The rain striking the little boy’s hooded coat drowned the sound of passing traffic in white noise.
He walked as fast as he could manage while making a futile effort to avoid the puddles and rivulets. His feet were already wet.
He thought of the rubber boots and warm socks in his closet. “We’re not going back. Don’t worry.” His words projected no further than the confines of his winter coat.
He walked on, crossing water washed gutters and crosswalks. A shortcut through a back alley led to an open field of sodden grass. The boy cut across the field, his footsteps pressing pools of water from the spongy ground.
A red brick school building stood at the far end of the lot, darkened, shuttered.
The boy stopped to look over the unlit windows. No one looked back at him. He followed the sidewalk around the building, arriving at a blacktop courtyard partially enclosed by classrooms. He cupped his hands against the glass and looked inside. Chairs sat upside down atop empty desks. Blackboards were wiped clean.
He pulled his backpack off his shoulders and set it on the ground. Unzipping the pack, he retrieved a wooden ruler. Wedging the ruler’s edge into the window jamb, he pried the window open enough to reach his small arm through. He felt for the lock on the door, found it, and opened it. Inside, he closed the door and window, locking them behind him.
The classroom smelled of chalk, of sharpened pencils, of floor wax. The cubby holes were empty. The bulletin boards were stripped. The dull sound of the rain amplified the stillness of the room.
In one corner of the classroom, a section of carpeting was surrounded by low benches. The boy walked across the room, his tennis shoes squeaking on the linoleum, and sat on a bench.
Bright memories of his days in the classroom. His friends. His teacher. The stories that he had listened to so intently on this very spot. The joy.
He set his pack on floor. Opening the pack he removed the contents and arranged them on the carpet. Two hastily made peanut butter sandwiches. Some Ziploc baggies filled with potato chips, M&Ms and apple slices. Three story books.
“We’ll be okay here. We’re never going back.”
He unzipped his coat, and reached into an inside pocket. He felt the warm dry fur. The long whiskers. The tiny pincushion paws. He lifted the black kitten from the pocket and cradled it in both hands. He felt its breath rising and falling. A droplet of dried blood encrusted one of its nostrils.
They would stay here this time.
Blake Teuscher is currently working on his first novel, which he fully expects to complete sometime in the next quarter century.