Take this boy and watch him. His whole life, he is pliable. He’s born. He travels where his life takes him. He’ll duck out quietly when the moment comes, leaving while we have our eyes sealed.
He passes through elementary school like a ghost through a wall. He develops no interest in sports, games, cars, computing, card games. He makes no links with other children but at lunch he sits on a stone by a garden of chokecherries watching the ants between his feet struggle across the gravel. The ants meet, wave their antennae at one another, creep away from each other again. No signs of abuse. Experts find no dysfunction in his brain. If students notice him, it’s with knuckles, and he accepts enforced apologies with a quiet nod.
Teachers are thrown by the softness of that child. But their every should and can falters when they deal with him. One who composes poems over her instant oatmeal muses that gold is, after all, precious for its pliability. So perhaps the boy is gold. Tasting cinnamon, she thinks maybe the boy is waiting for a goldsmith. But when she tries to make a ring of him, she finds herself fearing it will stain her finger green. He certainly responds to extra attention. His grades improve, he socializes, he laughs sometimes when a joke is cracked. But those actions aren’t a part of him. She realizes that he’s done nothing but press himself into a mold, and the pursuit of her hopeful metaphor will wreck her integrity. Something about him will make her less herself, while he goes unchanged.
She retracts her attentions. The boy returns to neutrality.
In high school his virginity is taken by an old man who asks for help moving furniture, and later a girl fucks him at a party on a dare. In high-school he is invited to things like this as a joke gesturing to a dislike his peers think they should feel for him. In the bathroom, through a drunk haze, the girl notices an unexpected seriousness settling over her frivolity as she slides the condom on. He reminds her of a cousin, one she fell in love with when she was six. She cannot laugh for the rest of that night, or for many weeks afterwards.
The boy graduates with middling grades. He’s hired push dust across the floors of the big box stores at the mall with an older woman who suffers from an expressive aphasia. Her name is Denys. She was a librarian until a blood vessel burst in her brain. She drives the car and he carries the keys. She sometimes asks him something like “How…. ah… where…. uh, at the place… were you?” and he listens to her as if she’s speaking normally. Denys thinks he listens very well. He doesn’t ask questions but she finds small happiness in the way he calmly watches.
This goes on for a while.
One evening in August Denys is taken. A second hemorrage. Somewhere vital. When nobody comes to pick him up, the man walks along the highway, waits at the Future Shop. All through the night he sits on the curb. Ants are spawning, swarming up through a seam in the pavement. He sees the queens fly clumsily. Some disappear in the blue. Others he watches in the lamplight as they struggle in spiderwebs.
The ants return to their nest. Others stay wrapped in silk. The night wanes and the boy starts walks back home. A witness on the highway says he saw a young man get into a pickup truck. It turned around and went back to the stores. The store was entered. Many things of value were taken.
You know the story. Dawn comes. Golden etcetera. And a little green. The teacher writes no poems. The old rapist is sent to prison. The drunk girl becomes an accomplished chef who expresses love only through attention to her work. Denys’ family wrongly fears the ex-librarian felt no comfort in her last days.
And perhaps the pliable young man saw the soft metal of more mornings after.
The police have no leads, or suspects in the case.