I remember the day when I realized that maybe he wasn't an angel after all.
At five years old, Lyle had been tested and classified as a gifted child. However, being a single mom with sporadic child support and a teacher's salary, I couldn't afford to send him to private school for gifted kids. I guess that's why I thought he never fit in with the other kids at school—that he was too advanced, and therefore, isolated. He went to the private school where I taught art for free, and I saw him every Wednesday at 2 PM for art class. Kindergartners got their pick of glue, glitter and construction paper. Sometimes popsicle sticks, sometimes clay. I supervised unintelligible drawings, lopsided castles and deformed ashtrays. Lyle would sit in the back of the classroom, silently constructing something or other. His work was always the best. I don't say that as a doting mother. I say that as a trained art teacher. His drawings were representational and showed control. You could see that cat was a cat. His ashtrays had solid geometric forms, and he had innate understanding of color theory. The subject matter was initially disturbing. Almost all of his drawings showed an obsession with viscera. Men and women, boys and girls, animals all with wormy guts exploding from them, in lovely colors. But this, I took to be normal. Most children love cartoon violence, particularly boys. I made sure never to single him out during 'share' time.
Other than that, Lyle was a model student. His aloofness, though, unsettled many people. One of his teachers remarked in her report card, "While Lyle Winthorpe is technically proficient, he lacks basic social skill and his detachment might point to psychological, possibly physiological factors." (I approached the teacher and told her that I did not appreciate the armchair analysis; her report was re-written). At home, he would dutifully do his homework—such wonderful block letters and beautiful cursive—then retire to his room, where he would play computer games until bedtime. He was ensconced in one of those when there was a knock on the door.
Bruce, my next-door neighbor, was at the door. He had a kind of frantic look on his face. "Hey, Lydia, I was wondering… You didn't happen to see Eva? Cause she's missing."
Eva was Bruce and his partner Wyatt's cat. Eva was a silver and white Norwegian Forest cat. She would sometimes come into our yard. Lyle was quite fond of her.
"Sorry, Bruce. I haven't. But I'll let you know if I do."
Bruce nodded. "She's been gone for a day. She's never been gone for that long. Wyatt's a wreck."
I touched him on the shoulder. Bruce walked away, headed to another house. I walked by Lyle's room. He was focused on a game of computer solitaire. I watched the cards move across the screen for a moment, mesmerized by his concentration. He won the game, and the cards flew across the screen in animated celebration.
"Honey," I said.
He turned around. His glasses almost glowed in the light cast by the computer. He waited expectantly, hands steepled in front of his chest.
"Honey, that was Br—Mr. Pandecki. He says that Eva is missing. You didn't see her recently, did you?"
He seemed to consider something. "No, Mommy. The last I saw her was a couple of days ago."
I nodded, and went back to making dinner for the two of us. After I put him to bed, I tackled the next day's lesson plan. I'd bought art supplies last weekend, and began amassing them, to take to school with me. I noticed that one of the bottles of shellac I'd purchased was missing. I swore I'd gotten 4 bottles, but there were only three left in the bag. I did a cursory sweep of the house before turning in.