A Restless Spirit

by and © Henry Higgins

"Oh, look at you all dressed and ready to go! You make a most distinguished butler."

"And I can't wait to see you all dolled up as the Queen of Sheba. What's this? A little snack before we go?"

"Just a little something to hold you over till I get dressed and we can get there."

The boy hovered at the top of the stairs, blending back into a dark corner as his mother passed. She shivered and pulled her arms in close to her body as she walked by. Silently, Tommy followed her as she entered the bedroom. He could see clearly as she began to undress. When she got down to her underwear and began to take it off, he had to turn away, muttering to himself, "Eeewww!" He backed into a corner at the end of the hall and waited.

In ten or fifteen minutes Tommy's mother appeared in full costume and headed downstairs. He followed her until he could resume his station at the top of the stairs and listen. He heard polite conversation and the shuffling of coats as his parents left for the party.

The boy sighed, happy for a few hours alone in the house on this All Hallows Eve and hoping that his parents could lighten up and have some fun for a change. He wandered from room to room, embracing all the warm memories of years past, reliving them as though they were still in the present. And finally, after he had settled into his room for a while, he heard the slamming of car doors that announced his parents' return. But his happy feelings evaporated as he heard the demeaning tones of voice on their entry.

Spiked shouts. Then, whispers. More shouts rose as a profound sadness fueled their exchange. Hurled epithets bounced crazily up the stairs and flopped helplessly at his feet. Tommy wanted so badly to help, but he knew there was no point. Past failures had shown that he could not. He could only stay at the top of the stairs and shiver at every slur and cry that flew through the house.

Then, a crash. A gasp, a wail, more angry shouts. He couldn't stand to listen to his parents fight; but more, he couldn't stand not listening. So in the chill dark at the top of the stairs, naked and vulnerable, he quietly melted into the corner - listening and crying.

As the Holidays neared, most kids would look forward to them, thinking about hay rides and ghost stories and making wish lists and ice skating and reindeer and huge meals with cousins running all around. But not him, not this year. As the Holidays loomed closer, his parents fights had become more frequent and so the more he faded into the house.

His father groaned, hurling one last epithet that flew upstairs just missing him and stuck into the wall, quivering and dripping. He knew that early the next morning, when he left before his parents woke, he would see the hole in the wall and the dark spots on the floor below it.

The slam of the front door, the roar of the car engine, his mother's quiet sobbing, the rustle of small shards of pottery being swept up - all told him that things would be quiet again - for a while.

Tommy retreated again into his room. These arguments always left him exhausted but still tense and frayed. He listened intently for any noise. Recently, he had needed that alertness as his parents argued during the night in their bedroom. His father had burst into his room calling his name, but not before the boy had heard him coming and quickly melted into a dark corner. The man had seen only the dark, empty room and stood there sobbing before staggering back into the hallway.

Tommy's mind drifted, recalling past and happier times - times when his parents did not fight and argue. They all loved each other. The family went on picnics, shopping trips, to the movies. He remembered the love that bound the three of them so closely. He was much younger then - before things got so complicated - before he shattered that bond of love forever.

He remembered getting his first job in the locker room at the YMCA when he was twelve. He had given out and collected towels for the men and boys as they showered. Even now he could feel that warm, humid embrace of chlorine-scented air. He and Angus would serve towels to the men, all hairy and pendulous, and the boys, so smooth and jutting. Tomorrow he might visit the YMCA and the old man who had taken such kind interest in him.

Tonight, however, he would rest; but not in his house.

His spirit flitted about the room before finally slipping out the window - through chilly October air, silver moonlight illuming the most persistent leaves that still clung to their trees and softly flashed like silver beacons. He drifted to the playground where on that warm summer night he and Danny had discovered their love, so astonished that they could be so young yet love so deeply. Then he passed the school where their love had been so painfully exposed, leaving them feeling so terribly stained and crucified.

He floated lazily over the park where they had been attacked to the house where his friend lay awake - still - weeping quietly, feeling so helpless and incomplete, wondering why. He continued over that fateful pond where they had found him to a cemetery at the edge of town and then hovered over a gravestone that read:

Thomas Raines Traynor
Rest In Peace Beloved Son And Adored Friend
Until We All Shall Meet Again

His tearless eyes swelled and from his breathless chest issued that keening soundless wail.

Drifting back to his friend's house, he floated through the open window. He tried again to embrace the boy; but of course, could not. So, as he had done every night since the event, Tommy blended into the bed, spiritually embraced Danny's soul, and lulled him gently to sleep. Weeping but still tearless, Tommy drifted back out the window and hovered over the sleeping town, unsure whether to return home or to stay with his friend. In the end, Danny won out - as he always had. He would go back home early tomorrow. Tommy drifted back into the bedroom he knew so well, where his friend slept snug and warm. There he could rest safely and be close, spiritually embracing his love.

If only he had known before he did it how little his death would change things. If only he could have seen the anguish inflicted on his parents and lover. If only he could have endured the taunts and crushing guilt just a little longer. If only...

The next day, for sure, he would visit the YMCA.

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