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Behind the Glass

A story of helplessness

By Matt SpazianiPublished 3 years ago 7 min read


The shout was a mixture of anger and disappointment, and it rang out clearly from the garden. Tim didn’t care. He knew Mom would punish him, and maybe he deserved it, but very little could take his attention from the loud, satisfying thud he had heard when the rotten pear slammed into the greenhouse. Even now, as Mom’s pounding footsteps came towards him, he stared intently at the juice dripping down the glass, leaving behind a sticky residue that would be a pain for someone to clean up.

His gaze was interrupted as Mom grabbed his shoulders and turned him towards her.

“What do you think you’re doing!?” she yelled.

At age eleven, Tim was still a head shorter than Mom, and he had to crane his head to scowl up at her face. He squinted; the sun was just behind her, and even the thick leaves of the pear tree above them didn’t blot it out entirely.

Mom looked back at him with confusion and fury, and he knew this would be a bad one. There was nothing he could say that she’d be okay with, because she wasn’t asking a real question. What do you think you’re doing wasn’t a question grown-ups actually wanted the answer to. They just wanted you to stop doing whatever you were doing.

She glanced over to the greenhouse, where the juice still glistened in the sun. “Are you harassing Mr. Baker again?” she pressed.

By now, some of the other neighbors were peering over at them. Tim could see them out of the corner of his eye. The community was “pretty tight-knit,” his parents liked to say. He didn’t really know what that meant, but he knew that everyone watched everyone else, and he didn’t like it most of the time. Right now, though, it was exactly what he wanted.

They stared at each other in silence for a few moments before Mom changed tactics. “Did you throw a pear at the greenhouse?” she asked, pointing.

“Yeah,” Tim answered immediately, still holding her gaze.

“That’s not okay, Tim,” she said, her voice still loud. Part of Tim wondered if she was shouting just so the neighbors would know she could talk that way to her kid, but right now he didn’t care. They could look as long as they wanted.

“I mean it!” Mom continued, reading his lack of emotion as apathy. “You could have really hurt someone! What if someone was standing in there? Or working in the bushes outside? It’s Mr. Baker’s greenhouse, and he lets everyone in the neighborhood use it, and this is how you treat it?”

Tim narrowed his eyes, but before he could respond, he heard Dad call from the garage: “What’s going on?”

“Come on,” Mom said. “Do you want to tell him what you did, or should I?”

“Tell him yourself,” Tim sneered back, turning his eyes back to the greenhouse. “I’ll stay here.”

Mom’s mouth dropped open in shock. Then she scoffed and turned away, shaking her head, loudly replying to Dad. “Do you know what your son just did?”

Tim heard Dad say something, but he ignored it. His eyes were fixed on the glass windows, peering into the plants behind them. There didn’t seem to be anything else there anymore.

He tried to take a closer look, but his view was blocked by Dad, who positioned himself between Tim and the greenhouse. He was shorter than Mom, but Tim still had to tilt his head to look up at him.

“So what do you have to say for yourself?” Dad demanded.

Tim opened his mouth to reply, but Dad continued.

“Honestly, Tim, we just don’t know what to do with you. This is the third time this month. First kicking Mr. Baker’s door, then throwing a rock at his car, and now this?” He paused. “And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the lunchbox last year.”

There it was. Tim had wondered how long it would take them to bring that up. It didn’t matter that Rob had dared him to steal the lunchbox, or how bad he felt when he saw Marcia crying, or that he had turned it in to the teacher himself. He was now a thief, the Kid Who Stole The Lunchbox. His teachers only saw him that way, some of the other kids only saw him that way, and it seemed like his parents only saw him that way, too. Even the neighbors, people Mom said were supposed to be like “one big family,” didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. They always watched him closely, staring at him as they stared now, silently observing the punishment of the Bad Kid. Nobody believed him anymore, no matter what he said. Sometimes he wondered if it was even worth doing the right thing if people only remembered when you messed up.

“So what’s going on?” Dad continued. “Your mother and I don’t think this was an accident, and neither were the others, so what are you trying to do here? Is this what we have to look forward to for the next few years, or are you going to shape up?”

“I just wanted to—” Tim began.

“I don’t care what you wanted to do,” Mom interrupted. “Here’s Mr. Baker now. Apologize to him.”

Tim whipped his head towards where Mom was pointing. Sure enough, there was Mr. Baker, tucking his shirt in as he came around the corner. He looked outraged, but Tim thought it was a mask over a thick layer of fear.

“What the hell was that?” he yelled, wiping his hands on his pants. Yeah, he was afraid. Tim heard it in his voice.

“See, you really scared him,” Dad said.

Tim didn’t reply, but now he knew other people heard the fear, too. It wasn’t just his imagination.


“Earl, I’m so sorry,” Mom said, turning towards Mr. Baker. “We don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

She addressed Tim again. “Tim, do you have something to say?”

Tim wouldn’t budge on this one. He stared at Mr. Baker, enjoying his discomfort.

“Tim, I said, do you have something to say?” Mom repeated through gritted teeth.

Tim let the silence stretch out for a moment. “No,” he answered quietly.

“Tim—” Mom began, but Dad stepped in. He had apparently had enough.

“Two weeks without video games, Tim,” he said. “Now apologize.”

That hurt, but Tim wouldn’t give in yet. He continued to stare.

“Okay, fine, a month,” Dad continued.

That got Tim’s attention, and he finally turned away from Mr. Baker. “No, Dad—!”

“Hey, you want to make it two?” Dad said. “Apologize. Now.”

Tim slowly looked back towards Mr. Baker. His daughter had joined him at the corner of the greenhouse, standing quietly behind his knee. But all Tim could see was that Mr. Baker didn’t look afraid anymore. He didn’t like that.

“Sorry,” Tim mumbled.

“Louder, so he can hear you,” Dad said.

“Sorry!” Tim shouted, in desperation more than anything else.

Mr. Baker stood up straight and took a deep breath. “That’s okay,” he said, his eyes locking with Tim’s. “Mistakes happen.”

“We really are sorry,” Mom responded. “Don’t worry. We’ll be having a long talk about this later.” She glared at Tim out of the corner of her eye before continuing. “We all love the greenhouse, and we really hope you’ll let us keep using it.”

“It’s fine,” Mr. Baker said. “I was a kid once. I get it.”

“Well, this kid—” Tim assumed Dad gestured at him, but he was still staring towards Mr. Baker. “—is going to learn that we don’t act this way.” He felt Dad’s firm hand on his shoulder. “And he can start by helping me clean out the garage. Come on, son.”

Tim finally let his eyes slide off Mr. Baker, letting them fall to the ground. It wasn’t fair. He didn’t do anything wrong, and he shouldn’t be the one getting in trouble for this.

He lifted his eyes and noticed fear yet again. Except this time it wasn’t Mr. Baker’s.

His gaze shifted to Mr. Baker’s daughter.

Tim barely knew her, and he didn’t even really want to. The girl was seven or eight at most, way too young for him to enjoy hanging out with. He had only spoken to her once or twice since his family had moved. All he really knew was that her name was Emily (or maybe Elizabeth) and that she liked playing with her dolls on her porch.

Well… and he knew that she was afraid.

And why wouldn’t she be? Tim was, too, every time he caught that expression of terror on her face. He remembered the first time he saw it, when he spotted her and her father through their living room window that one time. He didn’t even really understand what was happening; he just knew it was wrong. Some of the eighth graders at school joked about stuff like that from health class, but it didn’t look okay in person. It looked horrifying. It was why he kicked at the door until someone else had come by, and why he had thrown a rock towards the car that other time when he saw the two of them behind it.

And it was why he had thrown the pear today.

But could he explain that to his parents, or any of them? Of course not. They didn’t listen. He had tried, but all they saw were angry outbursts from an angry boy, a thief. Even now, the neighbors were dispersing with pleased murmurs. The show was over, so there was no other reason to stay. He didn’t even think Emily/Elizabeth knew what he was trying to do.

But Mr. Baker did. Tim was sure of that.

“Come on, son,” Dad repeated, this time impatient. “I don’t want to have to tell you again.”

“Coming,” Tim said dutifully, but he glanced at Mr. Baker one more time. Yeah, Mr. Baker knew what was happening. It was why he had been so afraid. He knew that if Tim kept it up, he would be caught.

And Tim fully intended to keep it up.

He turned to follow Dad, ducking around a pear on one of the low-hanging branches as he went. Then he had a thought and paused.

Dad noticed immediately. “Tim—” he warned.

“Give me a sec, Dad.”

He turned back to make sure Mr. Baker was watching, then reached up with one hand, picked the pear off the tree, and put it in his pocket.

Just in case.


About the Creator

Matt Spaziani

Robotics engineer by day and writer, musician, and gamer by night.

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