Ekphrastic Flash Fiction by Alice Kaltman
He came to the East 72nd Street Playground with a toy grenade. It was the most wonderful thing we’d ever seen, a treasure that lives in our memories all these years later, the kind of toy none of us would ever have been allowed to own, much less bring to Central Park.
The boy walked over to us where we busied ourselves poking sticks in ant hills. He stood, nearer than he’d ever allowed himself to be in the few weeks he’d been showing up at our playground domain, his arms stretched down to his sides, the camo-green plastic grenade clutched in his hand. He had big blue eyes, a well-groomed blond mop of hair, clothes the mothers claimed came from a high-end department store. But an Uptown pedigree made no difference to us. We interpreted the high-pitched sounds he made, took the distorted faces he made — eyes bugged and desperate, pink lips spread in a grimace — and read his neediness as something to run from.
One suspender dropped off his shoulder and circled his dirt-smudged elbow like a lasso. His eyes pleaded. We knew what he wanted, but still we refused. He was so close to us we could have swiped that precious grenade right out of his hand, started tossing it back and forth and screamed at the top of our lungs. But playing with him would have dire consequences. We might catch what he had, might release a fury beyond our control.
We never asked him his name and we never asked him to play. We called him the Wild Boy. He was something feral and dangerous that might not even know he was really just a boy. He usually wandered in aimless circles, a restless creature. Often the Wild Boy howled, grubby chin lifted skyward, at what we supposed was an imaginary moon. He had no nanny or mother hovering on the sidelines like the rest of us, each with our own exasperated woman ready to huff over and break up tussles or wipe noses, handkerchiefs at the ready. He never talked. On occasion he grunted or emitted a harrowing screech that set the women shaking their heads, giving us kids an excuse to circle our index fingers by our temples, to whisper loony, cuckoo, demented, deranged.
The day he brought the grenade, he stood in that rigid, awful pose for a long, long time, as long as we can remember, a lifetime it seemed. We weren’t used to this steadiness, this conviction. His stillness made us twitchy. If we stared too long it might unleash our dormant needs to bleat and beat our own narrow little chests, to show our outrage in unforeseeable ways.
Instead we searched each other’s faces for clues and found ignorance. We went back to poking at holes with twigs. Already making heartless mistakes, already ostracizing the ones we feared. Future movers and shakers of our generation. Massacring bug colonies, waiting for real things to destroy.