by Sybil Cameron
The boy was holding a clear plastic cube so close to his face it almost touched his nose. The cube was solid except at the center where a tiny lion was suspended in a springing position facing a red hoop. When the cube was tilted to the side, a small metal bar dropped into position and the lion appeared to jump through the hoop. It was the hoop that actually moved but the effect was the same. A tilt in the opposite direction reset the simple mechanism. It was the boy's most treasured possession.
He was crouched in a corner, as far away as he could get from the sounds coming from the next room. He tilted the cube from side to side and stared fixedly into it. He had discovered that, if he concentrated really hard on the lion's movement, he could block out the sounds of violence that had been a part of his life for as long as he could remember. He was reaching out now for that wall of silence but it was getting harder for him to see the lion in the dim light of early evening. The angry voice from the other room got louder. The boy kept tilting the cube, but there were tears now and all he could see was a dim blur. He heard the familiar sounds of blows being struck, muffled cries, then the slamming of a door. The boy wrapped his arms tightly around his knees, pushed himself further into the corner, and tried to make himself smaller. The cube fell to the floor. The bar dropped. The lion jumped through the hoop.
It seemed a long time before the boy's mother came into his room. Hopelessness, the product of years of abuse, was evident in her posture as well as on her bruised face. She looked at the small, huddled form of her son. Although he had not been physically beaten this time, he looked as though he had been spared nothing. A spark of defiance ignited within her. She could not let this continue! The memory of the brutal punishment she had received for her last attempt to leave threatened her resolve. He said he would kill her next time. She believed he would. She weighed the risks and made her decision.
They managed to remain hidden for almost two years. She made a safe haven for them in a dingy little apartment in one of the poorest sections of the city. They had very little except each other but it was enough. Slowly, they had begun to heal. The boy no longer felt the need to block out the world behind a wall of silence but he kept the cube with him always, just in case. The experiences in his short life had not taught him to trust that he would remain safe.
The cube was in the boy's hand the day the man found them as they walked home from the drugstore. He pushed them into an alley, a knife flashed and the boy's mother slumped to the ground. The knife flashed again although there was no need - the woman was already dead. The man grabbed the boy, his son, roughly by the shoulder.
"You will not tell anyone about this, do you hear", he said coldly and clearly. "You will never say anything to anyone, ever."
The man started to walk away, dragging the boy with him. The boy made an inarticulate sound through a throat that felt as if it had frozen shut, then broke free and fled down the alley into the darkness. The cube in his hand tilted with the motion of his flight. The bar dropped. The lion jumped through the hoop.
. . .
In the tunnels below the city, a secret world provided refuge for many who had fled, wounded, from the world above. Today, a special child was being welcomed into that world.
"I've named my son Jacob", Vincent said.
A murmur of approval greeted his words and the face of the elder Jacob, the one everyone called Father, showed how deeply he was touched by the honor. He looked with pride at his small namesake nestled securely in Vincent's arms. Vincent's joy in his son was very apparent but Father knew that the heart of that gentle being held untold grief and pain as well as joy. He looked at those who were gathered around Vincent and the child in a strong circle of love. Father knew the healing power of that love. It had already reached out and reclaimed so many who had lost all sense of hope. As the children eagerly moved forward to present their gifts to the newly-named child, Father's eyes suddenly filled with tears. Many of these same children who now greeted young Jacob with love had already, in their young lives, known grief and pain. Some had endured hardship beyond imagining in the world above but no sign of that past now showed on their happy faces. Below, they had been welcomed with love and they had learned to trust and to love in return. Their birthright had been reclaimed.
"Naming Day present for Jacob. From me", Mouse announced with his characteristic disregard for sentence structure.
Father watched as Vincent opened the gift. Mouse's gifts were usually his own inventions and Father tended to be wary of them until they were shown to be harmless. He remembered all too well certain episodes of chaos involving Mouse's inventions, 'Mousescapades' the people Below called them."This is very generous of you, Mouse", Vincent said when he saw what Mouse had given, "but are you certain you want to part with this? I know how much you cherish it."
The boy everyone called Mouse looked up with complete trust at the one who had brought him from the darkness. Vincent's friendship was his most treasured possession.
"Don't need it", the boy said. "Not now. Not here. Not ever. Look, show you how it works", he offered and he tilted the cube.
The bar dropped. The lion jumped through the hoop.