THE GREEN BOY

Her husband was always bringing home some small creature that needed help and protection, like a kid who brings home pups. Except he was just as likely to bring a bird with a broken wing or even a bug or a small reptile. That was okay with her. She coped. And she developed a telephone list of people around town — say biology teachers and veterinarians — who might have good advice about what to do. Usually after an interval they either died or were set free. (The foundlings, not the experts.)

He said he was trying to prove that mathematicians have hearts. She knew his work was about math but couldn’t understand much more than that, though he drew her lots of diagrams with little arrows and bell curves. But it didn’t bother her because she strongly suspected that he considered her along the lines of those little creatures that needed protection and she liked that. It wasn’t that he put her down, thought she was lesser. In fact, he sometimes had the idea that even God needed consolation for all the wounds He suffered. “Then are you pretending you’re God?” she asked. Not. He joked that he was God’s little buddy.

Her own thing was domesticity on rather a high plane. I mean, she knew how to clean or fix anything from a lampshade to a book losing its binding. Her kitchen was orderly and spotless. There were vignettes on the tabletops. The beds she made weren’t just clean, they were clouds of color and pattern with a bright reading light in just the right place. Pets loved them and so did her mathematician husband. Sometimes, while she drifted beside him, he would read to her. She didn’t care what — she just loved the sound of his voice.

If she had been in the movie or magazine business, they would have called her a stylist. The couple had a friend who was an anthropologist and called her an expert on material culture, because she found things that went together somehow though they weren’t from the same place or period. The association was just in her head unless an observer took time to reflect. Then it became a story.

One day her husband brought home a human being, a small dark boy. There were legal issues to address, but clearly there was no place to go for this boy so he would have to stay. He was no trouble: he just sat and watched. Eating was fine — she tactfully presented food that could be casually eaten from the hands. Bedtime was a bit of a problem, because he wouldn’t get into the bed. He wanted to sleep on the floor. But then the most recent puppy got into bed with him and that was all right.

That first night she hadn’t realized how dirty he was, which shows how surprised and rattled she had been, and then the boy was as afraid of the bathtub as of the bed, so she threw the puppy in with him and then it was all right. Her husband laughed and said, “You always figure it out.” Of course, he didn’t have to clean up the bathroom afterwards, but she sort of enjoyed doing it. Restoring order. Mother Nature.

One cannot simply set a little boy free like a bug or even consider the possibility of him dying like an injured sparrow, but clearly there had to be someone somewhere that he belonged with. Cagily, he would not tell anything about it. He almost seemed deaf. He liked right where he was, esp. with the puppy right next to him. A lady cop and a male social worker came to visit and took a lot of notes. The cop said, “It’s a pity he can’t just stay here.” The social worker was busy play-wrestling with the pup.

No one came forward to claim the boy. He was too young for school, so she just made a junior partner of him, esp. in the garden which he seemed to understand right away. He knew weeds from flowers and transplanted new things gently but firmly. When the pup dug up seedlings, he just replanted them and gave them lots of water. The pup, too, and washed off the pup’s paws with the garden hose. She sort of suspected he was Mexican and that his father did yardwork. He was neither too fat nor too thin and the family doc saw no other problems. They tried to speak Spanish to him, but he didn’t seem to connect.

One of her little vignettes was her dressing table, so when she first saw the boy sitting there, she was a little worried — some of those things were treasured. He had a green fiber-tipped marker and was drawing a curly mustache on his face. He looked up at her with twinkling eyes and laughed. She took the marker, steadied his chin with her free hand, and turned the mustache into green vines growing all over his face with lots of leaves. He looked in big round mirror and laughed even more. Then he stood up on the fancy bench with its eyelet flounce and put a hand on her shoulder to keep her there. He drew small things all over her face but she didn’t look until he had finished.

Her face was covered with little green frogs, very lively, as though they might jump any minute! Then the two of them DID jump and the pup barked because the front door slammed and they heard men’s voices. The husband called for his wife and the boy and they went down to show their faces.

It was the boy’s father! “Mon fils bien-aimé, je l’ai eu si peur quand nous ne pouvions pas vous trouver nulle part!” Tears ran down his face. He wrapped the boy in his arms.

The boy was also full of joy. “Cher papa, je suis parfaitement sûr! Vous me l’avez dit le monde est un bon endroit et je vois qu’il est.”

Then he asked, “Aimez-vous mon visage?” The man had hardly looked at the wife and had been hugging his son so closely that he couldn’t see his face. Now he looked, “Aha! A green man! I knew you would be one!”

The husband explained to his wife, “The green man is a vegetation god who is portrayed in sculpture all over Europe.” She knew that, but she liked him to explain things to her.

Then both men turned to the woman and stared at her collection of little frogs. At once they understood the reciprocity of it. “Your son is quite the artist, sir!” Her husband laughed and explained to his wife. “Aristophanes, author of “The Frogs,” was always my favorite Greek playwright!” “Kre ke ke keck, ko ax, ko ax!” he quoted. The puppy made circles of delight around them.

It turned out that the boy was son of a French botanist, which is why he knew about plants and why he didn’t speak Spanish. Everyone was so pleased about the reunion that they never did get around to figuring out details about how the boy was separated from his father or where his mother went anyway, until the cop and the social worker came back to finish the paperwork. It took much longer for them to tie up the ends of the case. Many phone calls. Much paperwork in two languages.

It was happy work for them because it all ended well and the man and his wife were delightful even though in certain lights the wife almost seemed to have tiny green frogs haunting her face. From her point of view, the best thing was that the pup went with the boy so there was space for the next creature her husband would rescue, each to be provided for. She herself needed to be needed. Her husband needed . . . her.

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