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Robert April MAG
Time passes slowly, or so it seems to a Mr. Robert April, who is counting the seconds with quiet diligence. He sits in a plush armchair looking in front of him with unseeing eyes, for his mind does not care what his eyes perceive to be reality; he knows they are often wrong. Time passes slowly, and its passage is all-consuming for the young boy. He does not move voluntarily. He is waiting for the people to tell him to whom he now belongs. He almost dares to hope he can belong to the Caningtons, but quickly stifles his emotions. He has been disappointed too many times, and he is afraid to be hurt again.
After all, the people to whom he belonged before were nice enough. During the daytime, they sometimes gave him candy and took him on trips. But when night came they became frightening and confusing and horrible. Many nights had come and gone before he told anyone what they did. Consequently, he learned to be afraid of the night.
It is night now, and Mr. Robert April is counting the seconds until daylight, when he will not be touched, when he will be given to someone new.
Mr. Robert April does not go to live with the Caningtons; he goes with the Faulks. They are not as nice by daylight as the people he belonged to before, but they let him alone at night. They fix him meals, often canned, boxed, or otherwise prepackaged food, but he is always fed. He does well in school, but he hates it because he cannot relate to the other children. Most of them live with at least one of the people who created them; they have never been forced into fear of night, of other people. He is not smarter than they are, but he wants more intensely to learn.
The Faulks appreciate this and have even purchased four books for him to read, one of which is a condensed encyclopedia, another, a dictionary. He doesn’t know many of the words in these books, and he doesn’t understand some of the explanations in the dictionary, but he reads them anyway. If the man he lives with is not too busy, he sometimes asks questions about what he is reading. The man usually answers, but only if he has time to thoroughly explain. He never gives short answers, and the boy likes this. He can almost love these people.
Mr. Robert April sits, glassy-eyed, and looks at nothing. He does not speak, for he cannot. Mr. Faulk has been killed in a construction accident. Mrs. Faulk cannot take care of him anymore, and so he is being given away. Mr. Robert April stands inside himself, silently surveying the horrible condition of his war-torn interior and crying. He does not want another home. He does not want to miss Mr. Faulk, and he does not want to leave Mrs. Faulk’s side. But he is only 12, and he has no choice.
Next to his chair is a small purple duffle bag. He has five sets of clothes, a purple toothbrush, a half-empty tube of Crest, two pairs of shoes, a water bottle, a green brush, four books, his fifth-grade report card, and a length of quality leather Mr. Faulk gave him for his birthday. These items, along with a smooth piece of pipe that he wears on a finger, make up his worldly possessions. Against his will, the tears he has been keeping inside spill from his eyes, and he decides he hates himself.
It is less than a year after Mr. Faulk has died, and the sun becomes visible in young Mr. April’s window, forcing him to squinch his eyes tightly together. This act of retina protection, while primarily unconscious, is enough to pull the boy from his sleep. He doesn’t know what time of day it is; he only knows that he is not excited enough about upcoming events to be motivated to leave his bed. And so he turns over and clamps his pillow over his eyes, but he cannot return to sleep before his arm prickles from the lack of blood flow and he is forced to change position.
He believes it is the weekend, but this is no consolation; rather, it is a reason for dread and apprehension. He rises, grudgingly pulling down the window blinds, and dons patchy jeans and a paint-splattered T-shirt that, to his nose at least, smells vaguely similar to take-out chicken. This set of clothing is courtesy of Mr. Lane Beeker, with whom he is now living. He ties the laces on his scotch-taped sneakers (duct tape is too expensive) and leaves his room with a longing backward glance, curses circling his mind regarding the sun. He sets out to find the dog, which in customary fashion does not show itself until it has sneaked up and bitten him on the leg.
After the dog is secured to a rope with a knot, Mr. Robert April pulls the playful animal behind him, determined to walk until it has completed its business in the various yards of the town. A neighbor who also walks his dog at this time passes April without a word or even a pause created by the two animals. The neighbor continues, feeling a twinge of pity for the glassy-eyed and obviously retarded Robert April, whom no one has ever heard speak or express emotion.
In truth, young Mr. April is not retarded. He has simply suffered enough disappointments in life not to care what tomorrow brings or what adventures might lie in his future. He has to work too hard to stop himself from caring about the pain in his past. He knows he is a source of gossip, and he doesn’t care. He knows he is thought to be mentally deficient, and he doesn’t care. He gives people no reason to think otherwise: his grades are really rather sad, and he has not spoken a word since Mrs. Faulk turned him away. He hasn’t smiled, hasn’t laughed, hasn’t cried. He lives essentially alone in the house of Mr. Lane Beeker. Beeker returns occasionally on weekends to run through the mail and make sure no social workers are planning to visit. Mr. Robert April has only seen him sober once. He prefers Beeker to be away and high or hung-over, because he is a much more frightening when sober.
Once when Beeker was half-sober, he held a barbecue, pulling Mr. Robert April out from the confines of the house to display him to the neighbors like a rare collectable. “This lad,” Beeker had said, “only stayed with his mama four days afore she decided he weren’t in her destiny. Apparently, his father weren’t neither, so he went with his pop and nanny, but they both kicked the bucket when he weren’t but six. He got himself a new start, a new fam’ly, but’cha see, they dinin want him fer his insides, if you get my drift. So they drove the poor lad half-crazy afore he got a new family. They dinin want him neither, and the next fam’ly had the old man die. He went to another fam’ly, who was way too poor, ya know. Then he got me, and that’s the luckiest day of his life. A’course, he’s more’n half-crazy now, ya know, so he don’t talk or nothin’.”
Mr. Robert April had stood like the trophy Beeker wanted him to be and played the role of the half-insane boy. Later, when Beeker came home completely strung-out, he had told the neighbors that he stayed away because Robert April had pulled a knife on him and threatened to kill him. The neighbors had the sense to know Beeker was mentally absent and had dismissed the incident. Mr. Robert April, of course, had never pulled a knife on Lane Beeker or made threats to his life.
Despite Mr. Beeker, Robert April does not mind living where he does. He has learned to fend for himself. His fear of the night has turned to boiling black hatred and anger he maintains inside himself. It is this that sustains him when the dog sinks its teeth into his leg, when Beeker calls him a sonofa– and throws things in the general direction of his head. He is
not so sure he hates himself anymore, but he believes this is only because his attentions are undeniably demanded elsewhere. He knows now that time always passes slowly, be it light or dark in the world, and that there is no point in waiting for things that will never come.