Water Child

Bonnie Brewer-Kraus



            She caught glimpses of the car through the pines as it zigzagged up the mountain road toward her small cabin. Only one reason the sheriff would be tearing up the road: her son Zale.

                Fifteen years ago, she had given birth to a fat baby boy with turquoise eyes. “Eyes you could drown in,” her mother had said. Eyes identical to those of the shadowy man she had encountered in the park, distraught after a fight with her husband. The husband who proudly claimed Zale as his own nine months later. The child born under the sign of Cancer, the lonely crab who inhabits the subconscious.

She recalled the man’s cool hands in the dusk, his skin smelling of the sea. He was like a lovely dream after the hot, harsh words of her husband. Afterward, the man bathed her in a shallow stream, the water running over her breasts and thighs. She felt no shame. His voice was like the soughing of wind through leaves or water over stone. Toward dawn, she watched him dissolve into the stream until he was merely a silver outline. His eyes were the last to disappear, a blue flash. The leaves whispered, name him Zale.

Over the months of her pregnancy, she convinced herself that she fell asleep in the park and dreamed a fantasy lover, until she saw the same eyes looking at her from the face of her son. Her husband blamed himself for driving her from the house that night and asked no questions. “Let’s never speak of it again,” he had said.

                The sheriff’s car roared into the clearing before her cabin and a tall woman with black hair emerged. Luna had dealt with her before. Zale checked every box for the deputy as a born suspect.

                 “Morning, Ms. Zaaren,” the deputy said. “We’ve got a missing kid at the lake campground. I’d like to speak to Zale. Is he home?”

                 “I’m sorry to hear about the child, but why would that have anything to do with Zale?”

Authority figures, teachers, doctors, police, were Zale’s natural enemies. They wanted to lock him up or drug him or treat him. What they couldn’t understand must be transformed or killed.

 And of course, Zale wasn’t home. The older he became, the less he could tolerate a roof over his head. He needed rain in his face and wind in his hair. Sometimes he lay on the earth to feel its heartbeat and listen to creatures underground. She had seen him press his face into mud, melt into a river, and then emerge like mist from a waterfall. He terrified and awed her.

                “The boy’s mother said he talked about a silver-haired, green-eyed man in the woods who could make waterfalls in his hands. She thought he was imagining things. Could you please tell me where Zale is, Ms. Zaaren? They’re searching the woods.” The deputy wasn’t looking at her but scanning the brush. She had her hand on her gun.

                “He’s not here, I don’t know where he is. I’ve got to find him before they frighten or hurt him,” Luna said, her mouth dry.

                “You’re not going anywhere.” The deputy spoke to her as if she were a naughty child. “I’ll send someone to stay with you. We need to find that kid.”

                 Luna surveyed the immensity of the valley, the mountain slopes covered with pine, spruce and juniper, the dense forest that had once promised safety.

                The deputy’s parting words were, “If he comes back here, call us. You can’t protect him.”

                Luna realized that she might have only a tiny window to find Zale before the guns and dogs did. She laced up her good boots, packed water and trail mix, and slipped down the back trail. She had an idea where he might go.

                Zale’s hair turned luminous silver when he was six. Her husband had wanted to dye it, one of his attempts to make Zale normal, but she refused. He had tried to bond with his son by playing catch, but Zale tossed the ball on the roof and walked away. Fishing was a disaster: Zale grabbed the fish from his father’s line, whispered something to it and gently released it.

Only swimming interested Zale, and he was so unnervingly good that his prowess became a provocation. Zale couldn’t sit still at school and annoyed the teachers. He only wanted to swim or wander in the woods or draw pictures of underwater fantasy worlds.

                Luna homeschooled him. She held the secret of the green-eyed man close. Zale was unusual but he was human, and she would find a future for him in this world. He was her son, too.

                Everything changed when Zale was nine and his father impulsively hugged him. Zale looked at Tony and said, “You’re going to die in eight months.” Tony slapped him, and Zale withdrew into a trance-like state which lasted two days.

Zale whispered to her, when he emerged from the trance, “When people touch me, I see their deaths.” They were in his blue bedroom where three aquariums bubbled.

“I touch you. Do you see my death?” She didn’t believe him, but she needed to find out more. She accepted that he was different, but she resisted thinking that he was cursed. He didn’t answer at once, just moved his transparent magnetic blocks about, conjuring fantastic structures that seemed to defy the laws of gravity.

“No,” he said, without looking at her. “I can’t see your death.” She knew he was lying, and it gave her a chill.

                “When did this start?”  

                “The first time was Ladia, my math tutor. She touched my arm and I saw her car plunging off a bridge, her face screaming in the windshield.” Luna recalled Ladia and her terrible death.

                “Remember Mr. Ochoa next door? He handed me some mail and our fingers touched. I saw him falling down the basement stairs, lying on the cement floor. I warned him, but it just made him angry. I tried not to touch people after that.”

                Mr. Ochoa had complained to her about her morbid son two weeks before falling down the stairs. No one discovered him for two days.

                Zale suspended a tower of blue triangular prisms midair, holding them by his fingertip.

                “I don’t want to know how people die. Maybe I’m causing it.” His face was full of anguish and suddenly the entire block structure, the tower and prisms, collapsed. Two weeks later, Tony was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and eight months later, he died. She and Zale sold the house and moved to the cabin in the mountains.

                She stumbled down the steep trail, through rocky slopes and dense stands of spruce. Plum-colored clouds skated across the sky, pregnant with rain. She emerged at the foot of a cliff, down which a thread of water cascaded, forming a pool shielded by boulders. She sat down, closed her eyes, and waited.

                When she opened them, Zale was there. Slim, glowing, his silver hair blowing in the wind. Her heart broke for him. The boy was there, too, a small blonde child with gleams of silver in his hair. He had Zale’s eyes. There was no way back from this.

                Zale smiled his sad and secretive smile. “Mom, he’s like me. He can’t stay with them, they’ll destroy him.”

                The child was wan and dirty. “Are you okay?” She asked.

                The boy glanced at Zale and said, “I want to stay with him. I see and feel things that scare me. My parents think I have a devil in me and want to take me to an exorcist.” Luna wondered if the boy’s mother dreamed of a man of water and a night of ecstasy.

                “They’re hunting you. Where will you go?”

Zale embraced her and she tasted the sea on his skin. It was like catching a wave in her arms, impossible to hold. She cried and he absorbed her tears.

                Zale whispered, “I know who my father is, he will come.” The rain started, hard little droplets that stung her skin. She cried harder for all she would never understand.

                She heard a shout, “Get down on the ground. Get away from the boy.” Men on the ridge above. Men scrambling down the rocky trail.

                “He is here,” Zale said.

She gazed into the rain and stared into the aquamarine eyes of the man in the park. Zale picked up the boy and stretched out his hand to his father. She felt, rather than saw, the sniper on the ridge taking aim and she stretched her body to shield her child. The shot hit her in the upper back.

                She staggered and fell, the rain covering her as she watched the last traces of her son dissolve above her. She still felt his touch in the droplets that caressed her face.





Bonnie Brewer-Kraus is a fiction writer and essayist who lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in sight of Lake Erie. She is a former architect who is a member of Literary Cleveland, the NEO Writer’s Group and is a volunteer reader for the Gordon Square Review. Her fiction has been published in The South Florida Poetry Journal, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and The Gordon Square Review. Her most recent essay, “Dandelion Dreams” was published in Reflections on the Land: An Anthology.