Six year old Alice peered through the dim narrow room. "Little boy? Are you there?"
The boy came out of the shadows; he was small, about four years old. He walked toward Alice carrying a drumstick in each hand; a battered toy drum hung from a cord around his neck.
[quoteright]"There you are! I knew you would come. Will you play your drum for me?"
The little boy just smiled and stood quietly in front of Alice. She reached over and touched the drum, then lifted her hand and traced a shadow falling across the small boy's face. He immediately drifted back into the darkness. Alice dropped to the floor and tucked her dress around her knees. She smiled at herself and began to hum softly.
The little boy again moved into the light. He was standing in profile, etched in sharp detail. Alice watched him raise the drumsticks over the toy drum. She waited for him to begin playing. She had no fear that he would not eventually play for her. He sometimes took a long time to start, but she knew that he would. She just had to be patient; she watched him and tried to ignore the cold streams of shadows that seeped across the floor and walls of the room. She shivered slightly. Then she heard a familiar soft quacking sound and she jumped up excitedly. "You've brought your duck!" Alice moved closer to the little boy in the tattered short blue pants. He seemed to be pointing with one of the drumsticks toward a soft yellow blur. "Can I touch him?"
The little boy nodded at her and Alice reached out and gently laid her hand on the duck's bright golden head.
"It's a nice duck," said the small boy matter-of-factly.
"You're talking to me again. I've waited ever so long," said Alice.
'I've been busy, with my drum and with Quackers."
"Is that his name? Quackers. I like that." Alice looked up at the boy, who was now moving the drumsticks in circles over his drum.
"Her name is Quackers. She's a girl duck."
"Oh! That's why she's so pretty." Alice continued smoothing the feathery head. "I never had a duck. If my mommy and daddy were alive, I would probably have one by now." She had a firm lift to her small chin and her eyes glowed confidently in the dim light.
"I didn't know your mommy and daddy were dead. You never told me before."
"Well, there wasn't time. I would have told you, though, because you're my best friend."
"What's that funny blue mark on your face? And you have more of them on your arms, too, there and ...." The little boy pointed at Alice's upper arms. She tried to pull down the short sleeves of her dress over the blue and black stains.
"It's nothing. Listen," her voice rushed, "did you know that I'm a foster child? Did I ever tell you that?"
"No. You never told me." The little boy looked down at his drum. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry about your mommy and daddy, but you have me, and Quackers, and here," he extended his arms, "you can even have my drum."
Light suddenly exploded inside the closet.
"Who are you talking to in here?!" The woman's voice was low and dangerous sounding.
"No one. I wasn't talking to anyone, honest."
The woman raised her right fist in menace towards Alice, who was cowering against the wall of the empty cramped closet.
"I heard talking. Are you a looney? I don't wanna take care of no looney girls. I put you in that closet 'cause you was bad again. I want you to sit in here quiet and think about how bad you are."
"I'm sorry," whispered Alice, her gaze seeking the wall.
"Well, I'm going to Bingo. I've got to have a little fun. Taking care of you orphanage brats sure as hell ain't no fun. I'm going, and you're going to stay locked in this closet until I get back. And be quiet!"
The door slammed. The key turned in the lock. It was dark in the closet. Alice sat crouched in the corner waiting for her eyes to adjust. Soon she could dimly distinguish the pattern of the faded wallpaper.
"Little boy?" she whispered. "Little boy, are you there?"
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