“It hurts you, doesn’t it?”
The boy nodded, looking around from where he was seated. Surprised, he saw no one was there. He leaned back once again on the Willow. This was HIS spot. No one else came here. Not ever.
A few feet away, the cool, green water of a brook meandered by. It gurgled slowly like a soft lullaby. The emerald rushes and reeds clustered together along the edge of the bank, whispering gently in the August breeze. For him, this was paradise.
No pain could touch him here. No anger, no threats. There was simply the dream of peace and the sweet air of silence. That’s all that filled this place. This spot was his entrance to a world of quiet magic. Here, he was anything he wanted to be. Here, he was free.
The willow felt solid, yet comforting, against his back. She…(he always thought of her as she)…fluttered her long, wispy branches around him, caressing his face with her leaves.
“Sleep, my young Jarin” an airy voice murmured inside his head. “Sleep and dream with me”.
Jarin started to turn once again to see who had spoken, but felt too tired to move his small, slim body. Smiling, contented and calm, he fell into a restful slumber.
George slammed the door to the front of the apartment as he lumbered into the tiny living room. It smelled awful in there, like a combination of stale beer, dog piss and month old garbage.
“Ella!”, his impatient voice boomed.
Ella stuck her head out of the doorway, which led to the kitchen.
“Yeah George, what do you want?” She paused to snap a piece of chewing gum between her coffee stained teeth. “I’m on the phone!”
George moved his large body a little further into the room, shifting his fat beer belly to the left so he could put down his tool box. He wiped his greasy hands on his pants and barked, “Have you seen Jarin? The little shit was supposed to help me fix Dunbar’s Vet this morning.”
“Saw him earlier,” Ella replied, covering her hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, “ but the brat ran off like a bat out of Hell. Don’t know where he went.” Ella resumed talking on the phone, leaving George to stand fuming in the middle of the room for a minute or two.
Finally, he shrugged his shoulders, and pounded his feet towards the kitchen, popping Ella on the behind as he passed her in the doorway. She glared at him.
“What’d you do to scare him off this time?” George questioned. He opened up the fridge and pulled out a long neck Bud.
“Damn it! Hold on a minute, Carol,” she said covering the phone once again. “What do you mean, what did I do to him? Everything that kid gets, he deserves! Just so happens he started bugging me about what happened to his real mamma. This time, I told him.”
“What’d you say?” George asked, pulling a long sip out of the bottle, enjoying the way it fizzled coldly against the back of his throat.
“I told him his mamma was a whore bitch that gave him up, and probably OD’d on drugs soon after” Ella snapped. She gave George a long hard look, and began talking on the phone again.
‘Probably slapped the crap out of him too, just for asking’, George thought. He’d never questioned Ella about the bruises or burns he’d seen from time to time on Jarin’s body. ‘After all, an eight year old boy is bound to get some of those things playing with other kids’ he reasoned.
George ignored the fact that Jarin didn’t play with other kids. That he was a quiet, sensitive boy, though George’s term for him was “a pussy”. Sometimes he caught himself almost feeling bad because Ella was so hard on him. But, what the hell? The kid was there only as a favor to Mr. Dunbar. They’d taken him in, hadn’t they? They’d given him food and clothes. ‘Stupid bastard should be fuckin thankful, that’s what he should be’, George mused. And, of course, Mr. Dunbar paid them good money to keep him. Enough for extra beer, cigarettes and other things.
“I’ll be at the Garage”, he told Ella, as he made tracks though the living room.
“What time you gonna be home?” She called out.
“Round five or six. If you see Jarin before then, tell him to get his ass over there.” George grabbed up his toolbox, and headed towards the door. Passing by a plant stand, his large frame caught a corner, and sent several orange clay pots crashing to the floor.
Quickly opening the door, and throwing it shut, he hurried away from Ella’s harsh voice, which by now was assailing the walls with a barrage of swearing.
“Gonna be one of those days” He sighed to himself, as he drained the last of his Bud and tossed the brown bottle into a nearby ditch. He got into his rusted Ford, turned the key, and in a couple of minutes he and his truck were headed down the dusty country road.
Jaren laughed. He was flying! Turning, and twisting among the clouds, and ‘She’ was with him. She held him tight in a warm embrace, ..soft white arms secure against the base of his body. Her ebony wings fluttered silently as they flew, and her speed was incredible! Jarin gazed up at her face. She was so beautiful! His lips drew together to softly form her name. “Deirdree”.
She bent her head next to his, and he heard her voice inside his mind. “Yes, Jarin, together once again.”
She never failed him. Every time he came to the Willow to dream, she was there. Somehow, she always found him. Somehow, she always know when he needed her.
Now, he could see they were headed toward a mountain. The hills on it were covered with lush green grasses, and everywhere there were Willow trees growing by sparkling brooks, their branches waving in the balmy breeze. He admired how their trunks bent low in a gentle dance.
“Welcome to my home”, Deirdre whispered to him as they floated down to a grassy hill. On this hill there grew only one Willow. It seemed to be the biggest, and oldest willow he’d ever seen. Deirdre folded her wings, and drew him towards it. “Come sit with me” she said softly.
She drew him beside her, within the nest of large bulky roots, and then reached out with her slender hand to gently caress his chin. “I cannot bear to see your pain.” Her voice flowed like honey to his ears, as he met her mossy eyes, and suddenly he felt dizzy. Jarin knew that she was aware of his world. How many times had he run to the forest after Ella had beat him, and cried on the roots of the Willow tree? How many times had he fallen asleep there, and dreamed of Deirdre, and the wonderful places she took him to? Places filled with magic, without beatings or burns. Tears began to well in his soft brown eyes, as Deirdre reached out to stroke his auburn hair.
Jarin stretched out his legs, enjoying the soft coolness of the grasses surrounding them. With mild surprise, he noticed his feet were bare. He must have left his sneakers by the riverbank. No matter. It never got cold enough to need shoes anywhere Deirdre took him. And they almost always flew, anyhow.
Deirdre spoke once again to him. “Stay with me Jarin. This time, don’t go back.”
Jarin looked down at his bare feet, and considered the thought. Could he? Could he stay? He glanced down from the hill, and noticed other children, young boys and girls, playing happily by the meadows and streams. He turned his eyes to hers, and slowly nodded in assent. Silently, she folded her protective wings and arms around him, rocking him, holding him, repeating over and over…..”Never the pain again, my young one. Never the hurt.”
Ella opened the door to find a uniformed policeman standing there. Her gaze went down to where his right hand held a crumpled paper bag.
“What do YOU want?”, she said impatiently, quickly checking behind her to make sure her ‘guest’ wasn’t visible.
“We found these by the riverbank a little while ago”, Officer Luck replied as he leveled his eyes at her.
“Yeah, what is it, and what has it got to do with me?” Ella grated.
One of our guys thought they recognized these, and thought they’d bring em back for your little one” he said gently.
He opened the bag. Nestled inside were a pair of small red tattered tennis shoes. They were soaking wet.
“Where is he?” said Ella. “That boy should have been home hours ago.”
Officer Luck struggled to choke back the water filling his eyes, while he dug his fingernails into his palms. 'Not again' he thought with anguish 'Not again....'. This was the seventh child to disappear this month, and the Force was still no closer to finding the cause behind the disappearances. He filed some initial paperwork with the woman who seemed more concerned with getting him out of her house, than finding her son. As Officer Luck pulled out of the driveway, it was all he could do not to speed home and hug his own children tight.