Not long after his parents’ divorce, he couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t the noise of the traffic, the sirens, the alarms, the train – noises he had slept to all of his life, it was a sense he has of drifting, of having lost his tether in zero gravity.
Plus that, there was something outside his window, something huge spying on him with its large not unkind eye, an eye he recognized as his mother’s though it gave him a bit of a shock, the size of it, the way the light shone through. He opened the window and reached out to touch a lash and she gave him her finger and he recognized its firm roundness, its reassuring solidity.
She waved to him and moved sideways across the apartment building, holding onto the crevices with her fingers like a rock climber. At the corner, she stretched her enormous frame to the opposite building. She wore a large backpack and he watched her climb and lift herself up over the building and descend and climb again until he could no longer see her climbing and descending and his eyes began to droop from the watching and the radiator ticked and he no longer felt himself loose and suspended but moored and tucked in as if his mother herself was there, helping him into bed.
When the boy was with his father in the house outside of the city, he was drilled about visitors to the apartment. His father took careful notes. Were there men? he said. And all the boy could think of were the men who brought their dinners, who fixed their sink and toilet. What about late nights? Does she go out at night? Does she leave you alone? The light on those mornings streaming through the windows made him yearn for the the diffuse gray light of the city, its cool tones, like the side of a ship gliding into a harbor. Later, after breakfast, they would exercise “hard.” It was good for him, said his father, it would build muscle. Drink your milk, he said. Here, he said, take these vitamins. I’ll bet she doesn’t even keep them in the house.
In their apartment in the city, there had been a man before the divorce. The boy would see him when he came home from school. He wore a white shirt and small tie and thick glasses. He made their carpet dirty and then he made it clean again with a large blue vacuum. He came over a lot and did the same thing over and over. By dinnertime, he had packed all his bags with special gadgets and was gone.
Then soon after, there was the divorce. Then his mother started climbing buildings at night. She was a night courier, she told him.
– When you become a single parent, she said, you become two people and you get to see how much you can handle on your own.
– I want to be two people he said.
– Guard the house while I’m gone. Be a man, have a third eye. She pressed a now normal sized finger to his forehead. You will sleep, same as always, but when something isn’t right, the third eye will wake you up and let you know. It’s always there for you.
– There was a man, said his father, one of those blistering mornings in the breakfast nook. All the boy could think of was how he would have to lift weights and how it would hurt. That man ruined my life, said his father. I could kill that bastard. Have you seen him? Has he come to the apartment? Selling his cheap sucking machines. I’d be with your mother now, and you’d be down the hall, just like always. Now I’ve got to live out here so I don’t kill the son of a bitch with my own bare hands.
Later that night at the apartment, the boy said to his mother – Maybe we should help the eye along. Maybe you could draw a lens for it, something for it to see out of.
So she drew a lens right over his brows and he felt the cool of the marker and her warm soft hands.
– All better? she said.
Now he knew there was nothing that could keep his third eye from working the way it should and he loaded his airgun and stashed it under his bed and his mother gave him a kiss.
In the night, there was a man inside, silhouetted against the gray light of the window. The boy’s third eye flew open and told him – Get the gun. Aim at the soft spots.
The boy shot at the man’s eyes and neck. His mother came home and they filed a police report but the man had fled.
The boy and his mother got a call from California. It was the boys’ father, saying he was out there for business. He wasn’t sure when the company would have him back east. The boy started staying with his mother all the time. His third eye developed to the point it didn’t need a lens and he became big and strong, as big and strong as two of him, man and boy.