What Child is This?

Heather Robinson

Jane Freitag was a researcher at a cancer institute lab. She enjoyed moments of satisfaction when she completed a successful assay or noticed an issue before her more educated colleagues did. Her most uncomfortable times were when her boss asked her to do a presentation or direct a meeting.

Her husband, Jon, was even more of a wallflower. In fact, that's how they met — at the wall of a packed and boisterous dance club, both dragged by gregarious friends. Jon inadvertently, but fortuitously, backed into her, sloshing Jane's cranberry and seltzer down her Fair Isle sweater. Jane found his blurted, stammered apology charming, and the rest was history.

Jon was an artist, a sculptor whose works had been noticed by a connected agent. He worked from home, in a large studio off the back of the den. This set-up was an excellent arrangement, as he could take care of Ben, their young son, and work in the evenings or when Ben napped.

Ben walked early, spoke early, and potty-trained early, all milestones of which the couple was proud. But when he was around three, Jane began to think there was something different about him. One day she saw him on the floor of his bedroom, having placed his stuffed animals in a semi-circle facing him. He seemed to be conducting a meeting with them. There was an issue about his blankies, two blankets which he dragged with him most of the time. Ben discussed the blanket matter with Piglet, Brown Bear, Turtle, and Eagle, as if he was the director of a serious enterprise with a critical problem. Jane continued to quietly listen from the hallway. According to Ben, during nap time, the animals were stealing his blankets so that he awoke without them. He noted that the blankets lay rumpled on top of his animal friends at the end of his crib. Admonishing them, Ben demanded that they stop doing this, pointing to each of them and calling their names. He closed this conference with comforting words, reminding them that he loved them dearly and would never give them up.

Jane observed this event with stupefaction. Where on earth had Ben learned this behavior? The couple had been conscientious about his media access, and he was only allowed to watch Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street. She was pretty sure that Jon was not conducting meetings like this in her absence, but she did ask him, and he shook his head, also surprised by Ben's behavior. That they, two of the most self-effacing people they knew, would have a son utterly comfortable organizing and taking control of a session like this did not make sense.

A few days passed and no additional events occurred, so Jane and Jon put this down to an aberration. However, in a few weeks, they noticed the disappearance of a small yet hefty bronze bust from Jon's studio. They also heard the mewling of their new kitten Felicia from Ben's room. When they peered in, Ben had set the stuffed animals up in two parallel lines, with Felica in a shoebox (where she appeared to be happy) and the bust amid the animals. They stood quietly beside the door, listening and watching. The blanket problem had been resolved, Ben explained calmly. From here on, the bust would sit upon the blankets, preventing the animals from moving them. Felicia had been instructed to sound the alarm should this not work, as the other animals couldn’t speak. The meeting was concluded with Ben fondly tapping each toy on its fluffy head, saying, "Thank you for all your help."

They left Ben alone and retreated to Jon’s studio for a conference of their own.

"Perhaps we should take him to a specialist?" floated Jon.

"He's always been advanced for his age," suggested Jane. "Maybe this is typical for a child like him?"

"I was advanced for my age, which explained why I spent hours drawing freaky-looking imaginary beasts. I did not mimic a young Warren Buffett. What about you?"

"My IQ was 145 when I was seven. I was only interested in logging all the flora and fauna I found in our backwoods, not in directing a 1st-grade team expedition to a neighbouring park."

They looked at each other, and as being indecisive was in both their natures, they tabled any decision until they had more information.

A few weeks later, another incident occurred.

One day, when she returned from work, she found Jon inside working on a robed figure.

"Hey, Hun," he said, kissing her. He pointed out the window. "Ben's in the sandbox. Don’t worry. I’m keeping an eye on him."

Jane peered outside and pursed her lips. "Are you?"

Stepping out of the side door, she stealthily approached the sandbox. There Ben paced in front of a massive formation of what appeared to be all of their silverware, stabbed into the sand and standing erect. She didn’t even want to hear what he was saying to them. Without a word, she pulled out the forks, spoons, and knives, furiously tossing them on the lawn. The expression of pain on Ben's face was crushing. He began to scream; she began to cry. Ben ran into the house, wailing. Jon came up behind her, hugged her. "I’m sorry. I guess I wasn’t paying attention."

"Maybe we should take him to a priest," she said.

"Maybe a rabbi," he said.

"Nope," they both said simultaneously.

The next week, Jane's friend, Marsha, invited her to a small, psychic party. "Just five of us, we’ll all get a personal reading. I know you're not into these things, but it'll just be fun!"

"Well, I could certainly use some fun," Jane said. The whole Ben situation was causing her great anxiety. What if their adorable baby was developing into a despot? Her scientific mind pondered what they could have possibly done to cause this.

It was a Friday evening when Jane knocked on the door of Marsha's cute blue-shuttered cottage. Inside, she recognized a few of the other attendees. After a few glasses of chardonnay, a delicious bouillabaisse (Marsha was quite the chef), and a dose of chocolate mousse, Jane finally began to relax. At around 8, Emmanuelle, the Psychic, arrived and settled in. She began lighting sage and candles, then asked them all to close their eyes while she thanked the guides and spirits who would present themselves that night. She played haunting, evocative music which relaxed Jane even more. When they all opened their eyes and Emmanuelle began her seance, her heart and mind were open, despite everything she traditionally believed.

Emmanuelle's method was to describe a person, or perhaps a situation, and ask the group if anyone related to it. After reading for Linda (a family member drowned in a pool), Marsha (a tough job decision), Trevor (impending cancer test results), and Louise (recent, heart-breaking divorce), she paused.

"Someone here has a young leader in their midst. She is frightened by this."

"That... would be me," confessed Jane.

With prayerful hands, Emmanuelle continued. "You have been given an amazing gift. This young one chose you and your husband to help him evolve. He was an enormously powerful leader in a previous life, known by all, admired by some, feared by many."

Jane pressed her fists to her forehead. "Please don't tell me that he was Hitler."

"No, your son was an industrial genius. If I said his name, you would know it, but I don't want you to focus on who he was, but who he wants to be. He has the leadership skills; he wants to use them in better ways this time. He selected you specifically because he believes you will be able to teach him. Can you help him do that?"

Jane began to weep. "Yes, yes, we can do that. Thank you."

Was it because she actually believed the story, or because the other explanations she'd envisioned were more alarming?

When she got home, it was almost 11pm. She went to Ben's room, brushed his hair from his sleeping eyes and whispered, "Thank you for choosing us, we will do everything we can to teach you well. I love you."

Heather Robinson writes fiction and nonfiction and is drawn to dark comedy, quirky characters, strange circumstances, and ethical conundrums. She’s the author of Dementions, a satire about a young doctor trying to succeed at a cutting-edge clinic whose mandate is to shorten the suffering of elderly dementia patients and their family members. Other works have been published in Prometheus Dreaming, Defenestration, Datura, Lyrical Passion Poetry, Friday Flash Fiction, and soon, Door Is A Jar, and Bewildering Stories.

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