Bold

By Alison Morse

When I was a baby, peering through the plastic mesh of my playpen, I wanted to be daring, to race around the world as fast as Mighty Mouse. But walking was too scary. That split second when neither foot completely met the ground was too much for me to bear.

Then I turned three and finally learned to waddle around my neighborhood in Queens, New York. But in reoccurring dreams, I flew over the Brooklyn-Queens expressway, and solved murder mysteries involving the Flintstones and bloody zombies.

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Young Alison Dreamt of Solving Mysteries

One afternoon in first grade, soft-as-a-toy-bear Miss O’Hara stood in front of our classroom and mutated into a growling grizzly. “I will not have you doodling and fidgeting in class, talking out of turn, or going to the bathroom in your pants,” she shouted. Then she pointed to the corner by the blackboard. “Stand up there, and don’t move until I say so.”

Sweating and trembling, I walked toward the corner.

“What are you doing?” asked Henry Pita, trailing behind me.

“Alison Morse, please sit down,” ordered Miss O’Hara, her powdered face scrunched up like a dried apple. “I was talking to Henry.”

I was relieved and sorry not be the class delinquent. But I had made Miss O’Hara angry. How could I make it up to her?

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Patch of Crocuses

On the way home from school I passed yard after tiny yard of early spring flowers. The prettiest ones, a patch of gold-as-Twinkies crocuses, belonged to neighbors I didn’t know.  The next morning, I dug about a dozen out of the ground with my bare hands, bulbs and all, and brought them to Miss O’Hara. A gift.

She barely smiled. “Thank you, honey. But you really shouldn’t dig up the bulbs attached to your flowers. Now they won’t grow back.”

I had stolen and killed the neighbor’s crocuses. I was an idiot. But the hot-eared-heart-thumping-tickle-of-shame was kind of fun. I had been daring.

Over the years, I tried to improve my skills as a thief, stealing bubble gum, Snickers bars, and bags of Doritos from the local candy store. I even kept a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints instead of delivering it to a neighbor. But compared to the female Robin Hoods and super-powered goddesses that I drew all over my notebooks at school, I failed to be much of an adventurer.

My dad, a graphic designer, took me to Manhattan museums every Saturday, an event that began to make me antsy after I turned thirteen. During a Saturday visit to a Picasso show at the Museum of Modern Art, we had our usual Picasso discussion: which paintings were classically cubist; which were influenced by Matisse; and why some paintings were more “successful” than others. Afterwards, we ate our ritual sandwiches at the museum cafeteria. I wondered how to make the experience more of a surprise.

The water at our table came in a minimalist, mid-century-modern glass carafe. When my dad went to the bathroom, I poured the last of the water out of it, dried it with a napkin, and stuffed it the pocket of my down jacket. Surprise bubbled through me. I was about to get away with something big.

We passed the guards. They didn’t look up. We walked out of the museum’s revolving doors. ImageNo alarms. I followed my dad into the subway, amazed at my success.

Inside the F train, I took out the carafe to show my dad.

“What’s that?”

“Don’t you remember?” I told him.

“It’s a little small for a carafe. Maybe we can use it for a bud vase.”

He was obviously not impressed. What would I have to do, steal Meret Oppenheim’s fur cup from the permanent collection, or take Picasso’s “Young Ladies of Avignon” off the wall?  To steal a work of art, I would need much better technical skills—and a driver’s license.

While I brooded, my dad fell asleep. His snore was as loud as the subway’s rattle, as loud as his shouting voice—a voice he used during one of our first visits to the Museum of Modern Art. I was four, and fascinated by some bronze people with skinny, melting bodies, made by an artist named Giacometti. They were the Walking Dead; art zombies both bumpy and smooth when I touched their stomachs.

A loud alarm went off and two museum guards ran up to me, yelling. My father yelled at me too, almost as loudly as the alarm. The guards threw us out.

As the train chugged home to Queens, I pondered the logic behind Giacometti and the carafe. Was petty theft not as daring as touching sculpture? Did breaking rules count more when you didn’t know you were breaking them? Whatever the logic was, I was pretty sure that daring had something to do with art, and maybe theft too.

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Alison Morse‘s poetry and prose have been published in Natural Bridge,Water~StoneRhinoOpium Magazine, The Potomac, and a bunch of other journals. She won the 2012 Tiferet Fiction Prize. For twenty years she animated everything from cigarettes and glass shards to Barbie doing aerobics on the beach in Cancun. Now she teaches and runs TalkingImageConnection, an organization that brings together writers, contemporary visual artists and new audiences.

Eyes Wide Shut

By Evan Kingston

When I was a four, I was fairly certain I slept with my eyes open.

After my mom tucked me in, turned out the lamp, and switched on the nightlight, I’d stare at the ceiling and imagine adventures until the warm shadows up there turned to dreams.  The next day, I never remembered closing my eyes during the transition, nor did I register opening them to the sunlight on my way back to waking life; it seemed to me that whatever I’d dreamed during the night had played across my open eyes like the sort of vision that strikes a prophet blind to the lies of this world.

My Eyes, Oh Yes, They Are Open.

My Eyes, Oh Yes, They Are Open.

Even though most of my visions weren’t about much more than doing coloring books with cavemen, I bragged about how I slept to friends and family.  I think I must have felt it made me seem more mature, as my urge to keep my eyes open as long as possible stemmed from a desire for later bed times.

But more than anything, I think it made me feel unique.  “I know how most people sleep,” I assured my mom when she got tired of humoring my claims.  “I’ve seen you fall asleep on the couch before.  But I’m different; I dream a special way.”

When she finally threatened she was going to come in my room before her bedtime to get a polaroid of me in the act, I almost backed down.  I think part of me was already starting to realize I wasn’t special at all—except for in that same, boring way that every kid in my kindergarten class was special.  But another part of me, the part of me that dreamed with his eyes open, was sure that I had powers like no one else.

In can’t recall exactly what I said to her, but I must not have conceded, because I very clearly remember being confronted over my bowl of C3PO’s the next morning with a snapshot of myself sleeping, eyes shut tight while drool dripped from my open mouth.

       The truth is in your face.

The truth is in your face.

But that and the various corrections that came after—like when I quit drawing comics in the sixth grade because someone told me I “couldn’t draw”—don’t intrigue me as much as all the times since that I’ve listened to that voice inside of me.   Why do I still believe it after it’s been proven wrong so many times?

Even now, it’s part of what gets me writing a new story when the last one failed to change the world and there are more practical matters to worry about: part of me still knows, despite so much evidence to the contrary, that I am the only one who can dream like this.

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This is happening, okay?

For example, as I write this, I know there’s no way I would have talked to my mom this way, but I can’t help imagining 5-year old me challenging her as she turned out the light, “Take a picture of me?  Sure. Whatever.  Just make sure the flash doesn’t interrupt my dreams.”

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Evan Kingston is at work on his second novel. He is the fiction editor at Red Bird Chapbooks and publishes The Oldest Jokes in the World blog.