His name was Puddleface. Well, I still don’t believe that was his actual name, but that was what all the kids called him on the first day he came to Rhubarb Elementary. It was a dreary, misty day in the middle of Spring when he had shown up. Robbie Grayson said that Puddleface was the reason the warm weather had gone away, but I knew he was just blowing smoke. Nobody can control the weather, and certain kinds of weather never just follow one person around. I know that; no matter what that smart mouth Robbie Grayson says.
I do have to admit that I was afraid the first time I saw him. It was during recess; most of the children were playing under the rampway or hiding inside the tube slides of the playground. The great big blacktop in the middle of the grounds, normally filled to the brim with screaming, laughing, and running children was now completely devoid of all life. It looked like a great big black polluted ocean, where the bleeding debris of hopscotch games and drawings of square houses floated aimlessly and mixed with each other. In the middle of that ocean sat Puddleface, like a lonely, bobbing buoy. He was hunched over and staring at something on the ground I could not see from where I was by the swing set. I couldn’t get a look at his face, but it was obvious that something was abnormal about his head. It was swollen and misshapen and had a slightly grey discoloration in the skin. A few strands of wispy hair fell from the top of his scalp. There was a large lump poking out the back of his ratty shirt, which was a rag-tag, multi-colored mess of sewn together pieces of cloth loosely hanging from his bony frame. You could see the bumps in his spine as if they were trying their hardest to escape. His fingers looked like pale icicles dripping over the pavement. I thought at first that maybe he was an escaped mental patient from across town, or even worse, perhaps a monster from some poor child’s nightmare that had found its way into the waking world.
“Yep, that’s old Puddleface” stated Robbie Grayson matter-of-factly in that snide, pompous tone that made me clench my fists every time I heard it.
“What’s wrong with his head?” asked Sara Everett, her bony legs sticking out awkwardly as she sat cross-legged on the sidewalk, combing the hair on her doll. Robbie was always trying to impress Sara with his world-weary knowledge of life he’d accumulated over ten long years on Earth. She had her frizzy blonde hair tied back in a ponytail today. I thought she looked awfully pretty that day.
“His head? Heck, you should see his face, that’s where the real weird stuff is. How do you think he got his name?” said Robbie as he hocked a loogie on the ground.
“You even seen it?” asked Sara as she sneered in disgust at Robbie’s loogie, which was now getting mixed up with all the rain and mud.
“Hell yeah I’ve seen it.”
Robbie puffed out his chest, proud of his courage to use such a dirty word.
“So what’s it look like?”
For a moment, Robbie was lost for words, a rare occasion that few have lived to see. His brow furrowed as he tried to piece together a description of the hunched figure in the distance. He turned to me, quietly minding my own business and kicking up sawdust while I rocked back and forth on my swing. Reaching over, he snatched the bottle cap glasses I was wearing right off of my face. I cried out in shock, grasping my face, then wildly grasping the air in front of me, trying to take back my glasses, which Robbie held just out of my arm’s reach.
“Hey Four-Eyed Freddie, whatsit look like when I take your glasses off your face?” Robbie inquired as if nothing had happened.
“I don’t know, I can’t see anything!” I screamed in panic.
“Robbie, give Freddie his glasses back” said Sara.
“Not until he tells me what everything looks like without glasses.”
I opened my eyes, which I had been squeezing shut until then as if I were afraid the light would blind me without my spectacles. Blinking, I looked out onto the world without the aid of prescription glass.
“It looks like everything is made out of fuzz balls. It’s all too blurry to make out. Now gimme back my glasses!”
Robbie tossed my glasses back to me, unconcerned with the fact that they almost shattered on the ground had I not luckily caught them. As I readjusted them to my face, I saw Puddleface stand up and wander back to the schoolhouse. Robbie was towering over Sara, who was absent-mindedly twisting the hair of her doll around her index finger.
“Well that’s what his face looks like. It looks like how Four-Eyes over here sees the whole darn world” proclaimed a very proud Robbie, more than satisfied with his analogy.
“That’s impossible” chided Sara who was quickly losing interest.
“Its true!” shouted Robbie, “His face is one big pale blob and his eyes are two black fuzzy dots!”
At that point, the bell rang and Sara immediately stood and rushed back to the school. Robbie stomped back to the building, huffing at the indignity of the idea that someone wouldn’t believe one of his stories. I didn’t blame Sara. I didn’t believe Robbie either. How could someone’s face really look like that? After sneaking in a few more swings back and forth, I returned to the schoolhouse.
Rumors floated through the school that day like fog clouds, slowly making their way to the ears of impressionable students. Did you know that the doctor died on the spot when she saw Puddleface on the day he was born? Puddleface’s parents had decided to lock him up in their basement every day for his whole life until they’d finally decided to let him out today. Puddleface’s mother was a stormcloud and his father was a lightning bolt. The rumors continued to escalate until only the most gullible of children would have actually believed them.
I didn’t see Puddleface again that entire day, so all I had was the word of every other child that saw him that his face was, in fact, nothing but a blur, like a watercolor painting. That evening at dinner after I’d told my mother about him, she told me not to be so foolish, that it was utterly impossible for a face like that to exist and she wouldn’t have such rubbish talked about at her table. As I drifted off to sleep that night, I wondered if Puddleface’s eyesight was just as bad as mine.
Each subsequent day I would hope for the chance to finally see Puddleface, and each day I would be disappointed. Weeks went by and I finally forgot my desire to meet the strange individual. Then one early grey morning I missed the bus to school. This had only happened once before, but my mother had just begun driving to her job when she saw me walking back to the house with my head hung low. She’d picked me up and dropped me off at school, muttering under her breath about missing a meeting. This time, my parents had already left for work, and since I was only nine, taking the second family car was not an option. It was about a thirty-minute walk from my house to the school, and I had no desire to be late, and so I immediately began running down the sidewalk.
I had been running for so long that my mind began to wander aimlessly, letting my body worry about stopping at crosswalks and turning corners. I was rudely interrupted by my daydreams when I turned a corner downtown and collided with another individual. The force of the collision was so great that I flew straight to the pavement, skidding my arms and knees and dropping my books all over the sidewalk. My eyes burned as I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to blink back tears. In the darkness, I heard the hushed, muddled voice of whoever I had run into.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry!” the voice said over and over again, sounding fully convinced that they were to blame for my fall.
I opened my eyes to see a blurry figure reaching out to help me up. As the stranger helped me to my feet, they also handed me what looked like my glasses, which had flown off my face when I fell. Embarrassed, I thanked the stranger as I placed my glasses back on the bridge of my nose. It was only then that I realized the stranger I was talking to was none other than Puddleface himself.
Robbie’s proud description of Puddleface was all wrong I realized immediately. His face didn’t look like a fuzzy mess, although it was certainly abnormal. It looked more like a muddy pond that had just had a small stone thrown into it, with small circular ripples spreading out from the point of contact. I honestly thought this made his nickname make much more sense than the face that Robbie had described with such excitement. The most surprising thing about his face was the absence of pupils in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry you fell, are you hurt at all?” His voice sounded like someone trying to speak underwater.
“I’m fine,” I told him as I brushed myself off, still trying to collect myself after the fall.
Something that resembled a smile formed around the area where his mouth was. It seemed like it was a very difficult task for him to achieve and I remember wondering why he even tried to do so at all. He smelled like wet earth after a long downpour.
“Good. So good. I’m glad you’re okay. Goodbye.” He had such a strange way of talking. Like a broken radio receiving bits and pieces of a transmission. He nodded his head at me and then, turning, he briskly walked away in the direction of the school. I followed him for a block, and eventually worked up the courage to pick up the pace so I would be walking beside him. He seemed not to notice my presence. His indifference to my presence didn’t seem to be rude; it felt more like he was simply oblivious to everything around him like he was inside his own world.
“So…are you Puddleface?” I asked, nervous about how he would respond. There was no other way I knew to address him, but he didn’t even seem fazed by the question.
“Is that your real name?”
He didn’t answer right away.
“Really? Come on!” I responded in indigence.
“It really is. Really is.”
“Nobody actually names their own flesh and blood Puddleface.”
“Stranger things. Stranger things have happened.”
Silence fell over our conversation again. I didn’t want to ask about anything that might be too difficult for him. If his parents really did lock him up in their basement for the first half of his life, I’m sure he didn’t want to talk about that, and the state of his face was absolutely out of the question. I’d had so many questions I wanted to ask him and now that I was walking next to him, I couldn’t bring myself to ask any of them. Faltering, I did the only thing that seemed reasonable.
“Well my name is Freddie,” I said to him.
That painful smile returned.
And that was the beginning of our friendship. After I said my name it was as if we had been friends for years. I never saw Puddleface much during the day since we were in different classes and on different lunch schedules, but our recess times always lined up and we would always sit at the top of the hill on the corner of the playground and talk about everything. As long as it had nothing to do with his past or his physical condition, we would talk about it. It was good to have a friend. I’d never connected much with others around me other than passing acquaintances, and this had never bothered me. It seemed too difficult to try to understand the other children around me, but there was no effort in my friendship with Puddleface. He would come over to my house on weekends frequently, but I was never invited to his home, which I understood perfectly and never questioned once. I knew there was some kind of dark corner of his life he wasn’t ready to share and I never wanted him to think that his life outside of school was in any danger whatsoever. For once in Puddleface’s life, it seemed like he had an escape and distraction from his own darkness. For once he was happy, and I was the reason for it, but I was also the reason for its inevitable disappearance.
My first real taste of friendship had sparked a sign of courage inside me that I never knew existed. I had a notorious reputation at my school for being the one who hid during school assemblies and would skip gym class with no remorse in order to avoid my peers. But my behavior had slowly started to evolve. I was still very quiet around anyone who wasn’t Puddleface, but I didn’t run and hide at the thought of large crowds anymore. This newfound courage had made me start to think more about Sara Everett. I’d always nursed a fairly large crush on her from afar, but I’d always never dared to go any further. Suddenly, this didn’t seem like such a terrifying proposition anymore. I found myself sitting at my desk one afternoon letting all thoughts I’d ever had about Sara pour out onto a little piece of lined composition notebook paper. Puddleface entered the classroom and sat beside me.
“What’re you writing?” asked Puddleface.
I looked up from my masterpiece and couldn’t help myself from smiling embarrassedly.
“Something for Sara Everett.” I said just barely over a whisper.
A great big grin appeared in Puddleface’s expression. I remember asking him once why he smiled so much if it brought such pain to do so. He told me that smiling was worth the effort.
“Is it a love letter?” he asked, excitedly. I thought I saw the watery ripples in his face change from a pale grey to a slight red.
The blush and the smile were contagious and I couldn’t help but let them spread across my own face. I looked around to make sure no one was paying us any mind and nodded my head in excitement.
“I’ve always really liked her,” I said, making a point to lower my voice even more, “I figured I was tired of waiting.”
“That — that is great. Won-won-derful.” His stuttering seemed to increase the more his level of excitement rose. “You-you should send it. Send it s-s-oon.”
“I will,” I reassured him, “I’ll do it, I just need to wait for the right opportunity.” His face turned a shade of grey again, disappointed I wasn’t going to act right away, but I didn’t let it bother me. I knew I would do it, I just needed more time to construct a grand master plan, something that obviously was not as pressing of a matter for Puddleface. Class began and I went back to writing my note, only pretending to listen to the teacher at the front of the room. If I hadn’t been so obsessed with writing the letter, perhaps I would have felt the eyes burning holes in the back of my head, eyes that belonged to Robbie Grayson.
I had finished my first attempt at the letter by the time class ended. I’d placed the letter safely inside one of my books that I put inside my locker, and left it there for the rest of the school day. After finishing the day, I returned to my locker and opened it up, grabbing the book from the bottom of the locker. I immediately opened it up to remind myself that it was still there. The only problem with that was that the letter actually wasn’t there anymore.
My heart skipped a beat for a moment and the floor dropped out from under me, right before my head was grabbed from behind and slammed into the wall of metal containers. My poor glasses fell from my face and back onto the ground. It was a miracle of miracles that my thick coke bottle lenses hadn’t broken yet, considering the damage done to them in under a month.
The world flew by in a blur as my arms were held behind my back and I was dragged down the hallway by an unseen force. Laughing echoed across the fairly empty halls of the school. I recognized the haughty guffaws of Robbie Grayson immediately. I was tossed into the boy's bathroom and thrown against the wall with swift and merciless ease. The face of Robbie came into focus as he stood over me, letting his hot disgusting breath billow into my face.
“Wonder what happened to that letter, Four-Eyes?”
I had been wondering up until that very point, but now it had become painfully obvious where it had gone. One of the three boys accompanying Robbie held it up and waved it back and forth, mockingly. I tried to move, but Robbie’s elbow had my neck pinned to the wall.
“Give it back, it’s not ready!”
“Don’t worry. You’ll get it back. But you have to do something first.”
I struggled pointlessly against Robbie’s arm, unnaturally hairy for a boy of ten years.
“You’re pretty good friends with that freak, huh?”
I knew who he was talking about, but I refused to say anything. I just kept struggling pointlessly.
“You tell us where he lives and you get the letter back.”
I was just barely able to sputter out a reply: “I don’t know where he lives.”
“Bullshit” spat Robbie, unconcerned with the fact that he’d just said one of those words.
“I’m telling the truth.” I said. Of course with Robbie’s arm pressing further into my esophagus it hardly sounded like anything human.
“Well then you’d better find out where he lives,” threatened Robbie, as my peripheral vision was starting to go dark, “because if you don’t, that letter is going straight to Sara tomorrow morning.” There were white spots starting to float around Robbie’s head and I stopped fighting so much. His arm finally released me and I crumpled to the ground. I watched the feet of my attackers stroll out of the bathroom while my head swam in circles on the floor. After I felt comfortable enough to stand, I returned to my locker and picked up my glasses. One of Robbie’s friends had stepped on it. A long crack ran down the middle of the left lens.
Normally, every day after school, I would meet Puddleface outside the front of the building and walk with him until our paths parted ways. That day, I never showed up. Puddleface waited an hour and a half waiting for me, but I never appeared. I could have joined him, but after my encounter with Robbie, I didn’t want to talk to anyone again, jolted back into a general fear of any sort of human interaction. I hid in the bushes a few feet away from him, and waited for him to eventually give up on waiting and return to his home. The wind that afternoon was tossing his wisps of hair back and forth. Every now and again, he would shudder, his long misshapen arms would wrap around him trying to warm himself. Finally, after what seemed like ages, he hung his head and started the long walk home.
I felt bad hiding from my own friend, but I had been gripped by a fear I thought had left me, yet it had returned ten-fold. The idea of Robbie Grayson giving Sara Everett that letter ungraciously, without my approval, gave me a terribly sick feeling at the pit of my stomach that made me feel as if it were full of hundreds of stones. I had become a slave to Robbie’s will with just one simple threat. All I could do was watch in horror as I followed the only friend I’d ever had, uncaring about his desire to be left alone, in order to help a kid who wouldn’t even lift a finger to help me even if it were a matter of life and death.
Following Puddleface felt as if it would never end. He walked through downtown, past suburban neighborhoods, and even outskirt trailer parks, until we had left the city limits. I knew I had to get home, but the looming threat of Sara discovering my secret kept me from turning back. It was starting to get dark when Puddleface finally deviated from the sidewalk and entered the surrounding forest. Without ever considering how strange this seemed, I followed, as the shadows cast by tall trees grew stronger by the minute. I pursued Puddleface through the winding maze of trees until finally a clearing was reached. Standing in the middle of the clearing was a strangely normal looking house. It looked as though it had been uprooted from a regular neighborhood and moved to this secluded location, with a mailbox, a quaint little garden, and everything in tow. Puddleface walked up the front steps and disappeared inside. I swallowed with great difficulty and I knew what I was going to do tomorrow was possibly the worst thing I would have ever done.
I didn’t get a wink of sleep that night.
The next day at school, Robbie and his gang of friends were waiting for me outside of school. I promised them I would take them to Puddleface’s house that night after hours. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to Puddleface for the rest of the day. I even saw him in the hallways a couple of times but avoided eye contact. At lunch, I was sitting by myself, staring down at a plate of meat casserole that would look inedible on most days, but looked particularly insufferable today. My stomach had twisted into so many knots that even the thought of ingesting food brought bile to my mouth. I looked up and saw Puddleface at the other end of the cafeteria. He’d never had the same lunch schedule as me before. Shocked, I immediately returned my gaze to the greasy pile of casserole. I heard Puddleface sit down across from me, but I still didn’t look up.
“Wha-what’s wrong, F-Freddie?” he asked me. It was the first time I’d ever heard Puddleface sound truly upset. I didn’t look up. I saw Puddleface’s hands resting on the table. For the first time, I noticed that he only had four fingers.
“Did s-something happen?”
I didn’t answer.
Small muddy drops of water fell onto the table. I couldn’t take it anymore. I tore myself from the table, turned my back on my only friend, and walked away.
I snuck out of my bedroom window that night after I heard my parents turn in for the evening. Under the cover of darkness, I snuck back to the school to meet Robbie and his crew of miscreants. From there, I began the long trek back to Puddleface’s home. I half worried that I wouldn’t remember how to get there, but somehow, I was able to lead the group through the winding maze of trees even in darkness to that strange little house in the middle of the forest.
All the lights were out in the house as everyone looked at it from behind a small embankment. “What a weird old place. What the hell is it doing in the middle of the woods?” asked one of Robbie’s meathead friends. No one answered, indicating they were all thinking the same thing. Without saying a word, Robbie stood and glided silently toward the strange house. Everyone followed in suit. When Robbie approached the door, he tried the handle, thinking it would be locked, but surprisingly, the door creaked open with absolute ease. The group lingered in the doorway for a moment and then entered. I stayed outside for a long time, wondering if I should run away or not. I had done my duty, and if I left now it would make no difference to Robbie. Puddleface would never have to know that I was the one who led the bullies here. Yet there was also a growing curiosity inside me that I couldn’t stop. I wanted to know what was inside, even if Puddleface didn’t want me to find out. Ignoring any sense of conscience, I ventured into the dark unknown of Puddleface’s home.
The first thing I saw was four dancing beams of light spinning wildly around the living room area. The dark shape of Robbie approached me and tossed a flashlight in my direction. Clumsily, I caught it and flipped it on. Shining the flashlight around the room, I could see that we were standing in the middle of a homely, comfortable living room, complete with a beautiful multi-colored threadbare rug. Above the fireplace mantle was a large family portrait. Between two well-dressed figures with dark shadows over there faces stood a much younger looking Puddleface. His strands of hair were combed back over his scalp rather than hanging across his face and he was wearing a white shirt and tie, rather than his normal, ratty shirt. One of the boys mumbled something rude about the photograph and continued on his way through the house.
I wandered on my own through the house, hoping to find Puddleface before the others did, so I could warn him. I traveled up the stairs to find a bedroom that looked like it could be the room of a ten-year-old boy. The walls were adorned with posters of far off lands and fantasy characters. On the bed, between two pillows sat a lonely teddy bear. Other than the stuffed bear, the bed was empty, as well as the rest of the room. I continued my search for my friend elsewhere. There was one other room upstairs, but it was closed shut. I approached it cautiously and pushed it forward quietly. Immediately, a strong stench slammed me in the face. It smelled like an old swamp filled with mud. My eyes watering, I grabbed my nose with my hand and stepped inside the room.
There was nothing on the walls, save for a peeling, flowery wallpaper. In the middle of the room sat a large queen-size bed covered in sheets that had the same flowery pattern adorned on them as the wallpaper. Lying on the bedsheets were a beautiful suit and dress lying next to each other. I recognized the clothes from the two figures standing behind Puddleface in the family photo. The bedsheets and clothes were soaked in some kind of greenish sludge that spread all over the bed and was quietly dripping onto the wooden floor. The other boys ran up behind me and stopped dead in their tracks.
“Holy shit, what is that smell?” cried Robbie, bringing his hands to his nose. All the boys stared at the bed in horror. It was impossible to know what had happened here, but it was indisputable that whatever that substance on the bed was, it had once been Puddleface’s parents. While the boys searched the rest of the room, I walked up to the bed and laid my hand upon it. I brought my hand up and shone my flashlight on it. It was covered in the goop. I rubbed my fingers together. The stuff felt gritty like fresh mud. Eventually, the boys got bored with the room and became overwhelmed by the smell and retreated from the room. I’d forgotten about the smell, and my eyes were magnetized to the soaked, sticky sheets. After a moment, I followed them.
When I walked back down the stairs, I could hear the boys rummaging through what sounded like dishes and silverware and so I guessed they were in the kitchen. I began to look for Puddleface again. Following a short hallway near the back of the house, I found a door that led to a flight of stairs that went down to what I assumed would be the basement. At the bottom of the stairs, I could see a flickering light and I thought for sure that it might be where Puddleface was. I was about to venture down the stairs when Robbie and his gang pushed me to the side. They rushed down the stairs with an eager purpose and I knew right away that I needed to follow them. I descended the stairs, stopping two steps away from the ground.
The basement was small, cold and dark, save for a little light bulb that hung from the middle of the ceiling. Moldy wooden shelves with nothing on them lined the grey brick walls. Robbie and the boys stood around the far right corner of the room, where huddled in fear sat Puddleface. He was sitting on an old moth-eaten blanket draped over a stained mattress. He looked up at me with the most despairing expression of confusion and fear I’d ever seen and my heart immediately dropped from my chest into my stomach, ripping through skin and crashing through the floorboards into the bottom of the earth. “Get out of here, Freddie” Robbie snapped at me, and immediately on command, I turned and ran up the stairs. I couldn’t help it; some primal form of fear had gripped my limbs and was controlling them without my consent.
I was almost to the front door when I heard a scream that was undeniably Puddleface’s. I froze again, and something completely different grabbed a hold of me. The exact opposite of that primal fear awoke somewhere deep in the back of my brain and before I knew it, I had turned back around and was heading down the hallway to the basement again. I knew the only reason those pieces of scum were in Puddleface’s home was me, and I wanted to make sure I was the reason that they left. I descended the stairs two at a time and jumped down to the cold cement floor. I watched from outside of myself as I jumped upon Robbie and wrapped my arms around his neck, choking him. He reared back and we fell onto the floor. He turned around and decked me right in the face. My glasses fell to the floor again but I hardly cared. I hit back, surprising myself by my own strength. Robbie staggered back; dazed; a thin line of blood trickled down his face. Another boy tackled me and I was pinned to the ground. All I could see was a blur of fists for a minute as they hit me over and over again. All of a sudden it stopped. I opened my throbbing eyes and saw a blurry figure fighting back the mob of bullies. A fuzzy blob that looked like Robbie rushed the other blob and raised a fist to hit him in the back of the head when the blob I assumed was Puddleface turned around quickly and grabbed the fist before it could strike him. I heard a crunching sound, and then the sound of Robbie Grayson screaming in pain. Puddleface let go of Robbie’s hand and Robbie stumbled back, cradling his fist in his other arm. The other boys backed up in fear. I turned over and saw my glasses. I picked them up and put them back on my face. The single crack had been joined by multiple others that fractured my vision. I turned back over and squinted my eyes to make out Puddleface looming over the group of boys, Robbie holding up his crumpled hand, blood kept pouring out of his cupped hands and spilling onto the floor.
“Get out,” said Puddleface in a cold, hateful voice that I’d never heard before. The boys immediately obeyed and rushed up the stairs, Robbie softly weeping all the way. After the patter of their panicked footsteps died out, Puddleface turned to me and helped me to my feet.
“Are you okay?” many fragmented Puddlefaces asked as I straightened my useless glasses on my face. I nodded, words having escaped me for the moment.
“Thank-thank you for coming back.”
I nodded again, wishing the conversation would end. A thoughtful silence followed and I avoided Puddleface’s eyes by staring intently at the grey concrete floor.
“Wh-why were you all h-here anyway?” asked Puddleface, even though his inflection made it clear he already knew the answer. My silence was all he needed to hear to confirm his suspicion. That was the last form of communication I ever shared with Puddleface.
The next morning when my mother asked about my glasses, I told her they’d slipped from my dresser in the night and I’d stepped on them on accident. I’m not sure if she believed me.
I never saw Puddleface again after that night. The next day, he was absent from school. I thought it may have just been because he was still shocked from the night before, but he didn’t show up on the next day either, or the day after that, or the day after that one. I tried returning to his house, but the day I did, I only found an empty clearing in the middle of the woods, a patch of dirt where the house had once sat. I didn’t speak and hardly ate for a week.
Robbie never did give me back the letter, and I never bothered asking. After what I’d done, I honestly didn’t feel that I deserved to get it back, also, avoiding Robbie after the events of that night was definitely a priority. Eventually, emotional scars healed, and I was able to forgive myself and move on. It’s been many, many years since I’ve seen or thought about anyone from my old school. They’ve faded from my mind like old photographs left outside of a frame. Yet every now and then, when a herd of grey clouds blows over my home and a soft rain begins to patter on the front porch, my mind inevitably begins to drift back to that image of the little boy sitting in the middle of the empty playground blacktop, and the preposterous notion that the weather could revolve around one person.