"When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Then after that some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks, but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks make them hunt for one another, but the mud is deaf and dumb."
- Zora Neale Hurston
"Who are you?"
"Y'know who I am."
"Well, yeah, technically – I know your name, but, I mean… I don't know you."
A sandy-haired boy sat across from a much larger man, one who hunched over his place at the dining table, as if he was ashamed of being quite so tall. He wore glasses and a somber expression, his face was practically unlined save light creases on his brow. In others it might have been a sign of youth; in him it simply indicated that he never smiled. The boy opposite had a legitimate youthful look, being only fifteen. But there was something cagey about him, as if, at any moment, he could take off sprinting, or lash out like a feral dog.
The man was Berwald Oxenstierna, fairly successful finish carpenter. The boy was Peter Kirkland, newly placed foster child. The latter grinned in a way that didn't even suggest amusement, and tried again.
"You some kind of creep? Like a pedophile?"
"No," Berwald said, removing the sharp-framed glasses he'd worn that day to give his eyes a rest. "Y'know that too. Child care ag'ncy did a backgr'nd check on me."
"That means jack," Peter countered, shifting weight in his chair until only the back two legs held purchase on the linoleum. "So you've got a steady job, own your house, like long walks on the beach… Bugger that. Maybe you just haven't been caught yet."
Berwald closed his eyes and took a deep breath in through his nose.
"'M not a child molest'r."
"So what are you in it for, huh? Is it the check? Seriously, man you live so well–"
"No, s'not th'money. Don't give a damn 'bout th'money."
Peter sat forward suddenly, and the sound his chair made against the tile might have startled anyone but the man in front of him, the man the state said he was supposed to call 'dad'. It almost startled the boy himself.
"Why are you fostering me?" Peter asked, blunt. "I'm not 'cute', I've got a bad record, the home's had me on more meds than most terminal cancer patients… I don't get it."
"Y'don't have t'get it," Berwald responded, pushing away from the table and standing with purpose. He paused between the kitchen and the dining room, not really meeting Peter's gaze, which was closed, even though his eyes were open.
"Y'hungry?" he asked. Peter nodded, knowing he wasn't getting anything out of his 'father' tonight.
"There's a good pizza joint on 45th that delivers."
But Berwald wasn't listening. He'd grabbed a skillet off the rack above his range and was rummaging in the pantry, and when he pulled a carton of Hamburger Helper out to set on the counter, Peter felt something in his throat tighten up.
That night, the boy ate something homemade. It had been awhile. Berwald had pulled down two out of a bachelor's four plate set to serve it on, and, as Peter raked ground beef and noodles into his mouth like they were going out of style, he noticed little clear patches on lightly dusted surfaces. Things had been taken out of this house.
If Berwald saw him looking at the empty spaces, he didn't comment. The man cleared his plate, took Peter's when he was done, and washed them by hand. Peter himself slipped up the carpeted steps, finding what was obviously to be his room and shutting himself inside.
There wasn't a lock on the door, and when he looked for one, Berwald, who'd come up the stairs behind him, did some observing of his own. Peter went to bed that night but slept uneasy, like he had one eye open. No one came into his room.
The next day, when he got back from school, there was a lock on his door. Both keys, which had come with the new door handle, were on his bed.
"Berwald… why are you calling?"
"'M worried 'bout y'. Can't I be worried 'bout y'?"
"T'no? Y'still there?"
"Yes, I'm still here. Berwald, you need to stop calling."
"Then why do you insist on dragging this out? It's been six months."
"M' not draggin' it out, 'm just…"
"I'm sorry, Sve. I have to go."
"Please don't call again."