Susan Ford was the youngest student in my Creative Writing class, that class was populated mostly by middle age to slightly senior folks who wanted to dip their toes, such as it was, into writing.
Susan was engaged to be married, she was the ripe old age of 25 and she says her story for this series is “partially” true. Her goal is to be a journalist, she prefers true stories to fiction. Still she says she quite enjoyed this dip into fiction writing. I thought she did pretty well.
Story begins below the dotted line.
My little brother Joshua is an enigma, always was and always will be. He has been officially diagnosed with one of those autistic-type “disorders” although there is nothing disordered about Josh. As best as I can describe, what with being his older sister, some ten years older in fact, is that Josh has some part of his brain that is very superior to even the most superior of us.
As a child Josh would spend hours working mathematic equations, you read that right. At age 5 Josh won the American Juvenile Mathematic Equation and No, like yon reader, I never knew there was such a thing.
Neither of our parents are particularly mathematic, not even especially intelligent, though I love them both dearly. For sure I never cared much for Math although I’m a pretty good student, Dad teaches high school and Mom is Chief Financial Officer of a local car dealership. We’re not a stupid group of people is what I’m saying here but none of us is even close to the intellectual level of Josh.
Except for that weirdness with the Math, Joshua is mostly a normal male type of kid, watching old cowboy movies, playing ball with the neighborhood kids. Autistic children often have some weird social interaction habits and so does Josh.
For up until Josh was seven years old, he never spoke a word to anyone until the night Santa visited Josh in a most unusual fashion.
Josh could communicate perfectly despite his verbal silence. He’d been tested by every doctor and specialist even close to us and there was never any reason for Josh’s muteness that could be explained physically.
He got so he could communicate his needs, wants and wishes, via hand movements, pantomime and writing. Our family got so we didn’t demand that Josh speak verbally to us; we just accepted it because any pleading cajoling on our part was fruitless. Other people would come in and out of Josh’s life, teachers, school friends, church pals, and they tried to get young Josh to talk and he just wouldn’t. He had his reasons and his family of four humans, two dogs, a cat and a bird with one eye accepted that because Josh was special.
Like most children, up until age 10 or thereabouts, Josh believed in Santa Claus and every Christmas looked eagerly for a visit by Santa and the gifts that would follow. At age 6 Josh specifically wanted a subscription to the Nuclear Review, an actual magazine published by the Nuclear Research Society of America and Josh got his wish that year. The first copy boxed prettily and delivered by Santa Claus as Josh slept with one eye opened that night with dreams of nuclear fission in his reading choices on Christmas Day.
The Christmas Josh found his voice was the first Christmas we shared with our new neighbors, George and Zelda Barber. George and Zelda were quiet folk, not overly friendly as neighbors but certainly amicable, always with a happy wave and small talk when seen, mostly quiet and pleasant. They had no children. George appeared to be about 20 years older than Zelda but the couple appeared to get along. Except for those frequent loud screaming matches, of course.
Josh had a special relationship with George, oddly. George Barber, it would turn out, was an engineer at NASA before retiring a year before moving to our neighborhood. NASA engineers are scientists/mathematicians….that sort of smart person who doesn’t communicate with other people all that well but science, numbers, formulas and equations are their bailiwick. Much like my young brother Joshua.
We never heard Josh share so much as a whisper of a word with George Barber that year before Joshua spoke loudly to point out his almost-murderer to the detectives who were investigating George Barber’s marital circumstances because Zelda Barber denied any knowledge as to the gunshot.
“He tried to commit suicide,” Zelda said as the local cops hauled her off down to the station for some discussion.
“HE DID NOT!” somebody shouted from behind a tree and we all looked as one at this assertion coming from the mouth of a prodigal child with autism who had never uttered a sound heard by human ears in his life.
“Joshua!” my mother shouted, running to grab the then 7-year old to both stop his interference in this very serious attempted murder investigation and in awe that her son spoke verbal words for the first time in his life.
“He told me if anything ever happens to him to make sure they take a long look at his wife Zelda,” Joshua continued shouting as the investigators looked askance at this sudden series of events, as the police then perp-walking Zelda Barber to the waiting police car, as Joshua’s mother and sister stood shocked and stunned at Joshua not only speaking for the first time in his life but using this new speech to solve an attempted murder.
We heard the gunshot that morning, me and Mom. And we knew what it was but before we could react we saw George Barber running across his lawn with no bullet holes in him but nonetheless screaming for somebody to call the police, that his wife just tried to kill him. Mom did call 911 and within minutes the police arrived and Joshua spoke for the first time in his life.
“I never needed to,” Josh said in response to my mother’s query as to why he never spoke before this incident. “And you need to speak now?” mother responded to Josh although come on, Joshua was defending his friend George Barber.
As stated, Joshua was 7 years old at the time of this incident and while he was of superior intelligence, he was, of course, just a child.
“I heard them arguing and crouched outside their window to listen in,” Joshua told the investigator.
“And around when was this?” the investigator asked.
“Right before I saw Santa entering the house across the street,” Josh responded matter-of-factly and to everyone’s surprise.
“It was great,” a young Joshua chatted on to the surprised, and confused Detective. “The drone came back with a note that Santa was on his way. So I stayed by my bedroom window and as promised, the reindeer showed up and then I saw Santa going in the door across the street. After that I heard the gunshot.”
Mom, myself and the investigating Detective all looked at each other with quizzical eyes. Here was Joshua speaking of drones, reindeer and Santa Claus going into a nearby house and in the same breath he tells of hearing Zelda Barber trying to murder her husband.
Which one was the truth…so some might question? Because a drone bringing a message from Santa Claus? A reindeer showing up on the front lawn? And Santa Claus going into a house across the street? If Josh saw all of this, impossible as one might assert, than did he hear of an impossible scene of attempted murder and be wrong about this as well?
The detective, a Martin Spruce, took a deep breath and knelt down before Joshua, a look of patience and wariness playing on his face. I noticed Detective Spruce did not have a ring and his eyes were bluer than Mom’s sapphire necklace.
“Okay, Joshua, when you crouched below the Barber’s window, what did you hear? Speak slow because I’m writing it down.”
Joshua remained mute for almost two minutes, indeed with a thought-gathering look on his face but this was a child who’d never spoke a word in his life until now. Mom and I fretted, moving about nervously. Detective Spruce use hand gestures to tell us to be calm and patient.
“I hear Mr. Barber, or Mr. George as I call him, yelling at his wife, something about getting out, to leave him already,” Joshua said, quiet but with a firmness that had listeners sure he spoke the truth. I don’t know about Mom, but I also got that bit about Josh calling Mr. Barber Mr. George which could only mean that Josh was actually verbally speaking to Mr. Barber and goodness, that man never told us this? Mr. Barber knew full well that Joshua had never spoken and he never mentioned that Josh spoke to him?
Detective Spruce of the blue eyes that go on forever was writing in a notepad, shades of Bluebloods, prodding Joshua for the story.
We’d heard the Barbers over the past year arguing, all of us, Mom, Dad, me and Joshua , we’d roll our eyes that they were at it again. The night Zelda finally took a shot at George Barber was just another night, until the shot, of course.
“I heard Mrs. Zelda scream that THIS time she was going to find that damn gun and put a bullet in his skinny ass. Then there was some kind of scuffle, like furniture being shoved around, and I heard a click, than a loud boom, than saw Mr. George running out of the house yelling to call 911.”
My mind reeled. Now we have Joshua speaking his first words with a bunch of curse words from this young brother of mine who I imagined never heard such language.
Then Detective Spruce asked an unusual question: “Was this before or after you saw Santa Claus going in the house across the street?”
I was a bit taken aback in that the question seemed designed to confuse Josh. Why bring up Santa Claus while Josh is recounting the actual events between Zelda and George Barber? These two had already been transported down to the local police station. The bullet missed George and Zelda continued to claim George tried to commit suicide and she tried to stop him.
Detective Spruce got a phone call and while he talked I knelt down and tried to get some clarification from Josh.
“Honey, are you sure you saw a drone flying around? And with a note from Santa? Where is this drone now?” I asked Joshua, glancing toward Detective Spruce as he chatted on the cell phone. It wasn’t my intent to try to change Josh’s explanation but I hoped to steer him away from that sort of assertion. Joshua took a deep breath and appeared ready to answer me when Detective Spruce returned.
“There’s a bit of a problem here,” Detective Spruce said to me and Mom after pulling us aside. “They checked both Zelda and George Barber for gunshot residue and they BOTH had some on their hands. So it IS possible that George was trying to commit suicide and Zelda tried to stop him. Whatever the case, this makes Joshua’s statement about what he heard critical. IT’s a big part of the evidence we have or else it’s just a ‘he said-she said’. You say this is the first time Joshua has ever spoken? This doesn’t make his testimony any better, sorry to say.”
With this Detective Spruce aimlessly tapped his pen against his notepad, those blue eyes regarding the surround as if looking for an answer.
“And now he is saying some drone came flying out of nowhere with a note from Santa and he saw reindeer and Santa Claus going into the house across the street,” the detective told me and Mom, using the pen to now scratch his head in decision.
“On the other hand, his quote of what he heard outside of that window doesn’t sound contrived at all. Those words were not something a child would make up,” Spruce said, those blue eyes even bluer in his confusion.
“There he is!” Joshua shouted
Joshua was standing out at the outer perimeter of our lawn when he blasted out this verbal shout. Mom, me and Detective Spruce ran out to the curb to see just where “he” is and just who is “he”.
We followed Joshua’s pointing index finger and darn if Santa Claus, was not, about as lifelike as an animation could accomplish when playing on the outside of a house, sneaking into the front door.
It was really an amazing light/animation display, the little movie that played upon the siding of the neighbor’s house. Santa Claus does appear to be walking alongside the house and he comes upon a door, said door in the movie and not the actual door into the house, opened it up and walked in.
“And here is the drone,” Joshua said, thrusting some ugly black spider looking thing at Detective Spruce. “See, right here is the letter from Santa.”
The detective read the note from what did, indeed, appear to be a small wrecked airplane drone.
“I traded my old IPad for this drone from Scott Martin,” Joshua said, this child who’d never spoken a word until this night and who was now filled with an explanation for everything. “I sent off the drone with a note for Santa and see, he sent it back!”
“Dear Joshua….I will be at your house Christmas night. I will go to the house at 901 Willow first, keep a watch out and you will see me. Leave me some milk and cookies….Santa Claus.”
Mom, me and Detective Spruce read this little missive written on a piece of note paper and fixed tightly under the drone’s right wing.
“And there’s the reindeer!” Joshua exclaimed and all eyes turned to the sight of a bull Mastiff trotting down the sidewalk, a pair of antlers affixed to its head and darn if it wouldn’t look just like a reindeer to a child expecting Santa Claus to appear. The dog’s owner walked jauntily behind, the Mastiff firmly tethered on leash and halter. The owner waved at us all and we weakly waved back. The guy had evidently been walking his antlered-dog around the block several times.
We all had to go down to the local police station and eventually, after lots of head scratching, guffaws, laughter and some anger between Zelda and George, the truth came out.
The drone was sent over by the folks at 901 Willow, the same house that had that amazing movie showing Santa Claus going into the front door. Evidently Josh did send the drone to the North Pole but it only made it across the street. When those folks found it they thought it would be a great way for Joshua to see Santa Claus who he provided with name, address and wants in a note he’d sent out on the drone.
“I calculated the time needed for the drone to make it to the North Pole,” Josh explained, “but didn’t put in new batteries as I planned.”
This child of math superiority forgot to put in new batteries. That same child thought a dog was a reindeer and an animated movie played upon an actual house was real, that Santa was real.
For all his intellectual superiority, Joshua was still a child, a 7 year old very much looking forward to a visit for Santa Claus.
As for Zelda and George Barber, Zelda finally admitted she tried to shoot George and after being charged, was released on her own recognizance. She said she was going home to her mother’s. Joshua asked us if Mr. George could have Christmas with us.
Seems George Barber was once a bigwig engineer at NASA and he and Joshua were great pals, sharing the common interest of math and science and life on a straight line. When we asked Mr. Barber why he never told us Joshua spoke to him for he knew the child had never said a word to any of us, George Barber denied any such conversation with the child.
“I understood his finger movements perfectly,” Barber declared. “We spoke in an unspoken language of Algebra, if that makes any sense,” George explained.
Which did not make a whit of sense to me at all and Detective Spruce also whispered in my ear that this was one of the weirdest cases he had in his almost six months of detective experience at that time.
Joshua is now 25 years old, has a PHD from Harvard, in Math, of course. There were still long periods of time that Joshua would not say a word but we got so we understood him whether he spoke or not.
I married that amazing Detective Spruce and we are expecting our first child in five months.