One could not have hoped for a better day than this particular day was turning out to be. Not only had Our Hero recently produced what he would consider, and you likely would too, to be the most perfectly warmed and proportioned bowl of porridge he had ever prepared, but his tea, he could feel, would soon be flawlessly steeped, and the spoon he had selected just the right degree of concave, and this morning would thereby culminate in what he could not see as anything but, in his experience, an immaculate breakfast.
There was but one slight detail, and mind you not a great one, as Our Hero was all too appreciative of his current lot, he really was, but there was one slight detail that was presently distracting Our Hero. The only slight bit of problem that was included in this otherwise altogether Good Morning was the murmur that had snuck under the crack in his window and was presently resting in the cradle of his ear after having traveled, it seemed, the not so great distance from the church yard down the road. But Our Hero is not easily distraught, and despite the small fraction of bother that was currently swimming around his kitchen that was the hum of disgruntled-sounded Somethings, from the direction of maybe the post-office, a little closer now, he sat down in front of his bowl that was sure to be the most rewarding bowl in front of which he had ever sat down.
But as we all know things so often go, and by this we mean that because nothing gold can stay, with his spoon en route to his borrowed lips, a steaming scoop of porridge secured safely atop, Our Hero was startlingly interrupted by, in his opinion, the remarkably unnecessary kicking-in of his front door (though he would have gladly opened the door had his guest simply knocked).
However, Our Hero soon discovered his visitor to not just be one or even a few, but a bona fide swarm of Somethings that swiftly entered the cottage, some carrying torches sporting thirsty flames, others with work-worn rakes, and others still with clenched fists and furrowed brows, and all seeming quite bothered by and perhaps even unhappy about their current situation. Despite his neighbors’ clear discontent, Our Hero could not help but suffer a slight peck of annoyance. He was ashamed to admit he would experience such a feeling in such presumably pleasant company, clearly in need of advice or a cup of sugar, but really, they could have knocked.
Our Hero sat as politely as he could as the Somethings presented a presumable listing of grievances. He asked himself, though he was pleased they had chosen to constructively address the complexities of life, why they chose to do so in his kitchen. But as the listing continued, and as fingers continued to be pointed in his direction, Our Hero began to suspect that, shockingly, it was he who was the subject of complaint. Before having ample time to consider his improbable suspicion, two of the larger Somethings stepped forward, seemingly more disquieted than their companions, and in an admittedly skillful fashion, secured Our Hero, each of his arms grasped respectively by a calloused paw. Upon a smaller Something’s cry and the collective exodus from the house, Our Hero considered the possibility that his hopes for his porridge would not be fulfilled for quite some time.
Participating in a village parade had not been in Our Hero’s plans for this particular day, and as the crowd of Somethings carried him along the dusty street upon which he had so often strolled in his past and first month of residence in this strange place, at a pace somewhat more brisk than he would have chosen to travel (if you asked him, though he knows you didn’t but if you had), Our Hero thought of breakfast. He supposed that perhaps this was a good thing; perhaps prolonging that which he was quite confident was to be the greatest meal he had consumed in a long while would cause it to be all the more rewarding when his dry mouth and the warm spoon met at long last. Though Our Hero attempted to imagine the gratifying first bite of porridge to which he was so looking forward, his thoughts were interrupted by the growing pools of sweat on his upper arms that surrounded the Large Somethings’ fingers, and were now quite uncomfortably dripping down the body he occupied.
Before all this occurred, when Our Hero still lived in his first and truest home, he would make frequent visits to a pond shaped not unlike the salty puddles forming on his strange skin, where he and several others would communicate and entertain, among other things, but by far the most prevalent activity was laughter. Our Hero cannot remember a time at which he felt more placid than when he soaked in that idyllic puddle, surrounded by those he had known for so much of time. But nothing gold can stay, and the light that illuminated those many moments spent at the pond eventually retired underneath the blanket of distant horizon. Though he and the others had waited, had hoped that light would wake and, refreshed, traverse the sky for what had felt like all of time again, such a moment never arrived. And so they left. And Our Hero would find himself, after much more time, in his current situation, allowing a gentle pleasure to settle over his mind as he remembered the days before the light finished its last traipse across horizons, before all this occurred.
Resignedly and slightly begrudgingly, Our Hero adjusted his eyes and rejoined present company, which seemed to be greatly excited by the rapid approach to what appeared to be a factory of sort, their final destination. The upside-down L-shaped statues, from which loops of heavy and knotted rope swung in the late morning breeze, cast their shadows westward, creating a horizontal welcome banner for the significantly large mass of Somethings that was crossing the plaza’s threshold.
It was only when Our Hero was rather rudely, he might say, pressed onto the platform on which the statues stood that he recognized that he was not participating in an occasion, but was in fact the occasion itself.
Our Hero would be the first to confess that he was not one for attention. To be ogled, he felt, was to distract, and the very last thing he would ever want is for one to feel any obligation to him over one’s own self. He believed this to be a reasonable enough trait; it did not appeal to him to consume any amount of another’s time or energy that could be more productively spent on that for which they actually cared, as opposed to he, who was never more than a liminality, a passing thought, to the rest of the universe. Our Hero never spent more than what you would consider a year or so in any one locality, so why should anyone devote their energy to the transient concept that he was so content to remain? After all, he was only passing through, only looking for a place to reside until, maybe, he could return to the place of his memories. He therefore never truly mattered to those with whom he came into contact, which is not a problem but a fact. And this is why, he patiently reminded himself, as the Somethings insisted on placing the twine-braided inverted necktie over the head he wore, this entire ordeal was likely all a big misunderstanding, and soon enough, he hoped, his presence would no longer be necessary, and Our Hero could return to his long-neglected porridge.
Another large Something, apparently in a position of power in this process, rested one foot on the cracked footstool upon which Our Hero stood, and orated what seemed to be some sort of narrative, and though it was difficult to understand his words and therefore Our Hero didn’t, in all honesty, try all that hard to follow them, he did catch that “when there is a sickness” in something or other, it is “the society’s responsibility to cure it,” and though Our Hero agreed with that sentiment whole-heartedly, he respectfully did not understand why its expression required his public and pre-breakfast display.
The Something’s words floated around Our Hero’s head while he thought of Before, which was really so long ago by this point, he chided himself, it likely was not worth recalling as often as he did. But the time he had spent elsewhere and without the Somethings was remarkably pleasant, and really, anyone would be challenged not to long for the solace of such a lovely once-home, especially one who was in Our Hero’s present situation of utter discomfort.
He allowed the mildly unsettling image of the Somethings’ perplexing faces staring greedily at the body inside which he had placed himself to fade into those of the faces he knew, the faces he cared for, the faces he understood. Where did those faces go? Did they disperse and settle in places similarly foreign to this, with Somethings and, by now, sure to be cold porridge? Or did they traverse among Something Elses, inside bodies that did not look like these, with creatures who thought differently than those who, pulling him out of his reverie, had kicked the stool out from under his feet and thereby rendered Our Hero suspended by only his jowls, which as you can imagine was an unpleasant sensation, indeed?
Our Hero stared out at the Somethings, and the Somethings stared back.
Time passed, they waited, and the Somethings stared back.
Eventually, Our Hero, though usually quite level headed, had just about enough of this, and though he was sorry for thinking it, truly considered the whole affair nonsense. He raised his hands to his neck, loosened the rope, wiggled his way out of the necklace, and dropped back to his feet. Though he considered this a fairly non-outrageous act, it appeared to greatly upset the Somethings, some of whom were now screaming rather loudly, others running in the direction from which they came, and more still staring directly at him, eyes widened, as if he had proposed they wear their pants backwards or, he didn’t know, something nonsensical and entirely more remarkable than his action, which was entirely undeserving of the reaction that he was currently receiving.
Our Hero heaved a heavy sigh, and two Somethings, different than the last time, again procured his upper arms, one for each, and again salty pools formed under their grasp as they purposefully walked and babbled to the smaller group of Somethings that was following close, but not as close as before, Our Hero observed, behind.
What was it about these things? Our Hero had lived many places, and by many places we mean not three or a dozen, but more places than we can express in a simple word, more places than any reader will be able to even consider, so many places that we may as well and therefore will not try to quantify. Many places. Having traveled for so much time, Our Hero had met his share of natives, and had his share of cultural miscommunication, but never before had Our Hero felt so pressured by the occupying species, never before had the inhabitants refused to simply leave him alone. And really, with one like Our Hero, who was perfectly content to let each and every one and thing be, simply and purely, he was hard to bother. “Give me a bowl of porridge and a comfortable chair, that’s all I need,” he thought to himself, and subsequently confirmed, upon brief consideration, that this is indeed a fair request, especially for Our Hero, who never hurt anyone, he never did. And after traveling for so long, he wanted nothing more than to be, which is a privilege, he knew, but simple enough, he felt, to be, without interruption. And just as Our Hero consoled himself in his tired mind, and because not even anything silver can stay, he felt a sharp sensation, and lifted his hand to his chest, into which, when he removed his hand, fell a small and ironically silver cap.
He turned to the Something behind him, who was wielding the smoking tool that was the apparent source of the burnt cap, and returned its startled gaze. This trinket that now lay steaming in his hand had passed through what one would deem the back of Our Hero and had projected through his front, leaving behind an imperfect hole, through which now a small blot of sun was allowed, and appeared in the center of his elongated shadow. He considered this and decided, based on the shrill noises of the Somethings around him, that this was an abnormal act, though he could not determine if it was he or the projectionist at fault. Our Hero, irked but relentlessly polite, held out his hand, offering the Something his lost trinket. The Something turned and ran, followed by a large portion of the mass, and Our Hero decided that he had just about enough of this place, and that, once this ordeal completed and his porridge eaten, it would soon be time to leave.
Apparently, the Somethings were becoming frustrated as well, and they stormed with miniature shadows, the mid-day sun beating on the capped backs of their heads, to a large pole, at the base of which rested several large blocks of decimated tree. Several Somethings stood by, holding yet more rope, this time in a large coil resting in the plainly wet hands of the Something, who seemed to be effectively boiling in the mid-day heat.
It was no surprise to Our Hero when he found himself captive yet again, within the confines of the rope. He and the pole found themselves closely bound, the twine creating ridges in the skin of Our Hero’s flesh, and leaving marks in the residual ash on the carved wood. Our Hero released a heavy breath, the torch finished its downward arc at his feet, and as the flame united with the piled dry wood, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to recall the time before all this occurred.
Belly full and mouth still warm with the sweet taste of what turned out to be, after a quick pop in the fireplace, indeed the greatest bowl of porridge he had ever eaten, Our Hero placed his spoon down on the table, and pushed his chair out just enough to recline, not gratuitously, but generously. After all, Our Hero did stand in front of the Somethings for quite sometime, and though at first it was hard to make out much beyond the flames, as the fire faded from red to orange to yellow, and though he usually avoided looking the Somethings directly in the eye (that surrounding and piercing whiteness rather bothered him, unfortunately), he had let his foreign eyes scan from Something to Something, patiently waiting to go home. And once the fire had fled, leaving nothing but chalky black ash at his feet and coating the sky, it seemed the Somethings had left with it, and not just the initial gathering, but the entire town had emptied. The rope lying indiscernible among the embers upon which Our Hero stood, which seemed a color copy of the twinkling night sky above, he had delicately stepped down from the pile, brushed off his then unclothed skin, and walked home.
Now, after having dressed and fed himself, and the Somethings having vanished, Our Hero was ready to rest. And as he pulled the wool cover to his chin and his foreign body calmed in the warmth held underneath, he hoped that perhaps this slumber would finally be the one thing golden that would stay.
About the artist...
Aviva Stein is a naturalist, educator, and living-thing lover who spends her time talking about politics and looking for birds. She writes fiction and poetry about bodies and weirdos and is happy to have found a space to share some of it.