Harry hadn’t meant to run away from home. Instead it was a compunction—his gathering together of a few things—a baseball card, his father’s wristwatch, a tiny blue marble—and then making a peanut butter sandwich and filling the thermos with orange juice. Once these things were in place, he left his mother altogether, out into the yard and to become something better, something he couldn’t yet name.
The front door closed with a satisfying click behind his blue sneakers. His back still touched the wood, still felt the pulse of his home rising and falling behind him. The apple tree in his front yard towered like a sentry. Climbing the four planks roughly nailed into the side, he pulled himself up amongst the branching arms, Harry felt fresh muscles forming in his legs as his sneakers got some traction. He felt himself growing right there on the spot. His body spurred on by his new decisive action. He wedged himself into the best crook and took stock. This isn’t my life anymore, is what he thought.
Below him his stately house, the symmetrical front steps made of brick. Raggedy bushes and near the driveway, his wagon and a ball he’d played with yesterday. He could see the lumpy shadow of his lonely mother as it moved from kitchen to living room. The tingle of deception ripped through his calves rising up through his belly, heart, and head. “She doesn’t know,” he whispered. “I’m gone.”
Harry hugged the tree. Its bark stiff against his skin, like whiskers. His father had died the year before and now this new life was something he understood he would navigate by himself, forever. He would always pull himself up from the soft muck, up into something like this hard tree.
He waited for a revelation, for a kind of calm to descend that proved he enjoyed this new rebellious life. He hugged the tree. Listened to some quick-witted birds singing their songs like little staccato punches into the daylight. A squirrel scampered by in its diligent search for nuts. Then silence. Time passing, pushing in on him. The collapse of his intentions came like an injection. Done.
Harry sighed, shimmied himself down, walked up the drive, up the brick steps to the front door. Once there he had to ring the bell because he’d locked himself out. His mother absently patted his cheek, looked for a long second at the thermos he now held in his hand, and then continued on into her adult world. “Harry, you should wash your hands,” she said. “Try to be a good boy.”
Harry made his way to the kitchen, white-and-yellow tiles, a black-topped table with metal legs and matching chairs. He washed his hands, clean cold water sliding everywhere, endless from the tap. His life would be endless. This was clear to him now.
He slid open the drawer beside the silverware where his mother kept all the non-kitchen stuff. A ball of twine, a flashlight, some stray candles, safety pins, crayons, spare batteries. Harry swished his hand around, hefted out the screwdriver with the stiff black and red handle.
He tightened every screw in the house—from the light switch plate covers to the Bakelite handle on the chrome toaster to the base of the stand-up lamp in the living room. He secured each one, twisting, twisting, twisting. The give of the blade inserted into the metal, the exacting twist of his wrist. The driving down tighter until he couldn’t turn anymore. Until he secured himself in place. Until he disappeared and reappeared as this new boy who never untightened, never.