Kitchen so white and so clean, the morning sunlight bright and promising as it spread across the room through the old glass of the wood framed windows, warming the day. Golden beams reflecting, bounding from ivory surfaces to the polished chrome of appliances adored, to be swatted into the brown eyes of the mother. Warming her and warming her son. Juliana watched as little Tomás waddled across the kitchen floor, making way toward the hallway.
He stopped and looked up at the cork-board, wobbling on his heels as he pointed at the yellow rubber gloves that hung from a pushpin. Agitated, he ran up the hallway. Juliana followed her little boy, wondering what it was about the rubber gloves that fascinated him so. He was born with a full head of gleaming black hair that was soft, like cornsilk and it waved and wafted about his head like a feathery halo as he ran.
In the living room, she knew, would be Danny. He would be sitting on the chair near the brick fireplace organising the contents of his book-bag.
Danny looked up as Juliana followed Tomás into the room. He smiled at her.
“I’m going to get ready for work, Dan. There is some fruit in a bowl in the refrigerator and some Chicken Molé and tortillas from last night if you want them.
He nodded and pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his freckled, button nose. “I want them! I do!” He said unable to contain himself as his bright blue eyes widened. “You make the best! Nobody makes better molé.”
Tomás wrapped his chunky, three year old arms around Danny’s leg.
Julianna smiled. “Thanks Dan. Well, nobody appreciates my cooking more than you. Makes a girl feel proud.”
Danny laughed as Tomás attempted to climb into his lap. He let go of the book-bag and hoisted the child to a sitting position and began bouncing the boy on his knee.
“Is there anything I need to know before you go?” He asked.
Juliana thought for a moment. “No, all is as it always has been.”
Tomás leaned forward and put his tiny hand on Dan’s cheek, caressed it gently before weaving his fingers into Dan’s blond hair. He turned his head, a big grin puffing his cheeks. “Gowld! Golwd pitty mama!
Juliana chuckled and leaned toward Dan. “Yeah, baby Gold is pretty. You be good for Mr. Gold, while I’m at work okay, baby?”
Dan caught Juliana’s eye, and she winked. “You take care of my little prince, keep him safe okay?”
Dan nodded. “You know I will, Jules. As if my life depends on it!”
Juliana turned and went to the bathroom, she looked into the mirror and thought about her baby boy… he did love blonde hair. Reflecting on two of her daughters friends; Angela and Taylor. Both as Blond and blue eyed as they could get, Nordic, Germanic. Tomás was entranced by them, just as he was by Dan. She remembered the first baby sitter that she had gotten for Tommy, a pretty enough young girl, sixteen; she had brown hair. Poor girl. Tomás was was her worst nightmare, wouldn’t have anything to do with her. She quit after a week.
Juliana pulled her long black hair to the side and began rapidly braiding, then clipped the end, wound it into a coil and pinned it to the back of her head.
Finding Dan had been a godsend, for a few reasons. He was seventeen years old, responsible and had excellent grades in school and no girlfriend – he had told her he didn’t have time for that sort of thing, that his studies kept him too busy and a girlfriend would be too distracting. He had his sights set on Stanford University. He wanted to be a doctor. Sure, he was a tad bit bookish but he reminded her of a beach boy, cute enough. He’d make some girl a great catch one day. Steven had always thought it would be better to have a male baby-sitter from the start, his reasoning being, that little Tomás would have a good male role model rather than someone who might coddle him. Steven liked Dan, trusted him. The Stanford bit appealed to Steven as well, as he wanted the best for Tomás, and he thought that Dan would be a great example for his son in his formative years. She couldn’t argue Steven’s reasoning but there were undercurrents that she thought were questionable, things that weren’t spoken outright, but alluded to. He had mentioned once that he didn’t want his son growing up watching girls wandering around putting on makeup and worrying over their dresses. “‘Too much feminine influence on a boy would be a bad.'” He had said.
Juliana shook her head and brushed her teeth, when she finished she went into the bedroom, just off the hallway and got dressed. Simple; a green skirt, blue short sleeved blouse, white cardigan and her black low heeled strap on shoes. She polished the buckle of the left shoe before she put it on. She checked her purse to makes sure it was fully stocked with all she would need for the day; Wallet, hairbrush, a small bottle of perfume, tissues, hand lotion… house-keys.
She started into the hallway but stepped back and Tomás barrelled toward the kitchen with Dan in tow. As they passed Tomás glanced up at Juliana, his face twisted up in a joyful chuckle, Dan shook his head. “He wants…”
“I know, I know… the oranges, right?
“You got it. What else?”
Juliana made her way into the hall and shouted back to Dan as she opened the front door just off the living room. “That reminds me, Are you taking him to the park today?
Dan leaned into the hall. “It was on the list of plans, yep.”
“Could you stop by Al’s Market and pick up some butter and a head of lettuce.. oh and more oranges, please? She stepped out into the bright daylight. “You know where the money is.”
“you bet, Jules. Have a good one, okay?” Dan replied.
“Thanks Dan.” She shut the door and trotted up the street.
“Kiss?” Tomás asked.
Dan leaned forward and little Tomás kissed his nose.
“Alright little buddy, you wanna go play? Outside?”
Tomás clapped his hands and went to his bedroom which was situated next to the kitchen. Dan grabbed his book bag and and went to the bathroom, he lifted the lid from the septic tank of the toilet and pulled out a wet ziplock bag. He opened the bag, opened the plastic baggie inside and took twenty dollars from the hidden stash. He closed it up and replaced the baggie, carefully laid the porcelain lid back onto the septic tank and went to find Tomás.
The stopped at Al’s Market and got the few things that Juliana had asked for, Dan decided to buy a Hershey’s chocolate bar as well, twenty-five cents that Juliana probably wouldn’t be concerned about, and made their way to the park. I was a good walk, five blocks up the hill to College avenue and then four blocks south to the park. Not really a park but a large patch of green that the neighbour-hood folks had cleaned up, re-planted, and added two benches, a slide and some swings.
It was a warm day, warmer than usual, Dan thought as they walked past the Art college. A cluster of students emerged through the gates and one of the girls stopped him, and looked at Tomás.
“Is he yours?” She asked excitedly. “He’s adorable!” Dan shook his head as she bent down to say hello to Tomás.
“He sure is!” One of her friends muttered. Staring at Dan with a smile.
“shut up Ricky.” The girl said.
Tomás who was as agreeable and playful as ever, and sort of impish in his very special way wanted to give the girl a kiss, he leaned forward, closed his eyes and pursed his lips. The ‘Tomás special’ as Dan liked to say; a kiss to the forehead. He looked up at Dan for permission.
The girl was jubilant with the adorable factor of the little boy.
“Go ahead, its ok. But asked her first, never kiss a girl without asking first.”
Her friend Ricky, still staring at Dan, spoke again. “Or a boy.”
Dan ignored the flirt.
The girl leaned toward Tomás and he kissed he forehead and laughed. She stood up and elbowed Ricky. “back off.”
She looked at Dan and smiled then. “Don’t mind him.” She gave her friend a dirty look “He’s obnoxious.” She said to Dan. She waved at Tomás and grabbed ricky’s arm. “Bye now…Bye cutie pie!” as she directed her friend away and up the street in the opposite direction.
Dan shook his head and grabbed Tomás’ hand. “Let’s go captain.”
“Da Pok!” Tomás shouted.
“That’s right, best friend. The park!”
“She pitty!” Tomás said.
“Yep, she was pretty alright.” Dan replied
“Not pitty ike oo.” Tomás intoned. “I wuv Dan Dan.”
“Ah little buddy, I love you too! Dan said as the made their way into the park.
Dan set his book bag down and dropped to a sitting position, Tomás sat next to him. He opened the bag and pulled out his books and set them aside. Tomás watched, his long lashes glittered with every blink as Dan reached into his bag and pulled out a baggie with two peeled oranges that had been broken up into slices. Tomás reached for them. Dan told him to wait.
“Not so fast, kiddo.” he said with a smile, as he pulled the chocolate bar from his shirt pocket and unwrapped it. He broke the chocolate into pieces and gave one to Tomás. “You can play on the swings while I look at my books okay? And if you’re a good little captain, I’ll give you some more chocolate okay?
“Ah-ha!” Tomás said, nodding. Dan smiled, gave him another square of chocolate and he took off toward the swings. “Stay where I can see you!” Dan shouted after him.
Dan buckled down and began to study, first the Civics. He turned the pages, every so often glancing toward the swings.
An hour had passed, and Tomás had made frequent visits to Dan for a piece of orange, or a hug. And now, Dan was deep into his English studies. He looked up to see Tomás chasing a butterfly, a long shadow near the hedges at the far edge of the park enclosure, leaves rustling. He smiled and lied back, looking up at the clouds. Slowly moving puffs of silvery white against a bright blue sky. The warm sun on his arms, a slight tangy fragrance of orange and chocolate brought to his senses with the light breeze and Dan closed his eyes, thinking of school and a bright future that would be college. And he drifted with those thoughts, drifted with the clouds into a light summer nap. A Summer dream of lighthearted laughs and music… The Carpenters singing a song, singing it proud and not worrying if it wasn’t good enough for anyone else to hear. Coloured lights and beautiful girls wearing bell bottom pants with happy face patches sewn on the back pockets. A rainbow painted tapestry of boys with beer cans and rooms full of promise, he dreamed. The dream of driving a car, a brand new car with the top down, zooming around the bends of a forested highway, the wind in his hair and the screeching of tires. And the sudden flash of red.
Red and the screeching.
He shot awake to the sounds of Tomás, screaming his heart out. The foggy veil of sleep was ripped away as he shot to his feet, already shouting, shouting before he could see. Shouting before he saw. “Tommy! TOMÁS…”
He turned toward the swings and and scanned the area with viper speed, but saw no one. He turned to the left as another screech bellowed from the young boy.
There at the edge of the park near a hedgerow, Was a middle aged man, Dan didn’t notice the details and specifics.. it was just a man. He had Tomás by the throat!
The full image of what was happening slowly registered but Dan Howled then, as he realised that the mans pants were down, and he was forcing Tomás’ head toward his crotch.
Dan bolted forward, howling through burning lungs.
Two women who were walking the avenue stopped as the heard Dan’s angry high pitched bellows, curses, and threats of murder. They skittered into the park and stood terrified as they took in the scene.
By the time Dan had slammed, full speed into the bastard child molester, little Tomás had been violated twice. The child was thrown sideways, choking, as Dan began a violent attack on the man’s face with his bone white, solidly clenched fists.
Dan finally felt the man’s cheek crack on the third punch. As he pummelled, he felt that man’s lip split open, the blood squirting up the length of his arm. He felt the rage of demons as he felt the flesh of his knuckles burst open with a blow to the man’s chin. The man helplessly raised his left arm in a defensive move, to protect his ravaged face, and Dan snatched his wrist and twisted his hand backward with such force that the bones in his hand popped free of the wrist. Dan inhaled as he reached the point of exhaustion and punched the man again, squarely in the ear. Dan could see him howling, his mouth opened in a sickening wide red O, but heard nothing, nothing but his own weary grunts and angry wails.
Meanwhile, the two horrified women had come closer. One of them rushed away and disappeared into a shoe shop across the street from the park. The woman who remained was screaming at Dan, as a crowd began to gather, screaming for him to stop.
The beaten man had had no time to react, to defend himself, and Dan continued punching until he was breathless. He stopped and looked over his shoulder at the woman screaming at him. Some sense returned to him then and he turned his head, confused, frightened. He looked for little Tomás. He began to weep as he found the boy with his eyes. Tomás curled up in ivy coughing. He could hear the woman screaming and he scuttled away from the man and scooped up Tomâs who had stuffed his thumb in his mouth as his eyes dripped tears. Tomás looked up at Dan, never taking his glassy wet eyes off the young man’s face as he was carried away. As he was carried into sounds of shouting and sounds of Dan Dan crying out loud. Sounds of sirens.
Dan was crying in fitful, breath stabbing sobs and cradling Tomás’ face as he staggered toward the astonished crowd, Tomás looked up at him trying to understand the words he was speaking through snotty sobs.
“I’m sorry baby boy, I’m so sorry…” Dan fell to his knees as he whispered to Tomás his apologies. A man came forward and kneeled beside them as two police cars skidded to a halt at the curbs, their sirens blaring in the early afternoon sun.
“He nearly killed that monster.” Tom said. “Mama told me so years later, not too long before she died. Nearly killed him.” Tom leaned into the sofa and wiggled his toes, he tried to remember Dan, but couldn’t. Hazy snapshots of the mind. Most of his memories of Dan were reinforced by old Kodak photographs.
Lisa rested her cheek on the back of her hand and searched Tom’s face, he was looking at his toes. No, not at them, past them. “Do you remember him?” She asked.
Tom chuckled. “I was just trying to. Not much there. Just feelings really, you know; feelings attached to a face in some old pictures.”
Lisa sat up and grabbed the bottle of wine from the table and filled her glass. “more?” she said and tipped the bottle toward Tom. He nodded.
She scooted across the sofa and filled his glass, and he picked it up, and returned to the chair sitting crosslegged. “You know, Dan, He is my first experience of love. I mean that wasn’t family.
Lisa sipped. “And you were, what…two years old?”
Dan nodded. “Three at the most.” Dan gulped.
“What happened to him, I mean do you know?”
“No idea, Mama said he was guilt ridden, and couldn’t stand to be around me. Said he would break down, or just sort of daze out if I was anywhere near him for too long, She told me he went to college, somewhere on the East coast.” Tommy sipped again. “I have a picture of him. Wanna see?
Lisa, a little bitt saddened by the story smiled gently and replied. “I’d like that, yeah.”
Tommy arched his body sideways and got the wallet from his back pocket, that was easy with one hand, getting the picture out was not; he set the wine glass back on the table and slipped the heavy card like photograph from a sleeve in the wallet and handed it across to her between two fingers.
She took it let her eyes fall gently on the image. The first thing she noticed was Tom. Oversized eyes ringed with jet black lashes, and far too intelligent for a toddler, button nose, wide toothless grin. Tom wearing coveralls with a kangaroo patch on the chest pocket. Toms arms were raised and his fingers wrapped tight around Dan’s thumbs. Dan with an open mouthed smile, his chin resting on Tom’s jet black mop of hair.
“Beautiful, wasn’t he?” Tom asked, hushed tones but more than a whisper.
Lisa raised her eyes, caught Toms glance and then looked back at the picture. He had wild wavy blond hair, not too short but not long and ice blue eyes, his arms and hands were like alabaster but the tones in his face were golden… tawny as if he’d just gotten a tan.
She handed the picture back to Tom, he shook his head and she set in on the table.
“did you ever try to find him?” Lisa asked.
Tommy paused, took a sip of his wine and looked at her through hooded eyelids, the smile was gone. “I used to, when I was little. I always thought maybe he was hiding behind old man Johnsons hedges, like when we played hide and seek. I still think about him a lot.”
“Still trying?” Lisa said.
Tom sighed and rubbed his forehead, he was beginning to feel slightly tense, a little embarrassed and he’d never really spoken about the truth of the matter before, the truth behind his attempts, the solid ones. “Yeah, I guess I am… in a way. Can we talk about something else?”
“Oh come on, it’s me. Its safe with me, you know that.” Lisa said, in her most serious and loyal tone of voice, and she meant it.
Tom leaned back, again and let his head fall back, mystified with the tenacity of Lisa’s curiosity, and a little irritated by it. Usually she backed off if told ‘no.’
“Okay okay. I did find him, about four years ago. No, let me clarify; I found his father. Still living in the same house in the old neighbourhood.” Tom’s voice was a bit shaky now, and he fidgeted with the cuffs of his trousers.
Lisa’s eyes were rimmed with a curious excitement, she secretly loved happy endings, how movies always ended on a joyful note. A secret pleasure. “Yeah, and…?”
Tom lowered his head. “Well, he did go to college, you know, one of those fancy Ivy League deals…Boston or New York or something. He wanted to be a doctor, a surgeon. There was trouble though, and he…” Tom slowly got out of the chair and took the glass of wine and chugged the remains of the glass. He bent over and touched his toes and stood up fast. The head rush hit him hard, and dizzy, he dropped to the carpet in a rolling sit. “Well don’t you know, he was all depressed or something, manic. His room-mate found him hanging from the neck in their dorm room late in the Spring semester, didn’t even finish a full year.”
Lisa’s mouth hung open, it wasn’t the happy ending that she got, and she slumped back in bitter surprise and looked briefly at the photograph on the table.
“I found him, but I’m still looking, see?” Tom muttered. No tears, no visible sadness, only an even temperament and a slight quiver of the lip. “Still looking. He took care of me you see, he loved me. I know that, can feel it, right here.” He tapped his temples and then thumped his chest with an open hand. “Yeah, my first experience of love that wasn’t family. Just about everyone I’ve know since then has only been the opposite; mean, contrary, self obsessed. HE…he nearly killed for me.”
Lisa stared at Tom, flustered, she didn’t know what to do or say. But she tried. “I don’t.. I mean my God, I’m so…”
Tom shook his head. “Don’t be sorry, it’s okay.” Rested his arms on the table, clasped his hands and lowered his chin, to them. He blinked, attempting to gauge Lisa’s reaction, or next question.
She looked away, overwhelmed. “How could anyone compete with that kind of love?” A statement, not a question.
“you can’t, Lisa. Anyway, It’s not a competition.”
she looked at him, looked at him hard, but his eyes were soft, soft and clear. the same clear, hazel green they had been when they first met. There was something in the way he spoke those last words that effected her in a visceral way, as if she had been gently thumped at the tip of her sternum, from the inside.
Tom studied Lisa’s expression, his own face relaxed and with a slight smile. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
She settled, the hard look dissipated and she looked again at the picture on the table. “Do you remember…” She inhaled and let the question be what it was, no mincing of words. “I mean do you remember the attack, the man?
“I remember that like it happened yesterday.” He replied, still calm the half grin still apparent on his face.
“You don’t seem bothered by it.” Lisa said.
“Well I’m not, not really. Not anymore.” Tom winked at her then.
“What was that for?” She asked, somewhat astounded by his response.
Tom shrugged, strands of hair feel into his eyes and he brushed them away. “I dunno, just that its not a ‘thing’ for me, you know?” He thought for a moment that she seemed horrified by the notion that he wasn’t bothered by some stranger violation his mouth in such a way. “Look, I remember it, but the only thing I have no recollection of, is that he actually put it in my mouth. I don’t even remember seeing it. What I do remember is seeing something in the hedges, I went over and he grabbed me by the neck… gently though. He was rubbing himself but he was fully clothed. He had his hand on my neck and simply guided my head really close to his crotch… I remember seeing the brass zipper, could’ve touched it with the tip of my nose.” Tom laughed, a sliver of ice had lodged itself in the laugh though. “Next thing I remember was hitting the ground, I couldn’t breathe… funny taste in my mouth; i think it was blood though, my lip was split right down the center.” Tom shrugged again, slid his hand across the table and grabbed the wine glass. “Cheers.” he said, fixing his gaze on Lisa’s.
The both sipped the wine and remained silent for a matter of minutes. Just being, saying nothing and sipping wine.
Lisa broke the silence eventually as she lifted herself from the sofa, and stretched her arms with a yawn. “It’s early, lets go for a walk.”
“Will your dad miss the wine?”
“No, not really, he knows I have some once in a while, it’s not a problem.”
Tom stood up. “Juliana would kill me if she knew I was drinking.”
Lisa guffawed “Oh stop. Mama’s in heaven.”
Tom tapped his temple with his forefinger. He grinned.
“Come on, let’s walk.”
Lisa grabbed the drained bottle and took it away, as Toms slipped his feet into his black sandals and followed Lisa into the kitchen.
She was stuffing the bottle into the recycling bin when he came in. “Hey, why don’t we go to Zazzo’s, I’m starving!”
“Sure, you want pizza, you get pizza!” Tom answered.
“You’re doing that thing again. Tommo.” She said as she came around the butchers block. Patted him on the shoulder as she passed him. He turned and followed.
“What thing is that?
“You know, do we have to go over this again? Seriously.”
“I like my ‘faraway place.’
“Im sure. It’s like you’re stoned or something though. Makes for strained interaction, Tommo.”
“I guess. It’s how I get through Algebra class.”
“Algebra, English, French, Civics…”
“Okay okay, I heard you!”
Lisa laughed, flicked his ear as they made their way out of the house and into the early evening suburb. “It’s starting to get cold.”
“Jack O’lanterns and Winter. They creep on you, get under your skin when you aren’t looking.”