Speak No Evil
THE BOY KNOWN AS Carter Street was dreaming.
In his dream, he was in an empty space. There were no windows, no lights, but it wasn’t dark, just a dull, bland grey. He was standing because there was nowhere to sit — no chairs, no sofa. He couldn’t even sit on the floor because there didn’t seem to be a floor. Maybe it wasn’t a room at all. He could have been hanging in the air. Or he might have been inside his own head.
But the room, the space, wherever he was — it wasn’t completely empty. There was a big television. And an unseen hand turned it on.
What he saw on the screen was vaguely familiar, like a rerun of a programme he’d seen before. A young boy, maybe eleven or twelve years old, was riding on a roller coaster. He was accompanied by two shadowy, larger figures sitting on either side of him — the boy’s parents? The boy was laughing, throwing his arms up in the air as his car went into a steep descent.
The vision on the screen dissolved, and was replaced by another image. The same boy, with the same shadowy figures, at a dining table. Then he saw the boy splashing in a swimming pool. And now the boy was running round a baseball diamond. Then, abruptly, that unseen hand switched off the TV and the screen went dark.
That was when he woke up. For a moment he just lay in the bed very still and stared at the white ceiling above him. That boy in the dream. . Did he know him? Maybe, maybe not. But there was definitely a connection. Whoever he was, the boy had been turned off, and Carter Street could relate to that.
He sat up and looked around. There was no television in this room, but it wasn’t dark and empty. Light streamed in from a window. There was a desk, a chest of drawers, a basin with a mirror over it. There was even a picture on a wall — a small brown puppy lapping water in a bowl. Did the boy in his dream have a dog? No, because his mother was allergic to dog hair.
But he couldn’t have known that, could he? Not if he didn’t know the boy. Anyway, it was just a dream. He shook his head vigorously as if he could shake out the memory of it, but he knew it would linger. They always did, those dreams.
He didn’t want to remember dreams — he had to concentrate on the present. His name, for example. Carter Street. At least, that was what everyone called him. And his location. . He wasn’t in the home of his foster family, the Grangers. And he wasn’t in Madame’s ‘gifted’ class at Meadowbrook Middle School. Then it came back to him: he was in a place called Harmony House, a special place for teenagers who were in trouble. Was he in trouble? He didn’t know and he didn’t care. He wasn’t in danger, that much he knew for sure, and that was all that mattered. He wasn’t cold, he had a roof over his head and a bed to sleep in. He wasn’t hungry — well, maybe he was, just a little, but he knew that he’d be having food very soon. So everything was OK.
He got out of bed, went to the basin and filled a plastic cup with water from the tap. He took the cup over to the windowsill, where a plant was sitting. The plant hadn’t been there when he arrived. It had been sent by his teacher, Madame, with a note that read, ‘We miss you.’
The words didn’t make much sense to him. How could anyone miss him? Even when he was physically in that class, he wasn’t really there. He barely existed, no matter where he was. He made no impact on the class, and no one paid any attention to him. They wouldn’t notice if he wasn’t there.
Another paper had come with the plant — instructions on how to take care of it. He had to keep it warm, and he had to give it water every day. It had no other needs, just shelter and nourishment. Just like Carter Street.
After watering the plant, he continued with the same routine he’d been following since he arrived three days ago. He washed his face, brushed his teeth and got dressed. Then he left the room, closing the door behind him. He turned to the right and walked to the corner. He was aware of other boys coming out of rooms and moving in the same direction, but he didn’t speak to any of them. He couldn’t, even if he’d wanted to.
He descended a flight of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, he went into the room on his left. At the entrance, a smiling man said, ‘Good morning, Carter.’ It wasn’t a question or a demand, so Carter didn’t have to do anything. He walked on to the serving area.
He joined a line of residents to pick up his breakfast tray, and when he received it, he took it to a table and sat down. There were others at the table. On his first day, a couple of them had spoken to him, but now, after three days of no responses, they’d stopped. He didn’t particularly want to look at them, but they were in his range of vision so he couldn’t avoid seeing them. A tall boy, light brown hair, glasses. Another boy, darker hair, wearing a green shirt. A girl, blonde hair. She had tiny sparkling stones in the lobes of her ears. None of this was important. He just registered the facts. They were talking, but their words meant nothing to him. Not until the boy in the green shirt spoke directly to him.
‘Could you pass the salt?’
He understood this as a question that demanded an action. He picked up the salt cellar and handed it to him.
‘Thanks,’ the boy said.
He knew what that meant — the boy was expressing appreciation for Carter’s effort. But the word wasn’t important, it didn’t require a response, and now he could address his food. Food was important. He knew what was in the bowl — cereal, milk, fruit — but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was the fact that he could eat it and then he wouldn’t be hungry.
When he finished eating, he remained in his seat and watched the big clock on the wall. When it displayed a particular time he rose, carried his tray to a conveyor belt, and left the dining room. He couldn’t go back to his room, though. He had an appointment.
Turning a corner, he went to a door and opened it. A woman at a desk spoke to him. ‘Hello, Carter. You can go right in, Doctor Paley is waiting for you.’
Carter went through the inner door.
‘Hello, Carter,’ the doctor said. ‘Sit down.’
Carter did as he was told, and waited while the plump, balding man adjusted the video camera on a table. At the first meeting, the doctor had asked Carter if he would mind if their sessions were recorded, and Carter had offered no objection. Why would he? Being recorded didn’t hurt.
‘How are you today?’ Dr Paley asked.
Carter was stumped. He couldn’t deal with questions like that. After three days of meetings, hadn’t the man figured that out? His foster family, Madame, his classmates — none of them asked him this question any more because they knew he couldn’t answer it. And why should he? Surely the doctor could look at him and see that he wasn’t in pain, that he was breathing, that he was physically intact. Nothing about him was any different than it was the day before.
When he didn’t respond, Dr Paley didn’t press the question. He just went on speaking.
‘I don’t know very much about you, Carter. Nobody does. And that’s because you don’t know much about yourself, do you?’