Esbos didn’t know there was anything odd about him until he started school. He asked his mother why his classmates laughed when the teacher introduced him.

His mother asked him what he remembered.

He remembered a forest full of trees. Wind blowing through leaves that changed colour from green to red to gold. Bare branches frosted white.  The scent of wildflowers. Splashes of sunlight on moss. The flash of fish in the river. The waterfall’s steady beat on the black rocks.

His mother asked him if he’d been lonely.

He remembered birds singing of corn fields and braided rivers and mountains and valleys and glaciers. Stoats and weasels with their tales of blood and guts. Moles describing bones beneath the earth. Owls recounting battles they’d witnessed, bodies they’d seen buried beneath tree roots, mothers crying for their lost children, the barely-there wraiths drifting along dark streets, curling like mist around lamp posts. These stories flowed through his veins, filled his lungs, expanded his heart and made him long for the world.

His mother asked him if he was unhappy.

He remembered seeing her walking through the forest, lifting her face to the rain, soaked to the skin, singing of ships and seals and storms at sea. Her song made him forget to hide. She thought it was the cold that had turned his skin blue, so she wrapped him in her coat and asked if he was lost. She asked who his parents were and where he lived. He didn’t know, so she took him home and made phone calls. She told him there were no reports of a missing child, and he could stay with her until someone claimed him. No one did, so she who had no children of her own, no husband, family or friends, fed and clothed and loved him and said she would be his mother. She combed his corn silk hair and called him her bonny blue boy. She taught him to read and write and paint and sing. He learned so quickly that she said he should go to school and learn all they could teach him there.

And each day the children laughed at his blue skin, his crooked nose, his corn silk hair. The teacher told them they had to be kind. But they weren’t kind. They called him names. They pinched his skin to make him bleed. When they saw blue blood on his arms and legs they scratched his face to see if he cried blue tears. Then they pulled out his hair to see if it was real. He lay curled like a question mark on the concrete as they danced around him chanting his name and shouting that he was ugly and weird. Someone poked him to see if he was dead, but he opened his eyes and began to sing. He sang of birds and bees, and fish and ferrets and foxes, and lightning flashing in the sky, and rainbows and dewdrops and newly born frogs. His songs rose above the heads of the children and up into clouds that rained on tall apartment blocks and factories and offices and buses and trains and cars. And people looked up from their computers and work benches and supermarket aisles and the children in the yard stopped chanting and all the chatter and clatter stilled and everyone began to remember what they’d tried so hard to forget.

Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from CQ University, Australia and is the author of three books. Her flash fiction appears in numerous journals including the anthologies Sleep is a Beautiful Colour (National Flash Fiction Day, UK, 2017), and is forthcoming in Bonsai: The Big Book of Small Stories (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2018). She was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize and the 2017 and 2018 Best Small Fictions. Her third novel Ash will be published by Mākaro Press (NZ) in 2019 and her first flash fiction collection Soul Etchings will be published by Retreat West Books (UK) in 2019.

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