Henry Franks A Novel - By Peter Adam Salomon


Spanish moss, bleached to gray in the heat, stretched down from the trees and the breeze barely stirred the air. From his bedroom window, Henry watched oak branches reaching for the house, close enough to scratch against the bricks. The marshes surrounding St. Simons Island stretched to the horizon, flashing with light where the rising sun reflected off the water.

With the blinds pulled up, he pressed his hands against the glass. Scar tissue ringed his index finger like jewelry made of flesh, matching the bracelet on his left wrist and the necklace of scars circling his neck. More snaked around his legs, beading with sweat in the Georgia heat.

Henry closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then counted to ten. A pushpin stuck out of the wall next to the window and he grabbed it without looking. A branch grated across the house with a hiss that seemed almost alive.

Where the sharp metal point broke the skin of his right index finger, a single bead of blood welled up. He opened his eyes, took another breath, and then counted again.

Pressing against the glass, he pushed the pin the rest of the way into his finger. Blood ran like rain down the window, but Henry Franks didn’t feel a thing.

He stumbled through the doorway to Brunswick High School as everyone rushed inside to get out of the heat. “Watch where you’re going,” someone said without turning around. Henry’s backpack slid off his shoulders and, thankfully, stayed zipped when someone else kicked it out of the way. On his knees, he clutched the pack to his chest as classmates walked around him.

“Breathe, Henry,” he said as a slim hand appeared before his half-open eyes. Pink nails and long fingers reached toward him. When he looked up, his next-door neighbor’s smile was as warm as always. Her shoulder-length brown hair was tied up for summer, exposing far too much skin, and he couldn’t figure out where to rest his eyes.

“Come here often?” Justine asked, letting her hand fall back to her side as he stood up on his own.

Henry shrugged. “It’s the law,” he said, staring at the floor. Her toenails were painted pink as well, and when he finally looked up at her, she was smiling. “You match.”

She laughed as the homeroom bell rang and then waved before running down the hall to her class.

“Breathe,” he said again, as she turned the corner and disappeared from view.

Snow and ice flashed across the screen but, as Henry looked around the science lab, it was obvious no one was paying attention to the movie. A gap in the miniblinds gave a view of the picnic area where lunch was already being served, a haze of heat floating off the cement. In the back of the room, students had their feet on the tables and their eyes closed. At her desk, the teacher read over some paperwork, red pen in hand.

Second row, third seat over, Henry kept his head down, watching his classmates through unruly brown hair that kept falling into his eyes. In the heat, his scars itched, and he clenched his fingers into a fist to keep from scratching.

Four thousand, three hundred and seventeen stitches, his father had told him once. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men had put Henry Franks back together again.

Next to him, a cheerleader scribbled in her notebook while chewing on a long blond ponytail. As he tried not to watch, she ripped the paper out, one inch at a time to keep down the noise, then folded it up. She looked at the teacher, stretched her hand out, and dropped the note on Henry’s desk.

The small square sat there, resting on the desk’s edge, and he stared at it, unaware he was holding his breath. His fingers, busy rubbing the scar circling his wrist, ceased their movement before crawling across to the note.

In the darkness, he had to squint to make out the writing on the outside, but his eyes weren’t all that great to begin with. Still, as he unfolded it, he felt the lines where her pen had pressed too hard against the paper.

He could sense her watching him, as though she was trying to tell him something but didn’t want to make a sound during the movie, and the sensation was a warm heat against his skin.

Inside, the words were easier to read, but she slid down in her chair and kicked him under his desk before he even started. When Henry