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Stephen R. Clark
@stephenrclark

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Oreland, Pennsylvania
FaithBraised.com
Joined June 1996

 

Learn more about The Hungering Dark: A Story by Stephen R. Clark coming soon!
 

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Seen

The thin white line etched across the perfect pale blue surface of the cloudless summer sky.

He extended his giant hand, palm up, spreading his reedy fingers, allowing the jet trail to thread in and out between them. Then he pinched it momentarily out of existence between his thumb and forefinger moving his hand along the flight path, then graciously restored the jet to the sky, allowing it and its grateful passengers to continue their journey.

He seemed truly a giant with infinite reach in that moment as he lay in the grass squishing the jets. The far skies felt close and covering, like the skin of a tent. And when he turned and put his face into the grass, the blades seemed a forest and the ants huge beasts, all of which he towered over, yet he was unregarded even in his domination.

The ants ignored him.

He was invisible. Not by choice but apparently having been chosen for the part by others. He had tried to be seen but conceded to the role of unseen since that was what seemed to be desired of him. In conversations he was ignored. At Christmas, after making a list of his wished-for gifts, he received nothing he really wanted. When he was watching a TV show, anyone else who came in would change the channel, ignoring his objections, as if he wasn't even there.

Unseen, unheard, unacknowledged, much of the time he felt unreal.

He was seven. Everyone else was older and bigger. The neighborhood kids, his cousins, and of course his parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and the world beyond. All seemed more than he was, in many ways. He assumed it had to do with his being bad which was apparently the only time he could be seen or heard. He was told he was supposed to be a good boy, which meant also, he assumed, unseen. He complied as best he could. It wasn’t always easy, but he got better at it over the years.

But now, it was time to wander!

He got up and began to explore around the yard which was a good half-acre. Absolutely vast to a seven-year-old.

Nothing about the yard was unfamiliar to him, except what lay beneath it. To discover that, he would occasionally dig holes. Invariably he discovered some treasure. Usually odd chunks of thoroughly corroded metal that had one time been a working part of some mechanism that had failed and been discarded in what used to be a junk yard. Now it was his yard.

He often dug to see if he could actually see China. That was the story that he’d heard. It was years later that he learned that that was one of those grown up lies fed to gullible children as some sort of joke. The adults found it really funny. When the truth sparked in his churning mind one day, he was filled with humiliation as he thought back to all his China excavations. For now, happily innocent, the digging filled the hollow place inside him that needed a touch of hope and wonder.

Besides digging, he especially like to ferret around under the row of long needled pines in the backyard, their heavy lower branches creating natural hiding places. And what a scent! He scrunched together a wide pile of fallen brown needles, huddled down, and breathed in deeply.

He was now a giant in a huge evergreen jungle and this was his pine needle lair. The pine cones strewn about were huge and deadly grenades that he could toss out on intruders and blow them up. He wondered what it would be like to get blown to bits by a giant pine cone. Probably quite surprising and painful, he thought. It was not an act he would actually commit. Violence was not in him. Just residual anger.

The summer afternoon was warm and quiet. He curled up down into the needles and dozed off and dreamed he was a giant.

As he woke, the sizzling drone of cicadas filled his consciousness bringing him back from his large dreams to his little reality. He had to pee and he was thirsty. He trudged to the back door, clambered into the house and unzipped to the bathroom.

Aaaahhhhh, he sighed happily as the pee rushed from him to the toilet, splashing gaily. He felt much better, washed his hands, and headed to the fridge.

"Maaaa-aaahwm?" He intoned as if he were issuing a call to prayer. "Can I have a Coke? I’m really thirsty and it’s really hot outside!" His voice and words were high-pitched and aimed at the whole house since he had no idea exactly where his mother was.

From somewhere in the house, her sundered voice floated back with an affirmative response embedded in some sort of parental admonishment which was lost to him. All he heard and needed to hear was the yes. Before his mother’s words faded to the other end of the house, he had assembled Coke, ice, and a glass and was headed back outside.

Back in the out, he ambled to the middle of the yard where the sun etched a circle of shade around the biggest maple, and sat back against the trunk, sipping his soda through the bendy straw. He sat sipping, idly looking about, enjoying the feel of the condensation dripping from the glass over his hands, thinking about the sky, the jets and birds that flew in it, the wind that blew under it, the clouds that scuttled across it or completely filled it, and dark space that lay mysteriously above it.

He felt very, very small as his grasping mind distended in thought trying to reach out into the infinite, drawn ever outward past the atmosphere, past the few planets he knew the names of, among the stars he watched twinkle each night, on and on in his thinning imagination, holding his breath as he spun out the query of his soul, and then the neighbor’s dog barked and brought him back down to earth. The question never fully formed and so went unanswered. He needed more years in his head before he could pursue it seriously.

He sipped, burped, dropped a few drops of the sweet drink near a trail of ants, and they sipped with him, joining his communion. He watched them, wondering if they had names. Did they see each other? Or were they invisible, knowing the presence of another only through the tickling of antennae? Were they happy? Did they play games? When they burrowed into the ground, did they see China?

He wondered what China looked liked. Did all the men there really have long skinny mustaches that extended around their lips and down to their knees like black licorice whips? Did all of the women wear elaborately embroidered dresses that were so tight they scooted along on tiptoes in tiny steps? Did a Chinese boy actually swallow an entire lake? Did a Chinese emperor actually stroll through his town naked? And how, he wondered more deeply, did they manage to eat soup with sticks? They must know magic, or else the sticks were actually hollow like straws, he decided. Like bendy straws.

He slurped loudly drawing every last drop of soda from the bottom of his glass. He burped again and laughed. It was a really good burp. The neighbor’s dog barked in response, and that made him laugh even harder. He bumbled up and into the house, the back door slapping shut just missing his heel and he took the empty glass into the kitchen, stopped by the bathroom again, and headed into the basement.

It was time to build a tent!

He rummaged around in the shelves he was not suppose to get into, pulled out the small tarp, some rope, a mallet, and a dozen tent pegs, lugged them all up the steps and into the back yard. He retrieved the poles he had stashed under the pines. Slowly, methodically, he tied the poles together, put them up and balanced them between pegged ropes, threw the tarp over the simple frame, pegged the corners and sides, and made various adjustments until he achieved the desired result.

When it came to tents, he was absolutely precocious.

The tent could completely close up providing him further invisibility, but on his terms. Inside, he felt safe, secure, real. He loved his tent creations and the peace they provided. Since no one could see him, neither could they see through him. Here he felt he had some substance. He felt as if all the pieces of himself were truly his. He could rest in peace. Which he did on the blanket he had dragged out as the final touch and on which he again dozed. Tent making was tiring and it was a warm day.

He woke all hot and sweaty. It was hot inside the tent with the flaps closed. He had to pee again really bad. He blopped out of the tent, his body slightly uncoordinated with remnants of sleep, bumbled into the house and to the bathroom, reaching the toilet and unzipping his pants just in time. "Splop, splop. Whiz, whiz. Oh what a relief it is!" The reconstituted commercial jingle played over in his head as he urinated causing him to giggle.

He started to head back outside when he heard his name called followed by, "It’s dinner time! Where on earth have you been? We’ve been calling you forever. Get in here and sit down. The food’s getting cold and your dad’s hungry."

The voice rattled on as he edged down the hall to the dining room and slid up into his chair. He had barely settled into his seat when the prayer was done and the others started eating. After everyone else had taken what they wanted from the passed plates, someone would finally plop a ladle full of this and that on his plate, without asking him what he wanted or didn’t want. He ate silently only half listening to the hum of dim conversation around him. All finished and moved into the living room to watch TV. He was always left at the table to clean his plate, which he did as best he could, then begged to be released, which he always was after being admonished for leaving food behind. He hated beets, lima beans, yams, and a few other absurd vegetables, which there was always at least one of for each meal. He could never finish everything. It would make him sick. Sometimes, to prove his point, it did. The results were always colorful.

He changed into his pajamas and then lay on the floor in front of the TV watching propped up on his elbows. After a couple of hours he was shooed off to bed where he lay listening to the sounds of the night seeping through the window screens and then he slept, soundly, deeply, dreaming. He dreamed about what it would be like to seen and heard.

===

The morning came quickly, but never quickly enough for him. His favorite breakfast was Rice Krispies with banana slices. That’s what he had nearly every morning. This was the way the best mornings began. Today, that’s what he had, plus a powdered sugar donut! This was really the best. What could the day hold?

He wrestled into the same clothes he had on the day before and with shoelaces flying loose, flew out the back door and straight into his tent.

The blanket was damp so he pulled it out into the yard and threw it over the clothesline to dry. He tied open the flaps of the tent allowing the air to blow through and dry out the grass inside.

He ran back inside and collected a box of plastic Army men and a couple of Tonka trucks, and zipped back out to stage a small war in the soil next to the edge of the vast back porch.

As he played he heard the "Ka-ching, ka-ching" of a bicycle bell. It was the kind of bell that no self-respecting boy would allow on his bike. Boys used the more offensive sounding bulb horns that sounded like a goose farting. He looked up to see an all pink bike bearing a blonde headed girl coasting down the incline of the street. "Ka-ching, ka-ching."

He had never seen the girl or the bike, but it seemed she was making certain everyone saw her as she rang her bike bell over and over. He ignored her and went back on the attack driving his Tonka dozer through a whole regiment of green soldiers.

"Hey! Boy! Who are you?" The girl on the pink bike with the obnoxious bell had pulled up right onto the edge of the yard, dropped her bike in the grass, and was walking toward him. She was wearing red sneakers, denim shorts neatly fringed, and a white T-shirt top. Her hair was pulled back in a bouncing ponytail wrapped in a pink stretchy. She strode right up beside him and stood staring at his battle maneuvers.

"Who are you? Hey, boy!" She demanded again.

He looked up at her, squinting a bit since the sun was a little off to her left. She had nice eyes, he thought. Greenish a little like his favorite marble. Her nose was small and freckled. Her skin was white without being pale. Freckles were scattered up and down her arms. She seemed okay.

"What do you mean, Who am I? Who are you?" he demanded as he squinted up at her, thinking himself to look like one of those ornery western cusses on Gunsmoke.

"Kinsey Morrisey. I live in the green house up the street. We just moved in a couple of days ago. We used to live in Michigan. Who are you? Can I play with you?"

"I’m Noble. Noble Ray."

"Noble? That’s a funny name! Is that really your name or are you just fooling me?"

"What’s wrong with Noble? Don’t you know what noble means? It’s a good name and it’s mine. I like it. It’s my middle name. Everyone calls me by my first name, though. It’s Victor. And don’t call me Vick. I hate Vick ‘cause it sounds like Vicks and I don’t stink!"

"I like Victor. Victor Noble Ray. Pretty good name. Do you like mine? Kinsey? My whole name is Kinsey Susannah Morrisey. Do you like it?"

He rolled the name around in his head for a moment, listening to the way it sang in his thoughts. He did. "Yep. It’s pretty nice, I guess."

"Thanks. I like it. Are you playing war? Is that your tent over there? Did you make it all by yourself?" The words streamed out of her pretty mouth as she scooted over to the tent and ducked in one end and popped out the other. "Neat! Can we play in it? Can we use that blanket over there to sit on in the tent and talk?"

"Sure," Victor replied answering nearly all of her questions with the single word.

They spread the blanket inside the tent and plopped down at either end and talked. She told him about moving and Michigan and her parents and her pet rabbit Floppy and the brother that died when she was three and he was one and about her Barbies. She missed her friends in Michigan, left behind because her dad’s company made them move here.

He told her about the school where they would both be in the third grade together and his friends across the street Sam and Allen, and the ice cream guy that peddled down Forest Lane every afternoon in the summer around 3 o’clock, and the Strawberry Man that came into the neighborhood about once a week selling strawberries singing out loudly "Straaww-ber-eees! Fresh, ripe straaww-ber-eees!"

"Really? He sings it?"

"Yes. He’s loud and that’s how we know he’s here."

"What kind of ice cream do you like? I like the ice cream sandwiches."

"I like Dreamsicles. You know, the orange ones."

"Those are good, too."

"Did you see your brother die?"

"No. We were all asleep. He never woke up."

"Did you see him dead?"

"Yes. But it just looked like he was sleeping." She started crying. "I don’t want to talk about him anymore. It makes me cry but I’m not sure why. It happened a long time ago."

"It’s okay. I cry sometimes, too."

"Why?"

"I never know. I just have to."

"Yeah, me too. This is a really neat tent! I like it a lot. You’re good at making tents."

"Yeah, I know. I like tents a lot. I like being inside them. In the winter when I can’t make tents outside, I make them inside in the basement. Sometimes I just go in the closet and pretend it’s a tent. It’s nice. I listen to my transistor radio with the lights off. Sometimes I listen to it with my earphone under the covers when I’m in bed."

"Neat. I do that, too. Sit in my closet. And listen to my radio late at night when they think I’m asleep. It makes me feel grown up."

"Would you like a Coke," he asked?

"Sure!"

He took her into the house and hunted down his mother. "This is Kinsey. She just moved into the green house up the street. Can we have some Coke?"

While Kinsey and his mother chatted he went into the kitchen and assembled two glasses with ice, bendy straws, and Coke. "Come on, Kinsey. Let’s go back outside."

They sat in the tent sipping their sodas and talking.

They put their empty glasses on the porch and lay in the grass facing the huge blue sky. He showed her how to let jets string her fingers and how to squish them. "That’s funny!" she giggled as she pinched out a jet and watched the thin white line weave in and out between her fingers. "Do you think they can see us from up there?"

"Maybe. But I doubt it."

The afternoon took on a quality that he’d never experienced before. He sensed it but didn’t stop to contemplate it until he’d gone to bed that night and he lay in his bed listening to a distant radio station thinking of Kinsey’s eyes.

He dreamed they were in the tent with the flaps pulled closed, whispering secrets to each other. They swore to always be best friends. One yawned and then the other. She laid down on the blanket and said, "I’m tired." And then she was asleep. He looked at her. Laid down beside her, slightly touching her. As he drifted off, he felt himself changing. He dreamed he was becoming visible. He dreamed within his dream that Kinsey stood above him whispering, "I see you."

In his real sleep, he smiled.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Words For Summer: A small collection of writings for the season

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