The Reader

He read with a mathematician’s mind. “12 pages to go!” “On average, the chapters have 14 pages.” “The longer chapters are all about exposition. There is more action in the shorter ones.” I had recommended a book I had just finished reading, thinking he would like it. “Where are you at?” I asked. “I’m five pages into chapter 6.” “I mean, what’s happening? Where are you at in the story.”

He looks at me as though I’m slow, as though he’s already answered the question and rattles what’s happened in chapters 1 to 6. “I thought you’d read it?” he asks with a hint of suspicion. “I’m not doing your homework for you, am I? If there’s a book report at the end of it, you have to tell me now. I will read differently.” “No, nothing like that. I thought you’d enjoy the story. It made me think of you.” “Why?”

Now it’s my turn to turn diffident. The main character is clearly on the autism spectrum, but I don’t want to offend him. “He likes math” is all I can think of. That seems to satisfy him.

Rock Art

I read of the white plaques on the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s. I look at mom, picturing the landscape under her skull – splotches of white paint on ancient fissured walls devoid of sense with the passing of time. Were those prints ever meant to convey anything? I was here, here in your olfactory cortex. You used to smell the roses, balk at cigarette smoke, enthuse over wine. I was here, in your visual cortex, see the rugged wall under my print? It speaks of faraway countries, and distant lands of the imagination.

Now you see ghosts, reinterpret the shapes into abstract concepts that confuse me. I strain to grasp the meaning of your words as they mercifully still pour out of you. I tentatively offer my version. You look at me sternly, “Never mind, you don’t understand.” I feel I am failing you. You point to paintings, your own or your son’s. You discuss weight, colour, light and shadows with large gestures. You glow.

I know you are not beyond meaning. You sit contented, try and engage me. Your temporal lobe is still vigorous; it remembers sound. Your body sways to the music, any music; you know the words to every song. To every music, you create your own lyrics, the words conveying your feelings.

I introduce myself, recite the names of your children, point mine out. “See, I am the girl, your daughter,” I say proudly. I smile. You smile back.

Green

That time of year when you catch a cold because you are sick of winter and you go outside without proper clothing because you believe in the power of Mind Over Matter and dammit if you can’t do what you please… You are no longer a child and no one but yourself will control you and who wants control anyway? Who needs it? Politicians will pull wool over your eyes like that toque you did not want to wear it gives you hat head is that what it’s called? Cat hair? I hate when my mind plays games. How can I have Mind Over Matter when my mind plays games? Last night I heard the sound of a metal pipe clanking on a cement floor, the sound reverberating in my head but there are no cement floors in here and no one said a thing and I could tell it was all in my head from the way the sound waves were travelling out instead of in. So. I am lucky today to have no earworms though I must admit I miss the incessant chatter and music that typically fills my head must be those new pills that dull my Mind Over Matter. I will have to start faking taking them – meek, and I will inherit the Earth but what will I do with it? Cover it with greenery and shrubs and maybe little green men will come and visit. Yeah, that would be nice.

Luna

The bed beside him is cold. He waits.

Silhouetted against the doorway, eyes wild, seaweed hair heavily roped on her shoulders, white fish feet. “Little mother, come to bed,” he says softly. She lies down beside him, at a distance. She sighs a heavy sigh. He coaxes her gently, “And?”

Her eyes are moist. At long last, she intones, “The great sea has receded. She is showing her underbelly. The sand is smooth save for little breathing holes.” A beat. “It can’t all be crab down there! I saw the most hideous creature coming out of one of them, covered in warts, gelatinous. A large bird was waiting patiently for it to climb out. It didn’t blink. Someone will be eating.” She spits out, after a moment, “There’s loads of rubbish too.”

He can tell she relishes the sound of the word “rubbish.” It rolls off her tongue and crashes in his ears. “I wish the sea would stay on top, the waves hiding it all, waning and waxing.” Her hands going to and fro above her, in the air. He knows better than to speak. He must respect her rhythm.

“You know you can walk for miles out to sea? You won’t realize when it stops creeping back, and then rushes in, and traps you, and gobbles you up. Quite the monster really. A fake tame beast.” Her voice is flat as salty drops wet her cheeks.

They will not sleep. They never do under a full moon.

Music

He was listening to music as he walked. Actually, he was using music as a way to drown  stuff out. Marsha had walked passed him without a smile, a nod or anything. The music filled that space in the hollow of his stomach. Ms Bartosik tried to get his attention but he feigned deep concentration, bopping his head to the rhythm. Dave walked by his side for a bit, sullen and grumpy, which suited him fine.

Dave knew instinctively when he needed support. Having him by his side made the music recede a little in the background. They were shuffling in synch, which lifted his spirits. He started doing some fancy footsteps which Dave matched and then embellished. Pretty soon they had stopped and were dancing in the hall. They were striving to take as little space as possible, as though dancing on a tree trunk, whilst being as extravagant as possible. He had cranked up the music so that Dave followed without missing a beat. They were getting hot, and out of breath, but neither wanted to be the first to stop. They locked eyes and grinned. A small crowd had gathered and were cheering them on.

The bell rang. They broke it off. Fist pump, then they each headed to a separate class. Geography for him, calculus for Dave. Masha appeared by his side – you were awesome! I didn’t know you had it in you. What’s that you’re listening to? The only music now was her words and her eyes.

 

Raven

She can’t sleep despite the warm bodies and the deep thrumming, a fluttering of hummingbird activity in her chest, reverberating weirdly. She feels calm and muddled, her thoughts coming back in a loop to last night’s incident. She had been awake as she now was, lost in idle thoughts, lulled by the soft snores and restlessness of tired bodies. She never did adapt to the nighttime rhythm of this country, resolutely attuned to the long Arctic days where life did not still during summer, precious waking hours stolen from the long winter months.

She plays with her cloth doll. It feels heavy and foreign in her hands, nothing like her baby brothers. She loves the twins more than life itself. Their smell brings a tender ache in her bones, a longing to see and touch them. The doll is a little piece of home to hang on to until she gets better. She tries not to think of home, of them. When night comes, she does not succeed.

A coughing fit overtakes her. She can not suppress the noise and a sister comes to her help propping her up with pillows to help clear her lungs. She was taken by surprise and did not have time to muffle her cough. She is coughing blood droplets, against which the sister wears a white surgical mask. Her uniform is all white. Thankfully, it is young Myriam, she of the kind eyes and gentle hands. In the morning, she brushes her hair while making soothing sounds. She does not speak her dialect; she do not speak hers. It is lonely being sick in a foreign tongue, far from home. Giant trees loom and obscure the sky. Everywhere you look something stops your gaze. The spirits are trapped and cannot roam freely.

The cough subsides. She drops heavily to the pillow, spent, calling for blessed sleep. The sister stays by her side and she manages to regulate her breath and deepen it, feigning sleep. Sister Myriam moves away to survey her other charges.

Her thoughts drift back to the previous night. A car arrived late in the day and a man in an anorak and shoulder-length black hair came out. He looked disoriented and small as he was escorted into the building. Ever since, she has been trying to locate him. She feels better knowing she has an ally, maybe someone to talk to. She will be as patient as the seal hunter. Her dark eyes glow in the half-light, the corridor lights always on whenever she wakes up.

She speaks to her doll in hushed tones. The man is an uncle mandated to take her back home. The man will turn into a rainbow at the end of which wait the twins. The man is a raven on whose back they will ride home. She falls into a feverish sleep peopled with fantastic dreams where she is playing with her brothers and everyone is healthy and strong. Raven watches over them.

Topiary Artist

She was a topiary artist. Hers was an early vocation. She was inspired by Grace Jones’ hair, a veritable chef d’oeuvre, but as she had no inclination to talk to people and listen to their critiques, she turned to plants. She did all the talking, explaining her plans, showing them her sketches, and asking for their cooperation before trimming them.  She had a soft spot for jungle animals that she sketched live at the zoo. Her skills were in high demand, especially for lions whose mane was made of Boston ivy so it turned fiery red in the fall.

After a journalist who was visiting his aunt wrote a travel piece on the Web, the little town was overwhelmed with tourists wanting to see the famous lions. The whole town’s economy soon revolved around garden tours, and buses disgorged rich widows with nothing to do but break the monotony of their lives with silly trips and shopping sprees. Postcards with topiary art sprung to life, t-shirts, dish towels, placemats, puzzles,… and demand for her work grew.

There was nothing she loved more than work on live plants, with the sensitivity of a sculptress, bringing to life the beast within the live matter. Plants revealed their true character – cubs playing, giraffes munching leaves, placid buffalos. It seemed normal to local children to play amidst wild plant-animals that were frozen mid-movement. The town’s inhabitants donated a piece of land so it could be turned into a public park, commissioning the artist to populate it with her imagination.

Local contests were held in schools to encourage the kids’ participation and the winner’s drawing was mounted as a piece de resistance. It was a duck, and she managed to convey whimsy in the jaunt of his webbed feet and the comical slant of his eyebrows. The piece was unveiled with a plaque showing the kids’ name and drawing. A barbecue was held to celebrate the opening of the park and the inhabitants walked amongst the wonderful creatures. They liked their realism and fine proportions as well as being able to recognize them. There was a quiet area for kids, where bushes had been turned into squirrels and bunnies – the bunnies made out of furry plants that were soft to the touch.

Unfortunately, one night, the whimsical creatures were expertly vandalized into slightly crooked and deformed caricatures. They remained works of art, but the original intent was turned on its head. The miscreant – for there was only one, after all – was apprehended; at the artist’s insistence, he was ordered to do community work with her. As the artist was excited to meet a fellow topiary artist, they became fast friends. She learned from him a certain cynicism that added some bite to her otherwise banal creations and turned her into an artist of higher stature. Her later works were considered more mature and won her critical acclaim. However, she never regained her following amongst the early admirers that had made her fame.