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The Red Boy

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When the doctors diagnosed my four-year old child with autism, my wife and I were heartbroken. Just two years earlier, our baby had been growing normally, playing with us, grabbing things, and attempting to speak. But all of a sudden, in a matter of weeks, our boy, who was progressing so well, grew silent. His wide, beautiful eyes shrunk and lost their bright gleam of curiosity. He stopped saying things. He stopped playing. And he would cry all the time.

When we came home from the specialist’s office that day, my wife collapsed on our bed and began to sob. It was only six o’clock, but the immensity of her sorrow compelled her to lie down and rest. She was exhausted – for the past two years, she had had to quit her job to make time to deal with Abraham’s constant episodes of intense crying. She gave up her art. When her mother died in October, she was even unable to attend the funeral, because I was away on a business trip and Abraham was not amenable to long-distance travel.

I sat down at my desk and flipped open my laptop. The screen’s red brightness shocked my weary eyes for a moment. I blinked a few times, unable to rid my eyes of the dark redness of the startup screen. For a few moments, I was enveloped with the colors of scarlet and burgundy clashing. Gradually, the redness faded. I was about to commence typing when, suddenly, I heard a loud muffled cry. I turned around and looked at my wife, who was rubbing her forehead and dapping her cheeks with a tissue.

“What’s wrong with him?” she asked quietly. “Why won’t he stop?”

I got up from my chair and sat on the bed, next to her. I wrapped my left arm around her shoulders and whispered in her ear, “It’s autism, honey. There’s nothing we can do.”

The noise of intense crying returned loudly.

My wife immediately jerked off the bed and stood up. “I can’t deal with this. I can’t. I really can’t.” She was about to exit the room, when I reminded her that the doctors suggested letting Abraham endure his crying fits unimpeded. Constant comfort, according to Dr. Michaels, could be dangerous because the baby’s ability to recognize his parents as meaningful sources of safety could diminish. She stood in the doorway, still.

I sighed. She had given up so much. As the primary breadwinner of the household, I couldn’t give up my job, so she had to. Her career was just about to take off before Abraham’s issues started. She had gotten into a prestigious art program in Nashville, where she had found and arranged for our purchase of a new home. She had been promoted to Head Gallery Consultant at her firm. She had to give all that up. Pangs of guilt flooded through me. I couldn’t accuse her for being a weakhearted mother. I didn’t know what to say, so I remained silent and looked down at my lap. I was helpless. I was the man of the house, I was supposed to protect and fulfill my wife’s needs, my child’s needs – and I couldn’t.

My wife changed into her pajamas in front of me. She undid her ponytail and switched off the bedroom lamp. “I’m going to sleep,” she proclaimed. And she fell into the sheets. I could see her tears soak into the pillow cover.

I wasn’t tired just yet. I returned to the bright screen of my laptop and made Google searches for several hours. As it turns out, Abraham wasn’t alone. Many children seem to be progressing normally before losing their capacity to explore, communicate, and react to the world. Autism was cruel. And we were lucky – most parents can’t afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of treatment needed to mitigate the symptoms of autism in their kids.

By the time I wiggled into bed next to my wife, it was ten-thirty. I had put Abraham into his bedroom and tucked him in. I tried reading him a bedtime story, as I do every night, but it was a futile attempt – as always. I try Pooh Bear, Thomas the Tank Engine, Dora – nothing works. Nothing.

I dozed off into sleep, a wonderful escape from my familial troubles. I held my wife close. She had lost so much – I didn’t want her to feel that she was losing me. She shouldn’t feel alone. My head faced her neck, her long, black hair, and I slept.

At four in the morning, I felt an urge to use the bathroom. I got up, trying to move as little as possible as to not disturb my wife. When I returned, I immediately noticed something odd. My wife wasn’t there. The sheets were embedded with contours formed by her body. I could see clearly where her feet and back once lay.

“Michelle?” I called out. No response. She must be in the kitchen, getting a snack – she didn’t eat dinner, I thought to myself. I was about to start off for the kitchen when I heard Abraham’s cries. There he went again.

I decided to violate his doctor’s suggestion, and entered his bedroom. The blue moonlight entered through his open window and flooded the room with a hue of cerulean. The curtains flapped gently from the light breeze. His toys were strewn on the floor. His books were everywhere – on the windowsill, on his little desk, on his bed. This was odd. He never touched his books. Or his toys.

On his pillow, the book, “Love You Forever” was opened to a particular page. “I love you forever, and forever my baby you’ll be,” the lines read. Next to the words was a picture of a mother holding her small baby in her hands. The mother uncannily resembled Michelle. Her long, black hair, her white skin – it was nearly an exact copy. Unnerved, I closed the book and was about to put it in Abraham’s bookshelf when I heard a short, but sonorous, shriek.

The sound came from downstairs. My heart leapt up and I jumped back, the book falling from my hands onto the carpet. My breathing became faster.

“Michelle?” I called again. I stuck my head out of the room doorway, peering left and right for any signs of my wife or Abraham.

Clash. My head sharply jerked to the right. It sounded like… like breaking glass. I was confused. I dashed to my bedroom, with my right slipper falling off, and grabbed a wooden baseball bat, the one I’d used in a high school championship game against Woodsville.

Cautiously, I took slow steps towards the staircase. I held my bat with a tight grip, as if I was about to swing at a pitch. The cold of the hardwood floor surprised me, and my bare right foot shivered slightly.

Each step I took sent electric shocks up my spine. I didn’t know what to expect. A home invasion? An accident? Spilled milk and a cracked cup? The darkness was all-encompassing, nearly overwhelming. I could make out nothing – not even the silhouettes of furniture. No external light penetrated the heavy curtains shielding the windows.

The floorboards on the staircase creaked as I stepped on them. Each screech sounded like an old lady – I pictured a nun, for some reason – screaming out of fear, scared for their lives. As if the nun had seen the very red eyes of the Devil. As if the Devil, instead of killing the nun, or unleashing hell on this universe, simply allowed the poor woman to observe the stains of blood on his reptilian scales, the sharp angles of his black horns, the incisors lining the bottom of his mouth, the vicious inferno blazing across his remorseless figure, the black hole redness of his beady eyes. The red eyes. That’s what struck her the most. The nun simply stared, and could only watch. And that is the greatest fear of all – having to watch, helpless, unable to understand why, or who, or what.

And that’s how I felt. How I felt with Abraham. How I felt with Michelle. And how I felt having to walk down those stairs, not knowing what to do.

Suddenly, amidst the darkness, I saw something shiny on the floor. A tiny ray of light had managed to elude the curtains and had illuminated something on the wood flooring. I raced for the curtain, pulled it back, and examined the floor.

I took one quick breath, and felt the air trapped within my lungs. I was still for nearly two whole minutes. I could feel my lungs inside me, grasping for air, like prisoners trying to shove their hands through my throat, through any opening in their impenetrable jail cell. The air was still within me.

The red on the floor was blinding. I didn’t know what it was. Blood? Paint? Colored ink from Abraham’s markers? But he never touches those. And Michelle hasn’t painted in years. I wasn’t a doctor, I couldn’t be sure. In my shock, I tried to rationalize the redness as paint – as if Michelle had magically restarted her art career. As if she had purchased a gallon of paint and spilled it in our house as an avant-garde exhibition.

One part of my mind assume the worst: that the redness was blood. Another part tried to regain my calmness by silencing the dread that filled my veins, starting from my fingertips to my arms. My knuckles where white from my tight clenching of the bat.

When a slight draft grazed the hairs on my right foot, I snapped out of my momentary astonishment. I briskly walked to the kitchen, following the trail of redness, trying to think of reasonable explanations for this. No one could possibly be hurt. It was just the three of us. I didn’t hear any screams, so Michelle must be fine.

Or had I inadvertently let a home invader kill my wife and kid? Had my cautiousness and idiotic fear impeded my ability to save their lives? Such ideas filled my brain in rapid succession. My lips quivered and the skin on my cheeks shook. As I walked, I felt as if I had lost control of my body. I wasn’t walking. My body was walking. But I wasn’t. I feel utterly disconnected.

The bright white of the kitchen lights were a stunning contrast from the darkness of the first floor of our home. The trail of red continued. My head was firmly fixated on the floor.

Mechanically, I walked forward, my eyes following the trail, when suddenly, I saw only the whiteness of the kitchen tiles. No more red. I heard the sssshhhh flow of water from the sink. I immediately looked up.

I froze. Every part of me froze. Even the blood. I did not respire. Each cell within me, in one instant, ceased to move. My jawbone began to vibrate. Blood burst from its capillaries in my brain and spilled in my head. Force shoved through my arms and legs – the kind of force that’s visceral, unannounced, unintended. It took more strength to stop myself from flinging my body forward. The bat, with its gleaming waxed wood, slipped out of my hands, onto the floor.

My wife was scrubbing a large meat knife in the sink with her yellow gloves. After getting rid of all the redness, she had put the knife into the fancy knife holder I had purchased last Thanksgiving, so she’d have an easier time of cooking turkey. Then, she took of her gloves and shoved them to the right of faucet.

The pat of the bat striking the tiles surprised her. She looked to her left. I noticed she had made her hair into a ponytail again.

Our eyes locked. Her eyes widened. A film of tears covered mine as I, my mind, my whole body, began to reach a terrifying conclusion.

“Why?” I asked meekly. The words barely exited my mouth, like exhaust fumes sputtering from the engine of an old, broken car. All the air within me flowed out with one word. There was nothing inside me. I could feel my abdomen buckle inwards out of discomfort. My lungs once again rebelled violently.

She slowly reached for her knife holder and removed the knife, water droplets falling from its razor edge, that she had just been cleaning. She looked at me.

Our eyes, again, found each other. I expected to find blue irises. The same blueness from our wedding day, when I kissed her deeply and found an entryway into her soul in her eyes. The same blue eyes when she held Abraham, lying on a hospital bed, after giving birth. The same blue eyes I saw in Abraham.

But in those eyes, I only saw red.

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