All Norvell knew was that his kindly father, who spoke often in rhyme and told tales of elves and fairies, painted beautiful pictures and made rhymes to go with him that he then gave to Mr. Edison and Monsieur Wurlitzer. Norvell loved to watch his father work and had tried to imitate his skill in painting and rhyming, things that he would, eventually, master as well.
His father was gentle and kind, with haunting large eyes and a face lightly wrinkled from laughing. His mother was as beautiful as a china doll. Young and fashionable, a Gibson Girl with piles and piles of chestnut hair. Father called her 'peaches' because her cheeks were as pink and rosy and the ripest fruit.
Chicago was still young, but the streets bustled. Winds sometimes wafted the unpleasant odor of slaughterhouses, factories spewed black smoke from their ceilings and thin, pinched looking children black with grime from the doorways. Department stores had begun to spring up and theaters were thick in some parts. It was to one of these, for a matinee, that Norvell and his mother were walking that day. Walking unitil she suddenly disappeared.
|Edison advertisment, drawn and written by Charles W. Page|
Norvell only knew one thing; he was alone. His mother had disappeared. The worst nightmare of all infants – into thin air, never to return he was sure, sure sure of it. Not like the times he felt the same dread – when she went to the store, to a tea party, to call on Monsieur Wurlitzer or Mr. Edison....those times, he felt the sting of total abandonment, yes, but there were kind nurses to comfort him, to assure him she would be back. And she always was. But this time was different. This time she hadn't said goodbye. And there was no one to comfort him.
Instead a sour looking man with breath that reeked of stale tobacco and staler beer leaned down to him, asking why such a fancy looking little boy was on the street all alone. The papers had been splattered with his face for weeks and Norvell instantly recognized him as the scourge of Michigan Avenue, thief and murderer who'd mugged dozens of citizens in less than a month's time.
But he lacked the vocabulary to articulate his recognition and was too shocked and frightened to even scream. He managed to stammer that his mother had disappeared the man's eyes lit on the manhole. He climbed down, the boy thought to fetch her, but returned alone, his hands full of her jewels and holding her bag.
The small boy screamed louder as the man put him far down the ladder that led to the bottom of the manhole. Siezed with terror, he froze, unable to speak or move for at least an hour when his mother, dazed and bleeding, began to wake. The two emerged, an odd, muddy but beautifully dressed pair, as if into thin air onto the hot Chicago sidewalk. He snuggled into her lap when they at last caught a cab. It sped them home, where Father and their friends waited anxiously.
One would never guess by looking at him that he had odd habits. Speaking in poetry was one of these. An utter bibliophile, he'd even gone so far as to have his middle name changed, officially changed, to Wordsworth and had insisted on passing the title along to his son.
Nearly thirty years later, his son kept the tradition by becoming, among more secret, more illustrious, and, sadly, more forgotten things, the most popular writer of his time. But that's jumping ahead too far.
Neither Norvell nor his mother (whose name was Estlee) ever got over that day. He walked for years with his eyes on the ground, looking for holes. In his young, infant way, he vowed to avenge the injustice of the weasely faced man one day. How he didn't quite know, but he knew he would.
The next time something catastrophic came he would save her. He grew and excelled but always, in the back of his mind, was the fear of an invisible menace, someone lurking under the street ready to reach up and snatch at the ankles of passers by to pull them under into a subterranean lair. At least that's what he saw in his nightmares.
Years went by without incident.