He was a peaceful baby with a face like Buddha who grew into a sensitive toddler: enormous eyes that took in everything and missed nothing. When he fell he cried, but he always recovered after the usual spell of tears.
What a precious child, we thought. Life will be hard on him.
The long reclusion started the night of the big scare, almost a year ago. Smoke detectors went off at two in the morning that Sunday. Mr. Hart was the first to head for the stairs and the last to get to the street, out of breath. Neighbors in nightclothes ran past him holding their kids, their pets, each other. As sirens approached Willow Street, tenants complained and swore under their breath, alarmed and annoyed, not a bit surprised, as though they expected all along that the kid in 3A would have done something stupid.
Clint Cherbouger was not an ornithologist. He liked birds for the most part. Mostly ducks. Pigeons were kind of gross and there were too many of them.
Jan from next door leaned against the split-rail fence. His pug Otis yapped. With each explosive bark, all four paws cleared the ground.
“You’ve never told me why you and Chris split up?”
“Does it matter?”
“No, but you’re hurting.”
“Don’t say that mum, I’m not fucking hurting.”
“…Sounds like your fine.”
The woman believed everything happened for a reason. She had to else she’d go crazy. She’d found her young boy face down in the pond out back. She reckoned he must’ve been trying to free the duckling tangled in the grabweeds when they snagged her son, too.
After he married Catherine, the only time I saw Uncle Fergus was during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays when the family observed the “truce”. I never questioned why we didn’t get together at any other time of the year. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned the truth.