The Lost Boy: Part 1

The morning sun illuminates thick clouds in white and silver as they pace across sky. Heat waves shimmer from the red earth and fades into the pure-blue horizon. Matt wipes the sweat from his brow as the old, red Ford eases down the street. A warm breeze filters in through the open window. For a third time he stops at number 42 Jester Street. Again, he looks at the address on his hand. He finds it hard to believe that the town’s esteemed psychiatrist would live here, behind this crooked old fence with its skew gates. The garden is reminiscent of the 80’s. Everything is straight and symmetric. The garden beds are lined with small shrubs, all trimmed to perfection. The footpath leads straight to the front door. Gravel crunches under his feet. A Jack-Russel puppy darts from around the corner, its tail too short to wag. Instead, its entire body wobbles in excitement.

“Trying to escape?” Matt pats the pup on the head. “Me too.”

The puppy bounces around him and leaps up against his legs. “Shush, girl. Don’t tell them I’m here.”

The front entrance hosts two large garden pots on either side. In each is a date palm, their red Persian fruit proudly lends colour to the mass of green in the rest of the garden. A rusty wrought iron gate guards a small porch. Beyond the porch is an open door, hiding behind it a dark reception hall. Three copper goat bells hang from a wire on the gate. Matt extends his hand and then hesitates. He looks down at the pup still bouncing around at his feet.

“Is this it, girl? Do I ring this?”

With a tug and a quick shake the bells sound in an awful shrill. Like a ghost out of the shadows, a tiny figure appears from the open door. “Blue heavens, child!” a lady says. “You scared me clean out of my shoes.”

Matt smiles nervously and scratches the small of his throat. Before he could utter a word, the lady starts again, “cat got your tongue, did it?”

“Pardon?” Matt asks.

“Oh dear Lord, child. I don’t bite.” She pulls a set of keys from her pocket and patiently works through them until she finds the right one. A shaking hand slips a key into the lock and it opens with a clunk. “Well. Come in.”

A thinning nest of grey hair rests on her tiny head. Pale, leathery skin covers her bony skull, and from behind thick glasses, a pair of hollow eyes searches Matt’s face. It makes him nervous. He cannot help but think that she must have a black cat around the house, somewhere. All she needs is a pointy hat and a broomstick.

The old lady leads Matt through the lounge and dining area to the end of the house. The smell of warm cake and fresh cookies wafts through the hallway. Family photos hang from the white walls. Some are in black and white and date back to a simpler time, when men laboured, women cooked and cleaned, and children were seen and not heard. She stops at an open door and motions for Matt to go in. “Carl, dear,” she says to a man sitting at the desk. “Young Matthew is here.”

“Ah, Matthew John.” The man spins around to face Matt. He kicks his feet out and leans back in his chair, his arms folded behind his neck. The only hair on his head is the moustache that curls under his large nose as he smiles. White teeth, like tiny, shiny sea shells appear from behind his lips. “Found the house alright?”

“You won’t get two words out of this one,” the old lady interjects. “He’s a church mouse.”

“Thank you Mother,” Dr. Carl says. “Close the door behind you.”

The doctor points to a chair. He leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees. “Excuse my mother. They all go mad after fifty.” He tilts his head back and runs his fingers along his chin. “Mind you. I’m fifty-five. And how is your grandmother?”

“She is well, thank you.” Matt moves about in the chair, struggling to find a comfortable position. He looks at his feet, then his hands, then out the small window just under the ceiling. The office is cluttered. Large books with thick covers fill the bookshelves along the walls. Diplomas, certificates and degrees are framed on the wall and the desk. It’s a sad contrast to the frames in the bleak hallway that has no photos of children, or even a dashing young woman in a white dress and a veil.

“Your mother and I are good friends. Your grandfather was our family doctor.” He leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. “The last time I saw you, you were Superman for a whole month.”

“I remember that.” Matt smiles uncomfortably. “I was six.”

“And when you were Huckleberry Finn?”

Matt shakes his head in question.

“You were five,” the doctor says. “Clothes wrapped in a towel. Tied to the end of a stick.” He laughs. “Your mother rang me, ‘he’s gone again,’ she said.”

“No. I don’t remember that.”

“I found you five kilometers out of town. Must have been walking the whole day.”

A moment of silence passes before Matt clears his throat. “My mom said I was always walking away. To live in the mountains. I was too young to remember.”

“No. You do remember. You ran away all too often.” The doctor nods and rolls his chair closer to Matt. Leaning forward, with a serious expression, “I know you’re not here for this stupid, silly chit-chat shit. You are safe here and you can trust me.”

Matt drops his face in his hands and shakes his head. “I don’t know why I’m here.”

The doctor places his big hands on Matt’s shoulders. “That, my young friend, is what we’re going to figure out.”