by David H Weinberger
He thinks he killed his grandfather. He’s five for God’s sake. Why would he think this? His grandfather is dead. That much is true. Died of cancer. Slowly. And Brian watched it all. Watched grandpa in bed, getting weaker, making no sense. They used to spend a lot of time together. Especially after his father left us. We visited as much as I could arrange. Between school for Brian and work for me, we didn’t have much time but he always wanted to visit so we would somehow squeeze it in. And the weekends were easy to arrange. Almost every weekend. They would go for walks around the neighborhood, walk to the grocery store for grandma, play on the tire swing with grandpa pushing Brian. And the talking. They talked endlessly. About school, planes, cars, anything really. Sometimes I would just sit there and watch them talk. Most of the time I didn’t pay attention to what they were saying. I was just happy they got along so well. Often, they would leave me with grandma and they would drive to the lake and walk around in the mudflats. Brian loved those times. He would come home filthy and happy. Grandpa got a kick out of how dirty Brian could get. Mud up to his belt, all over his shirt. Grandpa wore boots and didn’t get so mud-caked. I had to clean up Brian with grandpa laughing the whole time and telling me the story of what they did and saw at the lake. Always the same story but he would always tell it and Brian would smile the whole way through the telling. They never invited me. Don’t know if I would have gone if they had but I imagine I would have gone at least once. I’m glad Brian liked it so much. His father said we spent too much time with grandpa but grandpa was there for us, especially for Brian, so I either ignored him or yelled accusations at him, like not visiting Brian enough, ignoring his responsibilities. We always got louder and meaner and then he would leave.
And then grandpa dies and Brian starts talking about killing him. Not about how. Just that he is responsible. That it is his fault. Sometimes it’s all he talks about and it freaks me out. His eyes wide open, his pale skin glowing against the canvas of those large blue eyes. I get scared. Don’t know who he is when he talks that way. He tells me it’s the voices. The voices he hears that tell him he killed his grandpa. He told me one day that the dead talk to him. All the time. That’s the voices. The dead. For Christ’s sake. All the time. That’s not normal. I don’t think. They tell him things. Like he killed his grandpa. I didn’t see this coming. He was always so normal. Playing at the park, digging in sand, screeching toy cars around. And happy. He was always happy. Smiling and laughing. Tugging on my clothes to get my attention. Show me something he thought was cool. And then he started talking about the dead. I ignored it at first. Thought it was a phase. Something he saw on television or some video game. They play such crap these days. So violent. But the more I ignored it the more he talked about it. And at school. His kindergarten teacher tells me that he has seen Brian walking in circles talking to himself. The teacher asked him what he talks about and Michael pathetically told him he talks to the dead. About his grandpa. And that he killed him. The teacher says he is very concerned. Now I have that to deal with. Damn teachers. Why can’t they leave alone? Let the parents deal with it. Just teach the subjects and let the parents deal with the rest. It’s not like he is going to kill anyone. He’s just confused. I guess. He loved his grandpa and his death is still a burden on him. It’s clouding his thoughts. Trying to figure out death and life and loss. Maybe not in the best of ways but it is his way. Freaks me out but I think it’s Brian’s way of dealing with loss.
“Welcome Ms. Tropello. Please, come in.”
The school principal invites me in and I enter a room with five people in it, two of whom I know. Brian’s teacher and the principal. Never met the other three. But quickly they introduce themselves. The school psychologist, the assistant teacher and a social worker. All this over my little boy. Without my knowledge. It pisses me off. They have been working on Brian without me knowing.
“Ms. Tropello. As I’m sure you’re aware, Brian displays distressing signals. Ones we would like to address with you. For his safety and those around him.”
Distressing signals. They don’t know the first thing about distressing signals. When your kid wakes you up in the middle of the night with a scream and then tells you the dead are there to take him away. To the afternoon snack punctuated with cries that he killed his grandpa and that’s why he can’t have snack anymore. The blank stare into space that my love has every day since grandpa died. Distressing signals. No shit! I deal with it every day.
“Yes, go ahead.”
“Brian is doing fine in his studies. Not spectacular but quite within expectations. What we want to talk about is his belief that the dead are talking to him. This prevents him from studying and making friends. We believe it is a real hindrance to his development.”
“His healthy social and emotional development. And consequently, his intellectual development. We feel…”
“Why didn’t you call me before all these people got involved? Seems like this should be illegal. You can’t just start proceedings on a boy without his parents’ consent. This has to stop.”
“We haven’t done anything. We are seeking your cooperation in finding help for Brian. Please understand.”
“I don’t understand. His teacher said he was worried but that was all. Nothing about consulting a panel to discuss my child. I won’t have it. I have to go. I have no time for this.”
“Please, Ms. Tropello. This is not a panel and we have called you in to consult about the best path forward. We have not started any services and will not without your consent.”
“Good. As it should be. And you don’t have my consent. Just teach my child and let me deal with the rest.”
They just stare at me. Nothing left to say. Probably thought they could frighten me into letting them get their paws on Brian. He doesn’t have a psychological problem. It’s just grandpa’s death. Time will fix things. Without their interference. Unbelievable. Working behind my back like that. And my son. Not theirs. Mine. When his dad finds out, he’ll flip out. Does at the slightest thing. This thing the school has done will totally push him off the edge. And I’ll get the brunt of it. Like it’s my fault. But it was all done behind my back. I won’t take his crap. He knows Brian thinks the dead talk to him, but he doesn’t think anything is wrong. He thinks I should let it go. That Brian is playing and will soon stop. Playing. Like this is some sort of fun game. I know damn well Brian is not playing. He’s not having any fun. It worries him that the voices are telling him he killed his grandpa. But his dad blows it off. No problem. Nothing to be concerned about. But he doesn’t see Brian every day. Doesn’t see the look in his eyes. The fear. The remorse. It kills me each time I look at him. What he must be suffering through. What he must be thinking. Feeling. I hear the school door slam behind me. Glad to be gone from there. Now I just have to get home. Home to Brian. See how he is. What’s going on with him since I’ve been gone. Cars cruise by. Kids, small families pass me on my way. All looks so normal. Like they have it all together. No problems. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to concern an adult, and definitely not a teacher or principal. Everybody just growing up and moving along. Leaving me and Brian behind. Behind in our worries and problems. We can’t be the only one with worries, in spite of the assured look in the eyes of the people passing me.
I finally make it home. The babysitter is frantic. Brian is missing. Has been since I left. She’s looked all over and cannot find him. I run to his room. A mess but he is not there. To the tv. No. Where the hell is he? When did he leave? Where did he head? Gretchen has no answers. Only sobs and apologies. But that doesn’t help. I run outside and scream his name. Brian. Brian. He doesn’t answer. I track his common paths. The ones he thinks I don’t know about. To the shed. To the neighbor’s shed. To the cottonwood by the elementary school. Then further down the trail past the cottonwood tree. It’s there that I see my kitchen stool. On its side. I walk further and see Brian’s tennis shoes. In mid-air. Dangling on his feet. Attached to his body. Hanging in the tree. Brian. I reach for him. Pull him up. But his body slumps down the more I push up. My knees hit the dirt. My hands on my face filled with tears. Brian. What have you done? I stand up and right the stool and stand on it and hug Brian. I lift him up and shake him. Talk to him. His head lobs to the left. His eyes closed. I move his head upright. It falls back down as I release. My head on his chest. Brian. You didn’t do it. It’s not your fault. Please. Don’t go. Brian. Gretchen and sirens behind me. Brian. It’s not for you. You’ll be fine. Right? Brian?
David H Weinberger grew up on Long Island and Utah but now resides in Berlin, Germany. When he is not writing, he enjoys book collecting, reading, and long-distance hiking. His stories have appeared in Thrice Fiction, Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, The Ravens Perch, and other publications. He holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and taught kindergarten for eight years. His website is davidhweinberger.com.