball that he had been aiming at the Moose. It hit her square in the back of the head and she stopped screaming, wobbled forward, and then fell backwards to the ground.
“Holy shit!” Quinn exhaled, “Oh my God.”
They stood in silence for a minute, Maggie didn’t move, not even a final whimper of protest escaped her lips, then William turned pointing his finger at the shivering mass standing bruised and beaten in the snow, “You… this is your fault.”
“You did this, you animal,” Quinn agreed, and he and William began yelling, and whooping and shaking their fists towards home.

As their echoes faded, John felt the hush of the woods envelop him in a blanket of white, he couldn’t feel any more sharp needle-like pangs. He took his hands away from his face to see the little girl lying in the snow, staining it red, and then pink in a halo around her head. It reminded him of the cherry water ices that his daddy used to get him in summers, he licked his lips thinking about the sweet taste on his tongue. She was so pretty, she looked like an angel with her arms spread wide. Why was she sleeping, he wanted to know. He reached down to touch her ashen cheek. Bent his head down to her chest, and couldn’t make out the sound of a heartbeat, pulled his hand away in surprise at the salty taste on his lips. Then he knew something was wrong. He tried picking her up, to carry her home, stumbling through the knee-deep snow, tripping, crying, babbling.

There was a thick dry rapping on the door. John cowered behind his mother.
“This is the Berkshire County Sheriff! Open up, Ma’am.”
Mrs. Brown opened the door cautiously, sheltering her son behind her.
“Get him, get that beast!” shouted William, tugging on the sleeve of his pale-faced, livid mother.
Quinn ran behind carrying the bloodied rope from the Moose’s sled, howling like a banshee, “He did this, he did this, I saw him ripping open her dress… He’s guilty!”
“That monster… killed my baby,” Nell Wright pointed an accusing finger.
“No,” his mother wept, “he’s not, he’s just an innocent… he didn’t, I swear he didn’t… he’s just a little boy, …at heart… he tried to help.”
“He’s a menace.”
“Mrs. Brown,” the sheriff removed his hat, and stated unapologetically, as he pushed past her, grabbing the trembling and injured boy by the crook of his elbow, “we are going to have to take John to the station. We’ll sort everything out there.”
“But he didn’t do anything, sir, he couldn’t!” she pleaded for mercy.
The door slammed shut behind them, and she heard the motor turn over, the tires squeal on the ice.

“Given the brutal nature of the crime, John Brown will be tried as an adult.” The gavel banged in righteous decision.