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Authors: Aaron Cully Drake

Tags: #Literary Fiction

Do You Think This Is Strange?

BOOK: Do You Think This Is Strange?
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For Natalie.
How could it be any other way?

MY MORNINGS

Listen
: I have troubled dreams. It takes me hours to fall asleep. I wake suddenly, then wait to feel tired again. Sometimes, I sit and stare at the wall until daybreak.

In the morning, I'm more tired than I was the night before. It shouldn't be that way. Other seventeen-year-olds have to be dragged up from a slumber, like fish from the ocean deep, but I'm awake at first light.

During the day, I stare into space. I experience regular microsleeps, short bursts of suspended animation, a symptom of long-term sleep deprivation. My micro-comas can last the blink of an eye or seconds or minutes. My body continues on, but there are blanks left behind in my memory. Sometimes, my day is infested with these lice of the mind.

But the morning is an oasis in the desert of my life. After I wake, I don't get out of bed. Although tired, my mind is quiet, with thoughts slow like molasses, and I like it. I listen to the quiet of the house, where the only sounds are the buzzing of the wires in the walls, the settling of the foundation, and the birds making small talk in the backyard.

Freddy's awake
, they say.

In my lap, a thick almanac, my favourite book,
The Twentieth Century in Review
. Its pages are ragged, its cover torn and taped and torn again. I sit and slowly turn the pages. Two pages forward, one page back. Two pages forward, one page back.

Rhythmic. Like a song.

I stare at the drab olive-coloured wall across the room. The last picture came down nine years ago. Now there is just a flat and featureless surface before me. We sit together, my bedroom wall and I, and regard each other, our similarities of character, our shared smoothness, our emptiness from top to bottom. The day will fill me quickly enough. But for now, I am empty.

What is our status?
the wall asks.

Green, I reply. Our status is green.

—

Do you think this is strange? I stare at the wall and see a clock that isn't there. I can picture anything I want. I can see the plains of an ancient African valley, the sun breaking over a distant dormant volcano. But I don't. I can focus my eyes on infinity, picture the night sky and tumble into the void, a passenger on a rock suspended in the middle of the cosmos. But I don't. I can see grand epics. But I don't. Every morning, I picture a digital clock, with red hours and minutes, stretching from floor to ceiling. I watch it pulse, tagging the passage of time. No matter when I open my eyes in the morning, this clock tells me that it's 4:32. It's a nice starting point. I like to watch the minutes tick over. It doesn't bore me. It's one of my Favourite Things.

In the morning, I am silent. I am motionless.

I am a deer.

—

Three years, one month, and four days ago—I was fourteen years old—an idea burst into my head: what is it like to be a deer in a city? The thought threaded itself into my mind, kicked at the walls, bumped shoulders with the other threads, then fell dormant. It still pops its head up, at odd intervals. I haven't been able to shake it.

This thread began when I was riding a bus to school, my head leaning against the glass, watching the raindrops streaking the win­dow. As the bus pulled up to a stop, I glanced up the road to the intersection and saw a doe standing before a crosswalk, caught on the wrong side, across from the forest. It eyed the other side of the road, while the cars rushed by like spawning salmon.

That deer is going to die, I thought.

I looked away. Then looked back.

So there was the beginning of a realization. A deer at the intersection. Standing, waiting, almost dead, and only alive because it hadn't yet jumped into the street.

I burst from my seat, bounced off people in the aisle, and lunged for the closing door. Throwing a hand out, I caught the door before it closed, then squeezed my way out.

As fast as I could, I ran toward the intersection, bolting ahead of the bus. When I got there, I pressed the crossing button. Immediately the light turned yellow. Behind me, I heard the squealing of the bus's brakes, and then the light turned red. Traffic came to a stop.

The deer stood still for a moment, looking at me, before it stepped into the street.

It looked
both
ways first.

And then there I was, standing alone in the rain, watching the doe, while the traffic knelt before it. Halfway across the road, it broke into a gallop.

The bus honked. I turned, and the doors opened. The driver motioned for me to get back on. As I climbed the steps, the bus burst into applause. The driver nodded and said, “Good job.”

Someone gave up their seat for me, and I took it. A man in a black fedora said, “Imagine that. It waited for the light to change. That's one smart Bambi.”

“Bambi was a boy,” I said and immediately regretted it. Black fedora looked at me, a quizzical expression on his face. I was likely a disturbing picture. I wore a longshoreman's cap to cover bandages on my head. My right eye was so purple it was black. I had four stitches on my lip.

“So what?” he said, and I didn't answer. I stared straight ahead.

You don't have to answer
, the threads said.
You don't have to answer. Just be rude and get on with your day.

I stared at the clock out the window. The sounds of the bus drowned away. I let time skip before me.

—

This is my memory, of the day when I first realized I am a deer. The doe crossed the street, the people cheered, and I had no idea why it merited celebration. But I tumbled and tipped the thought through my mind, and the best theory I could come up with was this:
the deer doesn't belong but still tries to fit in
. People appreciate it when someone tries to fit in.

Here was the deer, trying to adapt. Here was the deer, trying to live its life in an implausible world. Here was the deer; it learned how to cross the street. That was good enough for now. The only thing it cared about, at that moment, was crossing the road in one piece. I think people should live their lives guided by this principle:
try to cross the street without getting hit by a truck
.

I realized that my goal for the day wasn't so different from a deer's. If the deer gets through the day without getting hit by a car, its day is green. My day is green when I get through it without being hit by a conversation. I have such a difficult time talking to people that the problem is the conversation itself, not the contents of the conversation.

Avert the collision. Avoid the conversation. Problem solved.

There are times, however, when a conversation cannot be sidestepped. When that happens, the best strategy is
never
go off script. Scrutinize a blank spot on a wall or stare into the distance, and watch the clock tick. When spoken to, answer succinctly. Never volunteer an opinion; opinions never work out. Add only facts. Contribute nothing else.

Be a
deer
.

Seventeen years into being me, it's reasonable to expect that I would never deviate from this strategy. But I can't help breaking away from it every day. It's one of the things I don't understand about me: I can't keep my mouth shut.

And here I was now, even as I knew that I should keep quiet, even as I knew that I must be a deer. Here I was, about to open my mouth.

At
this
moment, I sat before the school principal, and we discussed whether or not I should be expelled.

TEMPLETON COLLEGE: THE LAST DAY

I opened my eyes.
It was midday. My status was red.

I sat before the quote-headmaster-unquote. He was a stern man with thick black glasses over a prominent nose. He dressed regally and walked the halls of Templeton College in long robes. His cap had a tassel.

He was the headmaster but he wasn't. His correspondence, his signature, his business cards called him Headmaster Edward McClintock. But he was a school principal. Headmasters live in England. This wasn't England.

The walls of his office were chocolate brown, decorated with portraits of past quote-headmasters-unquote in robes and caps and tassels. McClintock's picture wasn't on the wall, for he was still here. To be honoured on the walls of the office one had to retire, or be promoted to the board of executives, or be fired for reasons sealed in a binding mediated agreement.

The key thing was that one had to leave.

I sat across from his desk, in a chair designed for discomfort. Beside me sat Bill, silently fuming, shuffling in his own uncomfortable chair. He looked down into his hands. They clenched and unclenched while McClintock spoke in a slow, methodical voice. It was deeper than his regular voice, affected to communicate the gravity of the situation. Bill glanced at me occasionally as McClintock spoke and no one in the room was smiling.

McClintock read, aloud, a six-page document that explained why I was being expelled. The words washed over me: the disruptions, the disrespect, the starting quarterback, the concussion, the last straw.

Chad Kennedy acquired a concussion because he fell. He fell because he lost his balance. He lost his balance because I pushed him, and, according to McClintock, it was only relevant that I pushed him. It wasn't relevant that he pushed me first.

It certainly wasn't relevant that Chad Kennedy was the school's starting quarterback. It was so insignificant that McClintock noted its irrelevance four times in his six-page document.

Everything was irrelevant except that I didn't fit in, had never fit in, and it would be best if I didn't fit in somewhere else. That wasn't in his document, but I inferred it.

As he read the pages of his decision aloud, I stared out the window behind him and pictured a large clock behind the trees, burned into the front lawn of the school. The minutes fell as always: 4:32. 4:33. 4:34. When the clock ticked over to 4:35, I noticed McClintock was looking at me, expecting me to answer him, but I hadn't heard what he'd said.

Now would be a good time to say something conciliatory, I knew.

Stick to the script
, the threads advised.

BOOK: Do You Think This Is Strange?
11.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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