The classroom is bright and
cheerful despite the fading afternoon light and the steady sound of rain on the
windows. Gradually the children begin their task and a contented hum settles over
the room. They love art lessons and until recently I had loved them too.
Today’s subject is ‘Autumn’ and already I can see rain-lashed trees and weather-beaten
cliffs appearing as they try to capture the vivid Breton landscape outside. I
move from child to child commenting and praising, all the time putting off the
moment when I will reach Pierre’s desk.
I can see him in the
corner of the room bent over his task and I feel the now familiar stab of anxiety
when I look at him. Since he came to my school nearly a year ago I have watched
and I have worried, because I know there is something bothering that little boy
- not so you’d notice, but I am used to children and I notice what others often
miss. Oh, don’t misunderstand me – he is a delightful child, well-mannered and
intelligent. When he joined the school, he soon made friends and when I see him
running around outside at playtime I wonder why I feel the way I do. And then I
see his artwork and I know something is wrong.
Not many new people
come to this area. We are an isolated community, locked in the past, some might
say – stuck in our traditions. So when Etienne and Monique Dubois arrived with
their six-year-old son Pierre, there was great excitement. They came on a day
when storm clouds raced across the sky and there was a taste of winter in the
wind. She was elegant and slender, a writer for a Paris fashion magazine and he
was a painter. They seemed so exotic in our wild land. It was not long before
they came to see me in my little school.
‘Pierre will flourish
here, I can tell,’ Etienne said, charming me with his smile. ‘He is a good boy.
He will be no trouble to you. And I will paint your beautiful landscapes.
Perhaps some can hang in your school?’
‘Monsieur is a painter
then?’ I said. ‘You will find much to challenge you here, I think.’
‘Challenge yes. But
also peace for the soul.’ And his wife smiled at him.
They soon settled into
our simple life and we loved them – he silhouetted on the far cliffs painting
the sunsets and she tending her garden and telling her neighbours of her life
in distant Paris. Pierre fitted in well too. The little boys flocked to him and
the girls pretended not to look at him and giggled behind their hands. And yet
.. and yet. Something bothered me from the start and it still does now.
I have decided that
today I will try to get to the bottom of it. It is a delicate task and I do not
wish to frighten him but I can no longer put it off. I reach Pierre’s desk and
look at his painting.
It is the same scene he
always paints. In the centre of the page is a building - a sort of cross
between a castle and a tower. At the foot of the building stands a small boy
and the rest of the page is filled with faces. It is clear that some are men
and some are women but the one thing they all have in common is that they have
no eyes. The faces are turned towards the boy but they do not see him.
I hesitate. ‘I see you
have drawn your favourite picture again, Pierre,’ I say. ‘It is very good. Tell
me, does your little boy have a name?’
I have asked him this
many times before, but he has always refused to answer. He is quiet for a long
time adding more and more eyeless faces to the picture. Then quietly, ever so
quietly he says, ‘It’s Lukey. His name is Lukey’
I keep my voice
neutral. ‘That’s a nice name. Is he your friend?’
Again silence. The
empty faces continue to fill the page.
‘No, not my friend,
He stops again, but I
am pleased. He has never spoken about his picture before. I wonder if Lukey is
an imaginary friend. Some children have them and they can be very real.
‘What is the tower? Is
it a castle with knights and ladies?’
Again the silence. He
starts to colour over the picture of Lukey.
‘I don’t know if it has
knights and ladies, but it’s not a good place. Bad things happen there.’
I know I must tread
very carefully now.
‘What sort of bad
‘Just bad things.’
The tower in the
picture looks harmless – quite pleasant in fact. It doesn’t look like a bad
place to me. I try again.
‘I think it looks nice.
I’d like to see that place sometime.’
‘No, Madame, I don’t
think you would like it. It is not a good place. It’s scary.’
The picture of
Lukey is disappearing as he paints over it.
‘Perhaps if the people
in your picture had eyes it wouldn’t seem so scary. Why don’t you draw their
‘I can’t draw them
because they don’t have eyes. They can’t see. They can’t hear either. They’re
‘Do you know who the
people are, Pierre?’
But, I see that
familiar, stubborn look in his face and know that I will get no more from him.
With a sweep of colour he obliterates the little boy at the foot of the tower.
At the end of school, he struggles
into his coat and rushes across the playground to where his mother is waiting.
He is waving his arithmetic book at her, eager to show her the gold star he had
this morning. She bends down and he runs into her arms, laughing.
I stand in the empty
classroom and look at Pierre’s drawing again. No child I have ever known has
painted such empty people, such desolation. I make my mind up. I will visit
Etienne and Monique Dubois later and tell them of my concerns.
It was past eight o’clock when I
arrived at their little cottage. Pierre was in bed and his parents were having
supper and sharing a bottle of wine. They were surprised to see me, immediately
anxious about Pierre. I told them the story of the drawings and they listened without
comment. There was a silence after I finished and they exchanged glances. I knew
they were saying something with their eyes, but I couldn’t work it out.
Eventually Etienne broke
‘Madame, we are
indebted to you for bringing this to our attention. As you know, I am an artist
but cannot fathom what lies behind this. He is such a happy boy. Has something
at school upset him – a quarrel maybe with another pupil?’
‘Monsieur, I am not
aware of any quarrel. Normally he is very happy and excels at his studies. It
is when we have the art lessons … ‘
‘Madame, you must leave
this matter with us. We will speak to him – try to find out what is behind
All the time I was
there, Madam Dubois said very little. The news had clearly upset her and when I
came to the part of the story where Pierre paints out the figure of Lukey, she
was close to tears.
All that night, I worried
about the little boy as the wind howled around my cottage. When I closed my
eyes, I saw an army of heads walking towards me, while foul demons shrieked
from the tower. Towards dawn the wind intensified and there was a clatter as
objects were hurled around in the gale. Eventually, as the sun was rising I
fell into an uneasy sleep.
‘Madame, come quickly.
You must come. They’ve gone.’
Even before I
could struggle into a coat I knew what I would find. The children bounced
anxiously on my doorstep.
‘They’ve gone. Pierre has gone. Come with us and you’ll see.’
We raced the short
distance and sure enough the Dubois cottage was empty, the door ajar. The
kitchen table still held the bottle of wine and the remains of the supper from
the previous evening. They had clearly left in a great hurry.
Oh, dear God, I
thought. What have I done? I never for a moment thought that he might be in
danger from his parents. It didn’t make sense. They were such a happy family. I
rushed to my cottage to phone the police.
It was a relief when three days
later a police car drew up outside my cottage and two officers got out. Since
the family had left I had known no peace. I hoped I would now find out the
truth, however shocking that might be.
‘Madame, at last we have
news of the Dubois family. Thanks to your prompt action, they were caught
trying to cross the border into Spain. They have evaded us for four and half
years and at last we have caught them.’
‘Please tell me – is Pierre all right?’
‘Yes, Madame. Pierre,
or rather Lucas, which is his real name, is safe in the care of the authorities
for the moment.’
‘Lucas? But I don’t
But even as the words
left my mouth, realisation began to dawn on me. Of course. How could I have
missed it? It had been a huge story at the time, but somehow other things
happen and people forget.
‘He’s Lucas Jones,
The policeman nodded.
Lucas Jones, the
so-called Disneyland boy, on holiday from England with his parents. They’d
turned their backs to buy ice creams and in that instant Lucas had disappeared.
He was two years old. The police had always worked on the assumption that he
had been snatched. His sweet little face had haunted the newspapers for months.
There had been those harrowing interviews on the television with his mother
crying and pleading in her broken French for the abductors to give her little
‘The paintings. It was
all there in his paintings. Why didn’t I see it before? I blame myself for
‘Do not blame yourself,
Madame. You did the right thing in the end and now the boy is safe.’
‘Safe? What will happen
to him now? ‘
‘His parents - his real
parents - have arrived in France and they will be re-united with Lucas shortly.
It is a delicate matter, as I’m sure you understand. Lucas speaks no English
and will almost certainly have no memory of them. Also they have another child
now. Lucas has a younger brother.’
I was stunned by this.
How on earth would he ever grow up to have a normal life now? There flashed in
front of me the picture of Pierre racing across the playground towards Monique
Dubois waving his arithmetic book. Whatever anyone said, he loved that woman
and she loved him. He would be heartbroken to leave her and go to a strange
land with people he no longer knew.
Outside, the wind
changed and whined in the eaves. For all the world it sounded like a small
child calling. A little boy lost.
I put my head down and
©2010 Christine Griffin
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