A thought had come to her in the night and stayed. It sparkled, collecting and gathering as the hours passed, gaining color and depth with each click of the spring wound clock. By dawn, she was able to greet the toil of the oncoming day with a calm she'd never known, a joy she'd never allowed herself to imagine.
She'd held fast to the other notion, planted in her psyche all those years ago by her stymied, defeated mother, that hers was to be a life of drudgery and dirt. That hired girls in the best houses stood no claim to their own lives, and death – the sweet anodyne of a hereafter, its rest and peace – was the only thing to resign one's sights to (shimmering, as it did, when the scullery was a shambles and the beds demanded pounding), a dream to speed you through your most difficult chore.
The idea that came to her in the night was life, not death. She carried it with her when Mrs. Gilbert directed her to the forecourt fountain and its statue of Neptune, to chase the leaves from its wide benches. The picture in her mind kept her smiling as she swept. It was the future of a woman. It was a vision of herself, a much later self, after she'd made it through, when the work of other people's houses was finished and she stepped free and cheeky on a jungle path. The jungle path led to an ocean of absolute blue-green, where sails tilted on the horizon and naked, raisin-eyed children splashed in the tide. A frothy languor beckoned. She unlaced her boots and threw them to the waves. She pulled the stockings from her legs and threw them. She took the pins from her hair and shook it out. The sun cleansed as it burned. She wanted to feel it completely, all over her body. The dress was a struggle, and when it came off she bundled it in her underclothes and tossed it at the green surf. Sand quickened under her feet. Salty foam pooled around her ankles and she sat in it, and then she rolled. And then the water was deeper and she swam, paddling around and around in the circular basin of the fountain.
The Boy on the Building
You're a boy on a building. You feel the brick and reach for more. Slide a foot along the ledge until you get your bearings. Don't look at anything yet. The tops of students' or professors' heads, for example, some on bikes or side by side, as they disappear under the arch. If you fell you'd hit them.
The arch lets out to busy South University Street, but the crowds here are already too distracted to notice you - refuse, in their way, to see what a stunt this is. They hurry to their coffees and pizzas. You turn your head to one side, baby fat cheek to old brick. Holding carefully to the grooves of Croft Hall's mortar, you twist your neck to see if they see you, but nobody lifts their eyes to the boy on the building.
Being the boy on the building, far above where boys should be, you survey the campus quadrangle, neatly visible from here. Although they do not appear to spot you, you feel the human presence. They are in your favor, these people. They don't need to raise their eyes to sense that you're there, just as you can feel their thronging mass from all the way up here. You feel a connection. You feel an animation. You are their larger expression, the collective boy.
Float from here – you could do it, yes. Children can do that sometimes. In a dream, you drifted above your house, across the park, and over the nearby campus naked. Your flight was successful. Your dream mother never even found out. And while you do not dare attempt it now (sometimes dreams let you down, like the time you tried floating instead of walking, and stumbled into Mrs. Bovard's flowerbed), you believe in the possibility that you could step from your ledge and swim to the trees, swim to the roof of the library or the very top of the bell tower. It's the possibility you cherish, not the doing. Not the act, but the dream.
You quiver on cool masonry, waiting. What you don't know or can't remember is that long, long ago, students and faculty stopped scanning the university buildings, shading their eyes from the noonday sun, for signs of a climbing boy. In the end, the climbing ones almost always fall, they said. Seeing you cling to the brick does not shame the onlooker the way seeing you tumble and bleed does (your shame is their shame – you, the collective boy, and all the others like you), and not looking for boys on buildings at all anymore, the people on the ground have learned, is the only way out of that.
About the author:
Greg is the author of two novels and numerous short stories. When he's not writing, he's singing, having performed at top nightclubs in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Palm Springs.
© 2011 Word Riot