The Heart Gallery
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Love"
Originally featured on 11-17-2009
As part of our series "The Words That Seem to Justify Anything"

John was a tiny little boy of 5 and every time I saw him at his foster home he had snot running from his nose to his chin. His limbs were thin from early malnutrition, his hair spotty. He was inexplicably behind developmentally, with tiny teeth, and every week it seemed he had a new medical concern. His foster mom told me he had a new habit of spitting on his hands and then rubbing it on the kids in his class. I would try to get him to talk to me, luring him with blocks or trucks, but he preferred to retreat to his room. His foster mom would try to get him out again, and I would end up doing a brief survey of him from a distance, looking for visible bruises on his skinny legs, and asking him if he liked school and then I would be gone for another month. And I would worry about this kid, somehow fallen from a way of life that naturally included parents, somehow fallen from grace.


Then came the day when they asked me to write about him. For The Heart Gallery. An online personal ad of sorts, for adoptable kids. John’s own parents had finally lost their rights and he was to be given to a new set of parents and the adoption team wanted some kind of advertisement for him. I sat in my cubicle, starring at the samples they had given me, learning the nature of the spin of the disabilities. ADHD became “active”. Cognitive delay was usually presented as “sweet, with an innocent smile”. Paralysis was communicated through wording like “Erica loves to snuggle and be held”.


Then there were the pictures of the kids beside their profiles. A professional photographer was hired for these photos; apparently it was cheaper to make the kids look better, so they’d get picked up sooner, than it was to feed and house them for another month. I clicked through the photos. Some were for kids I knew, kids with behavioral and physical problems. One kid was in a wheel chair and the photo was zoomed in so far, to show only his face. Typically dirty kids that were placed in sketchy homes, had been impeccably groomed, and airbrushed. The photos of the sibling sets were perhaps the most heart breaking, the tiny little sisters positioned in flowered dresses in the foreground, the older brothers, awkward in their 12-year-oldness were banished to the backgrounds of the photos, tucked behind trees and peeking from behind their middle siblings.


I picked John up on a Saturday after he had received a response from his ad, bringing new clothes from the clothes closet with me. I picked a blue shirt, because I thought it would look nice with his eyes, and because it would make him look more like the professional photo on the site. I put him in the booster seat in the back of my car, and just before bringing him to meet his prospective parents, I looked in the rearview mirror, and I told him that things would get better and that he just needed to wait, and that when he had grown up and run away, it would all be better.

Read More By Alice Clark

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