Ding had the white-blond hair of a forest elf, which lay across his brow like a dove's wing. He was constantly tossing his head to the right, flipping it out of his eyes, which were the pale blue of the melting ice shelves hanging over the turn of the creek behind his home.
Ding was 11 years old, determined and stubborn. He suffered fools badly, but was hardest on himself. He could climb a 30-foot tree in seconds, but dawdled on the mud path to the school bus, every day, exasperating the bus driver, who would occasionally toot his horn and move a few feet, in an effort to make Ding pick up the pace. Ding never did.
Sue-Ann, Ding's mother, also caught a bus, but it came a quarter hour later than her son's. He made her breakfast every morning - scrambled eggs and toast - and then constructed sandwiches for lunch, his in a brown paper bag, hers in an insulated lunch box. Side by side they sat on the green formica kitchen table. Ding did not want a lunch box. A brown paper bag felt good in his hand, though he couldn't have said why.
Very occasionally, his bus would arrive late, and the two vehicles - one large, faded mandarin-orange; one short, white with colorful logo - would dance an intricate dance, picking up their respective charges. Just beyond the mailbox was the end of the lane, and each had to execute a four- or five-point turn to depart.
When this happened, the children on Ding's bus pointedly looked away from his mother's transport. It was wise not to give it more than a quick eyeball. If they'd said one word, they knew Ding would pound them. Small and lean, Ding was nonetheless all self-contained muscle and rage. Few had seen him angry, but the legend lay down the path between the seats like a sinewy python, and all avoided acknowledging its existence.
Ding, too, looked out into the trees, bare in winter. He focused on a small gray bird, puffy and still on the lowest branch of a glowing birch. The sparrow looked resigned, holding its warmth inside, fluttering heart awhir, its hollow bones offering little protection. But it would be here in the afternoon, and Ding would give it the crusts from his sandwich. It would be all right. Spring would come again.