Roberto, after six hours of walking behind Julio, decided that enough was enough. Be that as it may, he knew he must find a way to make contact. It was his son after all, it had to be some kind of bond between a father and a son, even for them. It had to.
“Come on, son,” Roberto begged once more, looking at the watch on his wrist, “Let ́s go back, mum must be worried.”
The nine-year-old boy, turned around and looked at his dad with those black faded eyes painted on the white sheet which covered his whole body. Roberto’s heart skipped a beat; for some reason he thought that Julio was about to say something to him. He waited, holding his breath.
Halloween night, to Roberto ́s despair, had become a harrowing yearly routine. One thing was to see his son again, enjoying his favorite night, but another thing was to feel how it became a fixation. Despite his short experience as a father, he sensed that it wasn’t healthy. The problem wasn’t that every year he wore the same white sheet with oval eyes that faded over the years and gave him, if possible, a spookier appearance. The real problem was that the little boy didn’t want for the Halloween night to end, and every year father and son had the same fight.
Roberto sighed. How easy would it be to just grab his hand and pull, or pick him up and carry him home. Too easy to be true, the experience from previous years had already taught him that it doesn’t work that way; his son doesn’t work that way, as Dr. Almagro told them years ago, even before the accident.
“Your son is not ill, his brain just works differently” The intensity of the doctor’s gaze put Roberto on guard, he knew right then and there that bad news were going hit him in the face “Julio has ASD.”
The blow, despite the face-hitting, wasn’t hard at first, although he was ashamed to admit it, he had no idea what ASD meant.
“It is serious, Doctor?” He asked, looking at his wife, hoping that she was in the same cloud of ignorance, “Is he going to be ok?”
“Autism doesn’t have a cure,” his wife slapped him with her voice “We talked about it, I told you and you don’t believe me”
“Autism!?” Roberto got up from his chair, pretending that he never heard that fateful word before. Or perhaps, it was his mind, to make the pain more bearable, who decided to hide it until a moment of true awareness, when a true expert could confirmed it. “So, what happens now?”
Julio turned around again and kept walking in the opposite direction. Roberto sighed and kept following him. It was already late, nobody was seeing on the street. All tricks or treats were long finished, normal children should be all already sleeping. Since when did this celebration become a children’s holiday? That night was about the dead, right? People we loved that are not with us anymore. Wasn’t it disrespectful for all of the deceased in the world? Shouldn’t it be a night of remembrance for all of them? Roberto never ceased to look for excuses to disqualify the celebration that, year after year, was breaking his soul. And his nerves.
“Julio!” He shouted, and the eco of his son’s name flew around the whole neighborhood. “That’s enough!”
Julio stopped. He turned his head back at him, his colorless eyes, fading on the white sheet, looked sad. Roberto realized what he had to do, even though he didn’t want to. Not again. But he knew, in his heart, that it was the only thing left to do. He didn’t want to hurt him, or her for that matter, but sometimes there is nothing like pain to show us where to go. He took his phone out of his pocket.
“Oh, look! It’s mum!” He showed him the phone, waving it in the air, “I told you she was worried, haven’t I? Oh! Hi, Marisa. How? How are you?” Roberto said as he put the phone over his ear, surprised that she even picked it up.
Julio started to walk towards him, he could swear that, since the accident, that was the first time his son walked towards him, straight to him, voluntarily. Until that moment, the game had always been Roberto following his son around the streets until, both exhausted the child and the night, the little one gave up and went home. But this time, Julio was walking towards him, on his own free will.
“He is walking towards me, what do I do?” he said nervously on the phone “He is just ten steps away from me and still coming, Marisa! What do I do? “
Marisa took the punch better that her husband. She put on the cape, she wore the supermom patch on her chest and flew off to gather every piece of information, help and resources available about Julio’s condition. Roberto, on the other hand, shut himself up. Layers of pain, frustration, misinformation, guilt and insecurities made their way into his head. That was probably the reason for lowering his guard the day of the accident. Perhaps, those three seconds that took him to react, were a direct consequence of his worst-father-of-the-world self-proclamation. Three seconds that could had stopped him.
“Please stop calling me” Marisa’s voice sounded tired “You know the rules, no more calls or visits…”
“Listen, Julio heard me scream and now he is walking towards me” He said without even listening to her, “He is right in front of me and I don ́t know what to do, Marisa.”
“What time is it?” She asked without changing the sad tone of her voice, “Are you out on the street?”
The boy raised his hand towards the phone and his father gasped, petrified.
“Ma… Marisa?” Roberto started to lower his phone to his son, raising his voice to make sure she could hear him “I think, it seems that he wants to talk to you? I’m passing him the phone, Marisa!”
“To talk to…” Marisa’s voice broke, she wanted to remind him that Julio doesn’t speak, he couldn ́t speak since…
Marisa ran to the hospital, literally ran. The offices she was cleaning at the time, were just two blocks away. Children, disguised as monsters and zombies, roamed the streets, oblivious of that woman’s despair, passing through them like a tornado. The call was brief and surprisingly not from her husband, but from a police officer. Her son has been hit by a bus. He crosses the road wrapped in a white sheet with eyes painted with shoe polish. He had a severe head injury and half his tongue was gone, cut with his own teeth, due to the impact against the bus. He would never speak normally again, doctors said.
“Tell him something, please” Roberto begged as he moved his phone closer to his son’s covered ear. “He is listening”
On the other end of the line, Marisa covered her mouth trying really hard not to cry out loud, so she wouldn’t wake her partner up, sleeping next to her. A long time ago, she stopped wondering why he kept doing that, but it was still hurting. Still extremely painful. Even with the restraining order, or the phone number’s changes, Roberto always found the way to get to her. And always on Halloween. The day all started.
The boy waited patiently to hear anything from the phone. Marisa, aware that there was only one way to end it, as she did many times before, uncovered her mouth. Her hand was trembling.
“Julio?” she asked with a barely perceptible thread of voice, “Honey?”
The boy, hearing his mother’s voice, dropped the phone. He started screaming and shaking under the white sheet with the faded, painted eyes. Marisa wanted to hung up, but those screams were too painful to ignore. She started to cry.
“I can’t take it anymore” she thought out loud, as she tried to cover the phone, so her partner won’t wake up. She took the phone up again. “I’m very tired of this Roberto, please… You need to stop it, no one ever blamed you for it.”
Marisa’s partner grabbed the phone from her hands, making her jump.
“Bloody lunatic!” he yelled at the phone “This has gone too far, too bloody far! Tomorrow we’re going to the police, did you hear me? It’s been nine years, nine! I won’t take it another day. Did you hear me?”
Marisa’s partner took a deep breath and calmed down a bit, he hugged her, understanding how much harder must it had been for her. He hanged up and put the phone away.
“I’m fine” she lied. Deep down she felt sorry for Roberto. She knew that her ex-husband’s guilt was eating him alive. “Let’s go back to sleep.”
“He used the child voice again, hasn’t he?” Anger run through Marisa’s partner body, like an electric shock “Fucking lunatic…”
Julio stopped screaming when the phone connection was lost. Shaking till the end, his body disappeared, and the sudden empty and wrinkled white sheet, fall to the ground. Teary and relieved, Roberto picked up the phone.
“Are you still there?” He asked fearfully. “He is gone, finally. Marisa?”
Julio didn’t recover from the injuries. He died two months after the accident. Roberto knocked on Marisa’s door almost a year later, the day after Halloween, claiming that Julio, their son, their dead son, came looking for him the night before to go trick or treat together, to just disappear again before dawn. Marisa begged him to seek help, she
tried to make him understand that it was normal to feel like that after such a traumatic experience, that it wasn’t his fault and no one blamed him for it. But he couldn’t understand what was she talking about.
Roberto put the phone back in his pocket, picked up his son’s sheet from the sidewalk, folded it carefully and started to walk back home, with mixed feelings in his heart. He knew that there were only three hundred and sixty-four days left to see his son again.