F L A S H F I C T I O N
THE BOY WHO STAYED OUTSIDE
b y k a t h r y n k u l p a ~ b r i s t o l , r h o d e i s l a n d
THE BOY had decided not to go inside when they called him. He had decided not to go inside again, ever. High in his tree, safe behind its branches, he watched the house. They would start calling him soon. Once before that happened. Once they called and called. After a while his father came outside, found him beside the rock, carried him to his room.
"He'll have no supper tonight," his father said to Janie and his mother. The boy didn't care. He lay on his bedroom floor, on his stomach, listening to his parents' voices from below as the smell of dinner came through the heating vent.
"Maybe a tutor."
"He needs more discipline. High time he was sent to school."
After a while the talking stopped and he crept downstairs, silent, shoeless, knowing Janie in the kitchen would give him a currant bun. She said he must have been changed in his cradle sure for a gypsy bairn. All his gypsying about. He asked what were gypsies and she said they were dark folk. Travelers. "No homes for them. Tents and wagons."
"Don't they have to come inside when it's dark?" the boy asked.
"Dark's nothing to them," said Janie.
He almost asked her if the old woman was a gypsy. Then he remembered.
Once there was a rock and an old woman who lived inside the rock. She taught him the way outside, how to live on nothing but air and freedom and the smell of salt and roses the wind brought. Which plants to eat and which not to, where water bloomed, there was a litany, a melody, it was easy to tell. Why that rock (which was nubbly and cobbly with glass, pebbles, somebody's beach once, some crawling thing's shell) was cool in summer, warm in winter; the songs the stars sang at night when they danced with each other, when they bent and whispered secrets in treetop ears. She knew the words they whispered. But now she would never tell him.
They had taken his rock away from him. They had taken the old woman. They said she was not an old woman, that he was too old to play with sticks and rags of clothes. Too old to roam and moon about all day long, learning nothing.
They didn't belong in this country, the man and the woman and the little boy. But the old woman belonged. She would have let him belong. She would have found a place for him, a word for him in her strange language where everything was a poem.
The walls of the house are white. The sound of the earth is red, red and marching. He will not march. The boy sees the servant woman on the verandah, carrying a bowl of flowers inside (night air, they say, is dangerous). Lights are yellow in the windows. He is framed in the tree, cradled, never afraid to fall, not even missed. Watching the lights. Watching until the last light goes out.
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