Kevin Spaide ~ Ezra

Cara came home one morn­ing with some kid in tow. He looked around four­teen maybe – hard to tell some­times – but his eyes were those of a man who’d spent his whole life in a war­zone with noth­ing much to eat. He stood in the kitchen, glanc­ing around at our mea­ger fur­nish­ings as though they were made out of gold. The trap­pings of a rumored world.

     A rash cir­cled his neck, and his hands dan­gled from his arms like claws. One leg was short­er than the other.

     This here’s Ezra, said Cara. He’s agreed to do some jobs for us in exchange for a few days room and board.

     Like what?

     Oh, I’ll think of something.

     I noticed she didn’t both­er telling Ezra my name. They must have had that dis­cus­sion on the way over. He looked at my face with keen inter­est for a moment and then made up his mind not to say a word. He gazed up at the ceil­ing as if it were an unheard of phe­nom­e­non and then shuf­fled out the door and down the steps.

     It was a hot morn­ing so I sug­gest­ed a swim in the riv­er. Ezra smelled awful. Cara laughed and said Ezra’s sis­ter drowned last year in the floods and it left a mark on him. Not much of a swimmer.

     I’d known him only a few min­utes and already I felt like a spec­i­men of debased gen­try in com­par­i­son. His war­zone eyes peered at me through the kitchen window.

     How old was she? I said.


     The sister.

     He says she was like a moth­er to him but she was only a year or two old­er. I nev­er knew her. Or if I did, I didn’t know it was her. So many of them to keep track of.

     Older sisters?

     Dead sisters.

     Hearing reports like this from Cara – which she seemed to find amus­ing in the telling – only rein­forced my will­ful seclu­sion from the rest of the world. And Cara her­self had a sis­ter who had gone miss­ing and might be dead, a twin who was her oppo­site, a slen­der pix­ie with beau­ti­ful eyes. She had man­aged to haunt us for years. I didn’t under­stand how Cara could bring her­self to say such words.

     She grabbed her axe and went out the door. I sat down in my chair and cob­bled togeth­er sce­nar­ios about what might hap­pen to us in the future, but then I knew I had to get out of the chair and accom­plish some­thing with my hands. Sew some­thing. Write some­thing down. Kill a fly buzzing around the room. Anything to dri­ve the thoughts from my head.

     Outside I found Ezra stand­ing in a cor­ner of the porch, his frail-look­ing body cant­ed to one side so that one shoul­der stuck up high­er than the oth­er. It looked so uncom­fort­able I almost asked him to sit down. I didn’t see Cara any­where. The boy had been inspect­ing her motor­cy­cle which she’d tak­en apart and spread across the deck, its var­i­ous com­po­nents arrayed in a clut­ter that made sense only to her. But the boy was look­ing at them now like it meant some­thing to him too.

     Maybe that was why he was here. Maybe he was some sort of mechan­i­cal genius. A heal­er of bro­ken machines.

     Hungry? I said.

     He didn’t say any­thing. If he couldn’t talk, it might make things eas­i­er on both of us.

     Hungry? I said again, mim­ing the act of putting food in my mouth.

     No, thanks. We had a pret­ty big break­fast. I won’t be hun­gry again until lat­er this evening.

     The polite, melo­di­ous voice com­ing out of his mouth did not align with his gaunt, dirt-streaked face.

     I’m not used to eat­ing much, he said. He tried to smile but it came off more like a wince, which I could under­stand since I suf­fered from the same condition.

     Well, you just let me know when you do get hungry.

     I tried to sound like some­one who reg­u­lar­ly offered hos­pi­tal­i­ty to guests, but I main­ly used my voice for talk­ing to myself in the form of hol­low threats, so this is what it prob­a­bly sound­ed like I was doing.

     Cara came around the side of the house and set Ezra up chop­ping wood. As soon as he got the axe in his hands, his crooked body came to life with hid­den strength. He raised the axe over his head and brought it down in the cen­ter of a log, cleav­ing it in two. I knew how hard it was to do that because I couldn’t do it myself. Not like that. He chopped wood for an hour with a blank look on his face like he bare­ly knew he was alive. I imag­ined how bad he was going to smell after­ward. I won­dered if he would break down and wade out into the riv­er if I begged him.

     Cara worked on her motor­cy­cle while Ezra chopped wood. Watching them from the kitchen win­dow I got the sen­sa­tion I was see­ing some­thing that had hap­pened a long time ago, some­thing from before.

     Suddenly Ezra dropped the axe and wan­dered off toward the woods. At the edge of the trees, near the boul­der I often sat on and cried, he unbuck­led his belt and a sparkling arc of piss shot into the ferns. His thin back shud­dered as he fin­ished up his busi­ness. I won­dered what had hap­pened to his sis­ter. Had he been there when she drowned? Had he attempt­ed to save her? Or maybe he hadn’t and now he was racked with guilt. Yes, that was prob­a­bly it. He hadn’t done enough and now he blamed himself.

     Any of those sce­nar­ios was pos­si­ble. But then I start­ed to think of worse things, much worse, and forced my mind to be qui­et. It fright­ened me how eas­i­ly I could imag­ine the worst things. How good I was at it.

     The boy made his way back across the yard, heft­ed the axe, and resumed swing­ing and split­ting as if he would nev­er run out of energy.

     When he had fin­ished with his task he sat on the steps, wait­ing for Cara to appear and order him to do some­thing else. Where had she gone? After a while I went out and offered him a glass of water and he took it and guz­zled it down and hand­ed me the emp­ty glass.

     How you doing? I said.

     He looked up at me, shield­ing his eyes with his hand.

     He said, What are all them scars on your face?

     I stared down at him, speechless.

     He said, Can you see out of your bad eye?

     Unfortunately I can.

     He laughed, and I liked him for that. I real­ly did. But I won­dered what had to hap­pen to a boy so young that allowed him to know how to laugh at a com­ment like that.

     You want more water?

     He shook his head no.

     I took his emp­ty glass into the house and washed it out. I could see him in the win­dow. He was sit­ting there with noth­ing in his face. But then he got up and shuf­fled over to the motor­cy­cle again and peered down at the dis­as­sem­bled parts with a sharp, spec­u­lat­ing inter­est. When he’d asked about my face, he hadn’t looked like that. Not at all. He’d only been mak­ing polite conversation.

     He leaned over and picked some­thing up, and I won­dered if he’d almost drowned with his sis­ter. I won­dered if he was going to stay with us for­ev­er. He could sleep in the barn. We could use a lit­tle help around the house. In win­ter he could shov­el snow. He could cut a path out to the hen­house, which we both hat­ed doing. He could keep our fire­wood stocked up. I could teach him to take a bath.

     Cara came out of the barn and bel­lowed some­thing. Ezra didn’t even turn around. Just went right on piec­ing the motor­cy­cle back togeth­er in his head, repair­ing what­ev­er was wrong with it. When I real­ized I was doing the same thing, only with him, tak­ing him apart and putting him back togeth­er again so his legs were the same length and his sis­ter wasn’t drowned and his eyes weren’t frozen with mis­ery, I kind of hat­ed myself. Who was I to have these thoughts about this boy?

     Ezra stayed with us for a few days and I fed him. He and Cara tore the leaky old roof off the hen­house and replaced it. He hacked the tall grass away from the veg­etable patch with the sick­le. And he helped Cara put her motor­cy­cle back togeth­er. Apparently he just had one of those brains.

     When the motor­cy­cle start­ed, Cara hopped right on and Ezra climbed up behind her. He turned briefly, his war­zone eyes scour­ing the side of the house, and then the bike sped off up the hill toward the road. When she came back a few hours lat­er, Cara was alone.

     Where’s Ezra? I said.

     Oh, he stayed out there. But we’ll see him again.

     Did you at least get him some­thing to eat before you dropped him off?

     Cara looked at me close­ly. He’ll be fine, she said.

     You don’t know that!

     You’re right, I don’t. But am I his moth­er now?

     Does he even have one?

     I don’t know. He nev­er men­tioned her, just the sister.

     You should have let me give him some­thing to eat before you took him away.

     Are you crying?

     Leave me alone.

     Now what’s wrong?

     I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep well. I think I’ll go to bed.

     She laughed and said, It’s not even dark out yet.

     Even better.

     I left her stand­ing there in the kitchen, incred­u­lous and won­der­ing. I took my clothes off and crept into bed. I was cry­ing and didn’t care. I closed my eyes, my bad one and my good one, and hoped I would nev­er see anoth­er child.


Kevin Spaide has pub­lished sto­ries in Wigleaf, Fictive Dream, FRiGG and sev­er­al oth­er places. His sto­ry “Disrepair,” which belongs to the same series as this one, also appeared in New World Writing. He lives in Madrid with his wife and son.