I take my feral child out walking. We stroll down the lane, my feral child and I. The sun drips flaming honey down the brick and mortar of tall buildings, early in the morning, and my feral child and I gasp at it, both of us. Presumably for different reasons.
I use hand signals to set him little tasks: nip at that over-frocked child’s heels, shake your negligible hindquarters at that vicar, cease tearing the tail off that squirrel corpse or at the very least don’t use your teeth. Some of the signals have become very complex. Some of the signals he pretends not to understand and he does a thing with his eyes and nose where one eyebrow shoots nearly to the matted hairline, and the other plunges pupil-ward, and the nose rumples like draped velvet. But he’s faking his incomprehension and just doesn’t want to snatch a gentleman’s silk hat, scale the high iron gate, and impale the wretched chapeau there—which is what two fingers swept briskly up and down my belly commands.
My feral child does not have a soul.
We walk to the park and he climbs trees. He descends, face a mess of egg yolk and bird-blood. I laugh, one hand covering my mouth for propriety, and the other resting on my belly, loose on the woolen waistcoat, to emphasize my mirth. I am nearly bent over backwards in my joy, and people walking by exchange looks which indicate doubts concerning my sanity. My feral child approximates a smile. The muscles all pull the right way, but the effect terrifies. I look away and ignore his attempt at humanity, suddenly cold.
My feral child once watched a peasant child drown in the Seine and, according to the papers, did nothing.
I do not hold him responsible when he tears apart the feather bed. When he escapes his room in the night and I find him slobbering at the foot of my bed with a death light in his eyes, staring at me through the dark, of course I feel a deep revulsion just as when he tore the pelt off a kitten, put it on his hand like a puppet, and crawled the empty thing back into the basket with its mother to suckle. Of course, of course. But my feral child is only a body, and does only the things that a body does.
I delight in my feral child, watching him catch trout in his teeth. The terror our city feels as he careens from brick to brick as we walk, he barely registers. I do, though. I sometimes let the lead play out longer than I should as he stalks some petite debutante down the cobblestone stairs. Further, I wait to pull it back until she has turned and come face to face with a snarling human absence, eyes only wild, never lit by anything but the fire of want. Her honey hair cascades and flops, her wet red mouth lets fly a shriek.
I love to watch the civilized as they flee my feral child while he, losing interest, stops to examine the way the sunlight falls on a patch of moss, leans in further, and licks up a spider.