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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 shyly fell
free and trembled and signalled and waved,
long after the wind had ceased
to whisper its hinterland secret.

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