ISSUE 5 · FALL 2010
There was a boy born in the projection booth of a tower in the sky far away from the Earth as we know it; from the demons in sycamores and cookie jars of thieves and dirty grass and clinics for the sick. At the top of the tower, cloud-swirled, it was never bright as the sun below it, nor dead dark, but rather calm and eerie with baby colors, canary yellows and soft blues. Like one of those picture books.
His name was Oat. The walls of his home were so blank they glowed. Reels of film coiled like snails through a hundred shelves. There was film in his head, sponges of Fellini and Ford, Father Cassavetes and cellular Scorsese. Kurosawa gave him buckteeth and the spaghetti cry of a samurai. M. Bay gave him grief and made him sick with nasty allergies. Kubrick rang the stars of his tears like bells. Guillermo showed him in his sleep the way that moss grows on trees, the shades of purple that consume forest ponds.
His eyes were dark and reeling. His skin was quilted, like a pumpkin’s. He was born with a plague in his mouth, his head became haunted by lice, his knees weak and unpredictable. His belly ached for hours after a good laugh. Oat was a silly little ass, motherless fatherless, a thing spawned quite alone in an attic. Imagine dreams and planetariums. 8mm of mucous.
When he brooded, his eyelids fluttered and went tututututut, twitching candlelight on the wall.
If he wept, he did so silently until he hiccupped, and old cartoons splattered the walls. Jan Švankmajer packed the rockets of his skeleton with clay and paste, he made Oat’s genitals new and man-like. He had the polished gold testicular of an Oscar. It was in Hepburn, Holliday, ye olde dazzling Hollywood that he found desire. A rose bloomed in the part of his body where F.F.C. poured vats of wine-red blood-red soil. Oat was curious about slapping a woman in the car of a black locomotive, and inhaling tobacco after making sizzling love, and complimenting a pair of gams and painted toenails.
He would know he was shy, and, though endearingly so, quite unbrilliant with females—if only he had ever encountered another human being. He had never. He would know he was sensitive if he paid attention to what it meant to be tough; instead, he gushed over the exquisite lighting of a brutal moment, the crystal clear babble of a river rosy with blood. If he knew himself, Oat would know that when he cried to music, Mary Pickford’s blush crept comfortingly into his cheeks.
One day, he made the bold decision to have a birthday. The projection booth was a party of colorful birds, fruit trees, ghosts of Indian warriors. “Soy Cuba!” his eyebongos rejoiced. A hundred different films overlapped a hundred others, turning the walls like pages. Madly he danced, buckteeth gleaming. Hanging out the stone window, he drank dinosaur cocktails in bat country, hollering the horizon bedtime stories of T. Gilliam’s fantasia until the sun had gone.
“BAH!” he wailed to his room of metal shelves. He leaned back out the window. Paper angels tiptoed up his spine. “Bah ha ha!”
He clambered out of his shirt as from a shell, shedding flannel skins onto the concrete and rubbing his quilted chest and crowing.
A sharp white light sliced his eyes. He cringed. He followed the beam to the window. In the distant welkin—he used words such as “welkin” and “antediluvian” often—a reflection wobbled this way and that, playing the sun like a harp.
Oat called, “Hark!”
The light vanished in a wink. He whistled showdown music through his Tarantino teeth. There was nothing out there but the sounds of the cirrus swashing against the tower like open waters.
Oat tipped forward. He squinted one eye and bulged the other. “Happy birthday, then!”
He went back to his party unable to shake the suspicion he was being watched. The feeling intensified, casting glitches in the projections on the wall. Desperate for escape, he drowned himself in barrels of fermented honey. Pictures of war thundered on the walls. He staggered into a rack of films, spraying plastic eels everywhere. Three hours later, he was still curled on the cold floor with knees to his naked chest, barely able to keep his movies alive.
Then there was a clamor at his window.
“Ex-ah!-lain yourself!” he demanded.
The walls evaporated. W. Allen faded pouting in a movie theatre.
Perched on the windowsill as though on a swing, bare calves of supple pink kicking, the intruder blinked. There was a plate on her lap, and when he asked what it was, she said, “I’m not sure why, but it’s yours.”
It was as pink as its maker’s hair, eyes and fingernails, double-tiered, crooked, drippy with ganache.
“It’s not a perfect cake,” he told her, and then he grinned. “But it’s bir-ir!-day cake.”
His eyes glowed fantastically, images of translucent berries revolving on the girl’s flesh
“I could hear your party.”
as he looked
“It made me dance.”
at the cake.
“I thought it was coming from the . . . sun.” She frowned and pulled the plate back. “I’m Mary-Wednesday, you know.”
“And who is the cake?”
“Strawberry lemon pound.”
“Can you breathe well way up here? I’m not breathing well. Why don’t you come down with me?”
He gasped. “I would die! I would die without my movies!”
Mary-Wednesday considered this. She considered the room.
“Would you like a piece? Go get me a knife.”
He brought an old ice cream scoop. It swept through the cake as though into a sandcastle. They ate from their hands. The copper locket at her throat glinted in his eyes. It was a baby in utero.
“Why h! ave you jumped just now?”
“You touched my throat. Where is your shirt, pal?”
“I was touching the sea monster on your necklace.”
“It’s not a monster. It’s a fetus.”
“A f! etus!” He looked at her daftly. “What a monstrous name. What is their climate?”
Mary-Wednesday swayed, and the strings winding out of her back danced heavenly behind her. These strings indicated to Oat that she was a goddess. He touched her face and smiled at her face.
“You don’t jump now.”
“You have cake in your teeth. Say, it makes them look like piano keys.”
Oat felt calm and giddy, and doomed.
“Would you like to watch a m! ovie?”
Oat’s eyes widened. Within the sockets, clusters of negatives shone like cobwebs; they sang the hymns of crackling firewood as they unfurled. You could watch the suds of his hiccups dissolving down the back of his throat.
He was confounded.
“You want to watch a movie with me?” he asked suspiciously.
“You want to watch a movie with me?” he asked hopefully.
“I do,” she laughed.
“I am having trouble breathing.”
“I have cavities.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I have scoliosis, and brain freeze.”
“I hate brain freeze.”
“My wardrobe is entirely flannel.”
“I have bed bugs, social anxiety, two left feet, naturally. I have poets in my skull. Mute scientists, southern gentlemen, tramps, water monsters, wise guys, Parisians, Luis Buñuel, rock stars, autistics, caped crusaders, double agents, St. Francis.”
“Even if I catch all of those things, yes, yes.”
He smiled sheepishly.
“Thank you. ”
Mary-Wednesday smiled back. She had turned the window to gold. She was beginning to wheeze.
Oat shut his eyes and blindly began tumbling through tin circles on the shelves.
“You’re going to like this one,” he said, climbing into a highchair behind the projector and activating his magnificent machine.
The antediluvian script flashed abruptly on the wall. Mary-Wednesday slipped from her swing and into the projection booth. At the start of each scene, she would creep closer to him, little by little until she was by his side. Darkness swept the surrounding sky for the first time, a romantic unforgivable darkness, and the projection booth glimmered like a firefly.
Over the coming minutes, Mary-Wednesday settled lightly onto the bench and laid her head on Oat’s knees, and then she swam fluidly into his quilt, letting out a wonderful sigh.
She looked down. He had, naturally, two left feet. They were trembling. She reached down to poke one of his toes.
The strings in Mary-Wednesday’s back snapped, and she jumped.
“Why did you jump just now?”
The tubes were spinning like renegade water hoses. They slithered under the crack in the door, hissing oxygen that propelled them over the window’s ledge.
“This is a beautiful song, that’s all.”
She closed her eyes mournfully. She touched Oat’s arm with her arm and then sank into him, startling him by weighing more than a leaf. The strings had been tethering her from embracing anything with her whole self; throughout her life she had been compulsively jerked back, as though she were a creature on a leash.
Oat was rigid, terrified she did not weigh less than a single tooth. Mary-Wednesday shuddered and wrapped him around her, nuzzling her nose, and they watched the film as though it was a campfire and they were sharing a blanket. The pink of her face burning like marshmallows, burning grey and violet. Her cheek brushing Oat’s sugary fingertips, her slow breath chilling his knuckles. He brushed back with the pad of his thumb, and then with his index and middle fingers. Around her eyes and nose, over her eyelids, he painted the pink back into her bluish pallor with cake frosting. Her lips parted suddenly.
I’ll give you the moon, Mary.
I’ll take it! Then what?
Oat sucked in his soul like an imploding star. He did not dare open his eyes.