David is trying to tell me about lasers as we make our way through the woods. He says "No, that's not what I said. I said 'coherent light'. I have a book. It means that the light waves are in phase with each other."
"They're lined up!" he says. It's hard to hear him, because he's walking a few feet ahead of me and he won't turn around when he talks. My dress gets caught on a bramble again, and this time it tears. The trees are blocking out the sky, but every once in a while I can catch a glimpse of the laser's light through the branches. It looks like it's getting closer. I can see the beam all the time now, not just when it's touching a cloud. It looks like a strand of mint dental floss, pulled tight across the sky.
"You know an awful lot for an eight year old," I say. "Are you some sort of scientist?"
"I'm going to be a physicist," he says. He climbs up on a rock. "Like Richard Feynman. I'm going to learn how to do everything. I have books on mathematics and chemistry and maybe if we make another atomic bomb I can work on that, too. I'm going to learn to pick locks and pick up women like he talks about in his books." He jumps down from the rock, and turns to grin at me.
"I can teach you how to pick locks," I say, and he laughs.
"Richard Feynman won the Nobel prize," he says. "He was smart like Einstein, but he was funnier. You probably work at a hair salon, or with computers. You probably work at Kentucky Fried Chicken," David says. "How would you know how to pick locks?"
"I taught myself," I say. We come to the edge of the woods. "Picking locks is a way of making sense of the world on your own, without people explaining what things are for," I say. "Picking locks is like wearing a dress if you're a boy." This is someone's backyard, and above their satellite dish and chimney the laser is brighter than ever. As a cloud drifts over it, a point of brilliant green appears, wavering up and down with the shape of the cloud. "It looks closer now," I say.
"What will we do when we get there?" David says.
"It's probably up on someone's roof. Maybe they'll let us inside to see it."
We walk in silence for a while, David running ahead, across people's lawns, but never too far ahead. He must know by now that something weird is going on. I don't think he understands that we're kidnapping him. My anger is worn off. I'm not thinking about saving him, about opening his mind to the knowledge that it's okay to be different, for boys to dress like girls. I'm not thinking about reversing the damage his father has done to him. All I'm thinking about is finding the laser. I don't know what I'll do afterward, but right now he and I are going to find that laser together.
On our right there's a few men sitting out on their porch. They're leaning back in their lawn chairs, and as we approach I can hear them talking. The first words I can make out are "What the fuck?"
"Don't pay any attention to them," I say to David, before the first of them even begins catcalling. "Just keep walking until we get to the corner."
"Hey faggot, isn't he a little young for you?" A voice yells. "That's a nice dress."
"Yeah," says another. "Is that your wedding dress? Are you going to try and marry him? I don't think they've made pedophile marriages legal yet, have they?" There's three of them, and I have to force myself to keep walking. I want to turn around and rush them. I want to bloody my elbows and my knees with them. I don't want to hurt anyone in front of David, though.
"Hey kid, is that guy bothering you?"
"Leave us alone," David yells, and he starts walking faster. We get around the corner, and I can see that his face is flushed. "Why are you wearing that?" he says. "They wouldn't have yelled if you weren't dressed up like a gaylord."
"They yelled because they were assholes," I say.
"They yelled because you're dressed up like a girl. You're a faggot," David says, and I want to slap his face. Instead I grab his wrist, hard, and pull him up a lawn and into the backyard of the house on the corner. We cut through backyards until we're behind the house with the drunken assholes. I can hear them out front, laughing to one another.
"They don't let pedophiles get married too, do they?" one said, and they all laughed, reliving their moment of glory. I open my clutch and pull out the lockpick set.
"What's that?" David whispers. I lead him to their back door, and I get down on one knee. "Is that a lockpick?" He watches, fascinated, as I slide one of the picks into the lock, using my other hand to work the tension wrench. "You really can pick locks," he says.
"We can't talk when we get inside," I say. "We have to be very quiet. We're just going to sneak in and then sneak out, okay?"
"What are we doing?"
"We're going to steal a toaster," I say. "They made fun of us and said we were getting married. Well, people always give toasters at weddings. We're going to collect our wedding present."
"I've never stolen anything," David whispers.
"Well, I won't tell if you don't,"
The lock moves, and I let out a sigh of relief. I push the door open a fraction of an inch, sliding the picks back into their case, and the case back into my purse. There's no flashlight, and so we move very slowly, waiting for our eyes to get adjusted. David runs across the kitchen to grab a toaster, and he pulls the cord from the wall.
"Got it!" he says. The lights come on, and a man steps into the kitchen heavily. It's one of the men from the front lawn.
"What the fuck is this?" he says. He pushes David to the side and grabs the front of my dress. "How the fuck did you get in my house?" David's watching, his eyes wide, and there has to be a way out of this without violence. He's eight years old. I shouldn't have brought him into this house. Fucking Christ.
"Listen," I said. "He's only eight. We'll just leave, alright? We'll forget this ever happened." He has my chest hair through the dress, and I want to bring my knee up and into his crotch. He isn't that much bigger than me. I wonder what he'd tell his friends if he got stomped by a faggot.
He shoves me against the wall and grabs the toaster out of David's hands. He starts wrapping the cord around his fist. My own hands are fists now, and all I can think to say is "David, close your eyes." This fucker has a punch in the throat coming. But before he can step forward, and before my fist can come up, he drops the toaster and staggers to the side, his hand on his back. His hand comes back with blood on it.
"What the fuck?" he says. David is staring at him in shock, his little knife still in his hand. There is something smeared on the blade. I grab David's wrist and we're out the door and into the neighbor's backyard before I can even start thinking. I can't believe he stabbed the guy. Eight years old. I'm the most irresponsible kidnapper ever. From the front yard we can hear yelling. I slow down to see if I can hear what they're doing, but David shoves me from behind.
"Run!" David says, pushing past me.
We run. Above us, the laser slices through the clouds. I can't stop looking up. David is looking up while he runs, too.
"It's close," I say. "It's way closer than before. It can't be more than a few blocks from here." And then we aren't running from anything, anymore. We're running toward the laser. We're pushing through bushes from one backyard into the next, our eyes on the clouds and that beacon in the sky.