Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Aaron heard once in a sermon that people are like buildings. They have walls and windows and doors. Most people know where their walls are and where the windows and doors fit in, but Aaron no longer had any sense of that.

He had a photo in his wallet he kept pulling out of his family when his brother was still alive. The boys are about eight and ten years old and stand next to their parents on the front porch of their house dressed for Easter Sunday. His mother wears a blue hat that matches her dress, and the boys and their father wear suits and ties.

Aaron stares at his family wondering who took the photo. The light on the house was brightest early in the morning, and they squint as the photo is taken. Had a neighbor come over, who would be there that time of day? The question popped around in Aaron’s brain like a pinball inside a machine. He closed his eyes trying to remember who took the shot.

“Excuse me, ” a voice said.

Aaron turned to see John Mason, the teacher in the art class.

“I was wondering if these belong to you,” Mason said.

In his hands were the drawings Aaron had stashed beneath the couch. Aaron looked at the drawings, not knowing what to say.

“I don’t know why I’ve hung on to those,” Aaron said. “I hope you don’t mind. They aren’t even half finished. I sometimes draw in your class after I get off work.”

Mason looked from the drawings into Aaron’s face. It was as if two windows had been raised in two houses that had been standing next to each other for years. Aaron and Mason looked at each other wondering how they’d never met.

“One of the other teachers saw you leaving the classroom late one night. Do you have any more? Did you ever think of drawing larger?” Mason asked.

Mason’s students didn’t know how to fill a canvas or a page, but here was a man whose drawings ran off the edges of the paper.

“I was wondering who this is,” Mason said.

“That’s my father after we moved here, during the years he worked at the Tribune.”

Mason pulled out another drawing. “What would you have drawn in this corner if the paper had been wider?”

Aaron looked at a drawing of a room where clothes lay smoothed out on a dresser table.

“My mother,” Aaron said. “On the other side of the room was my mother.”

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At first, Aaron begins finishing drawings left by students on the floor. He folds and unfolds pieces of paper into squares, finishing one square at a time.

A chin, a nose, a cheek, an eyebrow all become dark and light lines he smooths out into a face.

He looks at the still life objects on the studio table as if each thing is a person and has a small body wanting to be touched.

It is the first of October now, and the art building is chillier at night. Aaron walks through the city, watching cars pass on the highway and lies on the grass next to a lake listening to trains pass.

Mama is awake now crying herself to sleep again. “Maggie,” his father says, and her breathing slows while the train passes. Again it is his mother’s mind coming through the window, staring at the ceiling, watching the night as it quiets down. Slowly, the streetlights begin holding in their edges again.

Aaron had liked to draw trains as a boy. On Sunday mornings after church, he and Moses walked out behind their house where train tracks lead to small ponds near the town’s electric power plant.  When the boys weren’t fishing, they climbed coal piles next to the power plant or flattened their bodies against the station walls to feel the large generators vibrating inside.

Most men fished the lakes with boxes of tackle and flashy lures. Moses took a fishing rod and bits of corn or hot dogs in his pocket. Sometimes he snatched bread dough from the kitchen counter when his mother was baking.

“Sunfish and bass will eat anything,” he said, “but a carp has the mind of a man. They can hear you coming.” As he said this, Aaron saw a carp pass through the shallows on the edge of the lake. The fish turned its head as it swam through the lake grasses and looked at the two boys.

Moses looked at the fish and smiled. In its mouth were the barbs of the hooks. Its lips swelled with the tapered ends of the wire. Moses could feel the bright lines pulling at the edge of the fish’s mouth as if they were in his own.

Aaron woke up. He had fallen asleep by the lake. Once again he had dreamed his brother was a fish. Quick he’d run to the riverbank, but his brother would hide in the grasses beneath the water.

In the art studio, he moved his hands along the edges of the drawing paper, spreading the charcoal out with his thumbs as he finished a drawing of a boy holding a large fish.

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Cedar Bluffs, Illinois

“Do you know what this is,” Moses asks. Aaron doesn’t know but won’t admit it to his older brother. “It’s a bull snake.”

Moses lifts his slingshot and shoots the snake with an alabaster marble. Angrily the snake shakes its side scales in a threatening rattle. “No quitsies,” the boys laugh.

The two boys are playing on cliffs near their home in southern Illinois. It is early morning. From the cliffs, you can see farms in the valley below. An open-cab combine moves slowly through a hayfield in the distance. The boys have slept on the cliffs all night in a tent made of bed sheets donated by their mother.

Moses stands on the edge of the cliff and looks through the trees below. Cottonwoods, elms, oaks, firs, cedars. The two must climb the cliffs at night to prevent Aaron from seeing below as he climbs. As the sun rises, Moses stands with his arms outstretched and stares through the jagged branches.

Even standing close to the edge scares Aaron. From his perch inside the tent, he looks at the thin tree trunks and imagines what it would be to put his foot on the top of each limb and balance from tree to tree. A dense smoke turns over in the fields, and the whole earth seems to move like a fish rolling through water.

This is the summer of 1978. A year later Moses is killed in a tractor accident. He is 16 years old. After they cut the clothes off the boy’s body, his mother keeps them in a drawer in the boys’ room, washing and drying them occasionally then smoothing the cloth out with her hands.

“That’s the only way to get the wrinkles out,” she says.

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Aaron Green lies on a cot looking at a wall across from him. Leaning against the wall is a painting of a man and woman.

The woman wears a blouse sketched with red and yellow flowers. The man wears a suit jacket and tie and carries a watch chain. She curls her left hand and fingers around his lapels like a child clutches a blanket. The fingers and arm that hold on to the lapels are blue.

Each night when Aaron can’t sleep, he stares at that one blue arm, wondering why the artist chose that color. A few lines around the woman’s eyes seem to ask what is it I have become.

The faint smell of linseed oil keeps Aaron awake. He sleeps in a small room attached to the art studio in a state college where he has worked for 20 years in maintenance and facilities management. Many staff and faculty members have been laid off recently after budget and funding cuts.

He is sleeping in the art studio until he can find a new job. Each morning before school opens, he walks to a coffee shop to eat breakfast. He doesn’t know how much longer he can remain stowed away in the art studio or how much longer his money will last.

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