- .STEELE TIES DONT BREAK.
- Part XXII
- By Kelly Rourke
- Harry bounded up from the floor the moment
he saw his parents coming down the short flight of stairs toward
- "Is it time for the cassamole?"
- "Didn't you just eat dinner?"
Laura asked him.
- "Yeah, but you an' Daddy didn't!
An' I helped make it! An' you hungee!"
- "Hungry, sweetheart," his mother
corrected. "But we're not quite ready to eat yet. I have
to do something first. I think Daddy needs to set another place
- "So I can watch you eat?"
- "No, so you can eat with us."
She smiled at the toddler. "It's a surprise."
- Harry didn't seem to notice his mother
watching him a bit too closely as he scrambled up into his high
chair. She disappeared into the far corner of the kitchen, but
Harry was busy watching the rest of the operation. His father
put the casserole in the middle of the table and set out another
plate in front of Harry's high chair. He added child-sized silverware
and laid a napkin down too.
- Laura came back to the table with two
slices of white bread and laid them down on her son's plate.
Harry looked at them and blinked.
- "No peanut butter, Mommy?"
- "Not this time. I'll be right back."
Laura smiled and disappeared back into the kitchen, returning
with a pan, a pair of tongs, and a bottle of ketchup. "Buns
are better, but just this once, I thought bread would be o.k."
She used the tongs to take a long, red hot dog out of the pan
and laid it across one of the slices of bread. She followed this
with a second hot dog on the other slice. Then she set the ketchup on the table and took the pan back into
- When she returned with a small glass of
milk, one of the hot dogs was no longer on the bread, it was
in her son's small hand, being waved gleefully overhead. "I
gotta hot dog, Daddy! See? Mommy gived me a hot dog!"
- His father was spooning casserole on Laura's
plate, but he smiled up at her as she snagged the hot dog from
their son's hand and put it back on the bread.
- "See, Harry? You use this bread the
same way you use a hot dog bun." She wrapped the bread around
the hot dog and picked up the ketchup. "Now, you want ketchup
on this, right?"
- "Uh-huh," he agreed, but he
seemed distracted, looking at his father. "Put lots of 'nums
on Mommy's, o.k.? Lots and lots of them!"
- Her smile was almost natural as she settled
down in front of her own plate. "Well, there's plenty of
onions here, aren't there? It looks like you did a good job putting
- "Uh-huh," he agreed, grabbing
his hot dog and inspecting it carefully. "I even washeded
my hands first, like Daddy said!"
- "Well, that's a good thing,"
his mother said, "because we don't want to eat any dirty
dinner, do we?"
- "Uh-uh," he mumbled around his
mouthful of hot dog. His mother finished filling her own plate
and sat down with it. She carefully focused on her dinner for
a few moments, until she was sure they were all seated together
- "You and Harry made a wonderful casserole,"
she said, smiling at him. His face puckered for a moment and
then he remembered to smile.
- "An' Daddy made peaches for after!"
her small son informed her. "I got to hold the can when
he putted them in the bowl an' I didn't even drop it!"
- "Good for you!" his mother said,
glancing at him. "Sweetheart, use your napkin. You don't
want food all over your sleeve, do you?"
- "Oh yeah," he said, grabbing
for the paper napkin, "I forgot."
- "Harry told me that he and Colin
and Rashad made a big castle today," his father said. This
came as no shock as this was Harry's usual report on his sandbox
activities. The 'castle' consisted of a large mound of sand in
no particular shape. But it was a castle, nonetheless, and demanded
respect from any adult informed of its existence.
- "Wow," his mother said, with
just the right note of appreciation in her voice, "you guys
really work good together, don't you?"
- "Yeah, an' Colin hurted his finger
on the bucket, but he kept making the castle anyway. He's really
brave," her son informed her earnestly.
- "How did he hurt his finger?"
- "He got it caught in the thing where
you carry it."
- "The handle?"
- "Yeah. That. But he didn't even cry.
Almost, but he didn't. An' Miss Kathy helped him and blew on
it an' made it better."
- "Harry," his father put in,
"I can't remember who your other teacher is. What's her
- His son mumbled something indistinct and
suddenly shoved almost a third of a hot dog into his mouth. He
didn't look up at his father, but began chewing noisily.
- "I'm sorry, sweetheart," his
father said, patiently, "I couldn't hear you. What's the
name of your morning teacher, please?"
- His son continued to chew for a minute,
but he finally looked up at his father, who was waiting patiently
for an answer. He swallowed and his shoulders slumped a bit.
"Mrs. Johns," he said and began stuffing the second
hot dog into his mouth.
- His mother put out a restraining hand,
"Harry, not such big bites, please. You don't want to choke
yourself." The toddler stopped stuffing and stared at his
hot dog for a moment, before taking a slightly smaller bite.
- His father continued calmly. "Does
Mrs. Johns do smart things when children hurt themselves like
Miss Kathy does?"
- Harry stared at his plate and shrugged.
- "You like Miss Kathy, don't you?"
- His son looked up at him, eyes shining.
"Everybody likes Miss Kathy. She plays with us. Last week,
she pusheded me on the swings and she might do it again tomorrow,
- "Is Mrs. Johns nice, too?"
- His son fiddled with his spoon a bit.
"She's just a teacher. She knows lots of songs. I can do
some! Like the spider one...itsy bitsy spider ran UP the WAter
SPOUT! DOWN came the rain an' WASHED the spider OUT!"
- His father watched the small boy singing
and waving his spoon about in time to the song. For a moment,
there was a puzzled look on the older face, but suddenly, it
- "...SPIder climed UP the SPOUT aGAIN!"
The child leaned back in his chair, satisfied. "I do that
- "Yes you do," his father agreed,
"but do you know the finger part?"
- "Huh?" The small face was puzzled.
His father held both hands up, palms out, then turned his left
hand around so that the left thumb touched the right forefinger
and the right thumb touched the left forefinger.
- "This way," he told the fascinated
child, "you can make the spider walk up. Watch!" He
sang the song over, "walking" the imaginary spider
up. His son caught on and began twisting his own fingers inexpertly
in imitation of his father. He didn't quite have it, but his
father didn't correct him. When the "rain" came, the
child was delighted and made it pour just moments later, "washing"
the spider out in a sweeping gesture that threatened his milk
glass and several other nearby objects. Once the spider made
his next assault on the imaginary water spout, his son almost
kept up with his own finger gestures, only seeming displeased
that the song had to come to an end.
- "Again, Daddy! Do again!"
- His father smiled. "Maybe later.
We should probably eat our dinner, don't you think?"
- His son regarded his plate and reached
for his milk. "Hey Daddy, later, do the monkeys one, o.k.?"
- "I'm afraid I don't know the monkeys
song," his father said with a small smile. "But, you
- "I bet Colin and Rashad might know.
If you asked them, they might show you."
- "I could do that! An' then I'd know
two of the finger ones!"
- "Yes, you would, but you need to
eat now, o.k.?"
- "O.k., Daddy."
- For a moment, silence reigned as the youngster's
attention returned wonderful hot dog.
- "Harry," his father said, "Do
Colin and Rashad like Miss Kathy?"
- His son looked up at him. "I told
you, everybody likes Miss Kathy. She's nice."
- "What about Mrs. Johns. Does everybody
- The small eyes returned to the almost
empty plate. "I dunno. They like the songs. And Rashad sings
the loudest of anybody. You almost can't hear anybody else but
- "He must like music a lot,"
his father said, smiling. "What about Joji?"
- His son's forehead puckered in confusion.
"Joji likes music. I sing to him all the time. You were
there when I sanged to him before."
- "Yes, I know Joji likes music. I
was thinking about Miss Kathy and Mrs. Johns. Does Joji like
Miss Kathy and Mrs. Johns?"
- There was a long pause
while Harry laid what was left of his hot dog against his plate. Finally, "Joji
liked going to the playground with Miss Kathy and us. He thought
the sandbox was the best, but he went down the slide with me,
- "What about Mrs. Johns. Does Joji
- Harry stared fixedly at his plate, though
the hot dog was still now. "He doesn't want to go to her
school any more. He'd rather stay in my room instead."
- "How come?"
- "He likes it better. He can play
with all my toys while I'm at school."
- "Can't he play with the toys at your
- "No. He likes it better in my room."
- His father fell silent. Watching his expression,
Laura leaned forward, "Harry, is that why you don't take
Joji to school with you anymore? Mrs. Johns won't let him play
with the toys?"
- Harry laid the hot dog down on his plate
and stared at it with sorrowful eyes. "She made him stay
on top of the tall thing, the wood thing, with the doors?"
- "The cabinet?" his father guessed.
"The tall cabinet along the wall?"
- "Uh-huh. She made him stay up there
and she said--" His fingers twisted together while he blinked,
and the silence began to stretch.
- "What did she say, sweetheart?"
His father's voice was gentle, but the line of his jaw was tense.
- "I shouldn't talk about it,"
the little boy muttered.
- "Harry, you can tell us anything
she said to you," his mother told him, but the toddler seemed
- "Harry, were the other children there
when she said it?" his father asked. The small head nodded.
"Well then, they already heard it, so it must be o.k. if
we know. What did she say?"
- For a moment, the child remained silent.
- "She said, if I didn't stop turnin'
around to look at him, she was gonna put him in the garbage can."
His voice rose. "An' he wouldn't like it there! He couldn't
see anything and he couldn't see me and I didn't want him in
there!" He struggled for a moment, a measure of calm returning.
"An' I sat really still and she didn't put him in the garbage.
An' later, when Miss Kathy was there and she wasn't, Miss Kathy
took him down and gived him to me to take out in the playground.
But he doesn't wanna to go back. He likes my room upstairs better."
- "I can understand that," his
father said evenly. "Does Mrs. Johns ever say she'll put
anyone else's things in the garbage?"
- Harry seemed to give the question some
serious thought. "I don't think so. I never heard her."
- "I understand. Harry?" The child
blinked up at him. "Did you want your peaches now?"
- Harry sighed with relief. "Yeah,
Daddy! I like peaches!"
- His father retrieved the peaches from
the refrigerator and Harry dug into his happily. Laura barely
looked at hers when the bowl was set in front of her. The feeling
of his hand gently rubbing her back made her raise her eyes to
his face, and he smiled gently and nodded. With an effort, she
returned his smile, hoping it looked brighter than it felt.
- He sat in the gathering darkness with
a feeling of triumph. He tried to tell himself that it was far
too soon for that particular emotion. He hadn't won. Yet.
- He could hear his mother's voice, telling
him he was being too cocky, too sure of himself. Telling him,
again, that sure as he had been born, he had been born to fail.
The great lesson, as she would have told him, that he had never
- But she was wrong. She had been wrong
and even the ghost of her voice ringing in his head was still
wrong. He had not been born to fail. And he would prove that,
once and for all, once he'd removed the one remaining obstacle
to his own success. And he would remove it.
- The only question remaining was when.
The sun was almost down. Night was the perfect time. He knew
that. And yet...
- Time and time again, he'd counted on the
cover of darkness. He'd found them all at night. All the false
faces, smiling at him under dim lighting, half in shadow and
always wrong. Perhaps, as his mother had also advised, patience
would work best in this one instance. He'd made one great change
already. And nothing horrible had happened. There had been no
pounding at his door, no fearsome accusations. All was as it
had been and he was still safe.
- If one change had worked, why not two?
His most risky habit had been, finally, discarded. Biter, as
he'd come to call his toy, had finally failed him. But it had
failed him in silence, and no one had been the wiser. A muddy
bog had covered what Biter hadn't rendered into more easily disposable
packages. It was a large bog and might prove useful yet again.
- So, another change was in order. Maybe
more than one. She was wary of him at night, sending her dopplegangers
to suffer for her. But she wouldn't expect him in broad daylight.
No one would. It was risky, but perhaps not so much as he might
once have thought.
- Because he'd finally done what he should
have done from the beginning. Instead of looking for her in out-of-the-way
places, finding her in faces that weren't even hers, he should
have been looking elsewhere. He should have done what he had
finally done, and from the safety of his own couch.
- He looked at the thick pages, open on
his rickety coffee table. There she was, in black-and-white.
Her name. Her address. Her phone number. Not that he'd call her.
He didn't need to. And the final change would make it perfect.
- Her ghost wouldn't linger in the corners
of his home, like all the others, who hissed at him from the
shadows. Because she wouldn't be here. There was no need. And
when it was done, all he had to do was wait. Wait for darkness,
the deepest darkness of a long night, before taking her to a
slightly different, but still remote portion of the bog that
had been so useful the last time.
- And this time, finally, the darkness would
be his friend.
- But daylight still worried him. What if
she weren't there? Daylight was unexpected, but it was also the
time most people weren't in their own homes. And being seen entering
her home might be remembered.
- But if she might be out, so would her
neighbors, wouldn't they? Maybe not all, but there was always
some risk. The trick was deciding whether the risk was acceptable.
A soft voice, somewhere in the recesses of his mind reminded
him that he was born to fail.
- He clenched his fists against his thighs.
It had to end. But when? Tonight? Tomorrow? Some other time?
How could he decide what was best?
- Suddenly he relaxed. His fists unclenched.
He didn't even notice the small drops of blood where his nails
had penetrated the flesh of his palms again. He had a plan again.
- He didn't have to do anything definitive
tonight, but he could decide easier once he'd taken a small trip.
He had an address, but he had never seen the place. He had no
way to decide the risk of a location he'd never been to. Darkness,
once more, could be his friend. He could visit. He could look.
He might even risk ringing her bell. What was the worst that
could happen? He could always say he had the wrong address. And
then let her worry about it. Or, if it seemed right, he could
finally end things. End them to his satisfaction for a change.
- He began to smile. He might ring her bell
tonight. He might not. But he would go and see. And then he could
decide. He could decide so many things.
- It was time.
- Harry was sitting on the couch, talking
things over with Joji. "An' I had peaches for extra dinner!
An' hot dogs! Really! I did!"
- His parents were in the kitchen, ostensibly
cleaning up after dinner. But they were mostly talking, in low
- "I can understand not wanting to
upset him any more, especially just before bed, but Laura, we
have to know. And we have to know before we go to bed!"
- "Why? Why do we have to know right
now? What's wrong with tomorrow? Maybe when John can help?"
The dishtowel in her hands was twisted into a nearly impossible
- He sighed and put another plate away in
the cupboard. "Because John will be able to help us more
when we can give him more information to work with. And also,
because I don't know what John's schedule is tomorrow. He can't
just drop everything because we need him. He has a certain amount
of flexibility, but he might not be able to even see Harry until
sometime in the afternoon. I don't know. But I don't think I'll
last until tomorrow afternoon without some kind of answers. Could
you? Seriously? And what do we do about tomorrow?" He faced
her, and she saw moisture glinting in his eyes. He hadn't actually
broken down, but he was dangerously close, she could tell. "We
can't take him back there. We can't!"
- She laid a calming hand on his arm. "No,
of course we can't. I know you have patients to see, but I don't
think I have anything that can't be put off tomorrow. I can stay
home with him. Mildred can cover for me easily enough. He's not
going back there. Not tomorrow and not ever!"
- He smiled, but it was a twisted smile
and didn't convey any positive feeling at all. "Laura, do
you realize we have no idea what we're really protecting him
from? A vague threat to Joji and a lot of soiled clothing. We
know it's bad, but we still don't know what it is. Or how bad
it is. And I think, somehow, that's the worst part."
- "But we can't put him through any
more!" She looked terrified and he realized how he had sounded.
Would he never stop hurting this woman?
- "No, Laura, we can't put him through
any more. But we can't help him until we know more ourselves.
Do you want to sit on his bed again tonight? Listening to him
scream? And have no idea what to do to help him? I don't think
I can do that again. Can you?" In some ways, this was more
cruel, but there didn't seem to be anything he could say at this
point that wasn't.
- She took a long, shaky breath and looked
down at the dishtowel in her hands. "I don't think I want
to do that, either." She began, slowly, to untwist the length
of cloth. "But will we be preventing another round of nightmares,
or causing them?"
- "I think we can prevent at least
some of them easily." She looked up at him, genuinely confused.
"All we have to do, really, is tell him that he gets to
stay home with Mommy tomorrow. I think that will go a long way
toward a better night's sleep than anything else, don't you?"
He gently pulled the towel from her hands, smoothed it and hung
it up for her. "And knowing that might make it easier for
him to talk to us about what's really been going on . Without
upsetting him too much. At least, it's worth a try."
- He wrapped his arms around her, and hope
surged in him when she relaxed against his chest with a low sigh.
- "O.k., but if he gets too worked
up, we back off. Agreed?"
- "Agreed." When she looked up
at him, his smile was genuine, at last, which helped her to square
her shoulders and even smile back at him. Whatever they had to
face, she knew they would face it together. The fear she'd lived
with for so long now had finally met a foe it couldn't defeat.
It might bring her down, but it wouldn't get the best of the
two of them together.
- And it never would.
- The sodium vapor lights in the parking
lot made his head hurt. He looked at the rows of cars. The distinctively
shaped white Rabbit was there. How it was still on the road was
a mystery. The vehicle was long past it's "sell by"
date. He contemplated it silently for a long moment. Then he
turned his gaze upward. A long, diagonal staircase to a second
floor landing. A nondescript blue door with gold-plated numbers
on its face. Next to it, a rectangular window, curtained, with
warm, glowing light behind it. Kitchen? Living room? The second
floor was higher than the first floor.
- Almost room for another story altogether.
There were scattered windows in that higher region, but no more