If Boswell hadn’t taken it personally when moments after escaping his mother’s womb a strange man slapped him on the ass, perhaps things might have ended differently. You’d think it’d be impossible to remember that event, but when Boz would occasionally be “in the mood” to tell stories, he would describe that moment in the finest of detail. He would say the doctor’s name was Smirnoff. He’d heard a nurse say it, and “who could forget the name of your first bully.”
There was only one person in the world who’d heard that tale; Heather Marx. She was in fact one of the very few to ever hear the boy’s voice, and the last to hear him speak at all.
Heather and Boswell grew up neighbors in a well to do suburb of Chicago. Boz was not a happy child. He was prone to over reaction, tearing up at any raising of any nearby voice. His parents were kind folk, but exasperated. By his twelfth birthday, they finally had stopped trying to develop their son into what they believed to be a “normal” child, and simply supported him as he was; “eccentric”, as his mom would explain to the neighbors, “like Vincent Van Gogh.”
Heather on the other hand was nearly always happy, and had skin like a shark’s; virtually impenetrable. By six she’d understood what most never grasp, that happiness is a choice, that it’s not circumstances but reactions that are important in life. She considered Boswell her mission shortly after they’d met, but he too was impenetrable; his shell was more a prison than a shield and try as she might, Heather could never find the key to his release. In her mind, that made her even more responsible for the boy’s wellbeing.
Shortly after Heather turned 13, her father was relocated by his employer to an office in Southern California. She and Boswell nearly had mutual heart attacks, decrying the probability that they would be eternally separated. But in a mighty swirl of serendipity, Heather’s father explained to Boz’s dad that his company was looking for others to work for them in their new office, and that he’d put in a good word for him if he liked the idea. He did, an application was made, a glowing reference was added and Boswell’s dad was awarded a position. For quite some time thereafter, Boswell’s parents were even more patient with him than usual.
Being strangers in a new school drew Heather and Boz closer yet. They spent as much time as possible together, but as the year progressed Heather found additional friends elsewhere while Boswell found himself a target of the school bullies. After his first bout with threatened violence, the boy took to hiding in stairwells and empty rooms until moments before he was expected in class, and then racing to his seat so as to avoid being verbally thrashed by his teachers for tardiness.
Heather understood; she always understood. Even as Boswell grew more and more quiet she made clear that she would always be his friend, that she would always listen if he had anything to say. To prove her empathy she made sure to integrate Boz into her new clique, demanding only that he be treated graciously by any who wanted to call her a friend. The girls she’d met accepted Boz without question. The boys on the other hand did so grudgingly, and that false support became the focus of a serious obsession with self-doubt.
“They don’t care about me” he’d mutter under his breath each time he saw her enjoying someone else’s company; “maybe she doesn’t either. Maybe she never has. Maybe I’m just her little mascot.”
Of course there was a voice of reason as well, as self-pity is best served on a bed of misdirection. “God you moron” a voice in his head would whisper, “you’re pathetic. She’s only been sweet to you and now just because those other creeps fake friendship because they want to be around her so badly they’re willing to let you near them without kicking you, you’re going to blame your lot in life on Heather? Maybe you should just shuttup and let her live her life without an albatross.”
Boswell started seeing Heather less and less as they grew into their new school. She was very unhappy about it, but had decided to allow Boz his space. He didn’t avoid her, always waved hello, nearly always smiled; but then he’d move on as if they were nothing beyond acquaintances and he’d given her just due.
The bullying continued, the mad dashes started further and further from the school campus and Boswell became more and more withdrawn. By the end of their first year the boy had receded to near silence, just as Heather had become a fixture in the most popular circles.
That summer Boz noted that it seemed whenever he had something to say it was judged to be stupid or thoughtless or, well, stupid. Granted, most of the people who accused him of saying stupid things were people Boswell thought to be pretty stupid themselves, but somehow he’d find a way to crown them intelligent, even intellectual, if only in regards to what they thought of him and his obviously stupid prattle. Even his parents, who would never openly call him stupid, would berate him for his imperfect grammar. Boz knew, his parents thought he was an idiot too. So he resolved to never say another word aloud.
It was hard at first. Yet after a few months he found silence to his liking; no expectations, no badgering, no insults save the catcall “weirdo” but even that he grew to like. Weirdo was a badge of honor, it was recognition at least. He preferred “unique”, but he’d not say so aloud. The rest of the school though thought he was far from unique. Nuts, crackers, whacko and “mentally challenged” were the titles bestowed on him.
Heather would still make a point to assure him they were still friends and that she was still ready and willing to listen if ever he had something to say. She seemed to understand even this variation of “Boswellian” behavior, a point that made Boz a tiny bit proud of himself, though upon thinking it he immediately buried the thought under piles of self-aggrandizement.
The high school years passed, as did Boswell, barely. Heather graduated as well, with a 4.0 GPA. She was accepted into Berkeley as an engineering student. She had no idea that Boswell had also been accepted into Berkely, as a custodian. She saw him on her first class day, and was stunned to think he’d given up on his life.
One afternoon in the cafeteria Heather pulled Boz aside to tell him she was really concerned, that she really wanted to spend some time with him. Her parents were going out of town for the weekend and the house would be hers alone. Would he please come over so they could spend all day together like they used to?
Reluctantly he nodded. It was all he could offer.
That Saturday she was prepared for his silence. She did all the talking; though she gave him plenty of time to respond to each topic, never pressed him but only requested a nod on occasion.
There was though an uncomfortable minute or two, as Heather explained to Boz about a guy who was stalking her. Well no, she wasn’t certain, that’s why she hadn’t reported him to the campus police but it couldn’t be coincidence, could it? Well anyway…
Boswell left Heather’s that night with mixed feelings. He was elated that they’d come together again, thrilled to think that she actually did care after all. He was also overcome with a sense of dread. He decided he would hang out in Heather’s neighborhood the following day, just to be certain, of … something.
That Sunday Boswell was a shadow, skirting Heather’s parents’ home every hour from dawn to dusk seemingly without a soul noticing his vigilance.
It was well after dark when Boswell saw Heather inside the house, turning on a few lights and padding around. She was safe, all was well, his paranoia was just that. He turned to go. And then a noise brought his gaze to the garden bed beneath her parents’ bedroom window. There was a man standing there, peering in.
The realization nearly knocked him to his knees. What would he do now? Shout? He tried, but nothing would come but air. Call the police? No phone! No voice! The police; the police station was only a few blocks away. He darted through the yard and into the street. Suddenly he slowed. What would he do when he got there? If he tried to drag a cop outside he’d surely be arrested, if he wrote a note and waved it around he’d be laughed at for sure. He had to confront the man on his own. But that thought scared him more than any other. It was one thing to suffer the poking and prodding of bullies who would go away once you’d met their demands, but to have an actual fight?
The image of Heather fighting off an attacker gave Boz a burst of adrenaline. He ran back to the window to make his stand, but the man was gone; the screen was on the ground in his place, and the window was wide open. The smashing of glass pushed him to scramble into the window where he tried to shout his friend’s name.
“Heather? Heather?” He screamed; frightened, angry, helpless. Not a sound left his lips but the shoosh of warm air. His silent scream though did seem to have an effect. A door opened and slammed, and then all was quiet.
Boswell moved into the living room. There Heather lay, blood oozing from her throat which had been sliced to the spine by a shard of broken mirror. He warmed, began to sweat. He swore his blood was pooling right alongside hers. He sank to the floor and carefully slipped her nearly severed head into his lap and rocked her softly as in his mind he hummed a lullaby. All he could see was the face of an angel. Hours later when the police arrived to investigate the open window they found Boswell still rocking, still staring into the eyes of his one and only friend. When asked what had happened, Boswell did sincerely try to speak the truth, but couldn’t. He just couldn’t.
The investigation into the murder of Heather Nygard was swiftly completed. The prime suspect, Boswell Valons uttered not a single word throughout the four weeks in progress; but an army of others spoke volumes, beginning with the Nygard’s neighbor who had seen Boz skulking about on the day of the killing. Then there were the old friends of Heather who spoke to Boswell’s having always been someone who’d creeped them all out but of course they’d deferred to Heather’s kind heartedness.
By the time the case came to trial it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that this Boswell boy was deranged and would need to be sentenced to an end by chemical stew.
Boswell’s parents were devastated, and to show it they moved out of town well before the trial had ended, days after Mr. Valons was relieved of his duties at Nestwing Cable Company because his presence had proved too much a distraction to his coworkers.
Boswell accepted his fate without a murmur. He deserved to die after all, were it not for his inaction, or cowardice, or whatever it was, Heather might still be alive. He did think about the fact that a killer would go free because of his allowing the execution of an innocent man, but that voice of reason was drowned out by those in his head that scoffed at the concept that he was “innocent”.