It Takes A Child
(Reference to domestic violence) It was indeed an unusual sight, a small child walking alone on the side of a dusty county road. He appeared to have proper upbringing as he was well dressed and walked on the correct side of the road, well off onto the shoulder. The sun was still sitting low in the sky, but he was observed by many as they retrieved their morning paper, let their dog out, or watered the perennials’ spring shoots. For some, curtains were pulled aside to get a better look.
The blue cap, corduroy with a small beak, seemed to be outdated. His jacket, cut off at the waist, was buttoned as the morning chill lingered. The pants were recently pressed. Although he appeared to be only seven or eight years old, there was something about this boy, his manner, the purposeful look, that told those who saw him that they need not intervene, should not intervene.
He walked past several homes, the town’s only gas station, a number of small shops, a playground, and a cemetery. He scanned the surroundings as he walked, but his pace was steady. A peaceful sort of quiet preceded him as he passed by, and even the squirrels and nesting birds grew still and seemed to notice. Those who saw him said he appeared to move without effort, as though carried on the edge of a whisp of wind. They had never seen anything quite like this little boy.
It seemed that some sort of a silent signal, a muted alarm, had floated across the entire town, telling all eyes to stay fixed on this boy. Heads turned slowly tracking his path.
He was nearing the end of the town. All who witnessed wanted to approach the little boy, not to offer help, but to learn who he was, how he happened to come to their small town. But all were too awed, too transfixed, to move.
The sound of a loud, angry voice shattered the silence and brought the little boy to an abrupt stop. He turned toward a small house with a large oak tree in the front yard, a worn tire hanging from a limb. Several porch railings were broken, the lawn was overgrown and riddled with weeds of all varieties, and much of its pale blue paint was peeling away. The large shaggy black and brown dog tied to the porch gave a barely audible but threatening growl.
The little boy stared at the home, piquing the interest of all who saw. They knew the home’s occupants, and that the unusual boy did not live there. What interest could he have in this place? A middle aged man, unshaven, disheveled hair, and overweight, opened the door, looked about, apparently in search of an adult, and then spoke to the boy.
“Don’t get any closer. The dog bites.”
“The dog will not bite me.”
“Just keep your distance.”
The boy’s stare was discomforting. It might have been the deep blue eyes, or perhaps the complete lack of expression.
“What do you want?”
The voice was unfriendly, not what you’d expect from someone addressing a little boy. The woman’s voice from within the house was more welcoming.
“Maybe he’s lost. Ask him if needs help, Tom.”
“Fine. Are you lost? Do you need help?”
It seemed the man could only speak in a gruff, irritated voice.
“Then what do you want?”
“I can help you.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Why were you yelling at your wife?”
“What? I wasn’t yelling at anyone.”
“Don’t lie to me. I heard you.”
The friendlier voice from within was heard again.
“He was angry. I ruined his favorite shirt.”
“Shut up, Sally.”
“You did it again.”
“Did what again?”
“You yelled at your wife.”
“I don’t know who you are, or what you are doing here, but I think that’s enough.”
Tom started to close the door.
“Do not do that. I’m coming in.”
The little boy walked toward the porch.
“Hey! Stop! That dog’s gonna’ bite you!”
The dog remained as still as a rock as the little boy passed by him. In fact, the dog almost appeared to have stopped breathing. The little boy squeezed himself between Tom, now in a state of stunned disbelief, and the door frame, and entered the house.
“Hey! Get out of here! What do you think you’re doing?!” Those words had been formulated in Tom’s brain, but something cut them off before they could reach his mouth. The same force stopped his hand just inches from the boy’s shoulder. A bewildered Sally, the trail of a hard life easy to track across her face, watched in silence as the little boy took control of the room.
“Where would you like me to sit?”
Without thinking, Sally pointed to a worn golden brown wing chair opposite a frayed sofa, the two separated by an old coffee table bearing the scars of years of wear. She was not understanding any of it, but reflexively said, “You could sit there.” Sally stepped slowly, never taking her eyes off the boy, and sat down on the sofa. The little boy stared at Tom and seemed to move him across the room with his eyes to the sofa, like a piece across a chess board.
“Sit down, Tom.”
There had never been a more peculiar moment in the history of this living room, this house, this town. Like an obedient dog, Tom, a large man, folded himself onto the sofa at the command of a small child.
“The shirt. Tell me about the shirt, Sally.”
Sally lowered her eyes.
“It was my fault. I put it in with a regular load of wash. The washing and drying ruined it.”
“Yeah, and I warned about that like a thousand times.”
Two simple words, two common words, spoken by a child, but they sailed through the air like a dart. Tom was not accustomed to being affected by words, and he struggled for a response.
“It wasn’t just a shirt. It was my favorite shirt. I won it at a big sports banquet. I’ll never be able to replace it.”
This time the words came at Tom like one of Robin Hood’s arrows.
“Tom, that shirt, your favorite, the irreplaceable one, on the day you were married, when you waited at the front of the church, was it your shirt that walked down the aisle?”
“No, of course not.”
“Do you have children, Tom?”
“Is the shirt their mother?”
It was taking Tom a bit longer to respond.
“Did you ever promise to love your shirt until death do you part?”
Each response grew a bit quieter.
“Have you ever yelled at your shirt?”
The questioning took a pause. There was sadness in the boy’s eyes, and the words came with effort.
“Have you ever hit your shirt?”
Tom’s head sunk as low as it could go and tilted away from the boy. The answer was close to a whisper.
The boy looked around the room, and then through a window at the sorry state of the yard. He went back to studying Tom.
“Are you happy, Tom?”
The boy’s voice now sounded as stern as any little boy had ever sounded. There may have even been a touch of anger to it.
“Are you happy?”
Tom sat silently, looking at nothing at all.
“I…don’t know. It doesn’t seem like it. Maybe not.”
“If you had that shirt, would you be happy?”
Tom gave no response.
“That shirt, that special shirt, if you had that shirt, would it bring you happiness?”
“I guess not.”
“The woman sitting next to you, Tom, I believe her name is Sally, did she ever make you happy?”
Tom slowly turned toward Sally. His eyes met hers as years gone by played in his mind, obliterating the current state of affairs. He turned back toward the little boy.
“Yes, yes she did.”
“It would seem to me that this woman could bring you happiness again a lot sooner than that shirt ever could.”
Tom stared at the little boy, and then turned toward his wife. Too many thoughts were swirling about in his head for him to formulate words. The little boy looked at Tom, a stone cold, piercing look, and bailed him out with a simple but powerful directive.
The word captured Tom's mind, heart and soul, and he immediately understood the meaning of the cryptic message. He approached a near hypnotic state as he gazed upon the face of the woman before him. He remembered.
Tom needed the courage that came from the mere presence of the little boy. In a barely audible but heartfelt tone, he said “I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?”
The words rendered Sally incapable of speech, words she would not have expected to hear in a thousand lifetimes. Nothing could have prepared her for such a moment as the same movie that had just played in Tom’s mind was now a rerun in hers. Helpless, she turned to the boy.
The little boy spoke softly as he looked at Sally with tender, sympathetic eyes, but the words echoed the nature of a command.
“And you shall be forgiven.”
Sally was thinking, not thinking, remembering, forgetting, the good, the bad, those times, those other times. It all swirled around in her mind as she searched for the answer. The boy’s eyes seem to draw her in, offering a touch of understanding, comfort, and strength. It was just a touch, but coming from this very unusual little boy, it was enough. The boy did not speak, but she heard the words again, and again, and again.
Sally turned back to Tom, back past many years to the beginning. She smiled and gave a slight nod. Tom took hold of Sally’s hand, and she dropped her head onto his shoulder. Neither could see the tears welling up in each other’s eyes, but they knew they were there as they both traveled back to a better time.
Tom and Sally were too consumed by the moment, too focused on each other, to even notice the boy get up from his chair. The little boy walked out onto the porch, paused for a moment to pat the dog on the head, and continued his walk out of town.