by SAM ZESULKA
He had a cassette player and little else. Standing hurt a bit, but only if he stood for a long time. The hours were liminal; scarred by the pain, but not only the pain, the evidence assembled. His place was not here, but elsewhere.
He heard the high voiced lien of his mother. She stood against all else, against the time you know. He only had to know of her to understand the phenomenon. He...could claim to be a part of her no longer.
Siberia was the place which had first occupied his imagination in geography class. He pictured himself at the cleft of some barren hill, peering over an untold wasteland, his fingers trembling. There was never any sun and he was always very cold.
The next year he grew no bigger, his mother's mark on the wall attested to that. But it was nothing, a physical artifice which might be dismissed with the wave of a hand. Inside, he felt himself growing larger and larger. He noticed it was easier to grip the handle of a brush, the width of a frame. If he saw it when he closed his eyes, he would sketch it.
A fist raised and then lowered. The sound of a clinking bell. Who was to say, in the early years? A petunia. A fallen, open tulip. The catch on a purse.
He was absently doodling in a notebook one day. When the bell rang to end class for the day, he cast the crumpled piece of paper into the class hamster's cage. A girl named Artis hurriedly dipped her hand into the straw and snatched the paper out. She turned to him, grabbed his left arm and explained that several days earlier her grandmother died, and why had he sketched her face?
He made an exception. He told her the truth: he had been trying (and failing) to draw a chrysanthemum.
He found that to measure himself by any specific skill was false, and that taken as a sum of parts he represented a disappointing amalgam. He found no sense of place; it did not matter to him where exactly he slept. A creeping similarity distinguished each environ.
Months before his ninth birthday an angel visited him in a dream. The winged being circled him as if to approach but held back. Then the creature's lithe body separated and congealed into a watery film. The next day in school he broke his left wrist.
A claimant. A swollen bow, pressed into service by its unwilling owner. The stars fell from the earth to land on the sky. He saw the crest of a hill until it disappeared into the belt of a hunter.
While wandering near a cave, he found within a massive bush, a hardened black stone, shaped like a pyramid, smooth on each side and rough where it faced him. Anger and shame filled him.
School was impossible the next year. He could not absorb the inner logic of algebra; it seemed like a specious riddle to him. Geometry was a breeze in contrast. He was not a natural at languages, but three years of collecting coins in his boyhood gave him a considerable advantage over the other children. At the end of the school year, one of his teachers asked to speak with him privately. She was only in her late forties, an age that might as well have been a thousand to him. Before she said what she was going to say, a finger uncurled a sheet of paper and tossed it in front of him. It was a familiar feeling by this point.
Secondary school was twice the size of his last one. A group of older students would kick out the back of his left knee so he would fall helplessly to the ground, until they were all expelled for cheating on a history test. He was relieved, but also even more alone than before.
A circling hawk. The gasp of a pigeon. Hercules straining against something. More tulips than could fill a vase, or a salon, or an amphitheater.
There was, at last, an art class. The first six weeks were occupied solely with drawing. For the first week he painted simple patterns, like those you might find on a quilt. The second week he attempted to replicate simple objects. From memory, he sketched a scalding rod, hot at the tip.
In old age he was given a gift by a patron of a high powered telescope. Each evening after dinner he examined the constellations. If he could not be there, then what did it matter where he was?
Sam Zesulka is a writer living in Brooklyn.
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