This mother was so loving, so caring, so adoring, so gentle and considerate—and so encouraging and supportive that her son did not have the slightest idea what evil was. The little boy took such unreserved pleasure in the world that he acquired an expression so sweetly placid that neighboring parents who came into his presence cowered with guilt. Or resented him: He’s like a cake with too much frosting.
Then one day the good mother brought her son to daycare.
For this wonderful smiling little boy, going to daycare was like a sparrow flying into a plate glass window. During his first hour he did not see the gentle hands offering the colorful jingling toys, he did not see the excited face every time he stacked his blocks more than three bricks high. Instead, he felt the small claw-like fingers jerking the squeezy bug from his grasp to the accompanying snarl of MINE!
Is this the same universe into which the angels of plenty have thus far sustained me on wings of mercy through the land of milk and honey? the little boy wondered. Or is this but an illusory twinge of misery that I have heretofore known to be nothing but the bell that beckons the abundance back into the abode of my pleasure? Is the cloud of glory I have known, that babbling brook of good fortune, but a passing fantasy before the veil is lifted to reveal the cruel language of take? Oh, woe, ye energies of adversity, is this all? all? the little boy asked of the crumbling universe around him.
It was not about the shoes so much as the shoelaces. If they were soap, he would have been lathering his hands with them. If they were water, his hands would have been surfing them. He was cleaning their floppy ears! He was orchestrating the shoelaces! The shoes were quite handsome, black wingtips with a real luster, but they were not major players in the drama. It was the shoelaces that excited him and must have satisfied something that others would not understand.
The abrupt quickness of his stooping suggested that he stooped to tie his shoes often. Did his mother not teach him to tie a shoe properly the first time?
Others on the sidewalk swerved around the bulging smile of his buttocks.
His efforts produced two impressive loops that hung down over his shoe like the floppy ears of a beagle.
When he started walking again, his face showed he was not happy with his freshly tied shoe. It may have been too tight, or he might have sensed that it was too loose and would again be two unbowed strands after a few steps. He walked over to a bench near the bus stop, sat down, and retied the same shoe.
This had to be about something more than shoestrings. He must have been trying to solve an invisible problem, perhaps mending a relationship that was unraveling.
He grit his teeth as he looped and pulled the shoestrings, then gave both loops a final tug for good measure.
The man was in his fifties and should have worked through his problems by now—or at least found a more conventional means of dealing with them, but he was not hurting anyone, and who was to say how a man should confront the anguishes of his life!
He stood up and was off again with his freshly tied shoe, but he was looking down. Something was wrong, but now it was the other foot. He stooped to tie the other shoe, and he grappled especially hard to get it right. Admirably, the man had chosen today to confront all of his problems at once.
They always found each other, the ones whose hearts had no guidelines. Often they lived within tame and domestic boundaries, but at parties their eyes flitted, looking for gold at the end of a reciprocal smile. In lonely places, their intense light broke through the fog of their surroundings. To each other’s eyes, they were bright roses in a dense forest.
It was not malice that drew them to each other, nor a need to conquer or control. It was a pure and mutual hunger. The jealous cynics said their hearts were mere dustbins of appetite. The righteous purveyors of wisdom said they must be cured, their hollow hearts replenished with wheat bread and broccoli, with brown rice and beans. But they craved pomegranates, ripe peaches and melons. Their hearts were blueberry cream tarts and crème brulee with Belgian chocolate. Their hearts were a fullness topped with lavish desire.
Look at them now. Don’t they act as if they are normal, as if those beaming smiles were merely goodwill? What could be wrong with that lilt of the brow, that innocent grin? And the way they walk—can anyone tell what it tells, their strained casual maneuvers of shoulder and hip?
Everything, including their clothing, is snug, a tightening restraint that fuels their urge to break free.
The moment of truth is not like a flower opening to the sun of their embrace. It is lightning and shattering leaves. Uprooted trees, downtrodden grass. They are their own aphrodisiac, smooth and moist and just short of violent. But in the delirium of their readiness, they are not helpless servants of lust. They are not desperate pilgrims on a treacherous frontier. Their marsh of passion does not foreshadow the ashy pyre. This is their verdant kingdom, and they are the king and queen.
Jim Heynen's most recent book publication is the novel, The Fall of Alice K, Milkweed Editions. Paperback due out Spring, 2014. The short-shorts in this issue of sleet will be part of his short-short collection, Ordinary Sins, due out from Milkweed in 2014. Jim lives in St. Paul and is currently working on a new collection of short-shorts, tentatively titled God Freak.