I wrote this piece with my Thursday night group. I changed most of the prompts, but perhaps you may still recognize them: the child, September, denigration, breakage, loss of youth, rust, crawling sickness, an obstacle, aberration, there are layers, no one was ready, nostalgic, January, time’s fun when you’re having flies, a blessing, apple tree, green shirts, fix your mind, ‘Do they come here to dream?’ ‘No, they come here to wake up.’
No one was ready when the new child arrived on campus that September. He was a quiet guy, and Mary wondered if he had never developed the ability to speak. He carried a yellow notebook with him. Mostly he held it casually at his side, but sometimes he stuffed it into the back of his pants so he had both hands free to carry his lunch tray or to play basketball. This habit made him an object of denigration, so Mary bought him a cheap backpack so the others wouldn’t make fun of him.
The child would only let Mary see the first few pages. It began with a doodle, a splash of black ink that had grown legs like a spider or rays like the sun or petals like a chrysanthemum. On the next page the creature/star/flower encountered an obstacle, perhaps a streak of ketchup that had dried into rust, crawling across the page, a viral illness, a sickness that was spreading like loss of innocence, crumbling every stone and brick and plaster wall it came up against. The other teachers called the child’s odd drawings an aberration, but Mary knew his art was a blessing.
One day he showed Mary a crayoned sketch of an apple tree, its limbs sporting blossoms and golden fruit, as if there could be a place where all seasons happen at exactly the same moment. For some mysterious reason, his picture filled Mary with nostalgia. “Do people come here to dream?” she asked him.
He smiled and drew foxes leaping into the welcoming branches of the apple tree. The foxes were kissing the apples, and apple juice ran onto their furry red mouths. “No,” he said, speaking at last, “the people come here to wake up.”
When Mary awoke, it was January, the ground was frozen with snow, pregnant with the water that would feed streams and rivers in spring. Mary remembered she was retired, layered in memories of green children who had nurtured her imagination in past decades.
When you fix your mind upon the dream, she realized, time’s fun because you fly.
Photo by Kristin Brown on Unsplash