I Can’t Talk To My Son
“Leth? Daddy needs you to come out now.”
The boy scuttled farther into the nest he’d made in the wall. Merle saw himself reflected dozens of times in the vast compound eyes. His son chittered, mandibles gnawing at a piece of wood.
It had started out as a large crack at the base of the wall. Another security deposit gone, a sleepless four-hour night worried about asbestos; another a week later about support beams when he found the boy crawling into it.
Merle set a plate with a sandwich and a pile of oreos on it in front of the hole, just out of reach. Watched a skinny limb extend out of the damaged stucco, shiny yellow chitin in a threadbare skeleton hoodie, listened to the plate scrape its way along the floor. He could just barely make out the curly black hairs on the back of the claw-like hand, just like his.
Merle sat down by the wall and listened to the clicking as his son ate.
“Mr. Gwynne, your child has special needs.”
The desk was practical, weatherbeaten, scarred by decades of hard service and the merciless attention of students. So was the man that sat behind it, with his Marine Corps haircut, the dark low-slung pouches beneath his eyes, muscles going to fat. The whole office, taken as a whole, felt cheap. Bargain-basement furniture for a bargain-basement man, a half-decent NCO playing at being an officer, a state college boy who hadn’t even managed to find a calling as an educator, and ended up an administrator.
“It’s not an uncommon problem. According to the aptitude tests, Leth is as bright as other children in his age group. He simply has trouble communicating and socializing with the other children.”
There was a file on the desk, but neither man moved to open it. Incidents in the lunch hall. Complaints from other parents. Teachers. Skipping class. Failure to obey class room rules. Then, the thing with the girl. Merle’s fist tightened on the arm of the chair. They’d handcuffed the boy, called him at work.
“There’s a program we’d like to move him to, for children like your son. I think he will do well there. More one-on-one time, more interaction with his peers. The best thing for him.”
Merle felt his chest seize and cramp, like he’d just shat out his own heart and all the muscles were trying to keep pressure on the wound. Leth had bent the other girl over and was sticking his thing in her.
The man half leapt, half fell off the park bench, lurching in the direction of the two children pronging on the merry-go-round. A strong arm with long nails caught his shoulder, dug in.
“Wait. Let them finish.”
Merle stared back at his own open-mouthed reflection in her black wrap-around mirrored glasses. Something registered dark skin spotted with black across the cheeks, hair in cornrows, no lipstick.
“It’s what they do. He’s not hurting her. They’re too young, just doing what comes natural. Look.”
An imperative finger, drawn to the spot where his boy’s jeans had fallen to the backs of his hindlimbs, the girl’s dress drawn up to expose an opening in her thorax where Leth was busily plunging the pale spike of his aedeagus.
“There are spikes on that thing. You can’t see it, but if you had pulled them apart you would have ripped her almost in two.”
Merle stood up, muscles no longer racing, chest pounding, adrenalin shakes coming on. The woman reached into a purse, took out a clear plastic spritzer bottle from the dollar store, and handed it to him.
“Here. Orange water. You can use it to discipline him, if you have to. They don’t like the taste, or the smell. That’s how they talk to each other, with smells, and body language. You’ll see it when they meet, how they rub up against each other. When they dance, that’s how they teach each other.”
Merle stood there, staring past the woman, back at the kids. Another pair of kids had come up next to them, jeans barely slung over their thoraxes, began rubbing their fuzzy cheeks against the other two.
“You need to learn how to talk to your kids.”