He was at the window. I heard the tap-tap-tap. Small stones of knuckle, a scattering of acorns pelting glass. It made me spread my toes under the covers. Apart. Together. We weren’t safe. We weren’t safe!
“Hannah,” I said.
My sister was sleeping.
I wrapped my blanket around my shoulders—a cape—and slipped on my mother’s heels. Clacking to the window, all this room for my toes.
I ran my fingers over the dusty pleats of shade. “Hannah,” I said.
I liked the rustle I could make when I pulled the shades. The sky was the color of fruit cut into, tangerine and pink. Almost-morning had the smell of paper. I breathed in with my eyes.
The feral boy balanced on a branch thick as my wrist, toes wrapping flutes of bark. White buds snowed beneath his feet. His teeth were yellowish and fanged. He was so close I could see the space of the missing one, the tiny dropped icicle of gum. He spread his fingers to the window, heels lifting off of branch in arcs.
“Come,” I said. I held out my palm to match his. He pedaled his feet backward into the branches. But staring at me. Bat eyes unblinking.
I tapped my heart. “Love,” I said. I wanted him to know.
My father still hadn’t thought to put in screens. I pulled open the glass all the way even though usually I was afraid. I held out my hands, palms empty, pink.
“Come,” I said. “Come, love.”
He came. Just like that. Through the open window, free, absolutely, of mesh. His hair stood up in fox points. He had cheeks painted in chimney smoke.
My sister sat up without using her arms. She just lifted.
The feral boy darted to the wall, back pressed flat. I thought I could see his heart through his skin, beating out, out. Veins traced his neck in the greenest vines.
“Shhh,” I said. I held out my hand him.
“Dad’s going to be angry,” my sister said. Her arms found her chest, crossed.
I tapped my heart for the boy. Love. My sister didn’t know what I meant. What I meant was just for him.
“Dad’s not going to know,” I said. I swished from side to side, foot to foot. “If no one tells.”
My sister pulled at a thread on her sleeve, where it had begun to be unraveled by moths.
The boy was still pressed up against the wall, thin as shadow. He licked his lips, in the corners. Pink tongue a poke through teeth. His heart—I hoped it would stay in.
And then my sister’s smile. Her arms wrapped her shoulders, the lemony points of her elbows poking out.
We crouched next to each other on our closet floor, the arches of our feet almost touching, if not for the space. We got silently to work. Our mother had stacked the extras on the top shelf of our closet, where, she said, there was room. We would make a bed for the boy out of towels.
I crept toward him on my knees. I wanted to touch him just under the chin, where it would feel like the powdery silk of certain slips I’d seen my mother wear, a hush of lace beneath a skirt. His inner thighs came together as bookends for his chin before I was close. His hair was matted into whorls in the back. The rest rose in a mist of string. I touched my heart. Love, I radiated.
The boy was so quiet, watching us. He looked like a turkey ready for basting, the way he sat head tucked down, legs folded, arms back. I wondered if maybe the animals he’d been raised with could’ve been birds, if, in his silence, one of the things he knew how to do was fly. I tapped my heart and didn’t care. Welcome, my love.
I held out my palm to the boy. He crawled closer to me, spine arched as a bridge. He brushed his head against my legs. His scalp was warm and greasy. I knelt down to him. He placed his mouth inside. His lips. Breath a misty puff onto palm. My stomach unfolded in ripples like a lake after a tossed stone.
I closed my fist.
He poked my knuckles with her nose, searching. “No,” I said.
“What are you doing?” my sister said.
No. He was just a boy, up close, like I was a girl, born somewhere, to parents, who had come together once, so routinely, to make him. Seeing him up close ruined everything for me, and I couldn’t help but feel like I could know this boy, sit next to him in school.
I brushed aside the shades, tangled now as branches bred to twine. The window opened easily. I held my fingers to the air, and my sister was still asking what was I doing. “Come,” I said. And when he didn’t, I tapped once more my heart. “Love.”
I felt the tears as sharply as joy, twisting some key in my throat.
He was gone.