Suzy tries to connect with her incommunicative neighbour in Eva Silverfine's quietly powerful flash fiction.
That night she asked her parents about him, Troy. How old was he? Now that she was in middle school, shouldn't he be on her bus? In fact, how come he'd never been on a school bus with her?
He's slow, they told her. He should be in high school, maybe even finished, but his parents took him out a long time ago. If they had any sense they would have kept him there, where at least he would've learned something. But those Adlers don't have much good sense, now, do they? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
The next day when her bus stopped he was standing across the road, up a ways from her gate. Once the bus passed she looked at him. He stood erect at the edge of the sorghum field, where the long, young leaves were emerging in even rows that extended to the horizon. There wasn't anything about him that seemed peculiar, except the way he stared out of eyes paler than the sky on a hazy day. His sandy hair was cut neatly, his clothes were clean. He looked pretty normal to her. She raised her hand in a small wave, but he didn't respond. So she opened the gate, closed it behind her, and walked the long gravel driveway to her house.
He was there the next day, and the next. Each day she tried her small wave, interpreting his nonresponse as shyness, like that of a timid young child. The weekend came and went, but there he was on Monday. Perhaps he wasn't so slow that he couldn't tell the day of the week, the time of day.
He stood there as still as hot air on a summer afternoon. She waved, but he didn't smile. Perhaps if she approached him, was able to see his face closer up, she'd be able to figure him out. But she might scare him; he might be frightened and run away.
So she tried another track. She began to say, "Hello Troy." That way he'd know she knew who he was. The first time she called him by his name she thought she saw a flicker of response - a slight movement in his lips, a twitch in his eyes. So she continued to say hello, and after a week went by, she told him her name, Susan. But everyone calls me Suzy, she said.
One day her father happened to be coming up their driveway as the school bus came to a stop. Before she could say hello to Troy her father told him to go on home. He didn't yell, but he was curt. Troy left immediately.
Why did you do that, she asked her father. He was almost ready to talk to me.
What do you mean?
He waits for my bus, but he's too afraid to say hello.
You stay away from that boy. Don't encourage him. He's not right in the head.
Her father or mother began meeting the bus. She would look out the window to see if Troy were there waiting for her. In the sorghum field the panicles were beginning to emerge, and already the ones that refused to cooperate were rising above the uniform-height crop. After a few days of being told to go home as if he were the neighbor's dog, Troy stopped coming. Then her parents stopped meeting her at the gate.
Troy reappeared some days later. It was a hot, humid day. The air weighed down on her the moment she stepped off the bus, and when it pulled away she heard the high-pitch trilling of cicadas in the distance. She looked at Troy. His shirt was soaked with sweat. She waved and said hello to him, and, as usual, he just stared at her. Uncomfortable in the heavy heat, she didn't dawdle and went through the gate. As she headed toward the house she heard the gate creak behind her and turned to see Troy, his face red and sweaty.
She quickened her pace. Only yards away from the porch, she began to run, calling for her father. She flew into the house and ran up the stairs, still calling. As she reached the second-floor landing she heard the smack of the screen door. She turned to see Troy at the bottom of the steps looking up at her.
"Go away!" she shouted at him.
Instead he stepped onto the first stair tread.
She ripped the old porcelain lamp from the small table behind her and flung it as hard as she could at him. He fell off the step and hit his head as he landed on his back.
Her father ran in from the kitchen, panting, and stopped short at the sight of Troy lying motionless. He looked up the stairs at Susan and then rushed back to the kitchen to call 911.
Susan came down the stairs slowly and looked at Troy. His face was so peaceful. She sat down on the floor and began stroking his hair. Then she leaned over and picked up the golden butterfly pendant, the one she had lost months ago, and its broken chain from his palm.