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ide and Seek

The Boy dutifully counted to one hundred,

with his eyes firmly shut and fists clenched.

Alexis had slipped away into the woods.

Departures hovered in the drifting chill.

Trying to find someone that's hidden can be

difficult, especially when they slink

from coyness and demur teasing.

They had played their forbidden games

for real, amongst the jackdaws, the barren trees

and the pale blue, late-afternoon light.

Dog-like yaps ricocheted off the silver birches and majestic oaks:

arguments over whether the bloodied were blue and cold.

While counting, the Boy remembered sobbing on the stairs,

overhearing accusations, condemnations spat in spittle:

all that yapping and snarling was distracting.

Alexis had told him once of a pantomime scene,

when her mother was punched so hard

in the stomach she had lost something.

Or had he misheard what she thought she saw?

Whatever happened, they were all left feeling empty.

There had been rituals too - concerning seances and candles,

and untidy piles of sticks, lined with wool and hair.

They practiced their games in the woods with earnest intent.

The Boy couldn't remember his mother

much, she was a phantom presence to him,

bleached of any colour. Unlike Alexis' mother:

a heavily made-up woman, platinum blonde

with enamelled toes and fingernails;

a hard face and abrupt manner constantly smoking.

Some called her cold-blooded, for she had

piercing pale bluish-grey eyes that would stare out

from her distinctive ash-grey hood she always wore.

She had left a letter one day to Alexis

that in its spidery strokes simply stated:

"I understand what has been said.

I am guilty.

I am rather confused."

Which is more than the Boy's mother had said

when she disappeared: thirteen words more.

Alexis and the Boy had built a hideout together

beyond loveless lives, so that with safe abandon

they could play the warmth of human touch

beyond threats of boarding schools and joining the army.

The Boy turned and looked at the sentry trees,

but couldn't see anything he was looking for.

Alexis had been gone an awfully long time;

she must have found an awfully good hiding place,

except it was getting dark now

and night was creeping between the trees.

Alexis had always been an expert in camouflage,

blending in when she needed to disappear.

The Boy had barely noticed her when she spent

a week waving out of her bedroom window,

after her mother had left early one morning in a hurry.

Passing her house there had been silence and closed windows,

and only a slight blur of movement through the glass;

so hazy that things just melted together in a wave of grey.

The Boy couldn't see where anything was

anymore. So, he ran home and told his aunt

about the wind and the trees and the yapping

 - and that Alexis had disappeared.

The police eventually came and put tape around the trees,

so that the wind could play its own games in the woods.

When search parties of volunteers came

and called, "Alexis! Alexis!" the wind simply

gathered their sounds and threaded them

through the regiment of uniform birches and lone oaks

and carried Alexis' name away to a hushed stillness.

After a while, even the tape blew away

and flapped its tangle in gnarled, grasping branches.

The woods stood - and brooded their capture.

A weighted, hollow oak - wedged and full -

had hidden a new friend.

And in a distant time, a white bony arm fell free,

and trembled and signalled and waved,

long after the wind had ceased

to whisper its hinterland secret.

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