Nolan decided that, no, he didn't know English after all. On the playground of another school, they'd demanded the proof of speech, and his stubborn, useless mouth refused to budge. In his closet, he found the white face paint, the leftovers from his Halloween costume. He applied it in gobs, rubbing and rubbing, blotting out that face of his. He found his parents in the den. It was tax season.
He started off slowly. He constructed a box, indicating those four familiar walls. He'd seen a mime on TV, in a movie, in a dream. It seemed simple enough. His parents looked up with concern, then amusement. A performance! A show! Their creative little boy. Their little genius.
And where was he from, people asked. Columbus. Before that, Billings. No, originally, they'd say. China? Japan? One person guessed Hawaii. Queens. Just Queens.
A domestic adoption.
Nolan was no pro. They didn't teach these skills in fourth grade. He memorized multiplication tables, wrote a story about his weekend, and even listed the presidents and their terms, but why and for what? He took a punch to the shoulder. Another to the arm. Pushes and shoves. A more pressing matter: how to breathe inside the box. How long did he have? He calculated the minutes and seconds, the life expectancy of himself. Math was a strong suit. Inhale, exhale.
Now he realized claustrophobia took many forms, could manifest suddenly, just like speech became more than grammar and syntax and “I’m fine. How are you?” He waved his arms. He pounded his fists, pounded the sides of the box. He wanted to burst out, rupture the air. He was suffocating. If only he'd known. They hadn't taught that in school either.
His arms couldn’t take anymore. Then his muscles and lungs. Yes, he wanted to scream, but oxygen had become precious, and then he couldn’t help himself. He gasped and gasped, growing woozy. He hoped they’d liked it. Would there be applause? His father clutched Nolan's body and shook him, saying, what's wrong, what's wrong? His mother stood teary-eyed and wondering about parenting and missed opportunities. Questioning their choice of social worker and adoption agency. All the moving, across the country, then across the state. Too much to put into words. Easier for the three of them to sit spent on the floor, with Nolan cradled in the middle. His parents’ clothes, the carpet, it was all covered in splotches.
Chris Wodicka lives and works in Madison, Wisconsin. His fiction has appeared previously in Juked.