UNHEARD by Dylan James Harper
The truancy officer had left several messages at the Franklin house prior to his visit. A small chainlink fence surrounded the modest front yard, which featured several flower boxes filled with weeds, was as lacking colour as the drab home itself, save for a single thriving lemon tree. The tree, which was overwrought with yellow fruit, was very close to the front porch, which was covered in fallen lemons.
The officer knocked on the door, and after a few minutes of no reply and no audible footsteps inside, rang the doorbell. Almost as soon as his finger had left the button, the door opened, revealing a stout woman with long braided hair, in a wheelchair. The officer was embarrassed.
“Oh, uh, sorry, I didn’t hear anyone inside so…” his voice trailed off.
He expected her to invite him in, ask who he was, or at least greet him in some way, but she didn’t, just sitting there in silence looking at him.
“Uh, okay, my name is Steve Harden, and I’m a juvenile probation and truancy officer, here on behalf of the City of Petaluma, and Petaluma Unified Schools, and I’m here about your daughter.”
The woman didn’t react to this at all, but she rolled backwards and held the door open so Steve could follow her inside.
“Are you Carol Lewis, the mother of Stephanie Lewis?”
The woman nodded, as she rolled herself up to a bowl of cereal that sat on top of a card table in the middle of her kitchen.
“Well, like I said, I’m here because Stephanie Lewis has been absent from Petaluma Middle School for the last seventeen days. I’m here to inquire as to her absences and perform a wellness check. Where is Stephanie?”
Carol took another bite of her cereal, before picking up the bowl and starting to roll over to the kitchen sink.
“She ran to the store, to pick up more milk.”
Steve took out a notepad and began to scribble on it.
“Are you aware of the amount of absences she’s had this semester?”
“I didn’t know the exact number,” Carol replied, betraying nothing with her even tone.
Steven couldn’t help but feel like he was being strung along here.
“Do you know why she’s been missing school?”
Carol, who had been running water on the bowl, finally dropped it to the bottom of the sink, turned the water off, and spun around to face him.
“Yes, I do. She has been getting bullied by her peers for three years now, from sixth grade to eighth grade.”
The even tone was gone, replaced by an outpouring of anger, as she continued.
“I have contacted teachers, the principal, members of the school board, the super intendant, and heard, at best, nothing in reply. At worst, I’ve been accused of lying, had teachers accuse my daughter is lying. One teacher told me she didn’t think the bullies were real, but when my daughter comes home crying every day, I don’t know what else to do.”
There was a long pause. Steve had attempted to write some of this in his notes, but instead just tried to take it all in. He had been waiting for this, the anger, the frustration, the sense of powerlessness he felt in every word. Tears had come to her eyes, and she had turned her back to reach for a washcloth to wipe them.
Steve, of course that wasn’t his real name, stood up, and began to peel off the skin that concealed his real form. He put forth a great amount of effort to get out one last question in the mundane, human, public sector worker voice he had perfected over the years.
“Does your daughter walk home from the store through the lemon grove?”
Carol, who hadn’t turned around yet, who couldn’t comprehend the danger she was in, or the danger she would be placing her daughter in by answering, sighed, and started to reply.
Before she could finish the sentence, the creature, which now fully shed its skin, was on her. It was over in an instant; there was no need for him to drag it out. The feeling of powerlessness, of not being seen or heard, the inability to protect and provide for a child, all were enough to sustain him. He wasn’t so cruel as to take any more than she had provided, but he was cruel enough to go find her daughter.