For a few moments, no one said anything. Then, with a faint quiver in her voice, Mrs. Mapleberry gently rested her hand on Edmund’s shoulder.
“This is Edmund,” she said, her hand squeezing just a little too hard.
Silence reigned again as nobody moved an inch.
Edmund felt that he was expected to say or do something, but the woman’s eyes were hypnotizing. They were two points of purest black on milky pearls that shimmered and flickered in the gloom. Edmund couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being stripped down, annotated, and cataloged like some strange species of insect that the woman had never seen before. Every word he thought to say flickered away from his mind like a fish, hiding from the woman’s gaze.
Usually by this time the parents would have asked him something about himself; what he liked to do or what were his favorite foods; that sort of thing. They never simply sat and stared. What was he supposed to do?
Mrs. Mapleberry had asked him to bring his notebook; had the old woman told her she liked poetry? Was she expecting him to show her some of his poems? At first, Edmund was repulsed at the idea. He didn’t know this woman, and she didn’t look like she wanted to know him. How could he show his work to anyone, let alone a complete stranger?
On the other hand, if this woman did like poetry, perhaps she wouldn’t leave until he showed her some. If she didn’t like what she read, then she would probably just leave, vanishing into the black smog of Brackenburg, and everything would go back to normal. He could show her one if it would make this woman stop staring at him, couldn’t he?
Maybe one about the clock, or the tree outside? Surely that wasn’t prying too deeply into his mind. He was quite proud of his sixth clock poem. He had written it after staring at the clock for two hours, letting the tocking of the pendulum burrow into his brain until it sounded exactly like a heartbeat. Besides, he had eight other poems about the clock, and at least six on the weevils…
Edmund started to feel ashamed. That was all he had in his notebook; clocks, weevils, floorboards, and a single sickly tree in an anemic yard. It was a poor showing for a prospective parent. Alam Beets had written about thousands of things that Edmund had never heard of. Trees of all kinds and sunlight filtering though white clouds. Fine wines and soaring birds with smiling friends on the hills. Such love and hate and loss that made humours almost insufficient to explain the strength of the emotions…
Edmund blinked in surprise as he realized just exactly how much he desperately needed to leave the orphanage.
Part of Edmund wanted to explore this revelation — this sudden need to break free from the only home he had ever known — but he suppressed the urge. Whatever the reason, he needed to leave. Right now the best chance he had was with this strange woman sitting in front of him.
With a certainty that he could never remember feeling in his admittedly short life, he opened his notebook to the tenth page and pushed it forwards on the low tabletop.