Polished Personal Response: Light Air and Solid Black Lines

“Ellipse Lace” by Susan McBurney

Human need to commit to or renounce a course of action. 

He wasn’t always like this.

There was a time this youth had dreams, dreams that carried him away on a breeze as light as a feather. Dreams that existed in the clouds and rained visions of a better tomorrow into his eyes every spare moment the teacher kept talking and kept expecting him to listen. Dreams that came from a deep-set need to escape the race that everyone was stuck running, for he wanted to fly. He was tired of the dust of the path and the constant jostling of a million bodies going nowhere in particular, but racing nonetheless.

He often dreamed of flying. He wanted to live among the majesty of the clouds, where water decided it was bored of being water and wanted a change of view, so it got up and left on a flight to anywhere but here. The first time he went flying he knew it was all he wanted from life, the way the clouds would race along him on a path that lead to the beautiful gates of a dream that was their own little secret. Side by side, the clouds would be free of structure imposed by any stern God telling them that they must be of a specific puffiness and pallor, and so they would kiss the wings of the big metal case and glide and slide over each flap, each flap like a trap that tried to encase them, but the clouds wouldn’t let the trap stop them from exploring the map.

The teacher calls on him again.

Math. A quadratic formula. “A” squared equals the positive or negative square root of “B” squared, plus four “AC” all over two “A.” He uses the formula to help him factor something in order to find the side length of a square so that he can find the side length of a triangle so that he can find the area that the triangle traps between its legs. These are important rules that govern the very nature of natural world. Each formula outlines the solid black lines that make up the curves that make up the beautiful white things in the world. These are the rules that allow this young man to graph the chart of a new road that will help him win the race. Each stone must be set with precision if the path is to work, so he must focus on the numbers in front of him if he is to be successful. His father has often talked to him about the importance of these numbers, for numbers do not lie. They cannot be altered in their nature, they cannot create a vision of a false reality, nor can they fly. Each number is set on the page in its fine black ink, and each number that goes up offers a promise of a better tomorrow. His father has often told him that these are the numbers that will get him out this small town. Each number is a way out of the bleak prospect of an exciting career at the automobile factory, a career that has been passed down through generations of the men of his household.

But the boy does not mind the automobile factory because it has such a clear vision of the sky—it’s as though one can stand there and see into the eyes of the universe, and the universe looks down sadly on all those stuck looking down at the dirt, because if only they looked up they could see a world that is different altogether. It’s a world where man can captain ships that roar through a sea of wind, twisting and turning through bare air, alluring the dreams of youth to stay alive in a world where there’s no weight no bring you down. Up there you can chart a course for a new world and find the universe along the way, but beware: you might pick up a hint of love along the way.

But the world isn’t all about dreams. Some courses should not be charted because there are too many people who need a new path to walk, and someone must lay the rocks. The boy shakes his head and turns it back towards the page, looking down and scrutinizing the page in hopes of finding the secret the numbers won’t tell him. He must find it, even if he doesn’t want to. His father puts together cars in a dark factory, in his small corner and he doesn’t like it. But he goes back every day to his small corner in the huge factory to do his work. He does it so the boy can build a road that will take them away from the fear of not having enough food to feed the mouths of his family. The boy needs to make a safe road, a road that may not be beautifully twisting and winding, but one that is secure. What they need is not a means to leap the bounds of the crowd, but a means to leap the bounds of hunger.

Though the numbers won’t talk to him, the boy keeps staring. His stomach hurts because he has not eaten. His diet has consisted too richly of empty air. The hunger helps remember why he renounces a course that is charted through the air for a course that is charted through the earth. It’s not only his hunger that he has to feed. And not everyone he loves can handle a diet of empty dreams and light breezes. So he turns his head back to the sky one time, vomits out his diet in a large sigh, and turns his head back to the earth and the numbers and the solid black lines.

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