The ten-year-old boy with no friends finds an old board out in the shed. At first he looks at it shyly out of the corner of an eye. Then he circles it, stepping carefully around the wheelbarrow and the small pile of rusty nails. He squats down, picks up one end of the board in an experimental kind of way. Ah! He smiles, now – something few people have ever seen.

I don’t know what he is thinking just yet. I’m back in the corner, behind the woodpile, spying. I feel I have the right to. It has been many months since he so much as acknowledged my existence.

He squats, very still, for about ten minutes. Then he picks up the board in the middle and goes off with it. Later in the day, when his parents find him and ask him if he is ready to go to dinner yet, he asks if his new friend can go along. “Who’s that?” they wonder. He produces the board. He has taped a piece of paper to one end and drawn a face on it. “This is my friend Plank,” he says.

His mother smiles sweetly. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Plank,” she says, reaching out to shake an invisible hand. His father is speechless. Anger and bafflement wrestle for control of his face. He shoots a dark glance in my direction.

“Woof!” I say. It’s the only word I know. For once, it seems just about right.

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