It was the coldest day in the year, the darkest day. I was waiting for the readings to begin. The heater was groaning, trying to keep running, and people were talking and laughing with each other. This is the time when we know everything, and my friends and I are not excluded from this knowledge. They came in, shaking snow off their clothes like pixie dust, their faces stamped red; the cold’s personal signature. Off the scarves went, but the coats stayed on, the heater tried and got an A for effort but a D for accuracy. “Are you signed up to read?” my friend said to me, a sort of smirk, smile hybrid on his face. The spotlight isn’t my sun; the twenty-year-old lamp at my writing desk, the glow from my father’s hand-me-down laptop is my sun.
The girl opened the door, despite the door’s loud protest. She wore a baggy black sweater and worn down jeans with splotches and slashes of paint on them. If her high top sneakers were a paint color, it would be White-Walls-After-Living-With-Dungy-Children. She pushed her glasses higher up on her nose and sat down in the back row, her fingers going through her black hole of a bag to retrieve her notebook and pen.
After the verbose, overdrawn with sloppy markers welcome, the reading started. One is about her dead cat. One is about the flaws of our country. One is about her lost love, Christopher. One is about memories and the smell of chalk. One is about crying. One is about Christ.
My friend went up to the stage, and as he did I was vaguely aware of the door behind me opening. Why would I have paid attention? It was probably someone who was late or someone coming back from the bathroom or a teacher who wanted to listen. It should have been someone who was late or someone coming back from the bathroom or a teacher who wanted to listen; instead it was darkness.
His face was stamped with red just like my friends’ faces had been. He shook off the snow, just as my friends had done. He was wearing jeans and a warm sweatshirt and sneakers just like my friends were. Just like I was. I watched him for a moment, one eye on my friend waiting in the wings. Swiftly he moved to the girl. Murmuring and whispering, leaves sliding and shifting on leaves, she looked scared and determined and brave. She looked like she wanted to run out of her White-Walls-After-Living-With-Dungy-Children shoes far away from everything and everyone. A silver well came out of his pocket. Her pale skin went white. Snow replacing skin.
Somebody looked over, innocent shuffling and curiosity. They saw the silver well in his pocket and didn’t scream and didn’t gasp. Their youth and innocence and safety fell from their features. One by one everyone saw, and he saw that everyone knew about the silver well in his pocket, so he grabbed the girl as if she were something he possessed, a security blanket to wrap around you at night.
He gripped the gun tightly; his eyes replaced with his six-year-old eyes and his ten-year-old eyes. Scared, angry, helpless, and disbelief. I didn’t hear the heater’s never-ending song of effort, the room getting colder by degrees and seconds and heart beats.
“You don’t love me, you’re worthless. You’re nothing to me. Do you hear me? Listen to me!” he said, his face flushed. It smells like rain, some people are crying, others are on pause — motionless — and some look because they can’t tear their eyes away.
The boy with the metal well in his hand shoots the heater. BANG, it lets out a whimper and even though we knew it was three fourths of the way in the grave, we are silently shocked it’s now gone for good. We’d seen school shootings in newspapers and on television screens, and we all silently thought we knew how we would act if it ever happened to us. We’d run. We’d talk to the shooter, human to human. We’d contact all of our loved ones. We’d stick together.
We should have been planning to all at once run for the door. We should have all been calling 911. We should have all been talking to this boy with his gun in his hand.
“Tell me why the ivy twines. Tell me why the stars do shine. Tell me why the sky’s so blue. Tell me why I love you. Because God made the ivy twine. Because God made the stars to shine. Because God made the sky so blue. Because God made me and I love you.” She sang her lullaby to him, tears slipping down her cheeks. For a moment I could see it, I am a writer. I wrote his past for him.
His father taught the gospel truth of keeping boys in
When his son couldn’t color inside the
His belt straightened him back onto the
His mother was quieter than obedience never stepping an inch out of
I tried, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t finish that poem.
“I love you,” she whispered. I had to strain my heart to hear her. Tears are sliding down their history of broken promises, demons and memories that can’t be drawn in with a happier color. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone softly talking into their phone, their pause button was turned to play, and we are going to go home tonight.
We don’t know what to do with this; a boy has a silver well and we are afraid. But we know him because our demons and our past have a well with a little child trapped in it; they all look just like him. The girl with her wounded bird wanted to save him. He wanted to believe that he could be saved.
The boy wrapped his arms around her, sobs echoing in our bones. I rose and tried to creep toward her. I want to remove the silver well from his hand so he won’t get sucked into it. I was so close, she saw me. Her eyes were lost, but they asked me a question that I didn’t understand and couldn’t answer. Her hand wrapped around his hand that has the gun. All of us could hear the sirens. We hadn’t heard sirens in a while. We hadn’t needed sirens. We hadn’t had a boy with a silver well in his pocket before.
The people with guns, more guns had come in, the people with needles to sew any wounds up came in, the people to ensure we had blankets over our shoulders came in. Everyone came in.
One half of the perfect couple left the building with their eyes closed, and the other half left the building with their eyes open.
“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” –Terry Pratchett