I saw the boy because I looked out the window to see if Toby was making the dogs bark. But it wasn’t Toby. There was the retreating form of a blond boy, too old, just, to be running naked. Just old enough for me to roll my eyes and say to Poppy, ‘There’s a naked boy in next door’s garden!’
In the summer the men who live next door have a few parties. Not bachelors; they’re a couple. And they have a couple of families over. There is lots of noise carrying over the dark garden at nine on a summer evening. There are frequent, loud deposits of glass bottles in the recycling bin. I once heard one of the men calling out, ‘Your son’s pissing in my garden!’ So it doesn’t seem completely odd.
Poppy turned her head from ‘Interview with the Vampire’ where Kirsten Dunst was growing curls. ‘Are you serious?’ She didn’t move.
I said yes but didn’t look again. He had been running past their front door, toward the garden. To get dressed, I presumed. They must have been playing under the sprinkler. It was just like a boy to run off naked like that. I imagined a taunted mother standing at the back door of the house holding a pair of undies, hissing, ‘For goodness sake! Get back here!’ She would have a pair of wet swimmers and a towel at her feet. She was glad the children’s day was drawing to a close and she could get him indoors, soon it would be time for bed.
Two or three minutes later there was a knock at the front door.
A short, stocky man.
‘There’s a boy running around out here with no clothes on.’
‘Is he yours?’ he continued.
‘No. He’s not mine. I think he’s from next door.’
‘No, they’re away. I live the other side of them. I’m Kevin,’ he extended a hand. He had cropped steel grey hair.
The boy ran past, slowly, floating.
‘He won’t say nothing. I think, you know, he’s not all there,’ said Kevin.
I remember the young Maya Angelou. Mute after they killed the man who raped her.
I followed Kevin out. The boy was tanned on his pale skin. He was tall, lithe. His young body looked strong, the way children’s bodies used to look. Sun blonde hair fell in his face. He was unaware of us as he began to climb the fence on the other side of us. Climbing like a boy. Practiced.
I said, ‘He’s bleeding. From his bottom.’
Kevin said, ‘I think maybe he’s pooed himself.’
But I didn’t think so. Poo is brown, not red. It was semi-dried blood in a Rorschach like a butterfly, spreading almost symmetrically across the lower half of his two buttock cheeks. There were not scratches or lacerations or bruises.
He looked like my brother at that age. Ten, perhaps. Not an ounce of fat on him.
The boy dropped down in to the garden on the other side of the fence. He didn’t appear to be aware of the fact that he was naked.
‘That must be his house,’ said Kevin. I sense him brushing his hands together to clean off the dirt.
‘I don’t know,’ I said.
We stuck together, the oddest pairing, as we knocked on the front door, looked through the lounge window. The boy’s blonde head bobbed up again, scaling the fence and dropping in to the garden of number 22.
Where were his clothes? I wondered if he had been attacked over in the bush behind our gardens. The cemetery beyond the bush? Who did this to him? What did they do?
Number 22, my friend Lisa said, was a wog’s house. It had astro turf on the nature strip and large bronze pots either side of the front door. As a man answered – I let Kevin shake his hand – I looked over the gate.
‘He’s there,’ I said.
The man at the door turned to a voice inside and called out in reply. Everyone was talking, but quietly, reverently. This man, Steve, led us round to his back garden where his wife, a woman with long brown hair, was carrying a towel out into the garden.
My little darling boy was on their trampoline. I longed to take hold of him but could not.
Renee tried to wrap him in the towel but he darted sideways like a cat. ‘What’s your name, darl?’ she said.
‘Yeah, call the police,’ Steve said to someone inside. Another woman was visible through the smoky glass of the patio door, holding a little girl back with her hand. Someone zipped up the trampoline.
‘He’s got something in his mouth,’ said Steve. ‘I don’t want him to choke on it.’
As though to show us then, the boy removed a tiny silver foil Christmas tree from his mouth. On its tip was a small silver loop of thread.
‘It’s a Christmas decoration,’ someone said and we nodded, silently.
The boy jumped high, holding on to the safety net. He made little grunting sounds.
‘Careful, darl,’ said Renee.
Occasionally he put his finger to his bottom.
‘He looks like he’s been raped,’ said Renee and I met her eyes and nodded gratefully.
Now someone said, ‘Look he’s sore see.’
He jumped high, lifting his knees sometimes and, though not smiling, he didn’t appear distressed or frightened. He put the Christmas tree in his mouth again.
‘Get him a jumper, Renee. Something old he can take with him.’ He means one of his. Long enough to cover his penis. Or is it his bottom that is disturbing Steve? We stood in a loose circle, our faces very still. When she came back he said ‘No, not that one, I still wear that.’
‘Perhaps he hurt himself climbing the fence?’ Kevin said. But he had been bleeding when he ran past Kevin and me, before we saw him climb any fences. But perhaps he had climbed another fence before? We couldn’t begin to guess at these things.
We stood and waited for the police to arrive. All we could see was the blood and the uncanny, silent boy, jumping on a trampoline in a stranger’s garden, surrounded by a reluctant, alive crowd.
With the police came an ambulance and, shortly after, a gold Mazda. The man in the Mazda got out of the car slowly and spoke to the police and the man from the ambulance. The police went in gently, wrapped the boy in a large sheet and slowly walked him away. Tears ran down my cheeks as I watched him disappear into the back of the ambulance. A policeman, old, thin and handsome caught my eye.
I hadn’t thought about my rape, or Saul’s.
I wanted to stay in the street and cut the details into strips, putting them together in a variety of combinations until something fit. But it was not my right to play in this little angel’s life, so I left. The police, they said, would be in touch with us.
Kevin’s wife said the man in the Mazda was dodgy. She worked in childcare, or social services or somewhere. He’s autistic, she told us later. She had stayed out in the street longer than I. Watching and waiting. He didn’t seem at all worried, he just shrugged and said he’s does it all the time. You’d be worried, wouldn’t you?
I nodded. But if he was autistic and took his clothes off and escaped from his garden all the time you would be slow, and tired and practical.
More often than not these carers are abusing them, Kevin’s wife said. ‘They live round the corner, in that big house with the circular window? It’s got heaps of toys in the garden. That’s just a cover. They often do that.’
At the same time that I hear the millennial hysteria I also think of Saul, whose step-father raped his sisters for many years. Did he buy them toys too?
‘There was a police tape outside their house not very long ago. They said they know him,’ she nodded wisely.
But the next morning the police sergeant, the thin, handsome man, called to speak to me. ‘We’re just speaking to everyone in the street to assure you all that the boy is okay. He’s been checked out by a member of social services and he’s fine.’
‘But he was bleeding. From his bottom.’
‘He must have done it climbing the fence.’
He won’t give me a conclusive answer and I don’t know how much information he can give me. Privacy exists now. But I know as well as he does that all they need to do is identify if he had a bleeding abrasion on the outside of his anus. But I’m too scared to say that, so I don’t.
First he is a terrible story. I need to tell my sister about it. My friend Saul, who shouldn’t have to hear it but listens like a priest. I was relieved. I was so glad he had not been hurt.
But two days later I felt differently, I wondered if they had told me the truth. Every time I drive past the house with the circular window I see the gold Mazda and I wonder what happens inside there. And if I will ever know. I think of ways to go inside. I could call in, say that I am stopping by to ask how he is. I could see him again. He would not know who I was and I would feel bereft. I could ask the police questions, I could ask who examined him and check out their history. I could confirm, for my own peace of mind, that that little boy is not being raped.
But I don’t. That would be stupid.
© Tanya Davies 2012