A Very Quiet Boy

Some years ago (long enough to be, indeed,once upon a time),

There was a boy who, as best could be determined,

Never spoke and rarely smiled.

His mother (young, unmarried,

Frequently if not terminally drunk)

Did not survive the birth,

And the father, with the exception of his unfortunate progeny,

Left no more residue of his paternity behind

Than the fleeting droplets of a brief August afternoon thunderstorm.


As a ward of the state,

The boy was hopscotched from family to family:

Ineffectual proto-hippies with VW microbuses and unsuccessful gardens

Where foodstuffs and other less legal produce

Failed in similarly spectacular fashion,

Pig-eyed, thin-lipped Christian fanatics

Enjoying the Lord’s bounty in social services vouchers

For goods rarely lavished upon the prodigal in question,

Stolid suburban families with sterile fathers

And mothers barren of everything except guilt.

The boy was never a problem,

At least in terms of discipline;

Indeed, he was (thankfully, in the view

Of most of his provisional parents) preternaturally prone

To absent himself from human contact

For hours, occasionally days, at a stretch.


There was, of course, no question of school for the child,

The prevailing wisdom being

That a boy like that had no more place in school

Than a bent hammer or broken pliers in a tool box,

So the boy alternated between being out of sight

And mutely accusingly underfoot. 

Eventually, either for his safety

Or the convenience of the parents du jour,

A station wagon with official plates would come,

And the boy, dented, putty-colored suitcase in hand,

Would walk to the car (never bothering to look back)

And  be driven away, until one day

The destination was a state home

Way Upstate which overlooked an old, inactive graveyard

That stretched down to the shore of a cold, narrow lake.


Some months after his departure,

The last in the series of Mommy pro tempore

Was spring-cleaning a closet

When she happened upon a large stack of papers,

Easily several hundred sheets, haphazardly rubber-banded together.

The papers contained stories—though as she read on,

She determined it was a single story—accompanied

By drawings of the great knights, huge ocean-going ships

And sundry other characters that populated the tale.

There was no question it was the work of the boy;

Certainly, her husband, having not read anything

More time-consuming than a box score in years,

Would never be responsible for such a thing.


The hero of the tale (she was, as the ad catch-phrases

On the back of paperbacks inevitably say,

Unable to put it down) was an often silent knight,

Much given to slow contemplation yet invariably correct and honest

When he at last ventured an opinion,

And she could not help but note that the boy portrayed him

In every illustration as impassive and granite-faced

As a medieval Jack Webb.

There was a smattering of other noble, brave men in the story,

But their number paled in comparison

With the scores of small-minded village priests

And petty clerks and merchants littering the pages.

As she flipped through sheet after sheet,

She was able to ascertain the plot revolved around

The knight’s plan to seek out the Devil himself

(According to the boy, he lived

In a far northern, vaguely European empire)

Accompanied, as opposed to aided,

By a peasant-smart, highly volatile prince regent

And a scheming, venal bishop

Whose machinations would put Machiavelli to shame.


She read on until she came to the point

Where the knight’s plan was successfully carried out:

The Devil lying prone, sprawled across the peaks of several mountains,

Bleeding profusely from a slashed throat.

The book did not end there, however–

There were scenes, happening apparently simultaneously:

A king declaring war on a peaceful, unsuspecting neighboring principality,

A banker evicting a widow from a suitably wretched hovel,

The ravishing and subsequent murder

Of an orphan girl in the center of an unnamed city.

Can you imagine, the woman thought to herself

As she placed the pile of paper in the corner of the closet shelf,

It’s good he left when he did.

I had no idea the poor child was absolutely crazy.


6 thoughts on “A Very Quiet Boy

  1. This is a beautifully told story. I like especially the way the boy’s silent character distances him from the reader on the personal level since we would never know for sure how the details of his story exactly related to the things that he lived, but we can relate the plot and the foster mother’s reaction to it to understanding social issues and thus understanding the character better by understanding his situation rather than filling our ears with mere emotions. The foster mother’s reaction is probably exagerated but this intensifies and shows the problem as it should be seen; it’s not an issue of an unfortunate child more than it is an issue of a wrong and corrupt society. I like such quiet characters. This also brings to my mind the loneliness of the madman but in a less observable manner than the message it conveys.

  2. Once again, I am grateful for your comments–the notion of the distance of the character (and the fact that it removes the unreliability from the narrative by eliminating an unreliable witness) is something that, to be honest, I never thought of; sometimes you just luck into things.

  3. Holy crap…..can’t tell you how much I loved this. You story telling abilities are fabulous and the tone and pace with which you write is mesmerizing. I truly have not read a thing you have written that I have not liked. And looking above I see a healthy review form Munir Awad, I met him on the WC a while back and I love his writing as well I shall have to try and look him up again. your styles remind me a bit of each other.

  4. Oh this is a heart-grabber. I hope the boy’s brilliance survived the entire system utterly failing him, and that he went on to have a life far from bureaucracy’s sterile clutches. You penned this so very well.

  5. I’m with Rowley: I have never read anything of yours which did not light up every narrative-loving synapse in my brain.

    I could itemize what is brilliant about this piece – but we all know the score.

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