Standing in the doorway and watching the two children sleep in their small beds, it seemed to her that all life was on a cartwheel, not a merry go round for some reason, but a cart wheel, like a wagon wheel or maybe a gun carriage wheel that turned round and round and never stopped and seemed to fling away pieces as it turned. Now one more piece flung away. She looked down at the new telegram in her hand, letters glued to stiff yellow paper, and folded it in half, and then again and put it in the pocket of her night gown. She watched the children go on sleeping without yet knowing the new thing that had happened and the moon at the window and the trees losing leaves outside the window and a dog barking somewhere out past the tree near Kensington Gardens and the cart wheel turned round and round.
Something about Infantry Battalion number this, and the Ardennes offensive that, and the war department regrets to inform you this, and you may take pride in that. And so the cart wheel goes on and on and she had the sense of life a bout to become very hard.
It had never been a marriage of passion. It was a marriage arranged by their parents, and he was a dull and steady young man and the yhad children and when the war was over and the young men home there would be a life and a steady job in a corn accounting firm waiting for him. She had only begun to enjoy him, and to get a sense of passion in his arms, but truth be told, she took more happiness from his just being there sleeping beside her. She had never liked to sleep alone. When she slept alone the shadows seemed to come alive and full of noises and she could not bear the ticking of a clock.
She went to the kitchen and stood dully in front of the white enameled wood stove trying to decide whether to get down the packet of tea and go through the motions of heating the water. It was early in the night but she’d get no sleep now. She lit a small fire in the stove and put on the kettle and thought and then put the fire out.
She walked down the short hallway and to her room and sat on the edge of the bed that had seemed so small and now seemed enormous and empty. She thought of the children sleeping, Jane was nine, Franklin Peter was 12, almost the age she’d been when she had learned to be brave in the company of children who lived with death as though it were a wild rough game. Especially him. The Always Boy. He had never been afraid of death, never understood it or thought it had anything to do with him though he had killed people who attacked him or just annoyed him. Raised by fairies he had something of their unselfconscious cruelty about it. A lost boy. Jane and Franklin Peter, were not lost yet. Not the way some children can become lost. Not lost boys, one parent still left.
If I could find my happy thought, I might lift my arms and fly again, maybe out the window and ride the night winds like a succubus and find solace in some man’s dream, but I have no happy thoughts. When was the last time I had a happy thought? Happy enough to lift me up and carry me away? And if it lifted me up and carried me away, they would be two orphans and then they would be lost children too. He wouldn’t come looking for them, to collect them, would he?
Whatever will we do now? There will probably be a tiny pension of some kind. Then maybe mother will take us in for awhile.
She left the bed and stood at the window, imagining herself as a succubus, flying invisible, the way she remembered the fairies had done when there was danger. Cloud light on frost crisp grass; blood red moonlight on the bravely blooming hollyhocks, in the clouds the moon, governess of the transformed, bereaved and sleepless; the moon and something flitted across it.
Tree scratch on the window. And then a pool of orchid light. And then a tap tap tapping.
She raised the window immediately, without thinking, from some old habit and suddenly there were no orphans and no death and she was a girl again. Because he was climbing through the window. The Always Boy.
He was not a ten year old boy anymore. He must have made too many trips between worlds since they’d first met. Or maybe thought of his own mother too much, whatever would make a boy grow older. Each trip a span through real time that baked the passing of age on him. He was still a boy, but not a boy, a boy on the edge of manhood and maleness. He was Peter Betwixt and Between as Solomon Caw the old crow had cawed him. Not this or that, and so always young. He wore the cool light of the moon on his shoulders, dressed in skeleton leaves and the juice of trees, now a little broader, and the fragrance of moon and fairy dust, of the salt air of a far away sea, and the gaminess of a boy who had no mother to scold him into the bath. And then something else, the under iron smell of blood, a child who treated death as a careless sport at which he was always talented at playing.
She saw him differently now, somewhat older like a memory, crouched on her window sill –
“Is that still you, Peter?”
He hopped down onto the floor, still with his leaf-soft shoes and the nicked cutlass hooked through his belt. “Come to ruffle your feathers. Oh, you look old. What happened to you?”
“Have you been having adventures?” she asked.
“Lots of adventures!” he said. “You?”
“My husband just died, Peter. In the war. I found out.”
“Oh,” he said, and seemed puzzled or maybe bored. “Well, I've had a lot of adventures.”
She suddenly felt a terrible rage for this too young man, for his outrageous vitality which mocked her own shoddy failing life.
“No adventures for you?” he said, in the tone of a waiter.
“Death is an adventure too, Peter.”
“I’ve been in fights!” he said. “I have two new scars.”
She gave up. “Show me your new scars, then.”
He brushed the leaves away from his torso and without them he was bare chested.
“See?” He pointed at a livid line near his left ribs. “Hook’s men. “
A strange vindictive feeling came over her as if in some way she wanted to conquer her old young friend. She remembered her children down the hallway and was suddenly very afraid they would wander in looking for a glass or water and`meet`him. “From a sword?” she said. “Are you getting slow?”
“What’s the other scar?”
He laughed. “It’s near my pickle. Tink took a swipe at me one night.”
“What do you mean by your pickle?”
“Do you want to see my scar?”
She shrugged. “I don’t care. Silly old scar. If you want to.”
He brushed the leaves from his waist and groin. There was a naked young man in her bedroom, and still she was a widow and her husband was dead and the father of her children was dead and there was wall of emotion building up dangerously in her chest. Peter did have a little scar along the inside of his right thigh. But she was staring at his pickle. “Tink did that?”
“She wanted to play a game with me one night. She thought it would make her feel good. Then when it didn’t she got mad.”
“She’s mean when she’s mad.”
“Woof! I think she wanted to cut it off.” He laughed.
She came up to him and looked closer at his penis. “You have a little birthmark there. Look. It looks like a bird.”
“Tink was kissing it. She always says 'Let me kiss the bird'.”
“I have one too.” She took her night gown and let it drop to the floor, the telegram sticking up in the pocket made a little tent. She stepped her legs apart so he could see the mark near her vulva. “I dare you to kiss mine.”
He kneeled and kissed the black mark between her legs. She trembled and he looked up at her from the floor. “Peter,” she said. “Why was Tinker Bell so mad?”
“She tried to play a game. You know. To fit me inside.”
“There.” He pointed.
“But Tink is a little fairy woman.”
“It was her idea, she watches people when they're doing that and thinks it might feel good. She can make herself a little bigger but when I tried too hard it made her hurt. So she got mad and tried to cut it off.”
She stared at him in shocked silence as if he had called her attention to what she had wanted to do all along.
“Tink always pesters me to do that, she doesn't give up,” he muttered. “She’s funny.”
This isn’t me, she thought. She felt as if she had grown claws. “If those days meant anything to you, Peter, anything at all. Please listen to me. Lay down with me.”
“I don’t have to.”
“But you want to.” She seemed so serious. For a moment she was his big scolding sister again, standing in the forest at his side. She felt incestuous. “Don’t you want to know if your pickle fits inside?” An exaggerated gasp burst from her. “Well, don’t you?”
He squinted at her and his pickle seemed to throb with an inner energy. His phallus was filling and rising. It was like an invocation. An act of faith, as she laid on the bed, on her back opening her legs for him to see. “Here.”
He sat on the bed beside her, looking down between her legs. “You’re really bigger than Tink.”
He climbed onto the bed and laid himself between her legs. “How . . .” he said.
She took his phallus and guided him in. She was not quite wet, it seemed like a struggle, something she was forcing on them both. She knew there was a reason to do this, she didn’t know what just yet. He lay over her, dropping his weight on her, clasping her breasts in both hands. “Wendy?”
His plaintive voice stirred something in her. She wrapped her arms around him, bucked her hips to snug him inside all the way, and held him tight without moving.
“Wendy?” His voice was raw, shaking. “Wait. Wait. Wait – “
“We’re having a very big adventure now, Peter.”
She squeezed him hard with her legs and arms and jogged her body up and down under him until she felt his back tense. She shouted and babbled at the ceiling and shook his body, rubbing against him as the bed springs squealed in time with her rocking body. Suddenly he seemed to catch fire and his haunches bumped awkwardly against her.
“Wendy!” His head turned suddenly to the side as though in pain. “Oh!”
And then they were still.
He climbed off her and sat sullenly on the edge of the bed. He was clearly different. Bigger somehow. Taking more space in the room somehow. She looked at his groin which had suddenly acquired more hair and then his shadowed face which had grown more chiseled and showed signs of a beard. “How do you feel?” she said.
He stood up, clenching his fists and pacing in a circle . He crossed the room to the little bathroom and began splashing water on himself at the sink.
“I said, how do you feel?”
“I feel like I squirted in my mother,” he called back.
When he came back, still naked, Wendy sat up in bed and looked him up and down. “You’re not a boy anymore, Peter.”
He looked down at himself in horror, holding out his hands. “What did you do to me?”
“You’re becoming a man now.”
“Who’s Frank? Am I Frank?”
She was startled. “Frank?”
“When I was on top of you, you were getting crazy and you shouted ‘Frank’.”
“I guess I did.”
He picked up the belt and cutlass from the pile of discarded forest leaves which had gone suddenly from green to crispy brown. “You . .” he said, “I think . .. but … I grew . . .but. Wendy!” He waved his fist. “Tink is going to be so mad at you! She’ll come looking for you.”
“But what about you, don’t you like our adventure together?”
He stood quietly. “I don’t know. It felt funny in you. I’ll come back, we’ll play again maybe. Then I’ll know.”
“No,” said Wendy. “You can’t come back.”
Peter stamped his foot. “I’m old!” He pulled the cutlass from his little belt and for a moment she was afraid. He drew a square in the air. As his sword moved the air filled with the shape of wood and suddenly there was a door with a gold door knob. He turned the knob, went through and closed it. She could hear him, he was weeping. She had never seen or heard him cry before.
She got out of bed and went up to the wooden door suspended in the air and turned the knob. It was locked. She walked around and looked at it from the other side, but there was no door on the other side, only the room. When she turned to look from the front again, the door was gone.
She thought of her children safely sleeping in their room. He would never come back looking for them now, not after this. Whatever happened to her after this night, they would never be his lost children, not ever.