John Looked again.
The face staying back at him wasn't his. He closed his eyes tightly, scrunching his child's face up in a pained expression, and then letting go. For a second he held the rightness around his eyes, before finally releasing them — knowing full well what would be looking — or rather peering back at him from the shadows of the silvery stream.
For a second there was nothing, just a watery vibration; dispelling all shape and resolution. Then it was there again — The Face.
John had seen it several times before. The face peering back at him was that of a child also, much the same age that he was now. It had blond hair, which seemed to shimmer when the light caught it, almost angelic.
John fancies that it looked rather like the choristers he often saw at Mass on Sundays, in their robes and surplice.
That was the image that came to his mind.
The texture of the face was pale, almost a creamy hue; but not unhealthy — rather it gave the impression of something new that had just been born into the world.
The first time John had met the face was in his bath tub.
He was just looking down, and there it was, staring up at him directly and sternly, from underneath the soapy water.
Sophie, his Nanny, didn't see it; and John was sure she would have cried out, but she just continued washing his little head. He hated the feel of her warm hands on his scalp, the way the fingers felt running through his hair. There was nothing loving in that touch, but a determination to get to the end of the task. It was marked by singular impatience.
John didn't like Sophie. She was mean, and always seemed put upon — especially when it came to doing anything for John, despite it being her job.
The child had much preferred Mrs Cawsway, the nanny before Sophie, but she had disappeared without any warning one day.
"Just up and went", was how his mother put it.
John had spied her from his bedroom, just before dawn once morning, battling with her suitcase, and putting herself and all her belongings into the carriage, which then skipped quietly down the drive and was gone.
In many ways John had been expecting it from the night Mrs Cawsway had a terrible confrontation with his father. That was the great thing about being a child — that special ability to remain invisible at will, especially in a house as big as this one, and it never failed to strike John how adults behaved as if the knew nothing, and wasn't even aware of what was going on around him.
Of course, John knew better.
He had seen things, felt things. He seemed to sense when all was not well in his vicinity, like some kind of dark aura would descend from above, and settle about the place; draped over the furniture and hanging heavy and desolate in the air.
It had been that way the night of the shouting. John's mother was away visiting her sister, and the child's nanny had washed and settled him into bed for the night — although with none of the customary care that was usual.
There had been a stiffness in her aspect, that evening, a preoccupation. She hadn't even bothered washing behind John's ears (for which he was secretly glad).
She tucked him into his bed and gave him a formal peck on the cheek before quenching the lamp and closing the door.
And there was The Face at the window, looking at him, illuminated by the moon above.
Then the screaming started.
John looked towards the door and could hear the nanny and something else, a strange strangling sound, coming from somewhere within the house.
"Will you shut up!" he heard his father say, and then there was silence.
The boy turned back to The Face, and looked at it, wonderingly, waiting for it to speak, but it remained motionless and speechless; in precisely the same old way it had before.
"Hello, Mister Face", John said, sucking his thumb. The apparition remained frozen, but there was something in the eyes which drew John into it, something which radiated life, intelligent life.
The eyes became piercing in their intensity. As John continued to look, the light in the eyes seemed to dance and weave, like there was something The Face was trying to convey; some meaning, some kind of message, but without words. The child considered getting up, and going to the door, but it was cold, and he felt nice and warm underneath the bedclothes.
John preferred to just lie and watch Mister Face gazing at him through the window.
Because he didn't really want to know what trouble was brewing outside.
It was always better to become as invisible as people assumed he was. His father would be angered if he caught him "snooping around", and would, more then likely, give John a beating. That was the one thing you could be sure of. His father was a firm believer in the benefit of a "good thrashing", as he would enthuse while dealing out the punishment, as though his father actually enjoyed it.
It was his long professed "Christian Duty", and that was something John had learned was very important. Even his mother had received a thrashing when she did something out of the way — although what sin his mother could commit, the child never knew.
There was some vague sound in the distance and then silence again. John was getting sleepy, but wanted to keep watching Mister Face. He hoped The Face would be more forthcoming — but it wasn't, so John nodded off to sleep.
John had been wakened something early the next morning by movement from outside the house. The night was all but giving way to dawn, and both the moon and Mister Face were gone upon their respective paths. John yawned, and jumped off the bed and staggered towards the window lattice. He could make out the carriage, and spied his nanny in her great coat and hat lurching towards it with her baggage. It looked as if she were in some kind of pain.
The carriage was one with a top on it, and John could see the driver fidgeting about with the suitcase on the top, before it disappeared, taking his nanny out of his life forever.
All at once, John was sad. And then he was angry.
It rose suddenly from within his very centre. John was certain that whatever had gone on the night before had been his father's fault and the child experience a hatred which was so powerful it made him breathless, but excited at the same time.
John wished something bad would happen to his father. He prayed that it would — that he would die.
Sophie arrived some weeks later. In the beginning John liked her. She was pretty and wasn't inclined to regard him the way older people always did. The boy liked it when she smiled, even though it became a rare occurrence as time went by.
Sophie just seemed to cut her smile off — in mid flow, when she caught John looking. Once day, when John asked if she was sad, she smacked him hard across the face, then turning on him she said there was no use crying, and John's parents didn't give a damn about him and that everyone preferred to just ignore him.
This made John cry all the more.
The walks became something which he most hated about her. They would walk for miles in dead silence, and sometimes, Sophie would hid, and pretend he was lost — but not in a fun kind of way — but cruel and hateful. The routine was always the same; in the morning she would get him dressed and then down for breakfast, with his father's face imbedded in the newspaper, saying nothing, but muttering expletives under his breath, as though the whole world were against him.
John's mother never joined them at breakfast, often spending the whole day in bed. John suspected it had more to do with beatings dealt out from his father over some imagined slight or other. After breakfast, his father went into the city, and John would play alone in his room, or wander about outside if it was dry. They once had a dog, but it got sick and his father had shot it through the brain. The animal had never been replaced, so John lived on in his secluded little world — until the arrival of Mister Face, which had coincided with the removal of his mother to an asylum. She didn't even say good bye — but John knew that was his father's doing, just in the same way the child knew it was just to get her out of the way.
His mother was gone, in the snap of a finger, without any explanation. He was invisible again, but that awesome anger filled him from his toes to the top of his head with a feeling of manic power and John pleaded with The Face to help. He didn't know how exactly, but knew it had some power of it's own, and had come to him for a purpose — a definite reason.
"He will die, won't he?" The Face was serene in it's confidence.
He had often heard his father saying he wasn't a man or explain or repeat himself; he didn't have to, not with his position in life. He was a self made man. Were self mad men exempt from having to answer to anyone? John didn't know, but of one thing he was sure; his father would answer for his mother — for all the "thrashings", and for those meted out to John himself.