This is a story that I asked my friend to write concerning the troubles we sometimes made for ourselves when we were young, sensitive and easily upset. Some of you may have read it on his blog but it is new to my blog.
One day the boy found a loose panel in the wall. It was low down and hidden behind the desk in his bedroom. All the children’s rooms were up stairs and his was above the dining room. He took an old butter knife from the kitchen when his mother was out in the garden and used it to loosen the panel even more. He discovered a large space above the kitchen. He took a torch and crawled in. There was an area about the size of his bed and as high as his desk.
Over the next few days he carefully carried boards up from the basement and made a floor and he drilled a small hole through the wall that gave access to an electric power lead. Now he had light.
A few old blankets made it comfortable and he could crawl in, pull the panel behind and disappear from the family.
Down below him he could hear quiet arguments between his parents who thought they were alone and louder arguments between his sisters who wanted everyone to hear the terrible inequities of having to set the table for dinner or having to do the dishes when ‘none of the boys ever do anything’.
There was a quiet discomfort in the house around this time in his young life. It was the beginning of the great shattering as his parents began the tedious process of smashing into pieces what had been a reasonably well-constructed family.
There was much he didn’t understand but he felt isolated from the main areas of the drama. In fact he sometimes felt that he was ignored or even forgotten and he began taking off for long walks into the forest that backed onto the house just beyond the garden.
One day he decided, when he was feeling really quite miserable and alone, that he would put them to a test of his own making.
‘I don’t think they would know if I disappeared forever,’ he thought. ‘I wonder how long they would take to know if I left home and ran away.’
But he didn’t want to leave home and run away.
He took a book and crept into his hideaway pulling the panel behind him and waited.
‘One of you girls go outside and tell Willim to come in and get ready for dinner.’ He heard the two girls start again. ‘You set the table and I’ll go get him.’ ‘No. I’m closest to the door. I’m going. Mum!!! That’s not fair. You tell her.’
And so it went. The table was set with bad grace and a loud clattering of knives and forks and plates. Shouts outside of “Dinner!” and then the scraping of chairs on the floor as the family, minus one, sat down.
“For what we are about to receive etc etc” and nobody seemed really too concerned that one small boy was missing.
‘Where’s William?’ father asked.
Go outside and call him again.
‘I already called him once. It’s her turn.’
‘Oh don’t worry. He’ll turn up when he gets hungry.’
But I won’t turn up the boy thought. I’m hungry now. I’ll see how long they can go.
And so dinner went by. The table was cleared and he heard his mother put his dinner in the oven to keep warm. The girls did the dishes and his father went out to his shed and did whatever he did out there. The other boys went up to their room and got on with homework and his mother finally left the house and went into the garden.
Nobody seemed to care that William was missing. He waited for what seemed to be hours and finally went down stairs. He crept out the front door, walked silently to the other side of the house away from any spying sisters or parents who didn’t care about their youngest son, and went into the forest.
In the forest there was a small creek with mud and he stood beside it plucking up courage then he closed his eyes and fell forward into the mud. He hoped the fall would cause a cut on his arm or on his face enough to make it bleed but nothing like that happened. All he got was some mud in one eye that made it red as he rubbed it.
He came back to the house knowing that now he would be welcomed with open arms.
‘Ah! There you are,’ said his father. ‘You’d better go and get cleaned up a bit. Your mother’s worried about you. And you missed dinner.’
He found his mother around the corner on her knees weeding.
‘Where have you been? Didn’t you hear us call you? Go and get cleaned up. Your dinner’s in the oven.’ She went on weeding. ‘And wash your plate when you finish.’
In the end he didn’t know what he had accomplished. All that really happened was that his dinner had dried up on the plate and he went to bed hungry. Nobody cared and nobody worried.
Except me, he thought. I’m the only one in this whole family who cares about anyone.
He never bothered going behind the panel again. It had served its purpose.