Words will keep us together

Fiction, musings and all things writing by Gregory T. Janetka

Settling in for the Night

 In a quiet house, on a quiet street, in a quiet suburb (near the noisy city), lived Jeffy. A boy of eight, he had spent his entire life thus far in this quiet house, on this quiet street, in this quiet suburb. Jeffy often dreamed of cacophony, but was never able to translate it successfully.

The trouble with Jeffy, what is often the trouble with children, is that he was taught the names of clouds much too early on, and thus wasted little time on their transforming shapes. While the other children watched the constantly shifting canvas above, he witnessed nothing but the ongoing divisiveness of cumulus vs. stratus. He desperately wanted to roam among the clouds with the other children, but knew it was nonsense. When his eyes were gazing skyward, they were most likely transfixed on the static white of the ceiling above his bed.

II.

His quiet house was a “spacious brick colonial” with a “sunny kitchen” and a “lovely yard.” It had all come together years before he did, and so he knew it only as the sum total of its parts. Without the latest (or any) electronic gaming system to his credit, trips to his house were greatly non-negotiable with the other children.

Except for Eloisa. Her relations with her peers were also non-existent. Except for Jeffy.

They met the previous summer, on the day the quiet street they resided on was being resurfaced. Eloisa’s family had recently moved to the neighborhood and she was instructed to “go out and make friends.” And so it was that she came upon Jeffy. About an hour after the construction had ceased for the day he was contentedly sitting on the curb outside of her home.

Earlier in the day, when he conveyed his intentions of watching the work being done, his mother had provided him with sustenance in the form of his favorite variety of fruit-flavored candy.  While he was just about to place the final strawberry one into his mouth, he noticed a bear approaching. Or rather a girl in a bear suit – it was her favorite, 95 degrees be damned!

She stood beside him, silent. With the exception of the few fluorescent vests still poking about, the boy and the bear were the only ones to be seen on the quiet street. Jeffy held out the strawberry candy to her.

“I only like banana,” the bear replied decisively.

Placing the strawberry onto his tongue, he handed her the entire bag – banana was the only flavor left. From then on they were, in all practicality, inseparable. Jeffy enjoyed spending a great deal of his time in her home. She often found him inspecting it in minute detail, but she never asked what he was searching for. It didn’t matter. Their early days would often see hours go by in silence, her donning the bear suit while he strained to see what was just out of reach.

Through their relationship, their mothers teetered on the precipice of friendship, but never wholly found the ability to completely relax in one anothers company. Jeffy adored his mother, and it was only through Eloisa that he learned his mother was a great cook. The matriarchs took turns cooking meals at each others residences for the children, and whenever Jeffy’s mom took to the kitchen in Eloisa’s home, the results were nothing less than fully satisfying and delicious.  Yet when she would prepare the same dishes at their house, they became bland and tasteless.

He hated when his mother would choose to run out of the house.  At these moments he would usually find his father praying.

III.

Eloisa was a year below Jeffy in school. While she never asked, he would always share his wisdom gained from spending eight more months on this earth. If no bear was to be found, Jeffy would normally be found within the confines of his room.  The blue walls were covered with sports stars whom he had never seen in any context other then the positions they found themselves permanently frozen in. He spent more time examining the patterns he was capable of making in the forest green carpeting, along with the ones that existed independently of his actions. His preoccupation with the carpet had begun one winter day when he found knights hidden in the green hues, doing battle. Currently he more often floats among the passing hours by picking out the small pieces of fuzz and whatnot which always seemed to come out of nowhere and return to nowhere.

It was the beginning of another summer, and it found Jeffy in his solitude, staring across the street. On the other side sat the foundation of a home. It had been laid at the end of last fall, sitting untouched throughout the winter, garnishing more and more of Jeffy’s attention. Many days his mother would come and find him at the site, his head slightly cocked to the left. He was glad she would find him.

Before the earth had been excavated and replaced with concrete, the site had been an open grassy field. Jeffy could not count himself among the endless children who had spent endless days engaged in the nothingness that only children can put their arms around and find not only contentment, but sheer bliss.

The foundation, however, was fascinating.

Yellow caution tape affixed to flimsy wooden stakes kept him at bay. That is, until he discovered that he could breech it if he held his breath until his body had fully passed under the watchful gaze of warnings.

While they had previously existed on a level that never led to questions, only understanding, Eloisa could not understand why the concrete had such a hold on her friend. She escorted him to the site several times in the snow, only to watch him become overtaken with a silence that left her longing for her bear suit.

Feeling her distance he never told her his idea.In the closet of his bedroom, Jeffy began to build. He wanted it to be perfect and thus returned to the unguarded site time and time again. He knew he would never again have this kind of opportunity.

IV.

Fearful of the patriarchal reaction, Jeffy worked in his closet long after he was supposed to be asleep. Although no real estate agent would have given it the coveted status of “walk-in,” to a little boy it was an entire world.

Lighting his way from above was a 40 watt bulb, with a string just long enough for a child to reach when on tiptoes. Below that, a single shelf jutted out, covered with priceless trinkets found along the way. They sat bathed in a slight layer of dust.  Below that hung his clothes, and a few of his mother’s old dresses, on a rod extending the length of the closet. Below that sat Jeffy on the green carpeting. The only possession which previously took up this position was a children’s record player – a gift from his aunt. His father did not like the reactions it produced in his boy, and so it remained out of sight. Jeffy knew that whenever the needle wore down, all he had to do was find the correct pocket in his mother’s white dress, and there would be a new one.

Thus was his work space. It was on the forth night of attempting to echo the foundation that he got caught.

Jeffy was never afraid of the dark, but he was terrified of his clock. He was unsure of what emotion to feel towards it, but he knew abject fear was a safe option. Most nights he fell asleep staring at the digital face, most fascinated by eights. To make an 8 took all 7 possible lines. Whenever it was any other number’s turn, he could still see the others lurking, waiting. They were always there.

It simply didn’t make sense that zero was always the beginning of something new. It appeared to be whole and complete, but one line remained unlit. The only time things were whole was when it was the number 8, but while each of the four positions held the promise of completeness, it never happened. Jeffy would ponder this until he fell asleep, knowing his alarm was always set to a time ending in an 8.

And so he slept soundly, having no idea that his mother would often come into his room late at night, just to watch him be in peace. It brought her an almost unbearable sense of comfort that was unequaled.

On the night in question she followed her normal routine, but this time when she slowly pushed open the door, (a slight smile hiding in the corner of her mouth), her heart stopped for a brief, but significant, moment. The bed was empty. As her mind raced, her body froze. Then she heard what sounded like very faint hammering coming from the closet. Approaching it on silent steps, she slowly slid the closet door open to find her son hard at work.

In the far corner, turned to the lowest volume, sat the record player. In the other corner was Jeffy, frustration wrinkling his face. Surrounding him on the carpeting was a myriad of toy parts and other indecipherable pieces, which he was attempting to fashion into a duplicate of the foundation.

It was then that he realized she was there. Her hand silenced his scream, but it couldn’t stop him from wetting his pajamas.

After all involved had reached homeostasis once more, she offered her assistance, which Jeffy gladly accepted. It was decided they would begin the next evening. For now he must sleep. With his mother tucking him in, Jeffy drifted off on the promise of tomorrow.

V.

The next day found Jeffy unable to concentrate while playing with Eloisa. Stamping her feet, she declared that he was no fun today and told him to go back to the stupid hole he found so fascinating. Which he promptly did.

He wanted to get every last inch of it just right so that he would be able to describe every nook of it in bright detail to his mom. When he arrived at the sight, however, he was shocked to find a construction crew busy with wood and metal and screws and a million other adult thing. Jeffy watched them unblinking, keeping distance lest he be discovered.

The rest of the day lasted an eternity. As time trudged on his parents came to say goodnight and he finally relaxd.  He knew it wouldn’t be long now. Jeffy laid in bed smiling.

Half and hour later, Jeffy’s mom appeared as promised. In one hand she carried his father’s old erector set – the steel would make an excellent foundation. In the other she had a large container of plaster and a bag of art supplies.
Jeffy thought he’d never been happier.

She used to be an artist, voluntarily surrounding herself with the noise and chaos of creation. When He came for her, she was convinced she needed saving. She then heard control and felt the silence. The control of the middle way brought stability, but with overwhelming comfort came self-censure, paranoia, and fear. Breathing became difficult, colors muted – and she hated Him for it.

They worked for several hours that evening, with her sneaking at various times to make sure He was sleeping.  But He was always out.  She needn’t worry.

It was done. With the foundation settling, Jeffy and his mother returned to their respective beds. Happiness and contentment filled the house.

VI.

During the day, Jeffy kept careful watch on the progress across the street – and at night the two happily infringed on the copyright. They soon settled into a routine, working on the project just about every other night. Although she made sure to never spend too much time away from Him, during these days He never once caught wind that she had ever left the bed.
With this schedule in place Jeffy made up with Eloisa and they were once again inseparable. This is not to say their relationship had the precise qualities as before. The times became fewer and farther between that Eloisa would find Jeffy staring into the corners of her home.

He never shared his secret.

VII.

As the summer progressed, everything seemed to be falling into place for Jeffy – with the exception of his father.  While his relationships with Eloisa and his mother were back on track, communication between Jeffy and his father seemed non-existent. Although Jeffy always kept trying, his father never wanted to play catch anymore, never wanted to teach him a new fighting move.

He could see the strain it put on his mother to watch the proceedings, but when it was just them working late into the night, she drifted from her age, nearing his own. As far as he knew, if he opened the closet door while they were still working, there would be nothing but black staring back at him, for everything else ceased to exist.

And he was glad.

The few hours Jeffy slept each night were spent inside the home in progress. Whenever his eyes would no longer remain steady, his mother would draw their evening to a close and proceed to tuck him into bed. As soon as she left, however, Jeffy would tiptoe back to the closet. No matter how late they worked or how early he rose, the dreams were always pleasant, and his body always rested.

VIII.

The invisible forces began to carry with them a slight intonation of fall nearing the horizon, and with that the house across the street began to near completion – as did his home. His mother was not able to help him for a week or so, for his father now slept very little. But during the day she would carefully inspect what he had done the previous night, giving suggestions, but knowing they were no longer necessary.

IX.

Jeffy woke to his father’s screaming. Although he was used to it by now, the cadence behind it was different, disturbing.  Carefully closing the closet door behind him, Jeffy crept to his bedroom door. It was the electricity bill this time that created the current rift. He could hear his mother’s tears falling as the front door slammed behind her.

Jeffy became paranoid about everything that used electricity. It was possible that his father had a way of knowing when any power was being used, and so he went so far as to even unplug his lamp, television and clock. He carefully planned his moves, waiting for the moment where he would be yelled at for things he played no role in, by words he did not understand. But it never came.

With the sun still up, he pretended to go to sleep early. Regardless of what he tried, there was no way of retaining any thoughts that did not have to do with finishing the home. With it done, the project would finally be completed. If nothing else, perhaps it would hasten his mother’s return.

It had to be done, and so Jeffy crept to his dresser. Opening the drawer containing all of his things from when he was a baby, he pulled out a white candle. Lit once for his baptism, it had been nestled away here ever since.

Climbing into his room within a room, he silently struck a match and illuminated the home. In the new cast of shadows the workspace transformed and the home became real. Flaws that he knew intimately could no longer be seen; warmth radiated from within. He could see into the windows and hear the laughter.

With the final touch of the four-digit street number applied, he knew he could finally rest. But before that, he wanted to admire the work. It was a sensation he had never felt before – the room at once felt as if it was expanding and contracting. Then all of a sudden his joy morphed to lightheadedness. While there was plenty of wax left to burn, the flame had grown small, as had the oxygen, and he fell asleep.

X.

His mother had been in her car not far away when she heard the sirens.
She got out, stared into the sky and then began to run for her boy.
Everything became hazy and weighed down.
Lights flashed, sirens wailed.
But she heard only silence.
And so did he.

The night swept over the neighborhood and suddenly she could hear it all. His home, their home, had brought every ounce of this noise. It brought residents from their beds to experience a part of the night they pretended away.

Creating a silhouette against the flames, she stood hand in hand with a bear.
She knew her boy would be okay.

-October 2008

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