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  • Writer's pictureaeraustol

An Old Story Told By A Magical Boy

The Looking Tree

Originally Published in Rock and Sling in 2015

A little boy sits in a tree, waiting for the bus to bring his sister home. Everyday he holds a toilet paper roll to his eye and checks his sister’s face. Is her mouth moving, deep in a story, that she will repeat to the boy? Or head hanging low, like a flower has snapped and its bloom held on by a green thread.

Sometimes she doesn’t want to play with him, because he drives her crazy, so he waits for her heart to be sort of open like a net. And she will love him anyway. He tries not to drive her crazy. And the trying is hard. Sometime he holds the toilet paper roll to his mouth and prays to the Jesus in the sky, that he will not be a crazy driver, that his sister will say yes.

Today is different. He will climb down even if it is a head low day, a flower-snapped day, a no day. He will not mind if she first sighs at him, making a sound like air through a straw. Or waves him aside. He will not go away, because today he is superman. Only he won’t fly off a branch. Even if for a moment, it seems he could.

Today he will say sorry. He has stood in front of his little mirror that the sticky lip lady gave him for practicing. Sometimes he watches the way the strings of stickiness make her mouth glued on the corners, and he forgets to listen. His ears trap the words like that monster flower in his May bedtime book, and the words go in, but they bounce around and the get it part of his ears don’t get it until he hears, Henry, in a loud voice. His mother is best at saying it really loud. But it makes her unhappy and his ears don’t like it either and then everything goes down the drain.

This morning he woke with that bad feeling about the day because those two birds were chirping back and forth outside his window and hurting his brain and he was thinking a lot about the very large circle of pee on his underwear. No matter how hard he pulls and squeezes the tip of his penis, the drips drip disobediently. And his mother called up to his bedroom from the kitchen, no clean underwear. His sister had a big test at school and he was supposed to be considerate. He was supposed to be quiet and peaceful, but he screamed and banged his head on the flower couch until his mother splashed a large cup of water in his face and shook his shoulders so that his head felt clicky, and sad like God should erase him from the picture. His sister ran to catch the bus. His mother ran after her, “Have a good day. You’ll do great. Don’t cry. Eat something green for lunch. Don’t hold your “you know what.” Tell them you have to go exactly when you feel the urge. Do you hear me? I love you. I’m sorry I lost my temper with Henry.”

Life is hard sometimes, his mother says when things happen that he doesn’t like, almost everyday. He tries to be cheerful. Life is itchy and hot. The kids in his kindergarten tell bad jokes. They laugh at him and he screams and they keep laughing and he hits them. Having a large circle of pee on his Superman underwear is bad. Makes him pull the elastic around his waist out too far and let it snap. Having a mom who shakes shoulders, then cries because she shakes shoulders is sort of bad but good because he has a mother. People tell him to glue his brain on things like having a mother at all or having food at all. Sometimes he doesn’t understand when people say things like that. He stares at them and they walk away shaking their heads like they have water in their ears. Donuts are one thing that make him glad about food. And his mother buying the donuts. Number 2 glad thing.

The minute he hears the screech of the bus wheels, he will be ready to climb down from the tree. Today he will run to his sister and turn her face nicely to his own, like mamma does on happy days when she says, I love you, my special boy. He will say this to his sister, only he’ll say, my girl. From his pocket he will give her a flower that he picked off his pear tree. The small white flower is a little flat but not broken, the way a thing is that has been hiding and waiting.

Today is different because his mamma has been in the bathroom a long time taking a bath and praying. She says that when she needs to be happier and nicer and more patient. He wonders if God hears better on the toilet or in the bathtub. He wonders if she practices in the big round mirror with the lights at the top that shine too bright. Today he will be brave, to be the one with the first hug, with the heart ready to love her anyway. He will say sorry to his sister for not being calm in the morning. He has said it 100 times in the mirror. First he would squeeze his eyes until he saw stars in the cave behind his eyebrows and he imagined his sister’s glassy eyes when she looked at him before she hung her bag over her shoulder and the way his mother almost tripped when she ran out to the yard, after his sister, about to take a test. It helps to picture things.

Oh, it’s here. The bus, his brain is telling the boy. His heart is trying to knock its way out. It’s weird and scary the way his heart lives inside and yet stomps fast and furious, like it’s trying to escape and be saved or else fall and die.

The sister is out of the bus and is walking to his tree. Before he can be superman and be brave and climb down and tell her about loving, about mama in the bathroom, about telling him a story, about playing secret hideout and Superman and Superwoman the way they do on bad days turned good, the sister is up the tree. She has wrecked his plan.

“Hi, buddy. “ She smiles, and he frowns. This is not the way it is supposed to be.

“Why did you come up here?” he says. “You’ve never never come up here. You weren’t supposed to come to me first.”

“I have something to give you,” the sister says. “I made you a clay tiger in art class and it’s dry now, so I could bring it home. A tiger. See? And I painted it black and orange. You know, like how mamma calls you Tiger Face sometimes. Her little Tiger?”

He looks at her with his tiger face, the one that the woman in the too-white office talks to him about, the woman with sticky lips. She tells him that face makes people stay away. His sister should have made a Superman. Tiger is the bad boy. Mamma’s-hiding-in-the-bathroom-boy.

“Come on buddy. What’s wrong now? You’re not supposed to make that face. Remember?”

Superman jumps. For a moment he is happy, and he actually thinks he might fly and he flaps once but there are so many branches that catch him and hurt him at the same time. He helps the branches catch him by clinging and hugging a big branch, the last one before the ground. He dangles his head down so that he can see his favorite patch of grass in the whole yard, and then he turns his head toward the tree trunk, and he can see an ant very close-up. The creature is marching up the tree and then it stops and waves its legs at the boy. The boy grips the branch harder. He wants to see the clay tiger. He will be brave and see the tiger even though he still feels like showing tiger face and screaming. He will give his sister’s creation to his mother. Maybe she will stroke his cheek with the backsides of her fingers the way he likes.

“Buddy?” His sister jumps to the ground and wraps her arms around his middle to help him down. After he is on the ground and his feet feel the cool soft grass, she looks straight in his face. She’s good at that. Looking in people’s eyes. She is good at a lot of things, but he has a special mirror and a brain that is special. Sometimes she sticks her tongue out when she points her eyes at him like a laser and she is the bad tiger. “Are you ok, Buddy? That was a good trick, buddy!”

He can feel his brows wrinkle like used foil, because it was not a trick. He is not tricky like other people. But he smiles which is not what his mouth wants to do. He’s still thinking about his wrecked plan. But that’s the superman part. The pushing your plan away and being brave part. He imagines that his sister’s face is the mirror in his room, and he says it. That thing he has practiced 100 times.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?” his sister asks, cocking her head to the side.

He couldn’t get the what, the why, the when to come out of his mouth. Why didn’t she remember about the morning? Hoping his sister would be able to see through his eyes and know, he just stared at her and formed his lips into a no-teeth smile, the one that made his mom really happy.

“I want to squeeze you, Buddy.”

“Like a squeezing hug?”


“Ok,” he says, leaning forward, and he let her hug him too hard even though his flying-out-the-tree-body feels like it did the day he ran hard and fast into the glass door at the feelings doctor building, the day he found out he was so magical.

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1 Comment

Kelli Miller
Kelli Miller
Jun 03, 2022


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