Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another?
We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person's essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?”
― Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
“Hullo what’s your name?” A boy with one ear and bruises for flesh, brains scrambled with pain and anger, pinky tucked firmly into his left nostril, stands over him.
It takes Cole a moment to realize that he is the one being addressed.
“The only name that sounds right to me is Cole, its the one that must be who I am I guess,” He responds, peering curiously from his crouch beneath the willow. At this time of day the park is almost deserted, a fat old lady walking her fat old dog, a barber tossing seeds for birds, two other children in the sandbox.
And this boy unnervingly focused on him, speaking to him.
He’s so surprised he vomits his next words in his typical inelegant rush, the way that always seems to get him in trouble with the adult people, when he blurts the stuff about the inside. “The name sits there at the place where we find all things that are the hurt that makes us. That man who lingers in the door, waits with the heavy club hands with words like thunder, eyes that peel away and leave hurt and hurt and hurt, that place where that is makes you Mikal. It’s what he calls you by and you--”
He bites his tongue, struggles for the right words, they way they’re supposed to be said, making the order in his head slowly. “I’m sorry, that was all too much. I’m not very good at making sense.”
Mikal manages to look simultaneously baffled and unaffected. He can’t be more than five, skinny and small, clothes more patched than the shambles of fabric Cole likes to wear. “Your name is Cole? Ummm, how did you know my name Cole? Were you talking about my dad? Do you know my dad?” Mikal asks idly, picking his nose innocently. He flicks snot away then goes right back to excavating. “Cole, do you know my dad?”
“I know what it is that he has done, what you’ve seen of him,” He blurts, then swallows, tries again to put it simply. “No, not really.” That’s better.
“Oh... Lots of people know us because of my dad. He has lots of friends. A lot of his friends look like you,” Mikal jitters dramatically on the spot and widens his eyes to an impossible size, going cross-eyed, barely containing a snort. “Like this! Except your eyes don’t go like that, ha ha, I’m just kidding. And they don’t have hats like yours. It’s cool, like a scarecrow.”
Cole, nodding enthusiastically while listening, now flinches back.
The baseball cap with the button sockets he wears under his hood, some white thread stitching a lumpy smile.
Cole tugs it further down, lets it press his bangs into his eyes. The younger ones have a tendency to get nervous when they can make out more of his face. Gaunt and pale and then bright blue. No, they don’t like that. It’s scary. He licks his lips and pulls the heavy hood lower for good measure.
“It’s lurking and skulking and all sorts of weird and wired on strings, a pole high above that mocks and makes fear known. No, it’s not a good person to be,” Cole fumbles. He doesn’t have time to piece his words together better for Mikal, even though he knows he should, he’s supposed to be practicing that, making sense. Right now though he’s excited and anxious and coherency is far from the forefront.
He’s been in this world three months, maybe four.
He remembers it took a long time for his eyes to open even as the silence turned to noise, voices and crinkling leaves, chirps and all the other sounds of things talking, and then thoughts and something else, deeper, snippets of feelings in his blood, hot and then cold that lit him up and made him want to curl away. He listened for hours, maybe. And then he was sitting in a decrepit stretch of greenery that in all honesty could be politely known as silvery, and most realistically was ashen. Corpse trees circling an assemblage of parched wood, a jungle gym with warped slides, tire swings dusty with a few fallen comrades gathered about a blackened dumpster as benches, a popular hangout he’d learned on cold nights for the local night-stalkers. He liked the heat there but the people who make it don’t like the feel of him so he stays far away.
Most of the bigger ones don’t though. Like him, that is. Children, however, are fifty-fifty, and it’s been a while since a kid was brave enough to approach him. He searches for the father quickly. No one’s nearby, not when he makes a nosy mother watching them remember a burning pot on a stove and bolt with her daughter, but he has to check thoroughly or he might get in trouble later.
“Whaaat? You’re weird. You say everything weird, Cole.”
The boy bends lower, closer, and he feels a door, weak and trembling, a child’s mind, so he pushes and then he’s inside. It’s overwhelming, the initial sting, the quick stab of grief that transforms into an onslaught.
Hot tears, angry hands. Nights that are loud and filled with strangers with stringy limbs and rambling thoughts (They do look like Cole but none are pale enough, most are too wide and this is too far). Too much there are sad dreams of Mother. Crying again. People asking questions at the school earns a beating with the belt (Cole flinches against the blow, moves quickly onward). Lots of women come home, all smirking and painted. Shh, must be quiet, he doesn’t like noise when he’s busy. Broke the cup by accident, have to leave, have to hide it (These are old motions but the trail is good, right up until today, he’s almost found it). He’s mad again today but he has another lady over, can’t go inside need to find somewhere to be that Dad won’t. Oh yeah, he’ll never go there so run away.
Cole blinks as Mikal feels one of the buttons on his aforementioned cap. He lets the grubby hand rub the cool stone. He’s back at the park, hunkered beneath the willow while being poked at.
Clearly Mikal is alone.
He frowns, the boy’s thoughts still sparking in his mind with a buried fear. He dislikes this Mikal’s father, feels how the man lacks honest words and kind words, and his hands seem often too heavy for a man so large to a child so small. Cole definitely needs to do something that will make all those images quieten down now that he’s stroked them. He cracks his fingers as he uncurls from the tree, crouching on he balls of his feet as he suggests, “Do you want to play, Mikal?”
The fingers drop from their nasal and hat exploration to flap in excitement. “Yeah! Can you push me on the swing?”
“Touching blue, tasting rush, up up up riding the air, a drop so quick the sweet pit jumps in the stomach, yes, the swings are best for flying.” He extends a hand and Mikal grabs it after scrubbing his fingers in his shorts. He smiles wider.
This is going to be such fun.