Friday, April 25, 2008

Under the Sky

Disclaimer: This is just my version. The facts are probably way different, but don't hold it against me, I like my little romance.

The boy lay in the grass and dreamed, his eyes only half open.

The tall, waving stems were warm against his back and the air was humid, but at least down here it smelled sweet. He would rather listen to the rustle of the bending grass than the shrill of tongues near the house. Tiny midges with wings like smoky lace drifted and dipped above his head, one resting briefly on his eyelid and causing it to flutter. The sky was a canopy of white-flecked blue and at this angle, framed by the tall yellow-green blades, it felt like there was nothing else to life.

No dirty laundry to do, no babies crying or children shouting through sweat and dirt-streaked visages. Just the sun hanging in the sky. He let his eyelids slide shut, dreaming about the wind and the stars and the rainbow, about planets whirling at lightning speed in black nothingness, of mountains crumbling dramatically and tumbling, chunk by chunk into the sea.

Far away somewhere, a little girl screamed in a tantrum, but the boy was immovable. He let the scream wash over him and drift away without moving a muscle. Through the tiny slit of his vision, he could keep his universe to a minimal little window of perfection. In his mind, a fool juggled a series of balls, doors opened after doors, never actually leading into a room. He sighed with pleasure and slowly stretched every little muscle luxuriously against the sand and the prickly grass. Next to his abdomen, a sudden warmth flared.

Remembering what a garrulous neighbour had said about grass fires, he sat up quickly, scrambling to one side to avoid getting seared. His vision quickly filled with mossy green splotches, burned out by staring directly into the sky. When it cleared, he was still sitting on his hands and he saw what it was that had created the heat.

A creature no bigger than a fish, glimmering the bright silver of a very new chrome fender. The sunlight glared off it, so dazzling as to be painful to the eye. It had a kind of a face with indentations in the molten silver that suggested eyes and a mouth and as the boy watched, it shimmered in and out of shape. It would change shape often in the next few minutes, sometimes an amorphous squiggle, sometimes a frog or a slippery-looking fish but most often, a large, beautiful salamander.

He stared in shock, shading his eyes with a tiny hand, the chubby fingers betraying his childish youth. Unsure of what to do with the creature who squatted on a mat of flattened
grass, pulsing with life, he reached his other fingers out tentatively, until -

"Don't touch." A voice said sharply. It was human and musical all at once, as if different tones were being sung over someone speaking very quietly.

He recoiled, startled. "What?"

"Don't touch. I'm very poisonous, I could burn you into madness."

"Madness?" The boy giggled. The creature's words were stern but his voice seemed to lilt with a teasing good humour.

"Oh yes. Now your parents wouldn't like that much, would they?" The mouth seemed to shift very slightly at each word.

"My mama doesn't like the mad woman down the street," the boy offered, growing less wary. "She says I'll be like that if I don't work hard in school."

"Do you think that's true?" The salamander asked, light bouncing off its fat, sleek flanks.

He hadn't stopped to consider this one. It was usually assumed that what your parents told you must be true, particularly when uttered in a serious tone with a wooden spoon in hand. "Maybe? Who are you?"

"Who are you?" The salamander echoed at him. "It doesn't really matter does it? I know who I am and you know who you are. As long as we're sure of that, we'll both be all right."

The boy paused to digest this. "I know who I am."

"I know you do. That's a very good, unique thing in a boy your age." It flickered briefly into a shiny, gelatinous frog and back into a salamander.

"What's u-neek?" The boy bent down closer into the grass, putting his rosy face with its tumbling black hair near the gleaming creature.

"It means special. You're a very special boy, Freddie. I don't think you know that yet, but you'll find it out. Some people though, may never understand that."

"My name isn't Freddie." The boy scoffed with all the arrogance an eight-year-old could muster. "You've got it wrong."

"Maybe so, but tell me, what do you see when you close your eyes?" The salamander was waving its plump tail slowly now, oscillating it from side to side.

"Pictures," he hesitated, the word long drawn and slow.

"What kind of pictures, Freddie?"

"I'm not Freddie! Anyway, my mama doesn't think they're nice." He lowered his head until it was resting on his downturned hands. Grass tickled his stomach as his shirt slid upwards, exposing a little sun-browned skin.

"Do you like them?"

"Sometimes. Sometimes, they are a bit scary." He spoke with all the candour of a child, observing the salamander with a curious tilt of the head, cautious but not frightened.

"Some are very nice. You know the rainbow? And the planets. All of them turning around around around around in the sky."

"I like the planets too," said the salamander, his voice softening, growing more encouraging. "Are you scared because you see pictures?" A ripple ran through his body like someone had snapped the edge of a thin, light bedsheet.

The boy looked over his shoulder. It was evident that he had told no one about his visions in such detail before. It was not that he had ever been made fun of or scolded for them,
they just weren't encouraged much here. School and numbers and reading were far more important than dreaming about people doing mad dances under the moon, little silhouettes of men lined up against a sunset sky. "No."

"Good boy." The salamander's voice and bearing were filled with a reassuring authority and the boy was pleased at being praised. "Can you keep a secret? It's a very important one and I only tell it to a few people. It's really only a secret for grown up people who won't go running around and telling everyone about it. What do you think, do you want to hear it?"

He was instantly delighted at the prospect of being told a grown up secret. Of course, he could keep it, of course! He wiggled on his belly in anticipation. "What's it?"

The salamander crawled closer, it's liquid silver belly flowing gently against the grass. It always maintained some form, as if an invisible membrane was holding the liquid together. "Now, listen very carefully." His body puffed up with all the words he had to say. "You, Freddie boy, are going to be very special. These pictures you see in your head, you are going to show them to other people someday, somehow. Not everyone sees the same things as you. So some people are going to be scared, some people will love it and some people will be a bit confused. But you are going to show the world very special pictures. You are going to tell them about everything you see. People are going to love you and hate you. You are going to make them laugh and cry and best of all, you are going to make them feel. And as long as you are never scared of yourself, as long as you know who you are and that you are what you are, you are going to be just fine."

The boy listening to the liturgy, his eyes growing wide and round in wonder, eyes dark with intelligence and mischief. He didn't understand the full thrust of what the salamander
was telling him, but the words sounded encouraging and important, like they would linger with him in some way, always. "I am what I am," he said, repeating the last phrase in solemn awe.

"Exactly." The salamander was briefly a fox of some kind, that lowered its head to lick at a shapeless paw. Then the liquid dissolved into the now familiar lizardlike cast.

"Are you sure?" The childish doubt was creeping in now, the same emotion expressed when the girl down the street said her father was going to hunt her an elephant as a birthday pet, except that it would live within the house, never to see the light of day. "You shouldn't tell lies."

The creature chuckled, a warm, balmy laugh that went well with its luminescent hide. "I promise. Now, are you going to be able to keep that quiet?"

"Okay." He raised his head eagerly, the promise shining in his eyes. "Have you told anyone else?"

"Only John, Jimi and Jim. And now you of course, Freddie."

"I'm not Freddie," he insisted, but the refrain was growing increasingly unsure. "Do you want to come home for dinner?"

The salamander contorted his face into something resembling a smile. "I do, but I can't. I have to go."

"Are you going to look for someone else?" He asked curiously, reluctant to let his newfound friend go.

"Maybe. Maybe Janis."

"Play with me a while," the boy begged, suddenly hungry for companionship. Staring at the sky all day and daydreaming was nice, having someone to talk about it with was heaven.

"Here, I'll tell you something," the salamander said, anxious to compromise. "I lied a little bit earlier. You can actually touch me if you like. I can't really poison you."

"Really?" He sat up, smiling beguilingly, dark hair falling into his face. Radiating eagerness at being given permission to touch this wonderful, fluidly glittering being. "Why not?"

"Because you're already poisoned, just a little bit. You've always been. You're just a little different. Just enough."

"I know," the boy replied, smiling without any bitterness, surprising the creature. "Maybe I am just a little bit mad." And he placed his hand on the salamnder's broad back, as the creature laughed softly in reassuring delight. And it was like touching a friend. Such a wonderful, uplifting sensation, his irridescent flesh all hot and cold at once, like something solid that yielded into liquid at first pressure, washing gently around his fingertips.

"You're going to be okay after all, Freddie," the salamander chuckled at it began to pulse and shimmer, to stretch and dissolve. First it was a fish, then a fox and then finally, it was no longer there at all, somehow fading away in a slow pulse of light and leaving the boy's hand flat on the pokey grass blades, his skin still reeling from the wonder of its touch.

The boy sat in thoughtful silence for a minute, wondering if it had been yet another dream and then a slow, comforted smile began to spread across his face, even as the sun was suddenly blotted out by the shadow of his mother standing over him, arms akimbo.

"Farrokh! You have five more minutes out here and then you come in the house and do your homework, you understand?" She shook a stern finger at him.

The little dreamer tilted his face up to her and smiled, all round limbs and childish innocence. "Okay Mama. And please call me Freddie," he added placidly.

"Freddie!" Her foreign tongue mangled the name, distorting the way the salamander had pronounced it. "Five minutes, you hear, Farrokh? Five minutes!" She threw her hands
up and turned towards the house once more, muttering under her breath about how she'd never seen such a strange child in her life.

And the little boy, smile still on his face, sank quietly back onto the grass and dreamed of everything under the sky.