The Boy With No Name
Sophie L Macdonald
The sun is making a trickle of sweat run down my shirt, and the casts on my legs feel hot against the padded seat of the wheelchair.
“Say the words.” Matthew squints up at me from the grass. I glance back at the house, but can’t see Sam. He parked me here like a shopping trolley, and left before I could say a word. Despair seeps out of him like poisonous gas, infecting us all.
“We say a prayer for Ninny—” my breath catches, and Matthew glares. “May he forever rest in peace. Amen.”
“Is that it? Can’t you say more?” Matthew presses the soil.
“No, that’s it.” I look at the small mound before us, and wave to the kitchen window—hoping Sam will see me and wheel me back inside. I wipe my forehead.
“Mummy,” Matthew says, “are we supposed to cry?”
“Not if we don’t want to,” I say. “Do you feel like crying?”
“I don’t feel anything,” he says.
I wave to the kitchen again.
“Did you cry when I was born?” Matthew asks.
“Yes. Happy and sad tears. I was so happy you were here, but it was a sad time too.”
“Because my brother was dead?” Matthew asked. “Did he have a name?”
“No.” I hesitate. “Well, we had the name Matthew. We knew only one baby would be born, because the doctor told us one baby was very sick…” As the words leave my mouth I want to stuff them back in and swallow them. I shake my head. “But that’s your name. Matthew. So, no. Your brother didn’t have a name.”
“So I’m not Matthew,” he says. “You didn’t give me a name.”
“You are Matthew!” The sun is unbearable. I wave urgently to the house again.
We have had this talk. I have told Matthew the truth about how the wrong baby was terminated and the wrong baby survived—except there was nothing wrong with either of them.
Sam talked of lawsuits and malpractice, and I talked of betrayal and murder. Soon we talked of nothing but trivialities. If I talked—really talked—I pictured cascades of blood and tears pouring out of my mouth and drowning us both.
“You are the only Matthew there has ever been,” I say. “I love you. Don’t ever feel as if you are nobody.”
Matthew’s eyes are as empty as they have been since the fire. Worlds have died within him.
“I don’t feel anything,” he repeats.
Sam has agreed to dig up what is left of Ninny and destroy it tonight. I can’t live with him there, festering under the earth nearby.
After Sam finally wheels me in and puts Matthew to bed, I remind him of this. He nods briefly and mutters something.
“I didn’t hear you,” I say. He has a hand on the doorknob.
“I said, will that be it then? The end of this madness?” His voice is breaking. “Will I get my son back? Because I don’t know who that boy is that I just put to bed.”
“We will,” I promise. “Matthew doesn’t know himself without Ninny. We need to show him who he is—fill his head with the things he loves. We can help him.”
Sam sighs, and goes outside. I press my hands to my eyes. Sam thinks we are all crazy—that poor Dr Pleasance meant to kill herself by crashing the car. For her I will mourn, but never Ninny.
I say a prayer to a god I haven’t believed in for a long time. There must be a way we can fill Matthew up. Make him the boy he never was. A real boy. He won’t become like Ninny. The cycle is broken. I repeat it like a mantra or a spell.
The door slams, and I jump.
Sam leans against the doorframe, with the pale cast of someone who is sick. He is muttering again, and I can only catch the odd word.
“Must be dogs…Foxes…”
“Is it done?” I ask.
“There was nothing there,” he says. “Just a hole and dirt. Something must have dug it up.” We exchange a look, and he runs to Matthew’s room.
“Sam?” I shout, unable to wrestle my chair down the corridor. “Is Matty there?”
“He’s alone. Asleep.” Sam returns, breathing hard. “It must have been dogs. Foxes.” His hands are shaking. He clears his throat. “He looked different, Lisa.”
“How?” My mouth is dry.
Sam is staring into space.
“Smaller. Different,” he says. “It’s just the light. I’m tired.”
“It was just foxes,” I say.
I hear a ghost of a whisper from Matthew’s room, and the house falls silent again. It was nothing. We’re both tired. Things will look different in the morning.
Image credit: Author supplied