Afraid of Tomorrow, a short story by ajgaudynski. Date added: 2007-10-02. Times viewed: 1408.
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- Intro: "What does tomorrow hold?"
- The dull gray clouds loomed overhead like an unfamiliar stranger in the dense heat of summer as the grass swayed in a soft breeze. A small boy, no more than seven years of age, dressed in his finest cloths sat alone on a swing; his small hands curled tightly around the hanging chain as his feet sifted the sand beneath with a casual sway. He could not feel the warmth around him.
He was silent and by the redness of his cheeks it was clear that he had been crying. His dark hair had been cut so short and combed so neatly that it was impossible to hide this fact. He glared aimlessly upon his drifting feet, sniffing softly to himself. He seemed to almost dead to the world around him; completely lost in his own troubled thoughts.
"Are you alright?" a voice slipped in from beside him.
Barely raising his head the boy turned to see who had spoken. A second boy, slightly older, now stood lazily above; hanging on the swing's chain next to him with a pronounced lean, his head dipping deeply below his shoulders. His bright locks of curled blond hair shone brightly in the sun, contrasted heavily against his striped shirt and dark blue shorts.
"I'm fine," the first boy responded with a deep sob and shuttering inhale of breath.
"Really?" the second boy responded whimsically as he swung downward and seated himself in his own swing turning it to face opposite the weeping child. "Cuz you don't look fine to me."
The first boy winced. He could not keep his composure. Tears welled heavily in his eyes now and slid down his raw flesh in large droplets. Curling his lower lip in an attempt to fight off his approaching wails he answered in a weak and trembling tone, "Nothing is wrong. I'm fine."
Looking mildly insulted, the second boy leaned back and wrapped his arms around the chain wires as he twisted lightly from side to side. "Come on!" he boasted with playful arrogance, "You're not fine. Anyone can see that as clear as day." The first boy sunk his head lower into his lap. "What's the matter? Did somebody die or something?" the second boy asked in a passively joking fashion.
The first boy was silent. He only nodded with the most modest of motions.
"I'm sorry," the second boy responded immediacy, suddenly assaulted by his own insensitively, "I didn't mean too..."
"Its o.k.," the first boy said softly as he rose his head to speak, "it's not your fault. There is nothing anyone could have done," his voice was shallow but clear.
For the first time, the second boy got a clear look at the other. He was young, very young, but there was something about him that was different. There was a grand maturity to his face. It was lined with grief and sadness, but a blanket of absolute acceptance as well. This boy, who had obviously just suffered a great loss, held a lucidity of thought that he had not seen in most adults. Sky blue eyes radiated with an odd measure of identity and will.
"What are you doing here?" the second boy asked, presenting the first question that arose in his mind after his colossal blunder in etiquette.
"I don't know," the first boy responded with an unconvincing whimper, "I am just so afraid."
"Afraid," the second boy countered more delicately this time, fighting the urge to flash a defensive smile, "What are you afraid of?"
"Tomorrow," the first boy squeaked, "I am afraid of tomorrow."
The second boy was silent. Stunned by the strange answer, he fought the urge to laugh at its absurdity. Having never suffered a loss similar to this boy he could not understand what he meant by 'tomorrow'. It was a complete puzzle to him and left him with an odd feeling; an eager anticipation.
"What do you mean you're afraid of tomorrow?" he asked, nearly regretting that he did so, succumbing to his curiosity.
"I don't know," the first boy hemmed for time, "Everything is going to be different now, isn't it?" he stroked the swing chain gently with his fingertips as his voice cracked with each escaping word. "I am not going to have my parents around to help me anymore," he said with an unmistakable sadness, "Everything that I have ever counted on has been taken from me." He looked skyward for a brief instant. "From here on end I have to figure things out for myself. I am alone."
"It can't be as bad as all that," the second boy said, muscling up his own optimism hoping that it would rub off on the younger some. "I mean you can't possibly be expected to do everything by yourself."
The first boy let out a sigh that seemed to echo his grief. It shuttered and howled through the air like a lost voice finding its way through the wind.
"It's not like that," he cried, "Today I had everything; two parents, a home, people I could count on to protect me and keep me close." The older boy could feel his own chest well with sorrow as he listened to the soft almost pleading voice of the younger recall his previous life. "Now its simply gone, I can't go back to it, but yet I can't go forward because I don't know where I am supposed to go." He wiped his eyes with his fingers and cleared his throat with a convulsing breath. "Today is going to pass and tomorrow is going to come. There is no way to avoid it. But I know tomorrow will be different than today. Tomorrow will be worse."
The older boy was in shock. He could not believe what he was hearing. How could tomorrow be any worse than today? This kid had already lost his parents, what could make the day after this one worse? He could feel his palms began to sweat, as he swallowed hard to keep his throat moist.
"What do you mean?" he asked, his curiosity again pushing him, "I am not sure I understand."
"I have to start all over again," the younger boy replied, "Everything is new to me now; everything is something it has not been before. I don't know where to start or what to expect." His voice was becoming rough now. It seemed to lose sound as each breath passed his lips. His tears were no longer being replenished and his cheeks were beginning to dry. The exhaustion of grief was finally beginning to take its hold.
"Tomorrow will come as today has, but tomorrow will not be as today or any day past has been."
The older boy was growing more confused with the passing of each moment. He had never thought of life in this manor. It had never occurred to him that when he placed his head down for sleep at night, warm and comfortable in his bed that he could awaken to find a world completely different than the one so fresh in his mind the previous evening. The fear of what lay ahead for him never seemed to cross his mind. Even now, when it was so fresh and palpable in his mind, did the idea seem a vaporous and elusive concept.
"But tomorrow will be tomorrow," he said with casual assertion to sooth both the child and his own racing thoughts, "Tomorrow is not meant to be like today or any other. It is meant to be unique and a step toward the next. You can't control it."
The first child laid his head in his tiny hands. "I know," he spoke through a now muffled voice, "But it's just not the same for you as it is for me."
"What do you mean?"
The first boy shuttered.
"I don't know if I can explain."
The young child's body shook and his voice quaked with the forced confrontation of his worst fears, but with an effort, which seemed to be Herculean, he found his voice and thoughts.
"Its different for you than it is for me," he began, his tone barely above a raspy whisper now, "For you, you have a constant, a foundation, something that you can go back to." He looked around absently for a moment, allowing his hands to run over one another like he was feeling them for the first time before bringing his focus upon the second boy once more. "For me everything is wrong; everything is different. I don't have any friends now, and I don't have a home to go back to. I barely know where I am. Where do I go? What do I do?"
The younger boy let his hands drop to his lap. His palms faced upward in defeat.
"I don't even feel like I know myself any more," he breathed helplessly; "I remember what is to be happy and have fun. I remember the fluttering feeling in my stomach and the rush of energy in my arms and legs, but I feel as if I will never be that way again." Slowly dark lashes sunk over his eyes, loosening another pair of tear drops, allowing them to fall. "I can't shake the feeling that tomorrow I will feel the same as I do today."
"Don't say that," the second boy countered defiantly, "tomorrow is tomorrow and today is today. Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow will be better."
"How can you be sure?" an absent voice seemed to echo in response.
"You just have to believe it will be," the older boy quipped with a hint of anger, now finding words in his mouth that he could not confirm as his own. They were far more confident and far nobler than anything he had ever said before or anyone his age should utter. Something about this younger boy brought it forward in him. Something about this desperate child made him want to be sure, to be confident. He was unsure if it was that he truly shared his grief and wanted to prove that life carried on or if he wanted to prove to himself that he was untouchable by such things, that he, no matter how hard things got, they would never be this hard for him or that nothing as terrible could happen in his own life.
"I just don't know if I can," the boy sobbed pathetically.
"Well you're going to have to try," the older boy snapped, clearly agitated now, "You can't sit around for fear of what may or may not happen tomorrow, because tomorrow is going to come whether we want it to or not. There is no stopping it."
"I am afraid," the younger boy repeated his voice now even softer than it had been before, barely audible amongst the sounds of life around them.
"You need to..." the older boy began, but stopped as another call echoed through the steadily chilling air.
Eric rubbed the back of his neck as he turned his head in uncomfortable anxiety from the young child in front of him, to his beckoning mother, and back again.
"Look," Eric said with an edge of frustration and concern, "what if I make a deal with you?"
"What kind of a deal?" the younger boy asked, still staring aimlessly into the sandy ground beneath his own feet.
"You keep saying that you need something that stays the same, right?"
The young boy nodded silently.
"What if I agree to meet you here again tomorrow? There is no reason to be afraid of that is there? Would that be alright?"
The boy nodded with a half hearted roll of the neck.
"Alright then," Eric said as he stood quickly and waved to his calling mother, signaling that he would be along shortly, "I will meet you here on these swings tomorrow afternoon."
The young boy made no sound, he merely looked up; his face stone-chiseled from grief, and nodded his agreement.
With that, Eric rose from the swing and ran to his waiting mother on the opposite end of the large grassy park. As he neared, he slowed his pace and turned his head to view the boy one last time. He was gone. The swing set was empty.
"Hi mom," he said with a pant and as much enthusiasm as he could muster after his draining conversation. His heart raced.
"Hi," she replied with a smile, "what were you doing all the way over there?" she inquired with a small degree of concern, "You have been gone for a while."
"Just talking to some kid," Eric replied nonchalantly, not wishing to recount the strange conversation he had just had.
"Kid?" his mother asked, "What kid? There was no one sitting there with you."
With out a word, Eric looked back toward the empty swing set with uncertainty. His eyes were steady but unfocused. Had he just had a conversation with a grieving boy? Or had he imagined it? It all seemed so very real and the emotion was still strong in his chest.
Turning his head away he looked up at his mother and in one motion reached upward and grasped her hand in his. He held it tightly as they walked.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"I..." Eric started hesitantly, "I am just a little afraid I guess."
"Afraid?" his mother asked with an uncomfortable giggle as the child stared forward, "of what?"
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