Prodigy

“Prodigy” by Jason Anderson

The man looked up from his funny-looking guitar with pursed lips. “Lately it does this below 23rd Street. I can’t figure it out.”

The subway car was empty save for Jon, the musician and an old lady at the other end, asleep, wearing a plastic rain hood with pastel daisies that looked like the kind that stop feet from slipping on shower-bottoms.

“What’s the next stop?”

“Oh we get there,” the man said. “No worries. It just takes a while.”

Jon turned and looked past the pale young face in the window into the blackness beyond. “But this is the express.”

A hard laugh. “There ain’t no express, kid. We go where we go.” He adjusted his battered Australian cowboy hat, briefly revealing a greasy pile of black hair.

Jon looked at the man through squinted eyes. “The announcer said this was the express.”

The man with the funny guitar cocked his head, a strange expression on his face. “The announcer knows what he’s supposed to know. Doesn’t mean he knows.” The man returned his attention to the guitar and strummed a few rusty chords, grimacing. “Where do you think we are?”

Jon considered. It had been a long time since 23rd Street. A lot of blackness had passed. “We must be in Brooklyn by now.”

The man didn’t look up. “That look like Brooklyn to you?”

Jon looked over his shoulder out the window and exhaled wistfully. More blackness. “No.”

“Where do you go?”

“What?”

The man finally looked up again, his black eyes catching the fluorescent light under the brim of his hat. “To school.”

Jon stiffened, and could tell from the man’s expression he caught it.

“Yeah, I forget the times we live in. Forget it.” The man returned to his guitar but looked up again when Jon spoke.

“Do you go to school?” Jon asked. Conversation might pass the time.

“Me?” The man laughed. “Look at me, do you think I go to school.”

The man was older but not old. It was hard for Jon to tell. Without the short scruffy beard he could be forty. Without the ruddy, leathery skin he could be thirty. From his eyes alone he could even be Jon’s age.

“It’s possible.”

“Of course it’s possible. But I don’t. Haven’t since I was your age.”

“You’re supposed to tell me it was the biggest mistake of your life.”

“I’m not your dad. What do I care? Drop out. Ride the Q train for a living. You can do better, but you could do worse.”

In the long pause there was no clacking or screeching of wheels on tracks, no bending or rocking of the car. It was if someone had set the Q train on a skating rink surrounded by blackness and given it a gentle, perpetual shove into night.

“I play the violin,” Jon said, not really sure why. He bent to pat the black case beneath the plastic seat, between his legs. The man’s eyebrows arched. “I’m pretty good.” The confidence in his own voice surprised him. “What kind of guitar is that?”

The man, smiling, held up the strange guitar, whose small round body reminded Jon of a snare drum. The strings ran straight as railroad tracks across it. “You never seen a banjo before?”

Jon shook his head. “I’ve read about them, but I never saw one before.”

“I guess they don’t have these in a symphony orchestra. How fast can you play, kid?”

Jon’s face was illuminated by a devilish smile. He laid the case across his knees and undid the latches.

©2012 Jason Anderson

The Cobs (A Very Small Story) by Jason Anderson

By Jason Anderson

His father always reminded him wherever he saw a cob’s web he was safe. Cobs could sense monsters and Other Scary Things, and they never, ever made their webs in harm’s way.

He wondered how cobs knew. He didn’t know much about them, anything else, really. He’d never actually seen one. But their webs were proof they existed and as bellwethers they were always right, even in the darkest spaces that smelled of ghosts and burnt dust.

He stared at the bare scraped-paint walls of his empty closet. From two of the four high corners dusty veils hung like tapestries. There was no monster here. There was no sign of how one might have escaped to avoid detection, except through the door, and monsters don’t use doors. That was one of the few things he knew for sure.

His closet spent years stuffed to the gills with clothes, toys, games – a jumbled pile just perfect for hiding a monster of the kind he knew lived in there. Somewhere, somehow. It was another thing he knew for sure.

But where was the monster now?

A small, bright red plastic brick lay in the back corner among light blue paint chips, missed in the packing. He stepped gingerly through the doorway, crouched down with exaggerated care and took it in his short pudgy fingers. Far above his head, the cobwebs waved.

No sound. No sudden movements. No razor-sharp claws or needle-like teeth flowing with thick saliva. Nothing pierced his body.

He stood and tiptoed out of the closet. Silence. Maybe the monster had been an illusion all along. Maybe monsters only live in the night crevices between toys and games, and not in empty spaces in the light of day. The only thing he knew for sure was that it was not there.

He missed it.

©2012 Jason Anderson

Killing time

A little essay on living in the moment, or somewhere nearby.

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with time. When I was young, time seemed to stand between me and everything I wanted: an exciting field trip, my 10th birthday, Christmas… I’ve counted down so many days I’ve lost count. Inevitably Day Zero passed in the blink of an eye, and most of the zeroes have disappeared to wherever memories go when they don’t make the cut. And so began a new countdown to a new Day Zero.

On the other hand, time is a tonic for wounds both physical and emotional. I believe that sometimes time is the only thing that dulls pain’s blade, and all the other things I do to “heal” are really just to distract myself and let time do its work. Maybe it’s a combination of both, but where all else fails time is the true medic. The human body and mind have an innate capacity to heal — it’s what they do naturally — and time is the medium in which they work.

Killing time, whether until excitement or healing, comes with a cost. Killing time is actually a wonderful way to put it: it’s dead. It ain’t coming back, no, no not ever. Yesterday I was an eight year old in Virginia, slithering through an impossibly slender gap under a fence to play fort on someone’s wooded land with my friends in the summer. Today I’m in Providence, RI pushing forty and trying to estimate my last quarterly tax payment for the year.  And I’ve come to two conclusions. One, it was thirty-one years ago that I slithered under fences. Two, it was also only yesterday.

The earth cooled sometime last midnight when I was driving home from from Thanksgiving dinner, and the pyramids were built as I made coffee this morning. What makes this all possible in the physical world is time. It spaces things out in existence as reliably as length or height, just in an ephemeral way that baffles my consciousness. My memory is a device that records everything in the same spot, throwing out time to save storage space. It’s easy to forget how long it took for everything in my memory to happen, and easier to forget that an astonishing portion of my life has been archived. It didn’t make the cut. That time’s blood is on my hands.

Whether a minute takes a second or an eternity to pass is entirely up to my human brain. I can savor a day or simply count it, waiting it to get over with or waiting for a day I’d prefer to be living right now. Either way it passes, and if there’s nothing in my memory to keep it alive, it’s truly and irrevocably gone. For much of my life I did everything I could NOT to live in the moment.

Today I seem to be less willing to sacrifice moments, days or entire years waiting for something more exciting — or just waiting to feel better. I’ve learned the only way out of something is through it, and the way through it exists only in the present moment. Like a gap under a summer fence I slithered under just yesterday.