Eye contact

The parents never knew. To them, their children were kind. Sure, they were quiet around strangers, but that was to be expected, even desired. It kept them safe to be wary. They were sure their children were polite to any and all. Little did they know that their children’s eyes lit up only for them. Otherwise they were as cold as the grave, as dangerous as ice on a March pond.
It was easy for Jenny’s mother Stephanie to brush off concerns from her Mother’s-day-out program. They told her how little Jenny was hostile to the workers, that the other children stayed away from her. They were scared of her. Her eyes bored through, searching for hidden darkness. The children had never seen anything like this before. The adults had, those with sons who come back from the Army, scarred in body and soul. They made it back in body only. A part of them was still out there, searching for the enemy, always alert for danger. Some went one way, and jumped at every car backfire or firecracker blast. Some went the other – went dark. Kill or be killed. Do unto others before they do unto you.
Jenny’s eyes were like those folks, but she was only five. She had no reason to look that way. Both of her parents were loving and kind. There was no abuse of any sort. She was well provided for, wanted for nothing. Maybe if she’d had a sibling they would have noticed, the signs would have been heeded. Probably not, though. Siblings are always suspect. The petty rivalries and squabbles that naturally ensue guarantee that unfavorable reports were always seasoned with a handful of salt.
The boy named Arnold was the same. He first spoke on his fifth birthday, his eyes still dead. He was intelligible only to his grandmother, who translated his muttered birthday lunch plans as “a visit to McDonald’s” and not to “Aunt Dee” as he’d said. Even she didn’t understand why he said this, because the clerk’s name was Judy at the restaurant they frequented.
The problem was that he wasn’t here in this place. Neither child was. In bodies in this dimension, but otherwise elsewhere. Or else-when. Perhaps they weren’t defective, but inadvertent time travelers, unaware of their failure to truly be in one place at a time. How would their caregivers notice, after all, what with their own distractions? Perhaps these children were the newest iteration, designed by natural selection to never be truly anywhere. It was a good psychic defense against the insensitivity that was now endemic.

Corner

She sat there, alone, in the corner, until she cried it all out. Nobody had told her how to grieve. All she knew were two things – the rocking chair was where you sat to be soothed by your parents, and the corner was where you stood to reflect upon your sins. So she put the two ideas together. Her parents were no longer here to soothe her by rocking her back to sleep after a nightmare or to read her picture book filled with bunnies or bears.
The corner was where you stood facing inward, away from other people, a cheap form of solitary confinement. Bereft of company, you were stuck with your own thoughts. It was a foretaste of hell for those who feel guilty, felt wrong, felt broken. Never in her life had she voluntarily put herself there. This time was different. Everything was different now.
They died, both of them, not quite together, but a bit like dominoes anyway. People couldn’t quite grasp it, and assumed there’d been an accident. It wasn’t sudden. The signs were there all along. It was tragic only so much as it was preventable. It was sad that they’d squandered their lives, dissolved into nothingness, and for so long.
So now, not knowing what else to do, she sat, in the corner, in the chair. No need to face into the corner – nobody was there. Not just in the room, but the whole house. It was so quiet it was deafening. So here she sat, in the space of consoling isolation, to visit with the ghosts of her parents. They’d never left. Sure, their bodies were gone, buried in the cemetery on the other side of the city. Cemeteries and city dumps were always near each other, always in the low-rent part of town. The industrial waste recycling center was in the same block along the section 8 houses. It wasn’t an accident.
She noted she was getting distracted. Grief was like this, this veering away, then closer, like a moth to the flame at times. Dangerous to get too close. So usually we stay away. It hurts too much to look at it directly.
But after a while the phantom pains don’t fade. The anxiety stays long enough to pay rent. They both don’t have nameable causes, so when she finally notices her spirit is off-balance, she knows it is time to stop and face it.
How did she learn this, this inner healing? They certainly didn’t teach her. Death wasn’t something you talked about, just like politics or religion. It wasn’t nice to talk about in polite company. They acted like it was something that happened other people, less fortunate people, people who deserved it. They weren’t even in the same state when their own parents died. They skipped the funerals and cashed the inheritance checks. They wore black for about a month and told friends of their loss, but otherwise didn’t grieve. Maybe that is what killed them so young. If grief doesn’t get out by tears or wailing, it gets bottled up inside and starts eating you up from the inside out.
She was determined not to join them. So here she sat, in the corner, healing herself from the inside out.