Long after Thing had departed the valley, and long, long after those who were his kin had disappeared; a woman came calling on me, one oppressive day in May. Her name was Esther Williams, and she apologized for the way the sweat stains on her clothes had made her appearance look disheveled.
“It was a long train ride from the District,” she said, and by the ‘District’, I knew she meant Washington, D.C.
She was a pleasant woman, of about forty, red hair, a lip-sticked face and she seemed to always have a notebook in her hand, or at least nearby. Miss Williams, as she asked me to call her, was a features editor and reporter on The Washington Post, and she was researching an article on Thing and his ilk.
“Where they came from, where they went to, and why they disappeared,” was her remit, she told me.
I told her that I hadn’t realized they had all gone.
“Oh sure, there ain’t been one seen, since…,” she looked at her notes, “since 1953.”
So I guess she was right, Thing and his crew had gone off somewhere better, maybe they were hiding out in the woods, waiting on us to become kinder folks – heck, I don’t know.
“You were close to one,” she stated – or maybe she was just askin’ – I ain’t too sure what she was getting at, to be honest.
I simply nodded.
“So?” She said.
“What do ya want to know?” I asked.
“Everything,” she said. “Everything.”
I told her how I was a grand pappy now, and how I wish my kids and their kids had gotten to know someone like Thing.
“He was the best,” I told her. “The kindest, most caring, individual I ever did know.”
“I met him one day, when he was sitting by the road, on the way back up to his cave. He was in my class at school, but I guess I hadn’t got around to talkin’ to him. Some of the older kids had been throwin’ rocks at him and one had hit him on the head.”
She asked what had caused the kids to throw stones at Thing, and I told her, most probably their parents.
“Kids ain’t born with hate in their heart. No, that kind of thing is taught at home and it goes deep, real deep. Anyway, I cleaned up his wound and he thanked me and he walked off towards his home. You know the funny thing is, I went to one of those school reunions a while back and all those stone-throwers were sitting at the one table. All of them proud – a table of bullies – and by the looks of them, they hadn’t learned a thing. I guess hate knows its own,” I told her.
Then the reporter asked me, if anything had changed in the general attitude to Thing. Had he changed? Had we changed? I told her that I didn’t think it was Thing’s place to change.
“He was just who he was. The way he was made.”
We did get a young teacher once, came to the school. She didn’t last long, on account that her, and some of the staff didn’t get on. She taught us all about tolerance, or at least she tried. Some didn’t want to hear what she was saying – I guess being deaf to certain words is another skill that some folks are taught at home. The teacher’s name was Miss Walker, I think I might have been in love with her. I think most of the class were. I could never work out if she was for religion or against, but she used to quote the Bible some. One day when Thing came to school after gettin’ a beatin’ by a few of the older boys, Miss Walker slammed a book so hard on her table that Jessica Smith fell off her seat (I think she may have been nappin’). She said that pickin’ on folks was wrong and especially when they looked different from what you saw in a mirror. She told us that some of the greatest devils had the sweetest of faces. Then she read from the Bible, especially the bit about the sixth day – the day when God had created all the land based creatures and when man was formed. That was when she wrote on the board:
We are all children of The Sixth Day.
She said, that whether we believed in the word of God or not, there was a lesson to be learned there. We were all created equal. Tommy Rogers said that his daddy said that kind of talk was for Commies and he walked out of the class.
But I noticed a change after that day. Some folks took some time from their lessons to talk to Thing and I saw him smiling for the first time in all his days at school. Sure there were still the stone-throwers, but they found other targets for a time – although they mostly picked on anything their folks had told them was different. Maybe they were just behavin’ the way they were made, and they had no choice either. Yet I still think – you can see badness for what it is.
So this reporter, Esther Williams, thanked me for my time and for the delicious iced-tea I had served her and said she’d let me know when the article was being published in the Post.
They never did find any more of Thing’s kind of people. I hope they didn’t get wiped out by our hate, and that maybe, just maybe, they are hiding out in the woods waiting for us to become better humans.
bobby stevenson 2017