The boy holds his mother’s hand as the two walk the leaf-swept block to the pale gray two-story at the end. Then and only then will she let go of her son’s hand. Today, however, the two come across a modest collection of their neighbors standing over a patch of sidewalk between his house and his friend Dana’s plum-colored house. The mother and her boy join the group and soon they see what they are looming over: a swastika in dark purple chalk sandwiched between two animal drawings he and Dana sketched 5 days before.
“This is a terrible thing,” says Mr. Zwiebel, a diminutive man with curly dark brown hair who resides on the other side of he and his parents in the light blue and white house he often hits with his soccer ball.
“This neighborhood has always been very safe.”
Mrs. Catrall, in her snug gray suit and heels, answers: “It’s still safe, it’s probably some loony. Has someone called the police?”
“Yes, but these kinds of cases don’t get solved, Donna,” says Mr. Zwiebel, looking unimpressed with the lady who resides across the street and who’s son is in the same 11th grade AP English class as his daughter.
Mr. Robertson, a broad-shouldered, pot-bellied father of two very young twins across the street, crouches down very low to inspect the image. He puts his finger to the ink, and traces over the length of half of the swastika.
The boy whispers into his mother’s ear.
“What is that?”
She doesn’t answer him. She has been bowdlerizing the world for so long on his behalf, but sometimes “shit happens,” as the boy’s dad likes to say (when the boy isn’t around).
“What does it mean?,” he presses.
She puts a finger to her lips.
Before he can ask something else, he sees his friend Dana walking up to the group with her own mother. Upon seeing the mysterious drawing beside her blue lion, she presses her body against her mother and begins to cry. She’s wearing what she wore to school earlier and when she lets go of her mother, the boy can see where she accidentally squirted ketchup on her green shirt.
“Dana!” the boy calls out, but somehow the words don’t belong, sound wrong.
The mother returns her finger to her lips and shakes her head at her son. Dana looks in the boy’s direction but says nothing.
The boy looks more closely at the image. Decides that it looks like two overlapping 5’s, and begins checking his memory for the significance of the number 55. He remembers his dad was born in that year, but that’s all that comes to mind.
Next the boy imagines it as a weapon, tossed and spinning by some big-muscled brute from a TV show he’d watched once, destroying the homes of a make believe village.
Whatever it is, he doesn’t understand why all of these people are looking at it in this way. If he were them, he’d just wash it off and draw something over it. A sun or a brave warrior on horseback.
A few minutes later, the mother takes her son into the house, not letting go even as they walk through the hallway and into the kitchen. He has to pull his hand out of hers to break free.
“Mom what is happening? Why is Dana so sad?”
“Don’t you worry. The adults are dealing with it,” his mom answers, running a cold hand across his left cheek.
The mother puts on a cartoon in the kitchen and turns the volume to max.
The screen images lure the boy into his chair at the kitchen table. His mother puts a snack in front of him and the boy is transfixed as the Power Rangers courageously take on a threesome of disgusting aliens bent on taking over the planet. His small hands punch the air in a series of jabs. He laughs when one of the aliens runs into a clothesline the blue power ranger sets up for him.
The mother sits down and studies her young son. When he notices his mother observing him, he puffs up his cheeks with air and then double smacks them, making a loud pop.
She smiles at him. Once the program is over, and the Power Rangers have emerged victorious, she will tell him about the evil outside.