This is a vignette from my novel Songs of Galilee, which I am considering for publication along with my more recent short stories in the collection The Library of Babel, slated for an early 2016 release.
People would be more thankful for their parents if they were forced to live in one of those places. My father’s drunken blabbering cut me off from my mother for half a year. I was placed in an orphanage.
Orphanages aren’t as bad as you’ve read about. In fact, they’re much, much worse.
Three days before I left, mother and I visited a pound for stray dogs. Mother needed something to look after while I was gone. They were always too fat, too skinny, or too mangy looking. Some were the wrong colors, some had too much hair, and some didn’t have enough. Those appeasing puppies in small cages had the same hopeful wistfulness in their eyes the orphans did.
I still remember my bunk mate, my bunky, as the other orphans said. His name was Adrian. His mother had been raped by an American G.I. during the war. Her parents shunned the child. He was a bastard and his father was nowhere to be found. His mother didn’t even know his father’s name. Adrian had been in the orphanage for thirteen years. And since he had harelip it was doubtful he’d ever be adopted.
Our bunkies were our bunk partners. We had to follow them all around when we first arrived. They showed us the bathrooms, the playrooms, told us where to eat, and where to sleep. They taught the newcomers all the rules and procedures. They gave us tips on how to act when the Maybe’s arrived. Our hair had to be combed. Our teeth had to be white and our posture had to be upright if we wanted to leave, if we wanted to be loved. We had to wag our tails just right, and look just the way they wanted us to, just like those longing dogs at the pound.
Whenever it was time for lunch we had to find our bunky. At lunchtime they played this horrible circus sounding music I still hear when I close my eyes. I imagine the faces of all those people who led me down long corridors, a part of a miserable carousel of melancholy kids.
Those administrators showed no emotions toward us. They were spectral and almost always elsewhere. Insomnia had her hands around my throat. I could never sleep. I just laid there in the dark. I listened to all the other children tossing and turning and crying. Some cried all night. No one came to pacify the terrified and wounded children. No one ever came to tell us those it’s gonna be okay type lies. No one ever came. We were God’s forgotten children. I began to have nightmares. I often dreamed I was a louse, trapped on a free child’s head, whose parents loved and sang to him every night when his light, the sun, went out. A thousand terrified lice would shout.
There were no doors to our sleeping rooms. I could see shadows on the wall as someone walked through the mess hall at night.
An administration building stood in front of the orphanage. Through it you came into the main mess hall. From the main mess hall you could enter into any of the other door less rooms, which included our bedrooms, playrooms, and morning classes.
I don’t know what those other things were, but they weren’t children. They didn’t laugh. They didn’t play. They just waited. They always talked about how good things would be when they were adopted, especially the older the older kids, but once they turned fifteen, or sixteen years old, they stopped hoping out loud.
My parents weren’t allowed to visit me because of a strict policy involving the kids. Their reason being the other children would be jealous and it would cause trouble.
Most of the children thought they’d been put away for doing something wrong. Even my bunky Adrian believed it. He thought they’d put him away for the same reason his real father never wanted to see him. He once told me his father would come when he found out how smart he was. He practiced magic in the playrooms. Before I left we had a magic show. He allowed me to be his assistant.
We sat up a small stage with a paper background covered in neon stars in the main hall. The orphanage borrowed chairs from a local church so all of the kids would have a seat. Their enthusiasm and help was strained, and false, and their intent was a matter of business. Occupied kids are easier to deal with than lonely crying kids.
I designed the background with markers and crayons. I helped a few kids sat up a long piece of plywood on bricks. We covered the rough wood with a sheet of old carpet, royal blue, almost black, with rat holes in it. All of the older kids laughed. They said they wouldn’t waste their time on such stupidity, card tricks, and rabbits in hats. Adrian and I wanted to give them a show.
After some thought, I figured out a way to perform a levitation trick. That would entertain them. We found a block of wood and sized it to be smaller than his foot. It was small enough not to be seen when he stood on it, and small enough to fit under his pants leg, tucked into his sock. The sides of the block were painted the same royal blue of the ravaged floor where Adrian would perform the trick. The block would be invisible under scrutiny from where we placed the chairs.
Adrian stored the block inside his trouser leg until he was ready. I made advertisements for the event, alluding to his levitation, and placed them all over the orphanage. There would be card tricks for the younger children disappearing coins, and he’d saw me in half, of course, employing the usage of false legs wearing the same baggy pants as me. The older kids laughed when he tried his card tricks on the younger kids, elbowed each other, and giggled when he showed them their card. Then came time for his levitation.
The lights went up. I stood in front of the small group of orphans and announced that without help, or strings, Adrian would levitate from the ground. With their attention turned to me, Adrian bent over to pretend to tie his shoe. He placed the block on the stage and hid it beside his shoe. The older kids stood at the back of the room, unable to see it.
With everything ready, a broad smile on Adrian’s face, I lifted him into the air, onto the box.
Gasps came from around the room. Even the teachers had no idea how we pulled it off. It wasn’t noticeable at all. Nobody could tell. Just to show them no strings were used, I waved my hands above his head. “As you can see,” I said, “there are no strings, no steps, no levers, nothing.”
The tin sound of clapping orphans filled the room. Adrian bowed and the stage faded into black.