He didn't like the way it made them feel, that rocking chair in the basement.
These new folk were wound tighter than the springs in a cuckoo clock and it was foremost in his shell-shocked four-year-old brain to put an end to it. It wasn't that he was a Samaritan prodigy; he felt no particular loyalty or connection to these people beyond gratitude for shelter, warmth and succor. But perhaps some nagging sense of responsibility he would thereafter find easier and easier to ignore compelled him to do what he could.
Or perhaps the unhappy spirit was bugging him a little, too.
"It was the worst bombing Belfast had seen in the last 50 years. Casualty wise, I mean. There's been worse as far as property damage goes," the man he would come to call "dad" finished, a small frown coming to his face when he noticed the boy standing thigh high next to him. "Poor little bugger," he added, tousling his adopted son's noticeably less kinky and increasingly darker hair, stooping slightly to do so. The boy had curly golden locks worthy of a child Apollo just a month ago, but time and stress were taking their toll on every inch of him.
Eric – so renamed in a well meaning but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to eradicate the violent events of the not so recent past – gazed up at the faces surrounding him. Framed by the backdrop of dead woodland creatures disguised as hunting trophies, particleboard paneling and a fireplace of elaborately lain stone, the enormous entities now known as relatives looked down upon him. They all had pity in their eyes, as though they were gods looking down from on high at a subject whom they had taught a harsh but necessary lesson.
The suits and slacks were all a one funeral black and the polyester dresses took on a garish life of their own. They were more intimidated by him than he of them, their pinched and nervous faces told him that: the eyes that wouldn't meet his, the frowns adding dimensions and curves to the jowls of these overfed oversea relatives, the pursed lips, the overblown make-up and hypocrisies worn on sleeves.
The scrutiny and pity was only made worse when he rubbed his small wrists. The casts had been cut off them less than a week before.
The boy had met many of these people before over the last week or so, but today was the first time he'd been with all of them at once. Things may have been less tense if he could remember who was Scott and who was Debbie and who was Gina but the names were either so silly or so foreign that they exited his memory quickly, without leaving even the tiniest piece of forensic evidence. Where were the Moira's and the Liam's and the Colm's and the Sinead's?
He did remember that the majority of those initial encounters were friendlier than today's gathering but it was only just now that the full story behind this adoption was revealed. In the face of what many would deem a tragedy, any words that they could come up with seemed inadequate or even trite. So rather than make any effort, they let the cloud of loss and pain thicken and darken while they studied Eric covertly for signs of compatibility with the clan.
It didn't help that the sun reflecting off the snow outside and shining into the room lost its cheeriness along with its heat as it entered through the window.