Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Michael Duke - A Character Sketch

Winter was good, Mikey reflected, sitting on the snow. He had been bundled in at least four layers and he could barely move his arms, but unlike the other children in the neighborhood, he never tried to take off a single layer.

So many of them played, jackets abandoned on their front lawns. He could hear them, on the other side of the house, closer to the street. They ran around, screaming and laughing and flinging snow, but Mikey listened to the quiet in his head and the lack of pain.

Earlier that morning, and for the first time ever, Mikey had touched his mother without seeing the confusing flash of images and sounds, without being afraid afterward for reasons he couldn't understand.

This time he knew why he was afraid.

Mommy and Daddy both lay on the kitchen floor covered in red. Everyone knew red wasn't good. He'd been in the snow all morning finding quiet before he found them. He'd been happy, excited to talk to them, and ready for lunch, but they wouldn't wake up. It wasn't a new image to him. He'd seen it a hundred times before, but he'd never understood what it meant. He wasn't sure he did, still, but he knew it changed everything.

Uncle Georgio was on his way. Daddy had always told him to call Uncle Georgio if something happened, and he remembered. Uncle Georgio said everything would be OK, and Mikey should wait outside, but Mikey was pretty sure he was wrong. It felt like nothing would ever be OK again, but he went outside. Outside was always better anyway.

The quiet was harder to find now, but easier since he'd turned his back on the red footprints, smears in the white snow. The color took away the peace of the blanketed world. He faced the white wooden fence that separated his yard from the neighbors, not turning even when he heard footsteps behind him.

"Mikey?" Uncle Georgio asked, kneeling by his shoulder. Mikey turned seeing dark and fear in his uncle's eyes. Why would Uncle Georgio be frightened?

Mikey reached up with his bare hand. He'd had needed fingers to dial the phone and he couldn't get the glove back on by himself. Uncle Georgio ducked away, closing his eyes like Mikey would hit him. Mikey's hand dropped back down to his lap as Georgio dropped to his knees in the snow.

Mikey looked at him again as the thin man chewed his lip, and reached up to touch his uncle's forehead, right in the middle where Mommy and Daddy had been hurt. Even before the visions could crash into him, his uncle scooped him up, holding Mikey against his chest and crying.

"I'm so sorry. I didn't think. I didn't want to do it anymore, but I didn't think they knew. I'm so sorry."

Mikey wanted to tell him it was OK. That was what he was supposed to say when someone said they were sorry. But he couldn't. He couldn't say anything. The world was so white and empty and gone he wasn't sure he'd have seen anything even if Uncle Georgio hadn't moved away from his finger so fast. That part was OK. He'd have to remember to tell his uncle that later, when he could. Empty was good.

The howl of sirens filled the air and Uncle Georgio stood, still carrying Mikey, holding him tight enough it was almost hard to breathe. They walked through the side gate, avoiding the kitchen, to wait in the front yard as the flashing lights surrounded them. Tucked inside his snowsuit, his jacket, his hood, and his one blue glove, Mikey was able to pretend it was all still quiet and white.

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