When I awoke the next morning, it was to the sound of my uncle’s green truck, the coughing of its old engine rumbling, and growing fainter as he left to purchase the locks.
Clara was leaving today. Last night had not been a dream, and before long I would be more alone than I had been since we first moved in. I could not help but feel abandoned, though she had told me that her grandmother was working on someway to help me. But what did that even mean? And how long would it take, how long would I be stuck here, waiting for someone else to come and save me from the monster that threatened to ruin my life? I realized then that I could not allow myself to sit by. With my father gone and my mother turned against me, I was the man of the house. I decided there, still laying in my bed, and wiping the sleep from my eyes, that I would do something. Before the day reached its end, I wanted my life back to the way it used to be.
I rose from my bed, and went to the bathroom to take a hot shower. Steam filled the room, and when I got out and dried myself off, the mirror was all fogged up. I used my towel to clear it off, and looked at myself in the mirror.
I dropped the towel, and stood there, naked. I was smaller and thinner than most of the other boys at my school, and as a result, was often picked on during recess. My first instinct would always be to run away, or hide in the first place, and read a book underneath the slide, or by the door, where the teachers stood. I always tried to avoid confrontation when I could, because I knew that I was weak, and unwilling to fight anyone. I lifted my arms up, and flexed every muscle I could think to flex. There was little change in the mirror-version of myself, other than the straining grimace on my face.
Lowering my arms in disappointment, I realized that I was not a fighter, and never would be one. I could not fight my uncle, who was far bigger and stronger than I was. And even if somehow I did manage to beat him, or knock him unconscious, what then? I knew that I could not kill him, my own uncle, who was still down there, somewhere. No, there had to be another way. I began putting my clothes on, jeans and a t-shirt.
Ms. Cleary was still my only hope, and it made me feel even more weak and powerless than I already felt. At least I knew that I had one adult on my side. I only needed to find some way over to her. I blinked. And why not now? Why could I not just run over there now, and be safe? My uncle was still gone, would not be home for awhile yet. The only one standing in my way was my mother.
There was a knock at the door, and I heard my mother’s footsteps in the kitchen, which was separated by the bathroom by only a thin wall. “Now who could that be at this time?” I heard her say to herself.
I knew that it had to be Clara. She must have also heard the truck rumbling down and out of the lane, and knew that my uncle was gone, momentarily. I left the bathroom, and walked out to the front door.
My mother was standing at the door, and nodding her head. Clara was saying something, but I could not quite make out all of the words. Something about leaving, and she mentioned her mom, and one last goodbye.
“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea…” My mother trailed off, sounding more like herself, but scared and jittery. She glanced over her shoulder, but didn’t see me, as if she was afraid that she was being watched.
I came up behind her, and touched her hand. “Can I please just say goodbye, Mom? It’ll only take a second, and she’s the only friend I have here.”
My mother frowned, and I could see the inner confliction on her face, as if either decision would cause her some kind of physical discomfort. It only lasted for a brief moment, and then she spoke, “Well, I suppose so. But make it quick. I don’t want your uncle coming home and finding you here with friends. He wouldn’t be happy.”
Uncle. Not father. So she was still there, in some way. I realized my mother might be fighting against the boggart’s control over her, might have been trying to fight it this whole time, but was unaware of what it was. With my uncle gone, his hold on her seemed weaker, but obviously still there. She stepped back into the living room, but stayed and watched.
Clara looked different. She was dressed well, in much nicer clothes than I had seen her in before. She wore a white blouse buttoned up to her neck, and a navy blue skirt that fell to her knees. She wore her hair down, and it fell over her shoulders in long waves.
“Hey,” she said. She held her arms in front of her, hands held together.
“Hey,” I said back. My mother was still watching, I could feel her eyes on me. I didn’t feel safe with mentioning certain things to Clara with her there, was not sure how much of it would be relayed back to my uncle.
“So I’m leaving today,” Clara said. “My mom is in the car waiting for me now.”
“I’m going to miss you,” I said.
“I’ll be back next summer. And if you ever get lonely, I’m sure Gran would make you some apple crisp again, anytime you wanted to go over. She gets lonely too, sometimes.”
Then Clara stepped forward, and gave me a hug, whispering in my ear, “He can’t lock everything away.” She let me go, and grabbed ahold of my hand, and I felt a cold metal weight pressed into it. “Take care,” she said, louder. Then she waved to my mother. “It was nice to meet you.”
My mother waved back. Clara turned and walked down the drive and along the sidewalk, to the waiting car in their driveway. The object in my hand felt familiar, but I kept it shut, did not open it, for I knew that my mother was still watching.
I do not know why I did, but I went back into my room then. I wanted to see what Clara had given me. When I opened my hand and saw the old iron key, I grew curious. It was a large key, thick and heavy, and rusted with age. It had a ring on the end that my finger fit through, and three long teeth on the other that looked like an upside down crown. Why would Clara give me a key, I wondered. And a key to what, exactly?
I stuck the key in my pocket, and went out into the kitchen to make myself breakfast. Cereal again. It always seemed like I was eating the same old things, every day now. I slurped up the milk when I was done, and left the bowl on the table.
My mother was in the bathroom, and if I was going to leave it should be soon. I crept to the front door, and turned the knob slowly, opened the door. It made the tiniest creaking noise as it opened, but I knew that it was too soft for my mother to hear. The water was going, the sound of her taking a shower. I stepped over the threshold, and onto the welcome mat on the front porch. Then, slowly again, I closed the door with a click.
I was out. But I wasn’t completely safe just yet. I knew that my uncle could still come home at any time. I could see the end of the lane from here, and if he turned the corner now, he’d see me plain as day, and I’d be caught. Keeping this in mind, I crouched down as low to the ground as I could, and moved off the porch, and along the side of the front of the house, towards Ms. Cleary’s place. I planned to creep down the hedge, keeping my head below the top of it, so as not to be seen.
When I was about halfway down the front of the yard, nearly crawling on the grass beside the hedge, I heard it. The rumbling, choking cough of the green truck’s engine. It was faint, but I could still feel it, reverberating through my bones. He was coming.
There was no turning back, I was nearly there. But if I turned the corner to go into Ms. Cleary’s yard he would see me. So I did the only thing I could, and crawled through the dense, scratchy branches, into the hedge.
Clawing branches tugged at my shirt, and scratched at my face immediately, but I pushed through, until I was sitting in the middle of a cluster of roots and limbs. The branches made miniature arcs down the length of the inside of the bushy divider, and I was just small enough that I could fit underneath them. The roaring of the truck grew louder, and I stayed as still and silent as I could, and imagined myself taking root, becoming just another cluster of branches.
I could barely see through the tangle of leaves and branches, but I could just make out the shape and color of the truck pulling into the drive. The door slammed, and I heard my uncle walking up to door, and going inside. After a short while, I heard him yell something, and then the sound of something breaking. The front door opened again, and I heard him shout.
“Where are you? You can’t hide from me!”
I covered my ears and closed my eyes in the hedge, and settled down. I had a good hiding spot for now, and I was going to wait this out.