This is one of my favorites, written a little more than a year ago. Enjoy.
They say, God never gives ya anything ya can’t handle, but in His defense, I don’t think Wilder is one of God’s.
He’s special, ya see.
That’s what the doctor’s say.
With all due respect, those doctors don’t live with him. Wilder ain’t theirs. They can’t know that boy.
I know him. I made him.
That little devil is mine.
Wilder’s named after his grandpa, Wilder Thompson, the great explorer. Esteemed in his community, even got a park named after him. City folks want a statue of him but say it ain’t in their budget. Maybe next year, they say. That’s been goin’ on twenty years now.
Wilder, he’s six, going on seven. Towheaded boy. Kinda small for his age, stretchy little boy muscles. In the womb he never stopped movin’, I swear he pushed himself outta my body all of his own. He bit me, hard, six days after he’s born. His brothers and sisters, Emmaline, Gertrude, Johnny, William, and George, they was all sleepers at that age; Wilder he was screamer and a biter.
If I weren’t a poor woman, I’d of hired a wet nurse.
Then I would have, anyway. I’d have other plans now, knowin’ what I know.
He’s two when he discovered the gift of fire. Most babies that age they scared a fire. One touch and their little fingers don’t wanna touch it no more. Wilder, he’s the opposite. He stared at it, then stuck one skinny little finger in the candle fire like he couldn’t help himself. Over and over again. Til he cried to hisself.
That was a long winter. We sat in the dark a lot. Poor Wilder.
When he’s three we called him the destroyer, just between the two of us, you understand, Wilder’s daddy and me. He broke furniture and his brother’s toys, my only good vase. Tossed our Bible in the fireplace, a real family heirloom. He broke spoons on his back too, acting like that he would really get it–we were good parents, we tried to teach him right. We beat him regular but it didn’t matter. There was no taming our Wilder, he’s aptly named.
We didn’t send him to school, we kept him home. We knew no teacher could keep him and why would we do that to some poor woman? Emmaline, bless her heart, tried to teach him at home but by then, Wilder was more mean than innocent. He waited til she took a nap, then took a glass an’ with the sun’s accomplice, heat, he burnt her hair right up. Her pretty long hair she’s so proud of. Just turned it into a burnt singed mess.
Soon after, he jumped from the rafters–how’d he get up there? and landed right on Gertrude. I say landed. I mean aimed. He stuck her so hard he broke her arm.
Poor Gertrude, good hearted, heaven sent. She never even raised her voice to the boy but I see her avoid him now. No one could blame her, Wilder had no fear for himself, his own pain, you could just see it in his eyes. He just needed the pain of others.
That was a hard lesson for all of us to learn. Wilder could be anywhere and wherever he was, he was likely plotting against us.
He’s sleeping less now. I lay awake an’ listen for him at night. Some nights dawn greets me ’fore my eyes close.
I worry about my other younguns. Their futures. George, he’s old enough now to marry only nobody will take him. Like he’s tainted. Like he’s got bad things inside of him too.
Johnny and William, the twins. One light, one dark headed, both angels. My sweet boys. Best helpers on the farm, those two. Dedicated. I send one to get water at the well and the other, he follow along just to help. God’s best work, those two. Ten years old and just as docile as lambs, gullible. Dumb as rocks, too, god love ’em cause I do. Sweet boys.
Wilder tricked Johnny.
He waited for ‘em at the well. Waited for one to get busy and then the next moment he tackled Johnny, turned him ass over tea kettle into the well with a big splash.
That was the only time William ever hit him. He hit him hard too, a goose egg on the side of his sweaty head, knocked him clean to the ground, dazed him good. Wished he coulda learned from it.
Then William got the rope and fished his brother out of the well.
At home, and drying out, the only thing Johnny said was, “Father, the well is almost dry. Time to hire the Hadfields to come divine a new well.”
I didn’t punish William, a kid can only take so much. And he’d taken a lot those past six years. Poor boy.
I didn’t punish Wilder. I didn’t dare. I couldn’t be everywhere at once and I couldn’t be awake all of the time neither.
But it did give me an idea.
One Sunday morning I did it. I planned it so as no one’d be home but me and the little runt. It was better that way. If it had to be this way, and it did, better I hold all the guilt, better that god hold me to it and not the innocents, the brothers and sisters, the father. If there be guilt and maybe there won’t, better it burn a black hole in me, the mother. I brought him into this world.
It was Easter Sunday, a right proper church holiday. Bell could be heard all across the meadow callin’ all the parishioners to service, ringin’ and ringin’, joyful.
I played sick. It was a little lie, and God will forgive me this once. It was for a good cause.
All the children got dressed up in they’s Sunday best. The girls in their pretty bonnets, Father wearing his best hat. Everybody’s shoes, nicely shiny, hands and faces real clean. All except Wilder. He wasn’t invited, the pastor done already made that clear in years past after Wilder set the good man’s vestry on fire. He burned up thirteen beautiful new bibles that day, a crying shame. But he got what he wanted. He never went back.
Now isn’t that a bit a irony?
I waited an hour, lying under my aunt Maybelle’s best quilt she willed just to me, watching the little devil play with a little wooden train and two tin soldiers next to the fire. The rest of his tin soldiers were sitting quiet in my pocket, but he didn’t know it. I waited til it seemed most probably that I’d need water, about the time to start cooking our Easter dinner. To alleviate any suspicion, you understand, any trouble. Then I coughed real hard, long and laborious, really tossin’ some phlegm in there, making it real authentic. I waited for him to notice me and then I said, real sweet, “Wilder, sweetie get your old Ma some water from the well.” I waited him out then, coughing and moaning slightly til he couldn’t ignore me no more. “Dammit, boy,” I said. “Fetch that water or I’ll tan your hide.”
He got up slowly then, like I knew he would, stretching his cat like limbs and went for the bucket in the kitchen.
I waited two minutes, just enough time for the boy to get out of sight and then I raced out the back and beat him to the well. The old well, not the new one. I checked to make sure the little tin soldier was still sitting on the outer edge of the well. The light hit it just right, it glinted in the sun, an irresistible treasure for a boy like him.
Wilder was stepping along swinging the bucket up in great swingin’ arcs over his head, belting out some tune he heard in town. He wasn’t paying attention and he walked right by the well without seeing the soldiers at all. My spirits fell, but I had one chance left. I snuck out behind him, added a whole row of tin soldiers to the edge of the well, then crept back to my hiding place.
Wilder soon followed, bucket full now, his concentration now set on not droppin’ all that water on his shoes.
All those tin soldiers line up glinting in the sun was a temptation no little boy could resist. he set his bucket down, picked up the soldiers and began a game of war.
I crept up behind him, snappin’ a twig at the last moment, aint that how it always goes? and he swung around to look at me, his eyes all startled.
“I’m real sorry.” I whispered and leaned down quick as you please, and grabbed his legs and lifted his legs up and over the rocky wall of the well. It was so quick he didn’t have a chance to make a peep but I heard him when he hit the bottom of that dry well. He said, “Mama” real high pitched and angry, kinda angry-scared. By that time I was already hefting all the five and ten pound rocks I’d gathered over the last month over the edge of the well, raining down a hell and judgement he never saw comin,’ the little devil. I tossed every last one of them and then I gathered all the twigs and logs that the rest of my strength could manage and tossed them down too and then all I could do was lean against the well, tired and drained and my soul lost.
The hard part was lighting the fire. Every match I tossed down the well blew out before hitting the bottom. I finally had to balance a log on the edge of the well, ignite it and let it burn and then poke it with a stick until it toppled o’er the edge.
“You was a bad lil devil but you’s at peace now. God bless you and keep you, I couldn’t.” I said before I left. By then the fire had burned itself out and the stink was leaving too on account of the Spring winds. It was time to bury him.
I got the wheelbarrow, our best shovel and filled it with soil. It took much longer than I thought but I got it filled up and dumped down the well, twice. By then I was sweating and weak and required sustenance. I walked slowly back to the cabin, a part of me gone forever.
William met me halfway there. “Mama! Are you all right? You’re sick, Mama, come lay down.” And that sweet boy led me to the divan and sat me upon it and Emmaline made me some tea and after I’d sipped it half way down I said to all assembled, “Wilder done run off. Probably for good.”
Nobody questioned how a six year old coulda run off and neither did we speak of the little devil again. Some sins don’t bear speaking of.