Posted on: July 10th, 2011 Please Return my Son who is In Your Custody

By Helena Bell

Dear Neighbor,

Please forgive my son for breaking into your house last night. Had you been home, I am sure he would have gone to the next house, or the one after that.


Dear Neighbor,

Please forgive my son for returning to your house last night.

I understand that he did not come in, but merely crawled up the oak in your backyard and crouched in the doorway of the tree house. He watched you pick tomatoes from your salad and pass them surreptitiously to your new Labrador Retriever.

I hear you named your lab Scotch. That was our dog’s name too.


Dear Neighbor,

Please forgive my son for fixing your sliding glass door last night. He felt that he owed your family a favor for scaring your daughter so badly yesterday morning. Just think, now your wife will no longer nag you to fix it like she has for the past six months.

My son even managed to scrub out the spot of blood on the frame from where your son slammed into it in the spring, knocking him back six feet and into the pool. Drowned you thought? No, just temporarily unconscious.

If the door is not completely fixed, my son says he is willing to come back and try again. He is only a boy after all, and not necessarily well versed in home repair.


Dear Neighbor,

Enclosed is the key I found under my son’s pillow when I exchanged one of his wisdom teeth for a crisp dollar bill last night. Funny, I thought they wouldn’t have come in already.

I am hopeful that this may finally set things right between us.


Dear Neighbor,

This is only a theory:

My son nearly drowned last spring and he may not have come all the way back. He does not respond to his name when I call him. Yours is not the first house he has entered without permission. Sometimes he takes things with him: his laundry, dirty dishes, a toothbrush. He completes his chores before moving onto other things left undone: your door, an unchanged light bulb, recyclables piling up beneath the sink.

Sometimes he leaves things.

A few days ago I asked where he had moved his collection of amethysts. He did not know.

Tell me, did you find them? Tucked beneath piles of neatly folded undershirts? Was it nestled among the plantains, shining in the fluorescent glow of your refrigerator?

My son used to know a lot about rocks, obscure artists, planes. He had a badge in archery, but now his fingers falter when he raises the bow and pulls the string to the corner of his mouth.

Visualize what you want. Inhale, exhale, release, I say, but it means nothing.

My son feels as if he did not wake up in his own skin. He does not break into houses to frighten the elderly or pick through their jewelry. He’s trying to get home. He hopes that when he turns a dial to permanent press, hears the whump of a dishwasher, he will recognize those appliances.

My real son would be much more scientific about the process: divine from the stories I tell him about himself which habits belong to him, which to another. My real son never had a fear of cornfields, never remembered the capital of Wisconsin, and never learned to juggle. My real son would use that knowledge to pick which house to enter to see if it fits.

But random selection can work too.

Please forgive my son-who-may-not-be-my-son for returning last night to move into your second floor bedroom. And if it’s not too inconvenient, let your son ram himself head first into that glass door one more time. When he looks up at you, see if his eyes glaze as the knowledge of sedimentation slides from his consciousness.

Even if you do not agree with our reasons, try to remember your own fear when your son stopped moving. Remember how you wanted to jump to the next day, the day after, the following week because in the future you’d know whether he came back? And that night at the hospital, didn’t you start adopting some of his habits as your own so if he ever slipped away again, you would always carry parts of him with you?

Before deciding, think how I must have dropped this note in your mailbox: balancing it between the tips of my fingers. Inhale, exhale. Release.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories

6 Responses to “Please Return my Son who is In Your Custody”

  1. Ben Godby Says:
    July 14th, 2011 at 11:48 am

    This was awesome. This belongs in an “Almanac of Bad Ass Speculative Fiction.” Excellent job, Helena!

  2. J Burnett Says:
    July 17th, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Outstanding. My curiosity could not resist the title and I could not stop reading. Gobsmacked by the time I’d finished.

  3. Sharmagne Leland-St. John Says:
    July 18th, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    What a treat! Good story. Great concept, well executed. I’d love to reprint it in our online monthly literary journal.

    Q and P

  4. Hel Says:
    July 19th, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you, Ben!

  5. Hel Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Ack! I could’ve sworn I posted before Burnett’s and Leland-St.John’s posts had gone up. Thank you two too!

  6. D. C. Golighty Says:
    September 12th, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Really fun story! I’ve linked it to several friends to show them how creative flash fiction can be. Great job!