Fool on the Hill
Watching is something he does very well. From the top of the rocky hill, William sits atop a hunk of smooth granite. Silver scaled cumuli swim above and behind him. Nothing feels broken, except for the silence. At the base of the hill rests his childhood home. For most, this is a pedestrian moment that no one in town will ever remember, one William will never forget. He’s at a place where you can take in half of the town. For now, he’s a lonely seventh-grader.
Far below, to the North, is a late summer elementary schoolyard. Will studies the older teenagers, watches them bond as they pass daddy’s unfiltered Camel’s, back and forth. They take turns pushing the noisy, rusted merry-go-round, fast, and faster, at the speed of anarchy, creating an amalgam of lies for their ten-year class reunion. To prove who the real badass is, they all take turns pushing even harder and harder. They are lean, all sinew, tendon, and muscle. The girls and boys scream their best gallows laughter, whisking their log town colors of burgundy, plaid, and denim into a circling ribbon of shrieking color—death fists glue stanchion bars. Failure means you catapult. The consequence is severe, road rash, graveled bloody knees, and palms—such a small price to fit in. Red embers sizzle in the dry grass.
Up the street on Davis, Mr. Dawson is drowning in sweat, splitting September’s logs, with hickory handled mall and thick iron wedge. He’s gonna need hot charcoal to warm next December’s gloom-storms. Behind the woodshed, isolated, is where he chooses to grieve properly. His son Levi is still missing in action in Afghanistan; an I.E.D. Will wishes he were him.
East, at the high school, a scorching practice field is taking its toll on the freshman football team. They’re all in, united. Not learning the plays means 100-yard wind sprints and heaving your guts out—Will would give just about anything.
The Strong Interest Inventory, a test that prioritizes one’s potential vocations, is given in high school. His future occupations to consider have been prioritized: 1. Chaplin, 2. Mortician, and 3. Psychologist. Will has no gripe with the results, except, switch one and two. In time he matriculates to Stanford, for all the wrong reasons.
On top of Jasper Ridge, near campus, all he can see is the forest, cedar, pine and redwood, and the eastern morning light through the cracks in the doors of the trees. Feeling isolated, it’s not long before he finds himself back at the dorm.
Will opens his notebook and reads his email. Except for a note from his friend Jimi, nothing is staring back.
Jimi wants to know, “What is it like to be in college?”
Will keys back, “It’s quite a change from our mill town, but I love it.”
Jimi’s letters appear to pulse next to the curser. “Well, I better get going.”
Silence swallows the room in slow gulps.
Will awkwardly answers, “Cool, later.
Somehow, Jimi damned well knows he’s lying.
Dr. Bank’s practice is in the city. He’s an alumnus of Stanford. He’s a damned fine psychiatrist. He encourages Will, “By all means, continue to empower yourself.”
Will inhales enough courage to tell him, “Dr. Banks, Will, and Jimi are the same person, they’re both me. I invented Jimi years ago so that I wouldn’t feel so depressed and alone.”
Dr. Banks, gifted in the science of long pauses, moves his upper lip slowly, like the T.V. horse Mr. Ed, “Well good for you Willllburrr.”
“I’m learning to integrate my inside and outside voice. By that, I mean combining all my internal communications and emotions.”
Dr. Banks bobs his head up and down, neighs, “Go on, go on!”
“Well, Dr., how I see it, is that with more practice, I will be able to integrate all my pieces, and become a whole person.”
“Excellent,” says Dr. Banks, glancing at his Apple Watch. He impatiently nickers, “Well Will, times up.”
There are still occasions when Will’s dark pathos is too apparent. Prozac and Wellbutrin will do that to you. It unglues things, makes each whatever more obvious. Easier to swallow without choking.
It’s been some time since Will’s heard from Jimi. And for his part, Will hasn’t reached out lately. Will is relieved. His Great White, gnawing anxiety and angst is down to a nibble. Let someone else have his nightmares and feelings of universal implosion. At least for now, Will can’t think himself into a single black hole. Numbness can do that too.
Will doesn’t know it, but he’s not so alone, we’re countless. But you won’t find us in a carpool lane, let’s say, in cheerful, sunny Southern California. And you’d be hard-pressed in thinking you hear us, mixing it up in a gregarious crowd, let’s imagine, in front of the Deli at Whole Foods.
We’re much higher than that. Look up here.
Dan A. Cardoza’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have met international acceptance. Most recently his work has been featured in 45th Parallel, Bull, Cleaver, Entropy, Five on the Fifth, Gravel, Montana Mouthful, New Flash Fiction Review and Spelk.
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