Gabriel didn’t see the fall. He was kneeling behind his rosebush and could only hear the skitter-clatter of the skateboard followed by a dull slap of flesh and the boy’s ow-ow-wow, like the cry of a wounded cat. Then silence. Or near silence. The highway behind the neighborhood maintained its apathetic drone. Somewhere a blackbird cawed. No sound of window sashes opening, of watchful parents flinging open doors.
Gabriel clambered to his feet. His knees burned with the motion. He’d need to put on Mamma’s liniment later. He looked over his shoulder, but no, the curtains were drawn, as always. Before him, the boy was sprawled on the sidewalk just beyond the iron fence separating the front garden from the rest of the world. His face was screwed up in a quiet agony, his hand clapped over his right knee where a wellspring of blood frothed. Probably an eight- or nine-stitcher. Still no one came.
Gabriel looked toward his windows again, then at the townhomes’ windows across the street. All blank. The parents at work? And why wasn’t the boy at school? Gabriel only gardened during the school day. Once the afternoon bus delivered its charges, Gabriel would be back inside, helping Mamma with her medicine, her laundry, helping wash her hair with that new lavender shampoo they had ordered from QVC. The lather stained his palms purple, but it smelled good.
“Do you need help?” Gabriel said, his voice thick and hoarse with phlegm. It was the first thing he’d said all morning.
The boy blinked at him.
Gabriel stepped closer to the gate. The boy didn’t move, perhaps couldn’t move, and not knowing whether it was by choice or by injury made Gabriel want to disappear inside, made him wish he’d never stood.
“I’m not supposed to talk to you,” the boy said. He winced as he tried to sit up.
“I know,” Gabriel said. He put his hands together. They were blackened from the soil but still soft. Baby hands, his mother called them. Fat Hands, he’d been called growing up, as if his entire self could be distilled into those two doughy paddles. Those were days of innocence, and nobody called him that anymore. “I can get you a bandage,” he said.
The boy jerked his head back and forth, and fresh tears squeezed out. He backed away, crabwise, and pulled himself to his feet. As he limped off, he kept his head fixed on Gabriel’s bulk, as if the layers of fat concealed some hidden speed. When he reached the lamp post at the end of the row, he turned his eyes forward and attempted a running hobble.
Gabriel sighed and sat down on the stoop. It was almost noon. Mamma would be wanting to get out of her chair soon. He should get back indoors before the KinderCare van came through.
He tilted his head back. The sky was streaked with jets’ contrails. Pale scars that crisscrossed the heavens. He wondered how long he would have to sit before they faded, before the sky turned blue again.
From inside, he heard Mamma calling. He heaved himself upward. “Coming, Mamma,” he said, but only softly. He never shouted outside. In the street below him, the boy’s skateboard sat on its back, its wheels spinning slowly.
Joshua Jones lives in Maryland where he works as an animator. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Fanzine, Necessary Fiction, Juked, Cleaver Magazine, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @jnjoneswriter.