They were painting the walls green. "We're going to use it as a green screen," Georgio, that slightly black Italian kid, said to me. I'd asked him for an answer with my green eyes. My momma said jade green eyes like mine are rare and usually only seen in books, chosen by the author to give a character a striking appearance. I didn't know what she meant by 'see' in a book. After my uncle Steven gave me The Wizard of Oz I understood.

 All day the painting went on. Looking into the roadside clubhouse, I was fixed to the sandy sidewalk, the careful sweeps of Georgio's steady hand rearranging my insides. Are you going to make a movie then? my eyes asked, but Georgio was too involved in his work and did not look up. I could not speak as regular people could. I had learned to read and write from my uncle Steven but I had not learned to open my mouth and let words out. It was very complicated. Sometimes my heart hurt holding all those thoughts. My heart was not very strong. The weakness was genetic.

 The other boy, very black with huge mischievous black eyes and a wonderful nose that I'd never seen before, had not been called anything by Georgio, so I called him Klavlav in my head. My uncle Steven was teaching me the old language along with the new and I went out of my way to include it in my thoughts. He said, "If you let the language die, it's the same as if you'd murdered it." I understood the importance, even when I did not understand what murder was.

 Klavlav reminded me of a puppy because of the way he trailed at Georgio's feet, his affectionate nips at both our cheeks at random times, and the energy which sent him up and down the walls with his brush in delightful waves of green. I had seen an ocean like that, when my momma had been desperate to hunt down a sand dollar for the collector who came to her shop. Sand dollars aren't green, but seaweed is. I spent my time on the beach draping the seaweed I found over my arms and legs. When my momma looked up from the sand, she saw a sea monster instead of her little boy. I have the power of illusion.

 Another day, I peeked out from behind a hedge a few feet away to watch them film. There was a third person now, a girl. Uncle Steven says girls are more important than boys. He says my poppa put my momma on a pedestal when he was alive. I'd found out what a pedestal was in the old Greek museum. Why would he put her on one of those?

 I looked at the girl helping with the movie. I didn't see how she was different than us. Her red hair was as short as Georgio's, a buzz-cut. She wore dirty clothes with rips in them, even dirtier than Klavlav after he plays. Her smile had holes in it in all the same places as mine. She didn't look like she thought she was more important than us.

 I watched with growing mystification, as Georgio propped up a sagging cardboard box with concrete blocks and the girl came out from the nearby woods with pieces of vine wrapped around her neck, arms, and waist, and the lately budding meadow flowers behind her ears. He held her hand and helped her onto the box. While Klavlav filmed, the camera bouncing in his hands, Georgio went down on his knees before the little girl, his back bowed. If I had been a speaking boy, I would have been struck dumb by his position. More alarming was the girl. On that cardboard box, wearing those vines and flowers over her tattered clothes, she took on a new shape. Blinking my eyes, I risked a view over the hedge, but the spectacular image did not fade.

 On a mound of fresh green earth I saw Mother Nature as if she had just risen. She was dressed in a thick covering of the long green fingers of the earth and flowers were gently sprouting in the warmth of her smile. She was real and beautiful. Georgio was positioned in worship of her.

 She had the power of illusion.

 The magic of the scene undid the gravity of my insides, even while my feet stayed planted to the ground. There might as well have been roots extending from my toes. Nothing made me listen to the commands I was being given.

 The three of them had lunch together on a bench by the creek. This creek wove west and east, up and down hilly structures, through every property around. Some years ago I had laid in a hammock beside my own stretch of the creek and dipped the toes of my left foot in the water melted from snow, five toes for my five years, my other foot wrapped tight in a careful bandage.

 I thought if I was sitting there and the unknown girl's or Klavlav's feet were touching mine as they were Georgio's, I would be very aware of the way our skin colors made a playful pattern; Georgio held his sandwich and buried his face in it. Uncle Steven said that looking at a thing through a magnifying glass can sometimes cause you to miss the bigger picture. I think that whatever way you looked at it, the three of them made a pretty picture. As their photographer, the only one who saw them deeply and from the outside, I held my fingers up to frame them.

 I lingered long outside this picture even after it faded. I tiptoed around the empty clubhouse. I gave myself a dare, and cautiously stepped onto the cardboard stage, turning to face the darkened street, with only a crowd of nighttime ghouls—fashioned from shadowy fence posts and parked cars—to applaud me.

 The world with these few added feet was strangely different. My age seemed to contribute nothing to my idea of myself. I could feel my nose lengthen and my voice box deepen. I lost awkwardness and the edges of cowardice were not so fine. My thoughts stood up straighter. Some had been so timid and secluded I had never seen them before. They ordered into single file, marching with aplomb down to the exit made by my mouth.

 The monologue I spoke into the chill night air was Jaques' from As You Like It. Finished, I let out a deep breath and the leaves turning into summer leaves listened to me. I knew many kinds of pleasure; now I knew another kind. The emotion pressed a smile to my lips, as a cut flower is pressed within the pages of a favorite book and made endless.

 No one had seen my excitement, so things weren't going to change. But I could change them. By the end of the year I was in some ways unrecognizable.

 The house was suddenly alive with the sound of my voice, a purring waterfall of the expressions of my soul. From upstairs to downstairs and in between I followed my momma and uncle Steven, telling them all the old dusty thoughts and the new ones born on a moment, leaving no thought behind.

 During Hanukkah, my momma said that up till now I had been a closed flower. She was glad and surprised to see the color of my open face.

 "It's green. I thought it'd be pink."

 "Green's my favorite color," I told her. "I'm growing older, you know. I'm going to change."

 "Yes," my momma said. "I know."

 "What do you want to be?" Uncle Steven asked, between bites of sufganiyot.

 "What about an actor?" I offered.

 "You are very good at speaking," my uncle chuckled.

 "I think you'd be a better painter," my momma said. She strung two shells onto a cord and I admired the shadows cast on their cream color by the menorah.

 "Should I decide such things when I'm so young? If I read more books, I'll know what to do."

 "Just try things. It's all right to start young trying to find out who you are," Uncle Steven remarked.

 My momma patted the seat beside her and I took it, laying against her chest. She wrapped her arm around me, dropping the shells carelessly into her lap. "Wherever you go, whatever you do, you'll always be Josiah," she told me.

 Before bed, while my uncle Steven found my velvet tortoise, I brought up my dream once more.

 "Is it all right if I go with acting?"

 "Go with acting where? To the pub?"

 "Nooo, Uncle Steven. In answer to your question: What do I want to be..."

 "You might be a great actor...I can see that. But your mother would have me say, be as careful when you're acting as you would be handling a knife. Do you understand me?"

 I almost nodded out of habit. "I don't."

 "Well, you'll learn to be careful. You learn well. Watch, as you do, and make decisions afterwards. Goodnight, squirmy bug," he said, handing me my tortoise and kissing my brow.

 "Goodnight, silver deer."

 The lights went out, his hand passing over the switch and disappearing into the darkness of the hall.


 That night in the dark I'd stood before the mirror and made a promise to myself. If it was all right to try—and fail and start again—I wanted a shot at acting. I'd take that shot the day spring came back into this icy world—because, like the season, I was beginning something new.

 I prepared the rest of winter, memorizing pieces from The Importance of Being Earnest and more from As You Like It and trying my hand at expressing them to please imaginary versions of Wilde and Shakespeare.

 Then the day came... It seemed sooner than I'd expected. Strangely, I didn't lack certainty. If tadpoles can know they're meant for land, then I could know I was meant to be doing this at this time.

 The signs had been put out a week before, along the path the children took to and from school. They announced that I was doing some short pieces for the entertainment of any that would like to see.

 I woke up early, dressed in my newest jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers, and went down to eat some toast. My momma looked me over dubiously. "I thought you were doing Shakespeare. Where's your dublay and hose?"

 "Doublet. And don't worry. If I have an audience, they won't see any of this." I gestured at myself, smiling.

 "What will they see? Are you a magician and not an actor?"

 "If I am a good actor, I will be both."

 My momma shook her head and put strawberry or raspberry jelly on my toast. "Perhaps you will explain it to me some day."

 "Of course I will. I always explain myself."

 The sidewalks were freshly swept in order to match the freshness of the day and the cleanliness of the air, but this was not enough. As I went on my way, I wasn't content until I spied the colors. The hedges were overwhelmed by the nearby pinks and purples of the azalea bushes. Drifts of spring snow—the puschkinia and snowdrop anemone—still lay on the ground in the median. Spreads of winter aconite looked like cups leftover from a fairy tea party.

 The clubhouse Georgio had made with Klavlav still stood, but it had been abandoned by them. I had spent yesterday cleaning it and setting up another stage from cardboard and concrete. When I arrived, there were a group of children around my age playing or lolling on the grass; some were even dancing around on the stage. Boldly, I went up and twirled the girl. When she looked up at me in surprise I knew her eyes. Her hair had changed, it was curling lazily on her shoulders, and she was wearing a mint green dress with a silky dark green sash, but her eyes still reminded me she was Mother Nature.

 She laughed a little and jumped off the stage, heading into the crowd of children.

 I'd wished Georgio and Klavlav—Ordo, his true name—would be here. I traveled through the children, keeping an eye out for them. There was no puppy or its leader to be found. I'd wanted them to be my chums, but I'd only ever known them from afar. When they'd stopped coming to the clubhouse, I'd stopped seeing them. I guessed they'd switched schools.

 I went around talking to some of the other boys.

 "Why don't you go to school like us?" a boy with heavy lashes and a blue cap asked.

 "I learn from books at home. I sit and read all day long."

 "Willingly?" asked the same boy, his disbelief evident in the face he pulled.

 "No, not willingly," I joked. "They have to chain me up."

 "They'd have to chain me up too."

 I laughed. It was nice to play and talk with them.

 Before too long I climbed back onto the stage, scooping up and tossing off the two boys who were doing tricks on it. They rolled in the dust. The square built one pulled off his glasses and started wiping them, looking at me through squinted eyes. "It's about time," he complained. "I'm awfully interested in your play but I've only got so much time before I have take the dog for a walk."

 "Well, you could have brought the dog."

 "And have him bark during your performance? I'm sorry, but I have more respect for the arts than that."

 "Thank you for presuming I live up to the name."

 He gave me a nod filled with camaraderie and seated himself. When I centered myself on the stage, the children began cheering and clapping, little girlfriends swinging their clasped hands in enthusiasm. My roving eyes fell on her, standing towards the front of the crowd and her red hair appearing as a vibrant rose sprouting in a field of pale wildflowers. I knew that she could see right through me. I turned my back to her to set my mind after the words and the shape of the practiced emotions, but even more the subtle emotion of this place and time. Those words I had spoken to myself—or as I liked to think, their creators—would be different when they were said now, and unique to this moment.

 When I turned back, I could not be afraid because Algernon did not know who that girl was. He didn't know any of these kids, he didn't live in this world. So I didn't live there for a while. But I was still self-important enough to notice the light in her eyes, as if she were the one acting. In fact, I saw her as if she were reaching out to me: she wanted to come onstage too. Sometimes she tried to mouth the lines, to follow me, but she didn't seem to know them well. Things changed when I became Orlando. If her brown eyes could sparkle any more, they did at the first words I spoke. She knew this one. I was distracted by watching her match every one of the words, if not my timing. In an inspired moment I'm sure, I paused before Rosamond's line and looked to her. Sure enough, the answering words burst out of her with as much passion as if she were Rosamond herself, overcome with love for her Orlando. I playfully beckoned her to join me on the stage.

 After that, I must say I let drop any attempt at illusion. It was too much fun to be myself across from her, tossing the ball—our lines—back and forth. As I'd thought a year ago, this girl was just as interested in acting as me.

 The kids seemed happy with the entertainment, especially when we shared the stage. Afterwards, a few of them came up and tried their hand at spouting what they thought to be meaningful poetry, with loud gestures to accompany it.

 The girl went over to sit by the hedge, pulling out her lunch. It was still the same carrying case she had held her lunch in when she ate with Georgio and Ordo, her feet touching theirs. I came up and sat beside her.

 "Do you want some ham?" she asked, pulling a piece off her sandwich.

 "No, thank you... So much has changed about your appearance."

 "Oh, do you know me? I have never seen you before. But I'm glad I've seen you now."

 "I don't know you. You starred in Georgio's film a year ago. I have to admit, I was sneaking a peek without your permission. Behind a hedge."

 "Oh!" She swallowed her mouthful. "Oh, that was years and years ago. Georgio's not even into movies anymore. And now I'm adopted I don't run around like a boy. I suppose that's what you meant by my appearance," she said, lowering her eyes, then surprising me by quickly returning her gaze, with a giggle and a shrug. "What does it matter?"

 "Not at all."

 "Can we keep acting together?"

 "Do you think I can act?"

 She smiled and dropped her eyes again. "You have the same look as I... I'm not a perfect judge, but I think you were wonderful."   

 It isn't easy to answer such a nice compliment so I rewarded her by saying, "Let's act together soon. My name's Josiah."

 "My name is Isolda."

 It would have been nice to meet Georgio and Ordo again and actually be friends instead of watching them be friends. I thought it was too bad. And yet, I was content with having Isolda say, "Can we keep acting together?"

April 03, 2020 21:15

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