2012-2013 Online Edition - PROSE
The Sun and the Shade
By Cameron Nalls
It was hot, the day of the funeral, and relentlessly sunny. The endless blue sky was unblemished by even a single cloud. Everything, aside from the two freshly dug graves in Turner Cemetery, pointed towards the first truly beautiful day of summer.
Flynn stood on the porch, not looking up at the sky. “Jacob,” he called. His voice was quiet yet somehow carried through the newly empty house. He thought of the twenty-seven boards and fifty-four nails that held the porch together, of the number of tissues left in the box on the table in the hall (fourteen), and of the correct way to sort and stack the books on his bookshelf (alphabetically by author, arranged by genre); he thought of anything to keep himself from thinking of his mother, his gaze almost burning holes in the wooden porch beneath his feet.
Jacob appeared at the screen door behind Flynn. “Flynn,” he answered. It was part of a game they had played ever since they had first met, this exchanging of names.
The boy on the porch held his hands clasped behind his back seeming regal in his posture. The small black suit he wore reminded Jacob of Flynn’s father, a man who wore a suit as if he were born in one.
“I need an umbrella.” The boy spoke without turning around.
Jacob pushed the screen door open with the toe of his shoe. “Flynn,” he spoke again, stepping out onto the porch and coming to stop behind, but not touching, the boy. “I don’t think it is going to rain, but I can get you one if you would like.”
Flynn turned his head, his chin almost resting on his shoulder, “Just in case.” He faced the street again this time letting his blue eyes met the endless blue above him.
Jacob looked down at the small boy standing before him. He felt sick, like he was going to pass out and start crying all at once. He could hardly bear to think about what Flynn must be feeling. Jacob realized he had raised his hand to place on Flynn’s shoulder. He stopped himself, cleared his throat, and spoke again. “Any particular one?”
Flynn nodded, the back of his head bobbing and his short brown hair swaying. He always had a particular one in mind, be it an umbrella, a book to be read to him, lunch, he was through a through a particular sort of boy. “The red one, the one with the hooked handle.”
Jacob replied, “Sure, sure.” He turned and pulled the door open and disappeared back into the house.
Jacob walked down the hall and into a large kitchen, gleaming with chrome and steel appliances. He was surprised to find Mr. Davis sitting at the table.
“Mr. Scott,” said Mr. Davis looking up from the papers in his hands.
At first Jacob did not answer. He did not like Mr. Davis, the Elliotts' lawyer, and it was not small secret that Mr. Davis did not like Jacob. “Why are you still here? I thought you were going ahead to make sure everything was ready at the funeral home.”
Mr. Davis turned the corners of his mouth up in an imitation of a smile. “Excuse me, Mr. Scott, as I remember it, I do not work for you. That boy who follows you around has more right to question me than you.” Mr. Davis sneered again.
Jacob reacted as if he had been slapped across the face. “Excuse me? That boy’s parents were just killed and you are picking fights with his nanny!” Jacob could not stop himself from growing angry.
“That’s right, you are just his nanny.” Mr. Davis went back to examining the papers on the table before him. “Legally speaking, at the end of this month your contract with the Elliotts' runs out and your guardianship of Flynn expires. I will take custody of the boy then.”
Jacob felt the floor begin to tip and braced himself against the back of a chair. He knew his time with Flynn was running out but he had not realized it would be so soon. Jacob gritted his teeth, “Why are you telling me this? Why do this to Flynn?”
“As I told you, Jacob, I work for the Elliotts'. It is my job to ensure that their son is raised in the best possible environment. I will maintain his lifestyle and appoint someone to oversee the family’s business interest. He will be cared for. I am only telling you what is going to happen. I want you to be able to say goodbye to the boy, I can give you that much.”
Jacob knew he was being prodded. He also knew that Mr. Davis was speaking the truth. A weight, heavy and tight, settled in Jacob’s chest. Jacob kept his lips pressed together and said nothing to Mr. Davis. Instead, he started down the back hall to get Flynn’s umbrella.
Jacob’s thoughts boiled as he fumed in the shadows. On some level he knew that Mr. Davis was simply doing the job as it was prescribed to him, that he would make sure Flynn had a home and money and a future. But Jacob’s heart knew that Flynn would not be happy.
Flynn hadn’t been happy before, when it was just him and his parents. Flynn Elliott was a shadow in a dark house; Thomas and Jane Elliotts' careers were their real children. When Flynn had started needing extra attention and lessons from a social coach his parents had all but abandoned him. They certainly loved him, but only when it was easy, when he was having good days, when Jacob was there to manage his behavior. Jacob stopped and pressed his fingers to his temple. The stress was beginning to make his head throb.
Jacob found the closet he remembered the red umbrella to be in and opened the door. The heavy winter coats kept in this closet seemed to crowd the tiny space past its capacity. He flipped a switch by the door and began to look around. He found what he searched for almost immediately, a large waist high bin, umbrellas stuffed into it, points down, making it look like some strange, exotic potted plant. Jacob shuffled through the upended umbrella stems, looking for the red one with the hooked handle. He found a blue one, a gray one, a red one with checkers and a straight handle, a small Flynn-sized plain black one, but not the one Flynn had specified.
“It isn’t here.”
Jacob neared screamed as a voice spoke behind him. He spun and found Flynn standing in the hall. The ghost of a smile seemed to play at the corners of the boy’s mouth.
“I remembered after you left. It isn’t here because Mom lent it to Mrs. Cooper and Mrs. Cooper never brought it back. Also, Mr. Davis is still here, I don’t want to ride with him.”
Jacob checked his watch, clicked the light off, and stepped back into the hall. “We have time to go and stop by. We can walk down to Mrs. Cooper’s and get the umbrella. Then I’ll drive you myself, don’t worry about Mr. Davis.”
Flynn stood for a moment considering, then promptly turned and began walking toward the front door. “Let’s go, Jacob.”
Jacob followed the boy back out to the porch. Jacob stopped to pull a heavy ring of keys from his jacket pocket, locked the front door behind him and climbed down the steps.
Jacob looked back up at the Elliotts' home and noticed the white paint seemed gray and dreary. Mr. Davis’s face appeared in the front window, pale and wrinkled even from the lawn. He raised his arm and tapped two fingers of one hand against the wrist of the other. Jacob got the message, “Don’t be late.”
Jacob took the keys out from his pocket and shook them in the air back at Mr. Davis, but Jacob didn’t think “Lock the doors behind you” translated well.
Flynn waited on the sidewalk, arching his body out over the street to look down towards Mrs. Cooper’s house. He was a curious sight; a small boy in a suit bent nearly in half leaning out over the strip of grass the separated the sidewalk from the road.
Jacob knew that Flynn would not cross the street without him, so he jogged across the lawn through the air that was somehow thicker and hotter than a few minutes earlier.
By the time Jacob made it across the lawn, Flynn had returned to his regal posture, facing back towards the house. He would only glance up at his house, quickly almost furtively, before dropping his gaze to the study the cracks in the sidewalk.
Jacob offered his hand to the boy as he stepped onto the sidewalk. The boy took Jacob’s left hand in his right and followed him into the road. It had been strange at first, Jacob having to hold a ten-year-olds hand to cross the street. In fact, a lot about Flynn had been strange at first. Jacob had been awed at Flynn’s ability to think around corners and remember practically everything he had heard or read. But when Flynn had been confronted with a social problem, like how to ask the waitress for extra napkins, or if he were asked to do something on his own, say something as simple as crossing the street, he seemed was practically helpless. It was not a matter of not being able, Flynn could do anything given enough time, rather Jacob had observed that Flynn acted like he was afraid in these situations, afraid he would look stupid if he got it wrong. As Flynn’s live-in social coach it was Jacob’s job to notice these things about him and to help the boy when he struggled.
So instead of saying or even really thinking how strange the boy at his side really was, Jacob held his hand and walked him across the street.
Flynn’s tiny hand began to squirm its way out of Jacob’s as they stepped onto the sidewalk on the other side of the street.
Jacob released him. Flynn stuck his hands into his pockets and waited for Jacob to lead the way.
Jacob stepped around the boy, shuffling sideways and stepping forward with one lithe movement. He thought of it as dancing, this way of avoiding Flynn.
The boy didn’t like to be touched, he was not cold nor unaffectionate; he simply did not care for physical contact. He allowed his hand to be held because it got him across the street, because being inconvenienced by having to touch someone for a brief amount of time far outweighed being limited to one side of the street. Flynn followed in Jacob’s wake, slightly behind and to the right of the tall man.
Jacob looked back over his shoulder and winked at the boy when he saw him following. It struck Jacob then that Flynn had always walked on whichever side was furthest from the road, Jacob himself always shielding him. Jacob thought about this wondering if Flynn had done this intentionally. He decided that, of course, Flynn had known all along.
The walk to Mrs. Cooper’s house was not a long one, but in the heat it seemed to be further than either of the two remembered it being before. Flynn’s hair grew heavy with beads of sweat and drifted down above his eyes. The boy flicked the first two fingers of his hand across his brow tossing the stray hairs back up into place. He opened his mouth and then closed it again. They had arrived.
Mrs. Cooper’s house was small, an ancient place that was painted a pale light yellow. Jacob noticed the stepping stone path leading up to the house, a dozen or so flat black stones stood out against the green grass.
“Hey, Flynn, the floor is lava.” As Jacob spoke he stepped out over the grass to the first stone. He pushed off with his back leg and soon landed safely on the first stone. He stepped quickly the next stone and the next, careful to avoid having to step back into the grass, for while they were playing the grass had become boiling hot magma. He moved forward in an awkward irregular stride, always on the stones.
As Jacob moved forward he heard a soft sort of dry cough behind him. He heard it again, this time it was accompanied by another noise, the slap of a shoe against stone. Flynn was jumping after him. Jacob jumped from the final stone up to the steps of the porch. He turned and watched Flynn following.
The boy stepped carefully, jumped really, from stone to stone. With each jump he made a small noise, a breath of effort escaping to propel him forward. Finally, he reached the porch were Jacob waited.
Flynn stepped up beside Jacob and raised his thin, spindly arms above his head. “Champion,” he said declaring himself the winner of their game.
Jacob laughed. “Alright, but the winner has to knock on the door.”
Flynn narrowed his eyes at Jacob. He chewed his bottom lip then turned towards the door. As champion, Jacob knew, he wouldn’t deny a challenge. He jumped up the steps of the porch by twos, his shoes scrapping and his small grunt sounding with each liftoff.
Jacob was still smiling in spite of the day; he couldn’t remember when he had last seen Flynn act like a kid. These past few weeks had been hard on both of them. Jacob preferred not to think of how little time he had left with Flynn, and of how unhappy he would be with Mr. Davis looking out for him. Instead, Jacob played and laughed with Flynn, knowing that he, not Mr. Davis, had made Flynn happy. He climbed the steps behind Flynn and found him waiting before the door. Once more he crossed the porch and stood close to Flynn.
Flynn reached up and knocked on the door. He turned, putting his back to the door and facing Jacob. He looked up at him and shrugged.
Jacob shook his head and pointed at the door.
Flynn rolled his eyes but turned around.
After a few moments of waiting the door opened and Mrs. Cooper spoke from behind the screen, “Who is there?’
“Hello Mrs. Cooper, it’s Flynn Elliott. I live down the street.”
“Yes, Flynn, I remember you. Who is that with you, dear?” Mrs. Cooper stepped out onto the porch squinting. She fumbled in her pockets for her glasses, failed to find them, and went back to squinting.
“That’s Jacob, he’s my guardian,” Flynn answered. “I believe my mother might have once introduced you.” Mrs. Cooper nodded as she recognized Jacob.
Flynn continued, “I was wond-” Flynn’s voice caught and he dropped his gaze to his feet. He wiggled his toes inside his shoes and remained silent.
After a moment spent collecting himself, the boy raised his head, took a breath, and began speaking again. “Excuse me. I believe you borrowed an umbrella from my mother and never had the chance to return it. I was wondering if I could have it back.”
Jacob felt proud for Flynn, proud that he had asked on his own even if he had been terrified.
“You Jane Elliotts' boy?” Mrs. Cooper asked, forgetting he had already told her, as she squinted down her nose at Flynn.
“Yes ma’am.” Flynn answered but didn’t look at her.
Mrs. Cooper stood for a moment, silent and thinking. She touched and hand to her throat and said, “It’s a red umbrella and its got a funny hooked handle.”
Flynn nodded and the old woman continued, “Your mother was a beautiful woman, Flynn. I’m sorry.”
“Yes, she was. I’m sorry too.”
Mrs. Cooper disappeared into her home to retrieve Flynn’s mother’s umbrella.
Flynn walked to the edge of the porch and instead of looking out across the lawn he put his head down against the rail and closed his eyes.
They stood together in the silence until Mrs. Cooper butted the door open with the point of the red umbrella.
By the time Jacob had fully turned back to face Mrs. Cooper, Flynn had snapped around and taken two steps past him across the porch. Jacob could see that already Flynn had his hands out towards the umbrella.
Mrs. Cooper dropped the umbrella, it floated for a moment between her worn wrinkled hands and the boy’s small pink ones, into Flynn’s outstretched palms. She smiled at the boy while he smiled in turn down at the umbrella in his hands.
Jacob thought that Flynn looked like a young King Arthur and the first time he held Excalibur. That wouldn’t be too far off, Jacob mused, for they were, after all, both holding something touched by magic. For Arthur it would be magic to rule a kingdom; for Flynn it would be magic to protect him, magic sent from his mother.
Jacob watched the miniature knight strut down the porch toward the stairs. But Flynn, a most gallant knight, stopped and quickly turned back to face Mrs. Cooper to offer his thanks. “Thank you very much, Mrs. Cooper.” He smiled and nodded his head to the old woman.
Mrs. Cooper smiled in return, “Of course, I’m glad I could help.” She waved her hands in the air in front of her to see them off.
Flynn turned to go down the stairs but suddenly turned back, spinning on his heel, to face Mrs. Cooper. She had turned to go back inside but still Flynn called after her. “Thank you for saying that my mother was beautiful, Mrs. Cooper. She certainly was.” He turned without waiting for her to answer, stepping quickly down the stairs and began hopping back across the stepping-stones.
Jacob lingered at the top of the stairs for a moment, awed at the love Flynn had for his mother. Amazing, he thought, how much a child could love a parent, even the parents that don’t appreciate it. He thought of something his grandmother had once said, something about the sun and the shade and about bright things in dark times. He thought she had said that there was a balance to all things, no sorrow without joy, no death without life, no sun without shade. If she had seen Flynn hopping along the steps before him she certainly would have noticed how that even in the bright summer light, the boy and the umbrella in his hand seemed to glow on their own, as if they were lit from their own inner sun. In this moment, Flynn even in the middle of the greatest sorrow of his life was overflowing with joy, joy lent to him by his mother’s umbrella. “Bright things in dark times.” He spoke the words softly to himself before following after Flynn.
They repeated their route back towards the house on Front Street. This time Flynn walked to the left of Jacob. He had slipped the hooked end of the umbrella over his forearm, though he had to keep his arm held up high to keep the tip from scrapping the ground. Flynn had grown quiet as they walked back, his gaze never leaving the umbrella for long.
Jacob led the boy back towards the house. This time veering past the porch and onto the small paved drive that circled near the back of the house. Mr. Davis’s car was already gone. Jacob’s own car, an aging white sedan Flynn called “Jaws,” sat alone in the wide driveway. Jacob noticed that Flynn glanced over toward the spaces where his parent’s car had once been. He whistled catching the boy’s attention before gesturing towards the car. Jacob slipped the ring of keys out of his jacket pocket, clicked a button on one of them, and opened the door for Flynn.
The boy slipped up past Jacob and the opened door. He sat down in the seat behind the driver, laying the umbrella along the seat next to him. He pulled the seatbelt over his left shoulder and clicked it into place. Flynn extended his left hand out towards the door.
Jacob took the cue and gave the door a small push closed, letting it go to sail towards Flynn. Flynn caught it with ease and pulled the door shut. Jacob opened his own door and got in.
After he fiddled with the mirrors for a moment, if he got the rearview mirror just right he could see the top of Flynn’s head as well as the traffic, he started the car and began to roll down the driveway. Jacob navigated the car down the street and out of the neighborhood. At the end of the road he turned left onto the road that would take them to Turner Cemetery and the funeral of Flynn’s mother and father.
The service had been nice; both of the reserved rooms had been full and more people waited in the hall listening. Mr. Davis performed the eulogy; he was the closest thing the Elliotts' had to family. Jacob realized that everyone in attendance was either a business associate or a client of the Elliotts' company. A few women made a point of saying hello to Flynn and he remembered his manners and shook hands and accepted condolences of those who spoke with him. Jacob guessed that these women were themselves showpieces like Flynn was, carried along by the business elite and shown off like trophies of the modern family. The entire time Flynn kept his mother’s red umbrella in his left hand. After the final speaker, they all had been invited out to the cemetery for the burial.
Jacob walked with Flynn across the lawn of the cemetery grounds. The grass was green and a few trees shaded the few paths that crept through the rows of headstones. Flynn read the names on the headstones aloud.
“Turner Freeman. Lawrence Abigail. June Marrow. Thomas Elliott. Jane Elliott.”
He stopped as he read his parents names, stamped into the stones with dreadful finality. Flynn’s hand shook as he pressed a button on the base of the umbrella. It bloomed to its full size and Flynn disappeared beneath it.
Jacob was tall enough to be able to see the entire shape of the red umbrella spread out against the green grass. It reminded him of a flower and, Jacob shuddered as he realized, a drop of blood. “Flynn,” Jacob said kneeling to see under the rim of the umbrella.
“I’m ok.” Flynn’s voice sound forced, as if he were speaking through tears.
Jacob wanted to tell the boy that they could leave, that everything would be alright at home, but he could not. Jacob couldn’t tell the boy that he would sleep well in the house his parents once lived in, a house that he had always know them in suddenly quiet and empty. Jacob did the only thing he could. He knelt down beside the boy and waited.
Flynn remained silent until Mr. Davis appeared behind the row of headstones. Upon seeing him, Flynn turned on his heel and began walking back towards the car.
“Stop him.” Mr. Davis hissed at Jacob.
Jacob stared back at Mr. Davis unblinking.
Mr. Davis watched, as the boy got further away. He glared at Jacob then began to go after the boy himself.
“Flynn,” Mr. Davis called out. The boy certainly heard the old man’s call but he kept walking. Mr. Davis began to jog after him.
Jacob followed them across the green lawn of the cemetery.
It was not long before Mr. Davis caught up with the boy. He reached out and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, slipping it under the rim of the umbrella intending to stop Flynn.
Flynn snapped away from Mr. Davis’s hand. In his effort to get away from Mr. Davis, Flynn lost his grip on the umbrella. For a moment it swung wildly in the air and fell to the ground. He glared up at Mr. Davis. Before Mr. Davis could speak, Flynn began to.
Mr. Davis stared down at the boy uncomprehending, no clue how to move forward and defuse the situation without causing an incident.
Jacob was close enough now to hear that Flynn was reciting Shakespearian sonnets.
“Stop it, boy. Flynn, I need to talk to you.” Mr. Davis tried to calm the boy. He reached out again to soothe Flynn.
Flynn immediately stepped further away from Mr. Davis.
Jacob couldn’t stand watching Flynn get upset again, so he put his hand on Mr. Davis’s shoulder and gently pushed him aside. Jacob knelt and scooped the umbrella up in his hand. “Flynn,” he whispered. Jacob stepped close to the boy and knelt again, this time holding the umbrella above both of their heads. “Flynn,” he whispered again. Flynn did not respond, he simply kept reciting sonnets. Jacob offered his hand out flat to Flynn, but made no move to touch him. “Flynn, I need to talk to you and I need you to listen. You don’t have to say anything back but you do have to listen. Flynn, be quiet.” Jacob kept his voice quiet but stern.
Flynn stopped talking but did not look at Jacob.
“Good, thank you. Now listen, we don’t have to stay here if you don’t want to be. If you are sad or scared that’s ok, we can go home. I’m here to help you, Flynn, but you have to talk to me.”
Flynn nodded and took Jacob’s offered hand in his own. “Let’s go home, please.” His voice had become weak and filled with water, as if he were holding off tears.
Jacob stood keeping the umbrella in on hand of their heads and Flynn’s tiny hand held in his other.
Mr. Davis gaped at Jacob but did nothing to stop Jacob as he led the boy away.
When they got back to the car, Jacob repeated opening Flynn’s door and closing him in. This time, however, Flynn slid to the middle seat buckled it around his waist, and then lay down across the seat.
Jacob drove them home in silence.
By the time they got home it was dark. Jacob parked the car in the driveway and got out. He opened Flynn’s door and leaned in. He was careful to be quiet; the boy had fallen asleep as he lay across the seat. Jacob lifted the small boy and held him in his arms in front of him. As he got out of the car, Jacob noticed the umbrella left lying on the floor. He shifted Flynn in his arms and reached out to grab the umbrella. He grabbed ahold and hung it on his forearm before shifting Flynn back into his arms.
He carried the boy through the house, through the dark and the shadows without a light. Jacob opened the door to Flynn’s room, a nightlight shaped like a superhero cast long shadows on the walls. Jacob gently shook the boy in his arms, “Flynn, you need to change for bed.”
The boy woke up, but only just. His eyes barely opened and he moved like a slow-motion swimmer. He shrugged off his jacket and Jacob caught it with the tips of his fingers as it fell. He pulled of his dress shirt, forgetting and nearly losing two buttons, and reached under the pillow on his bed for his pajamas. He slipped the shirt on over his head and lay back onto his bed.
“Under the covers please.” Jacob swept up the boy’s discarded clothes and dumped them into the bin behind the door. He sat down of the foot of the bed once Flynn had slipped under the covers.
Flynn laid his head back on his pillow and closed his eyes. “Goodnight, Jacob.”
By the light of the nightlight Jacob could see that Flynn had begun to cry and that he had been, probably all afternoon. The light caught in the boy’s tears and twinkled like miserable starlight.
Flynn opened his eyes and the light blazed in them. “Jacob, please don’t leave me.” His hand shot out from under the blanket, fingers spread seeking Jacob’s.
Jacob took the boy’s hand in his own and promised him he would stay. He talked softly to the boy, easing him back to sleep. Jacob barely remembered the words he used to comfort the boy who lost his parents. When he had seen Flynn crying he understood why he had asked for an umbrella in the first place. He was doing what everyone who need an umbrella was doing, he was preparing for a storm. Except for Flynn the storm had been personal and he had wanted to umbrella to hide, to keep him safe. Jacob promised himself he would keep Flynn safe.
Flynn clung to Jacob’s hand until finally he slept. After he was sure the boy was asleep, Jacob stood and slipped out of the room.
As Jacob made his way back through the house he noticed that the light to Mr. Elliotts' office was on. Strange, Jacob thought. He eased the door open and saw Mr. Davis sitting at the desk, writing.
“Mr. Davis,” Jacob returned the greeting a little confused, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m looking over your contract, Mr. Scott.”
“You already told me this, Mr. Davis. I am aware that I have less than a month left with Flynn.”
“Actually, Mr. Scott, I was going to offer you an extension to your original contract. I do realize it may seem a bit hypocritical of me to have changed my mind so suddenly but I believe it to be the right decision. As I told you before, I am obligated to ensure the most successful environment for Flynn. You have shown yourself to be quite capable of dealing with Flynn’s condition and I believe that the time the two of you two have spent together would be wasted if I decided to have someone else hired to look after him. You are the easy choice, Mr. Scott.”
“Uh, thank you, I guess. What does that mean exactly? Am I still his guardian?” Jacob felt like he had a million questions but knew Mr. Davis would take his time answering, if he would at all.
“Technically speaking, I am his guardian and you are an employee of the Elliotts'. I will defer day-to-day guardianship to you; you are after all his primary caregiver now that his parents are gone. I will oversee the Elliott’s business practices until Flynn is of age to take over himself. You are an employee, Mr. Scott. You may stay here; the house is Flynn’s now after all. Your salary will continue to be paid and I expect that you will continue to look after the young Mister Elliott to the same standard that his parents set at the beginning of your employment. I will have your updated contract at the end of this week, if you are interested of course.”
Jacob couldn’t help his jaw from falling open. “Yes, yes of course. I will stay.”
Mr. Davis did not smile but said, “Good luck, Mr. Scott. You have quite the job ahead of you. Better you than me.”
Jacob showed Mr. Davis out and watched the headlights of his car back out of the driveway. He locked the door and went upstairs into his room. He sat down on his bed and rubbed his eyes in the dark.
Jacob lay back on his bed and realized he loved the boy down the hall. Exhausted yet relieved, Jacob fell asleep in his suit.