They'd dressed Jake in a high-collared tuxedo, and even wrapped his neck in a white scarf, nearly up to his chin, but you could still see the stitches on the left side of his neck where the animal that got him had been at his throat. Christine had asked for a closed casket funeral, but they'd somehow convinced her that the beautiful boy looked so peaceful, lying there like he was merely asleep. The animal had been at his neck but had left his face intact. Let's enjoy it one last time.
Console, console, console. They all blathered at her incessantly about how they understood, how they would be there for her if there was anything she needed. But she heard the whispers too.
"Honestly! Who lets a five year old wander around alone in the woods?"
"It wasn't the woods. It was a park."
"He was found in the woods near the park. They think he was dragged there after he was ... killed."
"It gets dark early in October. He should have been home."
"Shhhh. She'll hear you."
"He loved that park ... The poor dear."
She'd let him play in the park a little late, while she was preparing supper. She'd assumed he was with friends. All his friends had gone home though, leaving him there alone to ride the slide a few more times, to swing on the swings a little while longer, to climb, to run, to be alive.
By the time she'd gone out looking for him, it was after dark. The park was deserted. She'd felt sick with worry, but even then, she'd assumed he'd just gone over to a friend's house. She tried all his friend's houses though, and nobody knew where he was. Then she went back to the park, calling for him, and eventually screaming for him. Then she'd called the police.
Now she was at his funeral. Now they were going to bury her baby. She felt the screams rising again from deep inside her, but they were buried somehow. They had her on so many tranquilizers she could barely walk, and the screams were still rising from deep down inside her. The pain wasn't gone. The pain hadn't been killed. It had just been buried. She could still hear the screams, very deep down. The pain was a monster that would live forever.
Console, console, and more console. And then it was over. She was in a limousine again, driving to the cemetery, near the woods where he'd been found, near the park where he had loved to play. It seemed appropriate they whispered, that he be buried near the park he loved so much. But Christine couldn't imagine he'd want to be anywhere near where the thing had got him. She kept this thought buried though, just like the screams.
The police never did find the thing that had gotten him. Some of them had even suggested he'd fallen and torn his throat open on a branch, or a jagged stone. Nobody had seen or heard anything. There were no footprints, fingerprints, defensive wounds, or DNA of any kind to suggest he'd been attacked by a human. There weren't even any recent animal tracks, just the body of a boy with half his throat torn away. He'd bled to death, but they hadn't found very much blood at the scene, which led them to believe that he was moved from where he'd been killed, possibly by an animal. The evidence just didn't add up. The clothes weren't muddied or scratched as they would have been if the boy had been dragged. It was almost as if something had torn his throat out, exactly where it had killed him, and then simply taken the blood away somewhere.
The police had vowed to get to the bottom of it. But Jake was still being lowered into the ground. What difference did it make who or what had killed him?
The screaming resumed later that afternoon, when the tranquilizers wore off. She refused to take any more of them. She didn't like dodging the pain of her boy's death. It felt wrong. It felt like betrayal. She would bear the pain of his death, just as she'd borne the pain of his birth. She would wait in agony, screaming as she allowed the pain to ravish through her soul, tearing pieces of it away as the minutes passed into hours. She re-lived every moment of his life, from the first time she'd held him, feeling him softly suckling at her breast, to the last time she'd kissed him goodnight, and everything in between. And she remembered every single time she'd ever scolded and screamed at him too, and the times she'd let him cry all alone because she was too busy to worry about every little issue he had. The wha- ifs and if-onlys, stabbed at her like a sadistic mob, blaming her, accusing her, trying to murder her for her guilt, but somehow her soul refused to die. All she could do was lie there screaming, hating her own soul for not dying like it deserved to.
She woke on the floor of his bedroom, not even realizing she'd gone in there, or when she had fallen asleep. It was night now. The October wind moaned through the trees outside his window. His little nightlight glowed for no one. His fish swam aimlessly in the aquarium on the dresser beside his bed. A board game was set up but not played on the floor in the middle of the room—Chutes and Ladders. The blue token was on square four and the red one was on square one. One die was on a number one, and the other had rolled a three.
"Play with me, momma! It's your turn!"
"I'm busy now, Jake. Why don't you go play with your friends at the park instead?"
Christine picked up the dice and rolled a seven. She moved the red token to the seven square and then lay sobbing on the floor while she waited for Jake to take his turn. Then her sister Pam was there, trying to hug her, to console her again, trying to lead her from the room, but she refused.
"No! I will not leave this room! I will not! I will stay in here until the pain kills me! I need it to kill me!"
And then Pam was crying, and Christine didn't know why. Pam had never had a son ripped from her soul. What could possibly be upsetting her?
"I won't let this grief kill you, Chrissy. I loved Jakey too, and he wouldn't want his momma dead."
She got up, and left. Christine rolled the dice for Jake. Jake got a nine. She moved the blue token to thirteen, wondering what Jake would have been like as a teenager. And then she wept some more. She grabbed Mr. Brownbear off his little bed and hugged it until she passed out from the exhaustion of sobbing.
"Come back to me, Jakey! Oh God, please make this all just a dream!"
The only reply was the cold October wind moaning through the trees outside the window.
She didn't take a jacket when she snuck out of the house at 1 am. Pam was asleep on the couch. The TV was blathering quietly to itself about a miracle mop that could wipe up a whole carton of spilled milk in one swipe. Christine walked past the happily smiling memory of her boy watching his favourite shows on that TV and went quietly out the front door, holding Mr. Brownbear's hand. Pam shivered for a moment as the chilly night air billowed into the living room when the door opened, but she pulled the blanket closer to her chin and did not awaken. Christine was as silent as the night.
The walk to the park was cold and dark, but she had never been so unafraid. If any assailant lunged from the shadows to murder her, she would welcome it. Stab me, slice me, rip me up, she thought. Nothing you can do is worse than the pain I'm already in.
She got to the park and sat alone on a swing, holding Mr. Brownbear. The merry-go-round creaked, waving gently back and forth in the wind. The wind moaned through the trees. Leaves rustled, glowing yellow under the single street lamp that lit the playground from the street. Beyond was the woods where they'd found him. Beyond the woods was the cemetery where they'd buried him. Somewhere in the cemetery was his grave.
"Push me, Momma! Push me higher!"
"No more, baby. Momma's too tired. Just kick your feet. You can do it."
There's no way a mop can clean an entire carton of milk in one swipe. That's impossible. Almost as impossible as an entire body's worth of blood simply vanishing...
She took Mr. Brownbear by the hand and walked with him into the woods. "Baby needs his bear," she told herself. And she was completely unafraid.
Someone was standing on the path in the woods. She thought it was a branch at first, leaning way out from the bushes, but when she took a few more steps she saw it was a figure standing there. She just stopped and stared. An old tree moaned above her, its branches creaking and clicking in the wind. The figure, whoever it was, hadn't seen her yet. It was facing into the woods, just staring. It was dressed in black, a mere silhouette in the near total darkness. She stood watching it, wondering if it would walk away into the night and let her pass. It did not. It just stared into the night, as though lost, confused. She waited, wondering if she should cut into the thicket, off the path, and try to go around.