THE EYES OF THE CANEBOY
By: Jeffrey B. Allen
The night kissed the fading day
With a whisper:
"I am death, your mother,
From me you will get new birth."
Ellie thought for sure she would find Marny at Cane, even though Driver had cautioned that he couldn’t be certain of her whereabouts. Nevertheless, Ellie had imagined the joyous reunion a hundred times. Nothing could have been worse than discovering the place destroyed and deserted.
John helped his mother to a curbing where she could rest more comfortably while Driver and TheOther explained to Hampton what had happened. Albertson walked to where Ellie and John were seated. The Pursier’s neck bent into a tight loop causing his head to turn up at the end so he could speak with them at a more reasonable height.
“See?” said Albertson, pointing with pride at Hampton Ducksberry. “Standing over there is my Minister. And that is the CaneBoy we found high up on the SpiralRoad. His name is Mellica. I cannot imagine what he must be feeling. I heard my Minister say that Mellica lost his sister to the Beast. A terrible thing to lose a sister.” The Pursier looked around. “What has happened here in Cane is beyond all my powers of comprehension.”
Mellica was sitting alone on the ground. His body was rocking back and forth.
“Ask him to come over,” said Ellie, amazed at the expressiveness in Albertson’s eyes.
Albertson called to Mellica.
Mellica looked over at them with a distant stare, as if all his dreams were bleeding from a deep wound. John looked away, startled by a familiar voice whispering in his head.
“Kill the Beast, John,” said the voice.
Who are you? John said, almost blurting the words out loud.
Mellica wearily pushed himself up with one arm and stood to walk over, but Hampton interrupted, calling instead for the boy to join in his discussion with Driver and the Taster. As Mellica walked away he looked over his shoulder at John and Ellie.
The CaneBoy locked his eyes onto John’s. John tried to resist, but again he heard the voice whispering. “Do you know what to do, John?”
Yes, I know what to do, John thought, defensive, not understanding the reason for his answer.
“You do not know why though, do you John?”
I know why. Who are you? Stop talking to me.
“Do you want to know?” asked the voice.
John tried even harder to break away from the pull of the CaneBoy’s stare but the boy’s eyes had turned to tubes that connected to him; like feeding tubes offering knowledge over ignorance. John was deathly afraid that if he turned his head just the slightest bit he would die. He would be helpless to free his mother and Marny from the grip of the Beast.
John felt a strange weightlessness. The ends of the tubes grew into swirling green pools. John saw himself floating into them and then through them. He came to a place dimly-lit where he watched his memories darting out from behind odd shaped barriers that drifted around in midair.
He saw his home. Then he saw Mellica playing in the backyard. The CaneBoy was tumbling down ‘the mountain’ and laughing. Marny was doing the same. John remembered playing with Marny in the yard. Why is Mellica playing with my little sister? He saw his father enter the yard and start to yell at Mellica. John felt choked by the same fear and anxiety he had felt a thousand times. His father started chasing Mellica, looming larger, and then Mellica was caught. John could feel a throbbing pain fill his head from back to front. He remembered curling under his bed, crying — hiding.
The light became brighter. He saw his mother sitting on the back stoop trying her best to cover her bruises — and he heard her begging for the Beast to stop the beatings. He heard the Beast blaming her, yelling over and over, that it was her fault. John watched as Mellica ran past the leaning garage. The old car — the dilapidated Taxi was gone. The CaneBoy stumbled up the steps leading into the screened-in porch.
John soared high above his house. He could see the entire street and the intersection with the traffic light. He was looking down at the front of the house when he noticed Mellica sitting alone on the porch. John called to him but Mellica didn’t respond. John flew lower and called out again. The CaneBoy was reaching through the wrought iron railing for something under the bushes when his mother stepped out onto the porch and sat down next to him. The door was left open. There was a peaceful breeze.
“It’s a quiet day today, isn’t it?”
When John heard her voice his heart skipped a beat. He floated lower.
“Mom?” he heard Mellica say.
John tried to call to his Mother but she couldn’t hear him. He felt angry with her for not answering him.
“What?” she answered, but not to John.
“Can I ask you something?”
“I suppose, sure . . . what is it?” His mother’s voice was weak.
“I remember so many times, the Beast yelling things at you — as loud as I had ever heard him yell. I know he said things about me, bad things. And about you, too. You were talking back at him, but he wouldn’t listen to you. You were saying that it wasn’t my fault. It made him even angrier. What did he blame us for, Mom? Was it me?”
John watched his mother turn and look at Mellica, shocked at the directness of his questions.
Mellica pressed on. “It’s as if I can hear him yelling at us right now. He hit you because of me, didn’t he? He hated me! Why, Mom? Tell me.”
Ellie’s hands were shaking. “Bitterness, I suppose. Anger. A lifetime of regrets. All of those, I guess.”
“He feels he needs to punish us.” She turned away. “Please,” she said. “I really don’t want to talk about it.”
“Punish us for what? I want to know.”
“It’s gotten worse since Marny was born. He can’t bear to be near you. I try to protect you — watch out for you whenever he’s around. He can’t stand to be around us anymore.”
“At times, he’s different around Marny, but not always. Lately he has been . . .”
“Why won’t you tell me, Mom? You’re protecting me. I don’t want to be protected.”
“Please. It was a century ago. In another lifetime. It wouldn’t help for you to know. And I couldn’t possibly explain anyway.”
John floated lower until he was right in front of Mellica. He looked into Mellica’s eyes. They were his eyes. He could see through them as if he were staring into the depths of his soul. An extreme emptiness, born of not knowing the deepest things about himself was swallowing him whole. It was as if half of him was missing. He could never stop the nagging feeling he was somehow to blame for his mother’s unhappiness.
“I’m the man of the house now,” said Mellica. “You said it yourself. Remember?”
No — I’m the man of the house, John yelled. But he gave up the fruitless attempt to defend his honor and decided to listen to what they were saying. There was nothing else he could do. His mother seemed unable to see that Mellica was anyone other than him.
Ellie shivered. “It’s gotten cold all of a sudden. Do you feel the chill?” Ellie and Mellica looked up at the sky. John thought they were searching for him but they looked right through him. The clouds had turned gray. The billowing shapes were pushing together and then pulling apart. An occasional burst of light thrust downward as if some angry god were standing above, randomly stabbing his spear through the holes. The wind had picked up. Ellie said she thought she heard the crying of a baby in the distance.
“Did you hear that?”
“It’s only the wind,” said Mellica. “Do you want to go inside?”
“No. I want to stay out for a while. Could you go in and get my sweater?”
John descended, arms out, legs spread, until he ended up floating horizontally in front of Mellica.
“Ask her, Mellica,” insisted John. “Do it for me. Ask her why he hates us so much. Why does he hit her? Why does he beat me? Ask her!”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Mellica said. He got up and went inside to retrieve the sweater.
Ellie leaned her body over her folded arms and stared into the ground.
“It was such a long time ago,” she said, her voice so faint she could barely be heard. Her eyes had moistened. She was talking to no one, but to someone, someone far away. John drifted closer trying to hear every word.
“We mustn’t ever tell Marny,” she said, scolding. “She had nothing to do with any of this.” Ellie’s eyes were staring deep into the ground. The wind blew harder.
John drifted to the ground and knelt on the walkway in front of his mother.
“Mom,” he said tenderly, but she couldn’t hear him. “Mellica,” called John, but Mellica was inside the house. John felt anxious. He wanted Mellica to return. He didn’t know what to do. He felt frightened. He floated up, panicked to be alone.
Soon Mellica appeared at the door holding the sweater. When he heard Ellie talking he stopped and stepped back into the shadow. Mellica leaned against the jam of the doorway and listened.
“My God, we were poor,” she said, taking a shallow breath. “I couldn’t finish school. I had to get a job, to help my family. It was the way it was. It’s what was expected. Most of the townsfolk were immigrants, hard workers . . . and real religious.”
“There weren’t many places to work. Finally I managed to get a job in a small factory just outside ‘a town. A candy factory. I was lucky to get it too. A good job or any job for that matter was hard to find.”
Ellie paused as if someone had spoken to her, someone far away. A voice from a distant memory? Her expression took on a scowl. Her brow furrowed and her eyes squinted. Mellica remained at the doorway, riveted to every word, not moving. John drifted lower.
“Sometimes I worked late, beyond the end of my shift, you know, extra hours. I always took them if I could. The place was sort of like Yeakels. Remember Yeakels?” She shook her head. Her speech sounded quick and harsh. She kept stopping as if she were being interrupted.
“One day the owner announced that he had been struck by a great inspiration. He was going to introduce a new product for the upcoming holiday. He asked me to put in as much overtime as I could. I remember how happy I was that he asked me.”
Ellie looked to the side as if she heard something, but there was nothing there. John could tell she was struggling to hold on to the pleasant memories of the candy factory. It was obvious she didn’t want to let go.
“It was silly really . . . nothing more than a sugar coated marshmallow made in the shape a baby chick, and then dyed to be bright yellow. The whole factory became very happy because if it succeeded it could mean lots of extra hours.”
Ellie bent lower and pulled her arms in tighter. There was a mounting chill to the wind. She seemed to have forgotten about the sweater. Her eyes opened wider, not blinking, just glaring into the weed-infested walkway.
“One night, I stayed later than normal . . . the owner wanted me to help him decide where he should place the tiny candy eye on the marshmallow chick. I felt so important that he would ask me of all people. The boss was a nice man, always smiling. I remember his eyebrows were so long that they curled almost completely over his eyes, and he had the most beautiful golden beard.”
Ellie paused. Suddenly her face turned ashen. The clouds swirled overhead and the wind blew harder.
John floated lower. He looked up to see if Mellica was still there. Mellica’s shadow was cast against the jamb of the doorway as if he were invisible.
“I only knew your father from the factory,” she said, defiant. “We never went to school together or went out or anything like that. He was older than me. I didn’t like him.” Ellie shook her head and repeated it angrily, “I didn’t like him at all. He was loud. And he was always complaining about everything. He seemed to make it a point of bothering me whenever he could — him and his two friends.”
John flew to the other side of the street and then back again. His heart was pounding. She was talking about the Beast.
His mother’s eyes closed tight. John watched a tear slide down her face and fall into the weeds.
It seemed forever before she resumed talking. John thought he heard her whisper the words no, no more...no more please. He inched his way closer. His mother continued. “That night, when I went to go home I saw the three of them standing by a truck in the parking lot. I could tell they’d been drinking. I thought of going back inside, but I was tired. I just wanted to go home. I started walking toward my car. They followed me — so I walked faster. Pretty soon, I got scared and started running. But before I could get the key in the lock . . .”
Ellie clasped her hands behind her neck and pulled her head down.
“They shoved me to the ground. I can still hear them laughing — especially him. I tried to yell but one of them grabbed me from behind and covered my mouth.”
Ellie opened her eyes. They were glazed over, distant.
“I heard him saying things to his two friends — like he was going to take what he wanted. Like he deserved it or something. The other one grabbed my ankles. The harder I fought the more it hurt. I couldn’t yell or fight back or anything. I just closed my eyes and waited for it to be over. I can still feel his hot breath on my face. The smell of his sweat was on me for days. No matter what I did I couldn’t get it off me.”
John soared into the darkening sky, screaming. Fury strafed with every beat of his heart; hatred so deep no words could possibly describe it. He felt his skin burning from the anger that flowed fiery red through his veins. John’s eyes blurred with visions of the torturous death he would inflict upon the evil Beast.
His mother’s voice was echoing all around him.
“I don’t remember how I got home,” she continued, speaking with no inflection.
“I don’t think I drove myself, but I don’t remember.”
“I don’t remember crying. I don’t remember feeling anything.”
“After that night . . . I didn’t say a word about it to anyone. I was too scared. I wasn’t really sure what happened. I started thinking maybe it didn’t happen. Soon enough though, I found out it did.” Ellie paused.
John managed to calm himself and was flying back and forth in a tight circle above her.
“I knew it anyway,” she continued. “I couldn’t hide it. I had to tell them. I was so ashamed — terrified out of my mind. They went into a sort of silent shock, more concerned with what the church would say. They were scared out of their minds of the Elders. I think that’s all they cared about. I know that’s all they cared about . . .” she repeated. “My parents spoke very little English.” Ellie paused, then sighed. “Like many of the people in town, they were Jehovah’s Witness. My father was a good man. Strict. Tough as nails. Not someone you would easily say no to. I remember that his face seemed permanently blackened from the soot of the mines. He insisted I marry . . . and that my baby have its father.
There was no compromise. The three of them would confess, or he would go to the Elders of the church, which he ended up doing anyway.”
Ellie’s eyes were roaming the skewed pattern of old bricks that had heaved from the yearly cycle of frost. His mother’s memories were beginning to pour forth without resistance. The raging river was sweeping her along. Her voice was clear and crisp.
“The two so-called friends denied ever being a part of it. They each pointed the finger at him. And later, the blame shifted to me. To me . . . can you believe it? The Elders called me a whore.” Ellie reached down and pulled a weed from the walkway and rolled it back and forth between her palms.
Suddenly she became stricken. Her face grew tense as the worst of her memories were preparing to flow as vinegar from her lips. Her skin turned pale. She looked as if she was going to be sick. Her whole body shuddered. Ellie lifted her hands to the sides of her face; her fingers spread as if she were about to scream, but no sound came out. She turned to look one way and then the other. The anguish she was feeling seemed unimaginable.
John floated closer. He reached out to his mother but she couldn’t see him. She couldn’t feel him. He couldn’t comfort her. She was alone behind some invisible iron fence, screaming to be freed. John yelled for Mellica to come out and sit with her, but Mellica remained standing within the shadows of the doorway.
“Two babies were born,” she said, swallowing back the sickness. “Nobody would admit it. But I knew two were born.”
John felt a lump form in his throat. His breathing stopped. He drifted from side to side and back and forth. He had never had feelings such as these, ever. No beating blow to the head was a comparison to the emotions tearing through him.
John watched his mother. He was surprised to see her body soften, allowing a brief moment of tranquility to warm the chill from the air.
Ellie spoke softly. John forced himself to stay near to her, even though his urge was to fly into a tantrum and smash everything in sight.
“A girl . . . and then a boy. Twins. I know it was a girl that was born. She came first. I felt it. During the labor, I remember hearing people yelling all around me. Another’s coming, they yelled. I heard it. I asked about it over and over again, but not one person would tell me the truth.”
Ellie sat up. The wind had lessened and the thick layer of dark clouds was beginning to break up.
“Finally, someone did tell me. There were two born. I can’t recall very well, but while I was in bed a person came into my room and told me. It was a man’s voice. He said I had given birth to a girl as well as a boy, and that the girl was stillborn, and that I shouldn’t concern myself with it right now. His voice was soothing and tender. I can still feel the kiss he gave me on my forehead. He had the softest beard I’d ever felt in my life.
“That’s all I remember about it. Sometimes I think it must have all happened in a dream. But I know it didn’t. It couldn’t have been a dream.”
She’s been the girl who calls to me in my dreams, John thought.
Ellie placed her hands on the edge of the cement step. She pushed her shoulders up and bent her head back. For a brief time, love pooled within her eyes.
“The most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life was my baby boy. It was all that kept me going. I named him John.”
Ellie savored her thoughts for as long as she could before darkness swept back over her. Her eyes drained of their color.
“He hated the baby the minute he saw it. I should’ve left as soon as I was able, but I had a new baby. What would I have done? Where would I have gone? The Elders performed the marriage in private, and then forced us to move away. My father never spoke a word to me during that time . . . and I seem to remember my mother standing behind him sobbing. I never spoke to my mother about it. Never.”
Mellica stepped from the shadows of the doorway and handed Ellie her sweater.
“Are you still cold?” asked Mellica.
She looked up and smiled sadly as if he had awakened her from a deep sleep.
“No,” Ellie said, giving Mellica a concerned look. “Where did you go?”
“I had trouble finding your sweater,” he said, sitting down beside her.
“Thanks just the same. It’s much warmer now anyway.”
Mellica put his arm around Ellie and comforted her. She rested her head on his shoulder.
Mellica looked up to where John was floating. John couldn’t tell whether Mellica saw him or not, until the CaneBoy lifted those swirling green pools and glared right at him.
John was drawn as before into Mellica’s eyes. He found himself standing face to face with the CaneBoy. Not a word was spoken between them, but John knew he was never to tell his mother what he had learned.
John and Ellie sat together on the curbing. Her head was on his shoulder. He was hugging her, rocking her, comforting her.
“What’s going to happen, John?” she asked. She was exhausted.
“Everything’s going to work out, Mom. You’ll see.” He could feel the surging anger, channeling itself, focused in as never before. John thought about the emptiness— the loneliness — the craving that could never be satisfied.
A twin sister, he thought. A sister, my sister. John’s emotions were clinging to the edges of a cliff. He hugged his mother tighter. “I love you Mom.”
Ellie raised her head and looked into John’s eyes. She forced a sad smile.