Today started out bad. Most days do. The pain crept from waking aches like fingertips brushing skin to screaming orgies of hot pokers in my bones before eight. I acted as I had to, and the target this time was young. It almost never is, but he had this smile like the world contained no pain at all and I lashed out without thinking en route to work. The world has many tricks in it, most of them sour and ugly: mine is like that. I’ve a friend who believes in magic, but I don’t think magic can fix anything. Not properly. It’s never there when you need it for real pain, for cancer, for what happens when a heart sours and rots or when age creeps into your body like an unwanted guest that will not go.
On the really bad days, I think Death is a rapist that takes us a little at a time for daring to grow old, for all the medicines and marvels of our technology are an affront and Death gets revenge in the slow decay of entropy. The body? The Mind? Both? Death does not care how it happens, only that his revenge is wreaked on the world. Today I ached with too many pains.
And so there was the boy. I have no idea how he got in front of me. I don’t move fast, because of pain and age, but I could have sworn I never saw him on the sidewalk. He was just there like a mirage. His face was full of baffled hurt and he was eleven – I didn’t even question how I knew that, not even why – as he stared up into my face.
“Excuse me? You threw your pain into me without even asking,” he snapped, as if asking made all the difference in the world. As if someone would accept arthritic agony if you asked them to. He didn’t look hurt, but I figured it was because he was young. Or I’d missed and thrown the pain into someone else. Not that I cared. I used to think the worst part about pain was that it took away the capacity to care, but that’s the kind of stupid thought poets have.
I stepped back, even so. There was something solid about the boy. As if he was somehow more real than I was, which made no sense at all. I turned, and a woman was standing behind me. I hadn’t heard her, and the boy greeted her as, “Charlie,” with a grin you could hear in his voice. Her eyes reminded me of childhood nights I’d rather never know again.
“You’re dealing with anyone over this, you deal with Jay,” she said softly. “He’ll be far nicer than I,” and she sipped coffee, the action so ordinary that on other days it would have made all this seem normal.
I turned back slowly to the boy. I could have shouted, Screamed. Got help and forced them away. Maybe. But there was something determined in the boy’s gaze, some hurt that demanded an answer. “It is what I do. I have rent. Bills. I cannot be unable to function, so I have learned to throw my pain onto others,” I said, and it sounded utterly silly even as it remained true.
“Ooooh. I didn’t know a pain kinetic existed at all,” and the kid sounded happy about that. “But I also don’t think it’s a good thing and hurting strangers is all kinds of wrong-face you know.”
“What?” I asked.
“He means not being jaysome,” the woman named Charlie said behind me.
“I have no idea what that is.”
The boy blinked. For a second he looked so shocked I thought he’d finally registered the pain I’d put into him. “That’s really wrong too you know,” he said, and there was nothing save certainty in his voice that somehow I did know that. “Being jaysome is pretty importantable and forgetting it and doing mean things isn’t good at all,” and then he grinned.
The grin earlier had been at a distance. This was close, directed and I swear to God it felt like a weapon. I almost staggered under everything it was, and everything it told me about the boy. “But I hurt you,” I croaked out.
“Uh-huh. but I am tough like a Jay and even if I wasn’t you didn’t want to hurt me,” he said with the same appalling certainty that no one would ever really want to hurt him at all.
“This is what I am. What I have to be. What I learned to be in order to survive. I can’t afford to be broken by pain, so I learned how to – move it. Push it into others. A kinetics of pain.”
“And you never tried to take pain out of people?” the kid asks, as though that should have been my first – my only – concern.
“Oh.” And this word is said in a different tone. “Charlie?” he asks.
“Your call,” the woman behind me says. “I’ll vouch for the exception.”
“Okay. I’ve decided to be jaysome about this,” the kid says, as though I should have any clue what that means just because he says it again. “Because I’m Jay, and I think Honcho would be nice if he could so –.” And I feel it, feel the pain leap out of me and into him. Movement. Kinetics. Force. The kid takes it into him without looking the least bit hurt at all and my fear is turning into other things. “There. But for the pain to stay out of you, you have to take on the pain of other people.”
“What?” I manage.
“It doesn’t have to be physical of course, but there is balance. Payment,” he adds firmly.
I stare at him. “And if I don’t?”
“Then the pain comes back and all the painkinesis in the world won’t get it out of you,” he says simply, as certain of that as he is of everything else.
I shudder slightly. I nod. He grins, and wraps his arms about me in a hug and then bounces behind me to the woman and heads off down the sidewalk, boasting about how he did a helping and her replying that she knows because she was there as well. It only pauses him for a moment. Whatever he is, I don’t think much slows him down. I keep walking. After a good five minutes my phone rings, and my daughter is sobbing about the new horrible thing her husband has done.
I almost point out she knew what she was getting into when she married him, but there is a twinge of pain in a finger. I ask questions, I listen, and the pain goes away. Both mine and hers. And it feels far better than I want to admit.