Who is the Boy in the Box? (Part Two)
It took Mary three hours to tell the whole story. She was 12 when it happened. She remembered the boy had thrown up after eating some baked beans. She remembered her mother, enraged at the mess, throwing the boy in the bathtub and then beating him, slamming his head again and again against the bathroom floor. The boy let out a shriek, the only sound Mary ever heard him utter. Then he was silent. Her mother cleaned him up, cut his untended hair, wrapped him in a blanket, and carried him out to the trunk of the car. Mary went with her, wearing her raincoat against the February drizzle. She remembered driving to a forlorn place, getting out and standing by the trunk. Her mother stiffening as a man stopped his car: “Do you need any help?” Her mother shaking her head no. After the man drove on, her mother stashed the dead boy in an empty box lying nearby. Mary had memorized the route home, so that one day she could return for him. He wasn't her real brother, but she loved him all the same.
The investigators were rapt. What was his name? they asked hungrily.
It comes down to this, an old man standing over a boy's grave. Bill Kelly is at ease here. He brushes some twigs from atop the headstone, crouches to straighten out a small flag someone has poked into the ground. As always, there's a new batch of toys around the stone: a soldier figurine, a race car, a ceramic teddy bear, a couple of plastic orange fish that are probably bath toys. Flowers, too—the Ivy Hill manager says that when people come to visit a loved one, they often pause by the boy's grave and pull out stems from their bouquets. Kelly once left a green ball belonging to his grandson Sean, thinking that if Unknown Sean were alive, he'd probably like to play with it. Kelly visits twice a year, usually. He'll be back again on November the 11th, when the Vidocq Society sponsors a memorial service to commemorate five years since the boy's reburial.
Kelly and McGillen have corroborated everything of Mary's story they can. They traced the route she described, and found it indeed leads between her Lower Merion home and where the boy was discovered in Fox Chase. They located a college roommate of Mary's who said Mary once confided that her mother had killed someone. For what it's worth, the psychiatrist believes Mary is sincere, and says her story has remained consistent over a decade of therapy. It all seems to add up. But the police department doesn't think the theory holds water. For one thing, Mary has been in and out of psychiatric care for much of her adult life—who's to say this isn't some crazy fantasy? Many of the details she provided are a matter of public record; the part about the Good Samaritan driving up, for example, was reported in the Evening Bulletin in 1957. She isn't a blood relative of the boy's, so the DNA does nothing to prove her claims. Her parents died years ago. Mary admitted that when they bought the boy, they were only told his first name—which may not have been his actual birth name, so there's no way to check his identity against a birth certificate. Anyhow, in Mary's old neighborhood, no one ever heard of a little boy living in her family's house. To Kelly and McGillen, that's proof the boy was kept prisoner in the basement, as Mary said, but to the cops it confirms that her tales are the delusions of a madwoman.
That frustrates Kelly. Of course Mary had mental problems—who wouldn't, after the things she witnessed as a child? But he wearily accepts that there's further work to be done. Not that he doesn't have other things to do with his golden years, mind you. He lives a good life. His days are filled with church activities, meetings of his various clubs, joyous visits with his grandchildren—everyone calls them “Kelly's Angels,” and they in turn call him Pop-Pop—and too-frequent doctor appointments. But Kelly always finds time to spend a few hours each week going through his notes, flipping through his binders. He and McGillen have worked up an extensive genealogy of Mary's family in the hope of finding other living relatives. They've come up with yearbook photos of Mary's parents, and interviewed one of her mother's former co-workers. They tracked down and reinterviewed the Good Samaritan. Kelly and McGillen feel Mary is telling the truth. Bill Kelly looked her in the eye, and he firmly believes her. What choice does he have, really? Because if not this answer, what then?
Kelly understands now why Rem came to believe his theory about the foster home. Maybe sometimes what we call truth is simply the answer we choose to live with, a way to reassure ourselves that we've done all we can. In the end, maybe we all want to believe in something, even if we can't quite connect the dots, even if it's a belief in something we can't see. Maybe it all comes down to faith. Bill Kelly wants to have faith in Mary. He wants to have faith that the answers are close at hand, and that he will finally do right by this little boy. And he wants to have faith—in faith.
Perhaps it comes down to accepting that sometimes, life doesn't match up neatly like the loops and whorls of a fingerprint. In time, Kelly is sure he'll find the true answers to the mystery of the boy's identity—if not in this life, then in the next. And so maybe he has found a set of answers he's willing to live with, for now.
Bill Kelly lingers at the grave for a moment longer, then touches the headstone with an affectionate palm.
“Goodbye, Jonathan,” he says gently. “I'll see you again soon.”