This story is paired with “The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was” from Children’s and Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
“What wicked tricks are these?”
—The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was
Fingers: straight lines, hooking arcs; swing through air. They are rises, creases, wells of regrown flesh, an uneven spread of hues with a slick shine. Arms uncurl; further. They stretch just beyond the point that skin is pulled taut.
* * *
Wind blows, and young Japanese maple limbs move toward sky. The leaves are a vibrant red; the wind a refreshing cool. Inside, a pajamaed foot rises to rest on a three-inch high window sill, the second, of three vertical window strips, which looks out to a cosmopolis.
The foot is withdrawn from the window beside the three. Inside, the light patter of feet can be heard.
Then a door opens onto the hallway— “Where are you?”—it closes, and the hallway is silent. A moment later, different steps resound through the hall, a sharp clack followed by a solid, flat sound. She hushes her breath and opens a door, looking inside. She closes the door, and the heels and balls of her feet move with the clack and flat sound, as her high-heels meet tile floor. She opens the next door slowly, holding her breath.
“There you are!” she cries. A squeal and giggle, and a figure rushes toward her. “Happy birthday,” she says, as the body collides with her legs. His neck wraps around her right leg and his cheek presses hard against the red, knee-length skirt she is wearing. She laughs, and he stands up. He kisses her on her cheek and steps away.
“Are you really wearing those pajamas?” she asks moving toward a chair illuminated by a small lamp.
“You know, it is my birthday; I can wear whatever I want,” he chuckles moving into the room’s darkness. There is a click, and light from a screen spreads over his upper body, dissipating before reaching the edge of the small lamp’s light where she stands.
“I suppose, but what do you really want?” It is quick; the tone descends on its final clause.
The screen’s light disappears, and he is again in relative darkness. The lamp’s shade is now rotating and light from the lamp projects, against one of the room’s flat white walls, scenes from The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear, which adorn the shade.
“Why do you even have a room with no windows in your house?” she asks looking into dark.
“I can have a room with no windows in my house, can’t I?” returns from the darkness.
“My eyes are horrible. I can’t see you at all… Let’s stop this silliness.” She stands. There is a rustling in the darkness, then a rush of air can be heard escaping the room further in the dark.
“I’ve already played hide-and-seek with you! How old do you think you are?”
* * *
Attention is pulled; the body, from torso up, jerks in the direction of a fountain. The fountain’s round base arcs through the space. The textured work of hands fly up, above the head. In the fountain’s stone, relief contrasting surface form the letters, s-u-u-m—c-u-i-q-u, disappearing around the arc. A wail of words comes out from inside the body.
“I shan’t! I can’t! I won’t!” The hands collide with the concrete ground of the open space around the fountain, outlined by small lamps. The fountain roars monotonously. The gravelly unevenness of the concrete carve tiny lacerations in skin as the hands pull the body’s weight. Drops of water shape dots all around. Spray from the fountain escapes into air, floating prisms. “This world is nearly ended!” The body lurches upward; feet again beneath it. Spinning, spinning. All around, windows upon windows are stacked atop each other. Colors from different materials: neon, steel, rock. Reflection, transference. Light.
* * *
She turns off the lamp and walks out of the room. The clack and flat sound return as she moves down the hall with its wooden floor. She stops at the next door. She lifts her feet and removes her shoes. Nearing the hall’s end, sunlight touches her through the first of the vertical window strips—taking the final steps to a door at the end of the hall, she sees through the second strip, just reaching a curve in the sidewalk, the pointed ears of the orange pajamas with black stripes and the cosmopolis beyond—and as she turns to exit the hall, she notices the last bit of orange of the tiger’s tail moving out of sight.
* * *
Motors hum and throb throughout the cosmopolis. Lights of signs and traffic signals reveal emptiness behind window glass. The tail curves, following the body as it makes its way in a broad sinusoidal pattern from one side of 3rd Street to the other. Approaching a street-facing plate-glass window, he catches his reflection. He lifts his head and inhales deeply. The tiger growls. He roams slowly further into the cosmopolis.
The tiger moves with a constancy, varied by the immediate. A few parked cars divert his path. Soon, he takes to walking over some. Sometimes on haunches; sometimes on all fours.
The tiger sees the large fountain ahead in the open space. The dark figure stands from crouching beside the fountain. It begins moving quickly in straight lines, turning at sharp angles, first with waist leading, then shoulder. In this zig-zag pattern, it crosses in front of glints on the fountain base’s stone, in front of the shadows of the lettering. It approaches the tiger.
“Get out of here!” the hands dart to cup the mouth; hold; relax. Then the hues of the skin move in waves, the skin rippling, as the fingers stroke the beard sprouting out of the face.
“No,” the tiger purrs. Beginning to move in an arc, keeping the figure at the center of a circle.
“This is where I live!” the hands reach out to the sides; the arms straighten. The wrists flick; the body spins.
The tiger stops. “Don’t you have a real home?”
“I don’t want to spend my life closed off behind walls.” The voice spirals out. The body slows, curls to a kneeling position in front of one of the small lamps.
“Fine. But this is a public space,” The tiger has worked between the figure and the fountain, and now moves more directly toward the fountain without turning away from the figure.
The head drops; the hands rise up beneath the chin gently. The face rises, points at the tiger, “Wait. I don’t want to be out here alone.”
“What do you want?!” the tiger pounces and claws at the dark figure stretched toward him on the ground.
“I know,” the voice begins.
The tiger claws once more at the shadow and begins to inch away backwards on all four limbs.
“I just said I didn’t want you here,” the voice continues, “I know. I know… I just said I didn’t want a home. Maybe I should have said that I want this to be my home… Maybe I don’t want walls here. But, there aren’t any walls– Maybe I do, then. Maybe I do want walls. Maybe that’s it… Why can’t I just get what I want?!”
The figure is rising slowly, and the tiger begins to speed its retreat. Sobbing, the figure takes a step forward. The tiger’s gaze is fixed on the figure. A shine winks off the hands. The fingers flex; the grip tightens then relaxes. The tiger passes the letters “a-d-r-o-c—” without noticing them. The figure begins to run after the tiger, who spins on his haunches and leaps onto the fountain’s base and bounds along its edge above the letters “m-u-s-r-u-s” and off the other side. The figure follows; the foot slides from the edge. Falling forward, hands collide against the surface of the fountain’s pool.
The tiger bounds beyond the lamp posts on the other side of the open space and into the empty streets. Surrounded by windows upon windows stacked atop each other, neon, steel, rock. Reflection and transference. Light.
* * *
Outside is night. Her shoes sit beside her, beneath a darkened skylight. An image of a tiger slowly roaming through a jungle is projected by a television on her face. She slowly places a piece of lightly-salted popcorn to her tongue and notes the time. It is 12:22 AM. The striped fabric of the chair hugs her tightly, and she shifts.
Edward Wells II’s application to the MFA of his choice was “not successful.” He lives on Tutuila, working on a collection of poetry and fiction and searching for post-graduate options. His fiction has appeared in the webjournal Gone Lawn, while his recent collection, CO, is available through The Pedestrian Press.