Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Alexander the Sensitive" - Short Story (Summer 2006)

Summer 2006
“Alexander the Sensitive”

On a luxuriously warm evening in the dense center of a Virginian neighborhood, a relatively old child—though well past what would have been this fellow’s rightful procurement of one gentlemanly title (should he have been born a character more inclined toward learned practices)—slouched between chains, which, with a tendency to sway, embellished a respectable number of men and women’s memorable childhood cheer and tribulation on the playground. It seems a funny thing that this particular man, or should I say gentleman (for it would be slanderous to call him otherwise, having no knowledge of any instance of ungentlemanly conduct), found himself perched on a child’s plaything when he had never shown any interest in youthful activities—though he had taken ever smaller interest in the employment of adult concern, namely, industry. However, we find that things were as they appear.

And as our great Alexander perched himself upon this increasingly uncomfortable seat, the leather strap, tethered to the crossbeam, cinched his rear, so as to deprive his rather ungenerous bloodline of any such claims to the ownership of his ass, which, due to his unmotivated consumption practices, ceased to exhibit the round, though never corpulent shape it had once had. Now, in saying his family was ungenerous, I do not presume to imply anything of the sort (having not knowledge enough of his earlier years to make an accurate estimate of their relative generosity); I mean only to deduce from the undesirable condition our Alexander currently occupies, the obvious origin of these circumstances, which is to say, I’m merely inferring the means from the ends. Likewise, I’d like to bring attention to my lack of proper evidence for the causal chain of events that lead to Alexander’s feeble form, although I think it senseless to suggest any more probable source for this physical state: when you see a man who is battered and bloody, do you not assume he received what he deserved, and that his current state is no more than a physical representation of prior mistakes? But to return to the setting at hand, Alexander’s feeling of childhood detainment replaced his otherwise immutably agreeable nature with an articulate desire for a friendly cigarette.

Ash fell, and humid smoke, entering through his rather useless lips, whirled around his rather useless lungs before dispersing into the comparatively ambitious atmosphere surrounding him. “Cheers to eternity,” he thought, addressing the slight oscillation of the leather strap, as his toes, pointing irreversibly down toward the fires of the earth’s molten core, caused an imbalance in his habitually upright posture. This unfamiliar curvature of the spine, and subsequent downward angle of his head, reoriented his focus—if focus is what you wish to call the sight of someone unaccustomed to even the worst examples of average vision.

You see, Alexander suffered from a rather tragic visual disorder. I do not wish to linger on this depressing and tragic malady, but I will say that his inheritance of a rare species of colorblindness perfectly impaired his ability to distinguish any color from a shade of gray; in addition, super-sensitivity to bright light left him virtually blind in the sunlight, and thus, he was seldom seen without sunglasses, though the narrator has some doubt as to his visual incapacities being the true motivation for his rather trendy frames. But whatever the reason for this convenient fashion statement, his impaired vision was not what rendered his faculty of sight impotent; rather, it was his undeniably bad perceptive capacities that truly marked him as defective, a deficiency for which he could not compensate.

Presently, an arachnid occupied the space of our invalid’s gaze. It would have appeared some imprecise blend of gray to his colorblind eyes, had he actually been aware of its fastening the endmost point of its web to the hem of his breast pocket before sauntering off down his baggy sleeve. Had he been aware of the spider’s existence, it would be absurd to assume its presence would have unsettled him in the least, even if he had recognized the shapely hourglass on the underside of its abdomen. More likely (if I may say so), it would have reminded him of his mother and her visit to the life insurance agency just before his father had passed into what she had later called, “the grave.” It was not before long that Itsy Bitsy returned to suck the innards from a rather hairy (though strangely attractive) winged insect, which, finding himself not wholly free, vainly attempted to make his legs less sticky. Oh, how time flies!

Some time later, or possibly before this episode, our great Alexander traversed the various sidewalks and crosswalks, and even areas void of the familiar parallel lines which mark areas of safety on the pavement, in order to visit his best, if not only friend for an evening of light jazz and dim candlelight. Diana was her name, and painting her profession. She studied his pale complexion and fluttered her lengthy lashes, though he was entirely unaware of these undertakings, which, under the right light, could have been construed as flirtation.

Meanwhile, Alexander unfolded his napkin, situating the blank cloth in a diagonal fashion, its corners more or less aligned with his thigh. Entirely unbeknownst to him, his white napkin was in deep contrast with the richly red napkin that rested neatly on Diana’s lap, as well as with the corresponding red tablecloth that separated the two of them. In fact, there was not another white cloth to be found anywhere in the restaurant, and his receiving such a blindingly white napkin must have been the result of some horrible mix-up with the wait staff. But to this oddity, no attention was paid.

Diana summoned the waitress, and considering the fact that her male companion was in no condition to read the fine print of the wine list, bid the women bring her a red wine that struck her as pleasing to the pallet. The waitress returned with Diana’s choice of poison, and the extravagant ritual followed, by which wine snobs and elitists alike determine the relative virtue of their alcoholic beverages. Content with her choice, Diana turned to Alexander with a light in her eyes that shimmered down upon him and seemed to round our invalid’s rather rough physique. While sipping at her wine glass, she began to describe to him the details of her most recent work, an inspirational depiction of a famed and time-honored military leader, whose name, due to his countless victories and achievements, had carried with it the mark of accomplishment ever since his passing into the grave. But even though Diana’s descriptions were of crisp lines and brilliant hues, it was doubtful that, to Alexander’s mind’s eye, they appeared any more than a muddled mess of blurred grays in blinding brightness. Her exceptional vision simply could not be shared with a character so incapacitated as our Alexander.

It seemed some sort of cosmic joke that Diana, with such divine perception, such sight as might make impious her artwork for rivaling the godly nature of the world she portrayed; that such an inspired woman should find our Alexander—whose utter futility blemished the name of humanity in a way that his single-celled predecessors couldn’t have—to be pleasant company on an occasion such as the one presently described. I think it quite far-fetched to suppose Alexander was any sort of muse for a crafter of color and form, like Diana; on the contrary, Diana most probably thought it some sort of charity; for charitable she was.

It was obvious that Alexander underappreciated Diana’s description, for he did not seem to change his facial expression so much as to raise an eyebrow; though, a slight grayness of perplexity did seem to sweep through his complexion. She pursed her lips, but it was unlikely that Alexander had noticed, even though the dimness of the candlelight had granted his eyes the necessity of darkness, allowing for the removal of his sunglasses. After draining her wine glass, Diana, looking warm in a somewhat unnatural way. And being quite literally hot under the collar, she requested to be excused in the most lady-like fashion. Alexander did not refuse her.

She removed her neatly placed napkin from her lap, leaving it abstractly folded on the tablecloth, and hurried to the washroom. Like an ornament in a still life, Alexander remained alone, as the jazz pianist, a willowy woman whose beauty was surpassed by but one lady in this evening’s crowd (Diana), took the stage.

It seems somewhat misleading to call this woman a jazz pianist. A more accurate description might be jazz vocalist; for her hands on the keys were secondary to her voice. And perhaps an even more precise title might be merely vocalist, though this title seems deceptive as well. Most accurately, I think, one would refer to her simply as a beautiful voice, her physical existence merely an accompaniment to her vocal expression.

The music—or rather, the woman’s voice—was not unpleasant to Alexander’s ears, judging by his appearance. I would be inclined to attribute the rosy tone that entered his cheeks to the wine, had Alexander actually tasted it, but unfortunately his glass remained full and untouched. At the sound of her first notes, Alexander had shifted his seat, so as to most directly see her performance. But it was not with his eyes that he saw her; for even in the darkness when his vision was at its finest (meaning he had even better bad vision), he could not see more than a gray, out-of-focus artist. Rather, the music, creating a vivid picture uninhibited by the dullness that frustrated his vision so regularly, became a way of seeing. And like the beautiful voice of a siren, the woman’s croon stole his heart away.

Alexander exuded veneration for the woman’s voice in a way that he never could have for Diana’s paintings, and it was to this sight that Diana returned. Uncanny as it may seem, this was in fact the last thing poor Diana saw before plummeting into an absolute state of blindness, a state of blindness that would have been foreign even to our visually impaired Alexander; for he had not had true sight to begin with.

“I’M BLIND!” she shrieked, as she scrambled to reach him, clumsily knocking over his full glass of wine before flinging herself upon his lap. Relentless tears puddled on his napkin, but Alexander, captivated by the beautiful melodies and colorful harmonies, turned a blind eye to Diana’s unfortunate condition and persistent whimpering. An island of red appeared in the vast whiteness of the cloth; but in such dim light, it was nearly impossible to determine if the stain was from the overturned wine glass or from the blood red tears that spilled from Diana’s sightless eyes.

It was only a few minutes later that the music was halted abruptly by a loud thud and several screams heard outside the restaurant window. Alexander’s heart found its way home as the music bled into blinding silence, and he found himself in utter darkness once again. I suspect that he cared not for Diana’s absence; for she no longer wept by his side. And when the crowd filed outside to see Diana’s body, a bloody heap on the artless grass, Alexander was not seen to budge so much as to peer out the window.

At that time—the moment being no exception to his oblivion—he seemed entirely unaware of the fact that Diana had scrambled on all fours like an animal, feeling her way up the stairwell to the rooftop, where she had flung herself from the three-story building and fallen, a mere mortal, to the ground. Nor would he ever know the cause of her blindness, which the paramedics, baffled by her sudden loss of sight, dumbly attributed to poison in her wine. But I suppose it was of no consequence that Alexander did not know of her death that particular night; for he would be informed of her death less than a week later by the lawyer handling her will.

It was an odd thing that Diana had a will at such a young age, and an even odder thing that Alexander was the only person mentioned in the will, but the directions were clear: Alexander was to be given her most precious possession. The two blind orbs, which had gazed upon him warmly, were placed gently in the palm of his left hand. With his right hand he reached for a lighter, but found he was already holding it. A cigarette rested between his lips and he mouthed “Cheers to eternity,” as he plopped the orbs into the depths of his breast pocket.