'Being social by nature, when isolated from all other living creatures, men will invariably, over a period of time, create for themselves companions, be they gods or lovers.' (Francis Kirkpatrick 1893-1935)




Friday, February 22, 2013

Three: Exactly

In the classroom, Miss Ferguson handed out boxes of new crayons and sheets of white paper.
“Now,” she said. “I want you all to draw a picture of whatever it was that you saw in the clouds: the giraffe, the pirate’s ship—your mustache Phillip.”
The children giggled. Phillip had tried at the last minute to outdo Peter’s giraffe with a mustache.
“Draw everything you saw,” Miss Ferguson said, “exactly as you remember it.”
Nicholas had never been asked to draw anything before. He had never even sat and colored. There were never sheets of clean paper at Honeywell. What few crayons he had found at the home for boys, were nothing but broken nubs and all the figures in the dilapidated coloring books had been scribbled over with black, purple or blue.
Nicholas opened the box of crayons Miss Ferguson had given to him. He counted the colors. Eight in all. He put the perfect points to his nose and breathed in softly—yellow, green, blue, red… Behind his closed eyes, Nicholas could see once again the school’s mottled play yard and the impossibly blue October sky that spread forever above it. He saw the clouds, white as new chalk, refusing still to take on any shape for him. He saw his classmates, his teacher’s pale smile, red hair and pointing finger.
Nicholas opened his eyes. As if he had done it a thousand times before, he carefully drew out the yellow from the box of crayons and began to color. He colored everything that he had seen on the play yard, exactly as he had remembered it. So exact, in fact, that when Miss Ferguson collected the pictures and saw his, she immediately called the principle.   

Two: Honeywell and a Fair Trade

There were a lot of things Nicholas did not have. Parents, for instance.
Nicholas had been given up for adoption at birth, sent from Grace Medical Center in a blue beanie and blanket to the Honeywell Home for Boys. There was a woman, Eleanor Hardaway-Fisk, who was looking to foster and possibly adopt him, but a mountain of paperwork was holding up Nicholas’s transfer into her care.
Paperwork had also held up Nicholas’s enrollment into Covington Elementary as a kindergartner by a little over two weeks. “Everyone,” Miss Ferguson had said, standing beside him in front of the class, “This is Nicholas Alexander Leach.”
Had it been a day or two, the other children may have still been in transitional shock and acceptant of a latecomer. But at a little more than two weeks, they had settled in—spaces had been called, teams chosen, rules established—and though Miss Ferguson had asked the children to make Nicholas feel at home, he was shunned only slightly less than Danny Ramey, the boy who peed his pants.   
          “Nicholas?” Miss Ferguson asked, when she saw that he had not joined them. “Did you get to see the giraffe?”
          Nicholas shrugged.
          “Well, maybe next time,” Miss Ferguson said, kindly. “We’ll play the cloud game again, I’m sure.”
          Nicholas nodded and smiled, best he could.
“All right,” Miss Ferguson called out, “Lets line up and head back to the classroom.”
The children fell into place.
Nicholas was last in line. Miss Ferguson had folded his name onto a tiny piece of paper, like a Chinese fortune, and chosen it from a fishbowl. He was door monitor for the week, she had told him. It was his duty to close the door whenever the kindergartners entered or left the classroom. Door monitor was always last in line.
Nicholas liked being door monitor. He took his responsibilities very, very seriously. He liked being last in line too. All of the children did. But Nicholas would have traded both his duties and his place in line right then and there, if only he could have seen something in the clouds other than clouds.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

One: Magination

Nicholas Alexander Leach did not see any rabbits. He did not see any turtles either, chickens or pirate’s ships—none of the things the other children of his kindergarten class claimed that they saw floating overhead in the blue October sky.
Rather than play Planet Numbers after morning juice break, as they usually did, Nicholas’s teacher, Miss Ferguson had asked the children if they would quietly put on their mittens and coats. “We,” she whispered, as if they were about to break some rule of Biblical consequence, “are going outside.”
 Bundled up and abuzz with curiosity, the children had marched behind their teacher through the breezeway, past the first, second and third grades, across the asphalt where they gathered for fire drills, out to a small rise of browning grass in the school’s play yard, where the older, rowdier boys sometimes played King of the Hill at recess.
“I want to teach you my very favorite game,” Miss Ferguson said, when all the children had collected around her and quieted.
Nicholas didn’t much care for games. Especially outside games. Dodge Ball had knocked the wind from him and Red Rover had bloodied his nose.
 “It’s called The Cloud Game,” Miss Ferguson said, before Nicholas could really begin to worry.
The Cloud Game?
Nicholas had never heard of The Cloud Game. But it sounded fluffy, and safe—not at all like the kind of game that would knock the wind from him or bloody his nose.
“It’s the easiest game in the world to play,” Miss Ferguson went on, as if reading his mind, “No balls or bats. Nothing to dodge or duck.”
Miss Ferguson pointed up to the sky.
“Best of all…” she said, “All that you need are a few clouds and your imagination to play.”
“A giraffe!” someone shouted. “I see a giraffe!”
          It was the Peter who wore eyeglasses.
“Wonderful, Peter,” Miss Ferguson said, crouching down beside the boy. “Where is it? Show me.”
The Peter who wore eyeglasses poked both his stubby pointer and thumb at a squiggle of cloud, suspended over the baseball field’s backstop.
“There,” Peter said. “There.”   
Miss Ferguson tilted her head to the left, then to the right.
“I see it, Peter!” she exclaimed. “I do!"

            "Everyone, Peter has found a giraffe!” Miss Ferguson said. “Come see!”
The children ran to where Miss Ferguson and the Peter who wore eyeglasses stood. All but Nicholas, that is. Nicholas stayed put.
“I want to see! I want to see!” the children pleaded, jumping and pawing as if they wanted to be picked up and held too.  
“You have to tilt your head some,” Miss Ferguson explained. “Like this.” She tilted her head to the right again. The children followed suite. Nicholas did too.

“There are its legs,” Miss Ferguson went on, sketching the lanky animal’s anatomy out with her own long forefinger. “There’s its body. Its tail. Its long, long neck…”
          The Peter who didn’t wear eyeglasses giggled at this and beamed. Nicholas shaded his eyes and squinted.
“There’s its head,” Miss Ferguson continued. “Oh! And look!”
The Peter who wore glasses started, his eyes wide with exaggerated fear, as if the cloud beast had leapt from the heavens and was bearing down upon them.
“Its antlers!” Miss Ferguson said, and tickled Peter who laughed and squirmed. The children clapped and cheered, then went back to searching the sky above the backstop for the giraffe.
          Nicholas was having no luck at all. Polly Parkee found the giraffe, then Daniel Adent too. “See,” he heard Miss Ferguson tell his classmates. “You can find all kinds of things in clouds, if you just use your imagination.”
Magination. Magination.
His fists, balled against his forehead, his entire face clenched with effort, Nicholas tried to squeeze that part of his brain where he thought his imagination—or magination as he had heard it—most likely to be. Nicholas squeezed until his head began to hurt. He saw Peter’s cloud with such clarity that it made him feel a little dizzy: Wisps and strands, cauliflower clusters that bloomed a dozen shades of gold and gray and rose—droplets even. But Nicholas Alexander Leach did not see a giraffe.
Maybe, Nicholas thought, standing alone on the little mound, his four-and-a-half year old heart sinking deeper and deeper with each squeal, as one by one his classmates spotted the elusive giraffe of cloud, lumbering across the cerulean plain.
Maybe, I don’t have a magination.