Perpetually on the move, going nowhere and everywhere simultaneously, Sawyer Moon always kept his hands plunged deep into the pockets of his baggy, brown trousers, head bent forward as if fighting a cruel wind, legs reaching forward, grabbing ground in the manner of a soldier attempting to take a hill that will not be won. Sawyer didn’t have friends, though he often talked to Finton’s father. Most people skittered away, locked their doors and pulled the shades upon his approach. Tom Moon was the only one who never avoided Sawyer—a fact which made Finton question his father’s sanity, but also filled him with admiration for his remarkable kindness.
Sawyer was hunched over like a Grimm brothers’ troll in his khaki green Army jacket with its lamb’s wool lining that was yellowed and stained brown with tobacco, grease, and turpentine. A sprawling, dark splotch across his chest looked like Jesus on the cross, while another one on his arm resembled a map of Africa. He wore a red hunting hat, and from under his coat protruded a plaid polyester jacket over a white shirt with two buttons undone, revealing the round neck of a white t-shirt. Sawyer’s rumpled outfit had deteriorated from having served as pajamas on numerous occasions in various sketchy locales.
Ever since Finton could remember, people had warned him about Sawyer. “He’s outta the mental for the weekend,” someone would report, and the word would spread like a virus.
The most popular theory was that Sawyer had lost his mind in the war, had come home at nineteen with an arm injury, a red dragon tattoo on his left shoulder, and a small pension to reward him for being one of the few survivors of a bloody battle in Korea. Since then, and before, he had always lived with his mother Minnie. He couldn’t dress himself. He had sent away to Sears for the girl in the pink bra and panties on page forty-eight. When he was a boy, he had thrown his mother down the stairs while she was pregnant, which is why she was so stunned and he was an only child. He ate only raw meat that he killed with his bare hands, and on nights when Sawyer couldn’t sleep, he trolled the woods in search of dubious sport.
Finton had no reason to doubt any of this. His teachers would sometimes cancel recess because Sawyer Moon was “on the go.” Once, Finton’s whole gang was caught by surprise when Sawyer leaped out from behind a boulder, arms outstretched like the Mummy, his terrible pink tongue hanging to one side of his mouth and dripping saliva, his eyes blazing red. The children bolted, and Finton ran too, though he often wondered what would happen if he let Sawyer catch him.
Now ushered inside, his heart pounded like a bodhran beating the rhythm of a Celtic reel. “Don’t look out the window!” His mother peeked through the curtains. These moments, like thunderstorms or
fights between his parents, terrified him. Finton didn’t speak, but he rarely did anyway. “There’s times,” his mother would tell people, “Finton can be as quiet as death.”
Elsie slightly lifted the kitchen curtains and quickly let them fall. “He’s comin’ up the lane.” She crouched beside the cupboard, in front of the humming refrigerator; her hand lay absently upon the silver handle as if she were thinking of climbing inside. Gently, but firmly, she pushed her son away, indicating that he was to hide on his own. Finton panicked and dropped to the floor. He crawled under the table a few feet from the door, whose window was devoid of a drape and potentially exposed him to the enemy.
“Don’t make a sound,” Elsie whispered, plucking the black rosary beads from around her neck and running them through her callused fingers. “Not a single word.” He wondered what would happen if one of his brothers were to make a sudden appearance, but he figured they were down at Bilch’s, playing pool and drinking Pepsi.
Laying Man O’ War spine-up on the canvas, Finton grasped the table leg before him, fist over fist, and closed his eyes. Like the arrival of a storybook giant, footsteps stomped the concrete steps: tap-tap-stop, followed by knocking—Pound! Pound! Pound!
Finton opened his eyes and saw a wizened face peering through the window, the vacant eyes searching for human life. The voice slurred like a wounded bear: “I knows yer in there… hidin’ from me, ya bashturds!”
Finton tucked his head between his knees and hugged them close, assuming this posture would make him invisible. He shuddered and hugged them closer when Sawyer struck the door again.
“Let me in!” he roared.
As Finton looked up and caught Sawyer’s gaze, they were both transfixed. With his big-fisted paw, the intruder alternately hammered the door and rapped on the glass. Finton felt like crying. “Gotta go to the bathroom,” he whispered.
“Don’t you dare move! If he sees you we’ll have to let him in.”
Wrapped in a tight bundle, Finton quivered beneath the table and silently prayed to Jesus to make Sawyer go away. Just like counting the time between crashes of thunder, Finton breathlessly tallied the seconds separating Sawyer’s barrages. Longer spaces between poundings meant that Sawyer was getting tired and soon would leave. At first the blows rained continually, but then grew lighter, with time in between. After a while—maybe half a minute—Sawyer seemed to take breathers. The first break was eight seconds; the next was fourteen; then it was forty, and Finton could hear talking—a shout of greeting. Finally, when the knocking had stopped for several moments, he peeked out the window and saw no Sawyer. He thanked Jesus and made the sign of the cross. The storm had passed. He still dared not move, but waited for a word from his mother. She knelt on the floor, her brown, permed head bowed against the hard, white fridge and her hands clasped as she whispered a rosary.
“He’s gone,” Finton said, feeling the wonder and relief of certainty. She shot him a sharp look and finished a Hail Mary before blessing herself and going to the window to peek through the curtain.
“What in the name of Jesus—”
“Your father—what’s he doin’ out there?”
“He’s talking to Sawyer Moon. There’s more sense in a cow than there is—don’t tell me he’s bringin’ ’im in. Sweet Jesus—” She jerked away from the door and folded her arms across her chest defensively.
The door handle rattled, but Finton’s mother had locked it. His father kicked the door three times, making the windowpane jostle in its frame.
“Else! Open the door!”