Boys
By Patrick Lee

(Illustrated by Stephen Michael McDowell)



When my mother came home crying from the funeral of the nine year old boy who lived next door but died about two weeks ago by falling down the stairs (which I imagine are marble) in a fancy hotel in Kuala Lumpur, racing the elevator (his parents believe), on his way down to dinner by the pool where his mother who is a scientist and looks a lot like my mother; she told me that the mother of the dead boy next door had talked at the funeral, which was non-religious, and that all guests had been encouraged to speak as the family wanted to remember the little boy, to hear about everything to do with him, to squeeze all the life out of him that could be got out of such a short but still infinite little life, and that when the mother spoke she was, in my mother’s words, ‘amazing’, in a dignified, tragic way, and that she, the mother, had broken down at one point when describing a story of her dead son, Matthew, about how she used to speak to him every night after reading him a story, and he would ask what was the worst part of her day, and she would say “getting up early for work”, and he would ask what the best part had been, and she would say “picking you up at school”, and at this point the mother had cried and cried, and my mother, relaying this story to me began to cry and cry as well, and told me how lucky she was to have me, and I felt myself getting upset hugging my mother and remembered from that little story exactly how it felt to be young with your mother reading you stories, over your bed, sharing news about her day, and how I used to think my parents were unique and unlike anybody else’s and little Matthew next door really had reason to believe this as I saw his house at his wake, where his parents had laid out a huge buffet and everyone discussed what a “good spread” it was, and his house contained beautiful furniture and big plants and I kissed his mother on the cheek and shook his father’s hand, and the father reminded me of a man who used to be my step-father because he had so much dignity and received the condolences so well, and it’s so easy to imagine these people being quiet in their house after Matthew’s gone to bed, having their study where Matthew rarely went but was impressed by the reverie of his father’s shadow and mother’s shine, and yet there was something in the air at the wake like an acknowledgement or even an acquiescence to the hideous tragedy that has fallen on these people, these two scientists, who took Matthew, who had bright red hair and was a typical little boy playing football in the yard, to trips all round the world to see and study animals, sleeping in hammocks under the stars and then staying in expensive hotels and they said he had had a great life but they never expected that they would be picking a plot of land for him to be buried in, which he is now, under the earth in a wicker casket, and they are left behind to wake up every day and remember he’s gone until it becomes second nature; to renew a relationship with each other that has been filled with a child for ten years, and is probably in such a twilight to never see another take Matthew’s place; and wonder what would have become of their boy, all the meals they’ll never take him to, the career he might have had, the girlfriends he might have brought home; if he would have taken care of them when the first parent was to pass away, their only son responsible as a man to take care of his ageing, widowed mother, who will now age alone and try not to be bitter about an accident so mundane and arbitrary it can’t even be called senseless, and she has to pass the school where she collected her Matthew, and somehow find it within herself to continue to try to find happiness even after acknowledgement of such vast emptiness and meaninglessness, she must find a way to be happy when she wakes up, and I imagine she wakes up crying knowing about the vapidity of the platitudes regarding the fine job she did on the funeral of her beautiful only little boy, and we all hope he didn’t suffer, and what I thought of and have thought of is how these stories remind me so much of what it was like to be young and the kids on the street who played with him in the back yard behind our houses will have heard the news and been shocked, but how now Matthew, among his peers, the children, is simply considered ‘unfortunate’ in their heads, because that is what has happened to him, bad luck, and it’s strange to think was he always marked out to be that one, the kid who would die and was unfortunate, unfortunate to slip on the wrong piece of floor and soar through the air and know for that one second it might be a bad fall, but that was it, after that it was over.


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patrick lee lives in england

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