I have been asked to emphasise that the following story is not my sole work and is written in conjunction with others whose names have not been published. I hope this clarifies any confusion this may have caused. It is not my intention to deceive any readers or take sole credit.
The bees sensed it first. A ripple, a disturbance in the air. Then the birds heard it. The tortured sound of metal against wood. They took off in alarm, reeling skywards from the trees into the blue morning sky. Aunt Rose saw the full horror. She stopped rocking in her chair on the verandah and stood up. She gripped the top of the railings in front of her with both hands. They started to turn white as her grip tightened.
Aunt Rose liked the early morning. Sitting with a mug of fresh coffee and a freshly baked piece of fruit tart, the daily newspaper on her knee. She would sit for half an hour, just feeling the breeze on her cheeks and the warmth from the sun as it climbed higher into the sky. It was her way of starting the morning, her way of getting on track for the day, her routine. Today would be different.
The car had come out of nowhere, careening round the corner. Travelling too fast, tyres screaming for grip on the dusty macadam surface. An old green Cadillac from further up the street. Aunt Rose knew the house, she knew the Grandma that lived there too. The Grandma struggling to bring up the teenage boy on her own. Aunt Rose had seen the boy growing older. Witnessed some of the fights against authority which were really only the young kid’s way of trying to handle the upset buried in his heart from a troubled past. The confident and defiant swagger of youth pulling on the mantle of manhood. It was all gone now. Replaced by a look of fear and terror from behind the wheel.
He was not going to make it and there was no time for a warning, no time for the neighbours in the front garden standing under the tree. The 14 year old lost control of the car and it ploughed into the people and the tree. The sound of the crash soon subsided, replaced by a different noise. The hissing of steam from the mangled engine and the groans of those who had been standing by the tree. The boy made no noise at all. He just sat in the dirt where he had been thrown by the force of the crash.
Aunt Rose hurried down the steps of the verandah and crossed the road. Others were running from nearby houses and going to the aid of the people by the tree. Already in the distance there was the sound of sirens coming closer. She went to the boy. Suddenly he looked his age, very young and vulnerable, scared. She took his hand and held it. Started to gently talk to him. She told him he was young enough to make this right. To say “yes, sir” and “no, sir” and “whatever you want, sir” to those in authority. She told him there was still time, he had a life in front of him and it could be made good. Then Aunt Rose squeezed his hand and put it to her lips. She gave him a kiss and said it was a magic kiss, a kiss no one could ever take away from him. She whispered softly that there was someone out there who needed him and wanted him. She told him to be ready as one day that person would find him.
The sirens were almost upon them now. More people were gathering. Aunt Rose pressed her hands round his small hand and held it tightly. She told him she would not see him again, but she would think about him and every day when she was sitting there on the verandah she would wonder how he was doing. He looked up, his face stained with tears, dirt and blood on his cheeks, and his mouth moved. The lips formed a smile, just one little faint smile and his eyes looked deep into those of Aunt Rose. She took his face in her hands, his soft brown complexion, his tight curly hair and brown eyes. Eyes narrowed into tough-guy slits. Eyes that opened up for Aunt Rose, just long enough for the two of them sitting there on the curb to understand each other.
His eyes said: “Really?” in a small unheard voice.
Hers said: “Yes, really” in return.
Suddenly the silence was broken.
“No one cares about me!” he declared.
“I do,” came the quiet reply. “I care. I care about you. You’re young. You have your whole future ahead of you. Look at me, look at me,” said Aunt Rose, her voice a little louder. “I’m old.”
He lifted his eyes and took in her face, her hair, the worn scars of battle, her wrinkles. He wasn’t scared of “old” anymore. He looked past her to the man standing with his arms crossed, staring back at him. He was scared now. This neighbour was a probation officer in another life, and he knew all about ‘these kinds of kids.’ “They’re always going to be in trouble.” One could see his thoughts. Read the disdain. The other neighbours had tacitly moved aside and subconsciously given the ex-probation officer authority over the scene.
The distance between the young man and safety was long and painful; threatening, predictable.
He had been in “juvie” before, he knew he was going back, knew what to expect but
he did not know how to get through it. Not this time. Not without tools. Aunt Rose came up with some tools. Once more she took his face in her hands.
“Oh, I know what will help you.”
The crowd gathered around, looked on, as though the child was in danger of molestation. Aunt Rose could feel the hostility and anxiety. But she produced a shield, an invisible barrier which held the crowd back.
She asked the boy if she could place her hands on his forehead. He nodded his head “yes” and she
put her fingers to his hairline, drew them downwards reaching the bridge of his nose. She stopped.
“Is it okay if I hold my finger right here, and press?”
He nodded again. The crowd pressed closer, but not close enough to threaten or suffocate.
Aunt Rose pressed her middle finger gently into the smooth flesh at the bridge of his nose and held it there, talking softly to him. Half a minute went by, a minute and the crowd just stood watching the young man’s shoulders relax, and his breathing become steady again. He was no longer heaving with grief.
The air became still again. The bees returned to the flowers and the birds started singing. For them live resumed as before.
(Written with a fellow writer following an accident witnessed a little while ago)