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Last updateTue, 06 Aug 2013 2am

Wednesday, 26 October 2011 18:17

Johnny Be Gone

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When the autumn leaves came John loved to heap them over the low rocks to create a mattress. There he would lay reading, playing with his cars and spying with his binoculars until the daylight waned and his mother called him inside. He and his father gathered the crisp leaves from all across the grounds before the weather got too chilly. When John died no one ventured close to his play area, and the leaves were left to blow over the gorse-covered slope and down to the creeping streams amongst the trees.

No one removed his remarkably detailed paintings from the fridge, or his train display from the living room window seat, or even the papier-mâché pumpkin head he made in school for Halloween the year he died. The bright orange pumpkin still hung on its twine from the porch, swinging with the breeze one year later. Emily understood her daughter and son-in-law well enough to know why they pointedly left certain things untouched. It was simple, really.

Shame. Or rather, their lack of it.

People expected them to bury and forget about John, but they wanted to show they wouldn’t, that they weren’t ashamed because others felt uncomfortable around John. They never understood people’s attitudes towards the boy. Just a sick boy, whose head was just slightly bigger on one side if you looked close enough, a little thin for his height and prone to weariness. But normal in every other aspect…smart and charming, with the unique personality and quirks that every other child had. Kept up in school as well as the other children, except for his frequent hospital visits. Still, there was subtle but noticeable tension amongst the parents in their suburb, something that indicated they thought John didn’t belong there. It was almost as if some unfathomable force repelled them from him.

She recalled the heated arguments anytime some ‘well-meaning’ parent suggested John would be better off somewhere ‘more suited to his needs’. Lily and Alan were determined for him not to feel marginalized, and generally he wasn’t. Never was he a hindrance to anyone. Yet only five of his friends came to the funeral. Paying last respects to a friend taken by natural causes suddenly became “inappropriate” and “too stressful” for their kids compared to all the repugnant things they saw and experienced everyday.

So Lily and Allen left John’s last traces alive and out in the open to show them he mattered. He was going to be mourned, regardless of how inconvenient he had been to others. They mourned him for a year, until they could take it no longer. They moved right before Halloween, after both had gotten jobs overseas.

His parents left, but John remained.

Emily knew he would. One week after Lily and Alan were gone, she appraised the situation. The Arlingtons’ son dropped out from high school and decided to become a drag racer. Henry Samson’s little girl started behaving erratically and it got so bad, they wouldn’t allow her back until he agreed to have her regularly see a child psychologist. Then some of John’s class became mutinous against their teachers, insisting that they were being treated badly. Three weeks later it culminated in a poisonous snake in one unfortunate English teacher’s handbag. No one could figure out how a bunch of kids had gotten a snake. Then the local scout leaders of another class placed a bear trap for their rivals visiting to compete in a sporting competition. Three severe injuries. And it went on and on.

Before, their parents didn’t like John. Now, they wouldn’t like their own children.

But Emily didn’t tell John’s parents about it. It wasn’t that she didn’t want them to think retribution was playing itself out…because it wasn’t. She just didn’t want Lily and Alan to ponder about John, to question his behaviour when he was alive. He shouldn’t be remembered as anything besides a good little boy. Just a loving boy to his parents, an unfortunate boy to everyone else.

Emily saw differently, but no one else needed to see. And she left John’s things where they were. He was gone and none of this was really his fault. Gone at such a young age, and it was so agonizing for her to make that decision, for her to get the bottle and open it, pour it into his food––

But it had to be done. Her own David, Lily’s brother, had lived well into his teen years, until his father saw what was happening and took care of it. And himself. That troubled era had lasted for two decades. But John was so young, and Emily could see it was all tapering off. It would be gone perhaps next year. Hopefully.

Johnny would still be here of course. David was still here, too. She sat and rocked on the porch, watching John’s Halloween pumpkin head. Now she had both of them to mourn…only her mourning would last forever, as long as a certain possibility remained. If that possibility became a reality, she would fix it.

And she would not wait for so long. It had taken her almost seventy years to learn that the earlier, the better. It was best for everyone like that.

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Alexandria Ali

Alexandria has a Bachelor of Sciences Degree and currently works in a lab. She's working towards becoming a full-time author and her favourite genres to write are horror and children's. Her first completed novel is for children, but with a slight horror twist - there's some form of horror in all stories. She resides on a small island where there is little interest in her genre, so she prefers to publish internationally.

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