A young boy named James found himself coming down the dew-darkened driveway of the house his parents used to live in. His stomach had caved in. He’d wasted most of his time wondering—why?

All about him, autumn spoke. Gentle hymns, melodies gliding between bass and treble, bawling and shrieking.

Without trepidation, he entered.

Sealed rooms still smelled of perfume and tobacco – ghosts of mothers and fathers who woke and stirred. James could no longer call upon memory for comfort, fractured shards that they were. Much like the others, he dreamt of his mother with her lingering stare and wide smile, and that smile bloomed flowers in his lungs, but he’d forgotten her face. He’d forgotten his father’s voice.

He recalled, after long, only the fragrance of love.

A single touch defined love, jolting his hummingbird heart back to life. The clouds no longer hid the sun. Sometimes, he forgot to breathe.

As winter loomed, James watched the migrating birds shriek and soar across the firmaments with sparks of freedom in their eyes.

Yearning for their parents’ arms, children crumbled into their own laps like the sandcastles they built out on the riverbank—sandcastles the angry boys kicked apart and whipped with sticks.

They were all abandoned to the rising tide.

A deep-thinker, James marveled at the rushing waters; how it swept the sand away, and wondered if he would one day grow big in size but small in mind. He wondered if they would one day become unfeeling men, and regret being something other than the earth.

To miss what he’d never really had was a hell on its own.

Where did all the bright-eyed mothers go?

 

***

At dawn a blaze consumed the leafless treetops. Purple, hazy smoke lay in broad strokes across the sky. The wind blew upon their faces with mint on her breath and embers in her hair.

Cracks marred the pavement underfoot. The narrow, crooked roads of the little town swelled with high-pitched jabber.

The young James took one final look about him, as if saying farewell in his own quiet way. To all of them, all that existed was this corner of the earth, this edge of the world, and so, those who dared to, set off over the lip of everything they had ever known.

They carried only what they could, slung upon their backs in colourful cartoon rucksacks and in sticky little hands. Some of the older girls helped the young boys do their buttons and zips and laces. Those who had last-gasp misgivings dashed back into what remained of their homes and unpacked their bags – only to realize, with maturity beyond their ken, that staying seemed so much harder.

Those who encumbered themselves with nonsense over necessity—as the smarter children felt, but could not put into words—ran the risk of starvation or freezing. Vacant-eyed teddy-bears lay motionless beside the road—some with the child still attached to them. Those who complained that their legs were too sore to walk were left behind.

Beyond the lofty horizons, the emerald hills would fade and fall into the sea.

They looked to James as their fearless leader, and found him far ahead, fading into that space between the road and the sky.

Not once did he turn to look back across his shoulder. They followed, as best they could, for he moved as if pulled. On, the many orphans journeyed, wearing worn shoes on the wrong feet, sometimes hand in hand, singing incomplete verses to songs they had never finished learning.

They left the edge of a broken, dark town far behind them and walked away toward the mountain across pale fields, through dusty sunbeams, beneath the shadows of dragonflies—in search of the spring gardens where they hoped their mothers sat, waiting.

***

Parts One and Two of the full story – “Saudade” – was published by HELIOS QUARTERLY

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