Lost Boy by Tony Harrison
I come in from the open fields, through the thorns and fallen fencing, a crooked sunset at my back, drawn by the bright bulb hanging from the kitchen ceiling. Through the door, accompanied by the fluttering of wings, the smell of gas lingering permanently in the air from the leaking food-stained stove, I know I am home. From the cracked window I look back out on the old shed and outhouse with its sealed taps and broken toilet seat where huge spiders lurk in corners and giant flapping moths sleep by day and invade the house on late summer evenings. As now on the wall a trembling shadow and a circling around the shade-less bulb steals behind the stove and waits. In the deepening twilight beyond the crippled fence with its overgrown weeds and thornbushes, the waste land broods with its dykes and flooded crofts where the boy from the end of the lane drowned one winter.
I move from the kitchen into the dark cave of the dining room and the stale smell of urine and cigarettes. Coils of blue smoke twist in the dying light from the one window above the small black and white TV, the smoker nowhere to be seen or heard. Although those who lived here are now dead, I don’t feel alone as I climb the stairs to the long, shadow-haunted landing, the same dread mounting I felt as a child as I take each step. To the right the door of my grandmother’s room, always closed, always forbidden. To the left stretches the corridor ahead with two further bedrooms off, leading to the bathroom at the end.
Midway along I stop outside one of these rooms. The door is half open and I hear the breathing of a child in the darkness, a child terrified by cries out on the waste land and the sense of an unknown something or someone outside his door. He fears the drowned boy from the croft come back from the sunken hole, dripping foul water on the stairs. He wakes at nights with the sound of something turning the handle as I turn it now. There is no one who can help him with this. A boy afraid of the dark will never be a man. No one believes that the black air of that room is tainted with a death that waits on the landing on those nights when the moths come flapping in the darkness.
Now, outside that room again, where I so many nights had stared, awake, appalled by something standing where I am standing now, I hear the dry scraping of the giant wings and feel the old fear rising. I push the door open and the boy rears upwards out of the pillow and I try to move towards him as the blind moth flutters its breath across my face. I begin to cry to him of who it is who lingers and is now here inside the room, call and cry again across the years, as my wife shakes me awake and silences the child’s frantic screaming, comforts and holds the boy still lost, his heart hammering in terror.