(Continues from Sketching Kalinaw)
Brontides disturbed the peace. They announced a storm on the wind, one with a supernatural cause. And that coming thunderhead would unleash more than rain when it hammered this shore. It heralded a war but this time, he’d sit it out.
Standing on the beach, he held tranquility safe within the pages of his sketchbook. No matter what happened to this place, it would heal, and he’d hold onto that record until the warring ended. And the world needed a reminder of what peace was.
The wind carried a name as it ruffled his hair but it wasn’t his name. So it didn’t intrude on his contemplation of the sunset burning on the horizon. The name tiptoed away leaving him to soak in the last rays of a vanishing peace. One that wouldn’t return at dawn. Waves lapped his feet and washed over his sandals in a gentle caress.
“The bus is here,” Ruthie said, freeing a hand from her forearm crutch to touch his arm. “We have to go back now. Teacher says so.” She nodded to emphasize her point when he glanced at her in surprise. Coke-bottle thick glasses magnified liquid eyes that drooped. But behind them, the pure flame of her innocence burned and he squeezed her hand.
“Okay, we’ll go catch the bus. And I want to see your drawings.” Except the diminutive girl wasn’t holding a sketchbook. “Where’s your sketchbook?”
Ruthie’s simple face fell, and her lucent eyes dropped to regard her ankle braces.
“Ruthie? Did someone take your sketchbook?”
She didn’t get the chance to answer. Voices chorused: ‘Ruthie Rue lost her shoe and on paper she drew’. And they pulled his attention to the culprits who brandished a sketchbook bearing the smiley face Ruthie had drawn on its yellow cover. A second boy waved a navy Mary Jane by its strap.
He gritted his teeth and then loosened his jaw as he breathed through the anger. It wasn’t their fault. They were just calling her by the unfortunate nickname her unthinking parents had adopted.
Ruthie–Ruthania according to her birth certificate–had a lovely soul. Somehow she’d kept that inner fire bright despite the institutions she’d bounced between. Right now she lived in a group home and that group of boys wearing men’s bodies were her neighbors.
Boys will be boys. Even if they had developmental disorders that kept them forever a child trapped in an adult body.
“Come on, let’s get your shoe and sketchbook back. I want to see what you drew.” He let go of her hand so she could slip her forearm back into the wrap around cuff at the top of her crutch. Then they set off, and he let her set the pace. The missing a shoe, even though it had a low heel, threw off her balance, and the rocky ground didn’t help. Valiant as ever, Ruthie set her mind to it and with care, she negotiated the uneven patches without falling.
Behind him, the wind bandied about another name, one he’d worn a long, long time ago. Its merest whisper made his shoulder blades itch where once a set of wings had arched out of his back. Limping along, he had to watch his footing. His fall from grace had broken his ankle in those bygone days, and the wound had never healed right.
He didn’t spare the gathering storm a glance as he reached those chanting boys. Wars between heaven and hell didn’t concern him. He held out an expectant hand, his smokey eyes stern. The now chastened mongoloid handed over Ruthie’s sketchpad and her shoe. The latter item he gave to a grateful Ruthie. Lowered herself onto a boulder, she put her left shoe back on, and her deft fingers buckled its strap across her ruffled sock. Tucking the sketchbook under his arm, he shepherded the four boys and Ruthie to the yellow bus parked on the verge.
Marcia leaned over, pushed the lever and opened the doors. The four miscreants trooped up the steps followed by Ruthie. She navigated the climb with a little help from him. Marcia stopped him before could enter the bus.
“You’re very patient with her,” she said, meaning Ruthie of course. “More than I would have expected for someone your age.”
Caught off guard, he gave her blank stare. Patience was a byproduct of living for millennia beyond count. Why was she commenting on it? And then his wristwatch caught his eye. It was some electronic i-gizmo thing he’d never used. Having seen the teenager, he was pretending to be wearing the thing he’d added it to his costume. Not that he’d needed an electronic organizer for anything other than verisimilitude. Still, it made a convincing prop especially when he poked it and made the screen light up.
Marcia’s face colored as she realized her gaff. “I mean you’re very mature for seventeen and so good with them.” She stretched out a hand causing her bracelets to chime. Her gesture took in the rows of children wearing adult bodies and dear Ruthie, who was counting the rows. She sought the center even now when he’d prefer to stand on the sidelines.
Let heaven and hell fight it out without him. Last time he’d backed the wrong side and lost everything. This time, he’d stay out of the conflict. If only it would stay away from him. As Ruthie hobbled down the aisle, a face pressed against the glass, scoring it with its horns.
He said something to mollify Marcia, his employer, and then rushed to Ruthie’s side. He had to reach her before the messenger from hell broke through the glass.
to be continued…