Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Fire Hydrant

“What has gotten into you Jonathan?”
It was the voice of his mother. He didn’t have to look up to see the deep lines of worry etched in her pink forehead, or the downturned pale lips that seemed to tremble while waiting for an answer that would never come. He could picture her hands on her hips, the gold band of her wedding ring glinting in the sun, her gray-blue eyes darting back and forth from the neighbor’s house to him, and then up once again, scanning the cul-de-sac for curious eyes and sneaky glances.
He lay on his stomach above the sidewalk, the cold cement had worked its way through his clothes, and now the cool hand acted like an anchor despite the wind of worry beginning to blow.
He let her sounds float over him, drifting away like a bad smell. And when it cleared, he took a deep breath and renewed his attention on the fire hydrant towering over him. He had been sprawled on the sidewalk in front of his mother’s house for nearly two hours, taking photo after photo of the worn yellow hydrant. After each click of the camera he saw something new, a spider web, a crack, a spot of rust. And as he looked, he went deeper and deeper, seeing variations in color he had not seen before. It kept going and going. He had walked out of the door just to take a simple picture, but the hydrant was a door, and the moment he looked at it, the world opened and he could not look away. There was more to see, so much more. He could feel the chains of earth calling, it was a voice he recognized.
He had been in a frenzy over the past week, that’s what she called it. He would take photos throughout the family’s house until the camera’s battery died, then he would plug it into the wall and while it charged, eat like a voracious animal. After the meal he would crash on the nearest padded piece of furniture, the couch in the living room, the easy chair in the dining room, or in his bed if the family’s large German shepherd had not already claimed it. His mother had begun to worry about him. She had never seen him like this. He had always been a creative boy, painting and writing and making things out of clay, but he always did it in his spare time, after classes or on the weekend, not for hours and hours, letting his cycle of sleep revolve around the battery instead of the moon. Something had snapped or changed and she was not sure why or how, but it worried her. There didn’t seem to be anything else in his life, just photos, just the camera.
She stood next to him on the sidewalk in her slippers and bathrobe. She looked around nervously, wondering if the neighbors could see them through their curtains. She hoped not, there would be little she could do to prevent the rumors from starting.
“Do you hear me Jonathan? What has gotten into you? Laying on the sidewalk, out here in the cold for hours, what could be so interesting about the hydrant?” She looked at his subject with a critical eye. It was yellow, but with cracks on the sides and rust along the edges, but it was a hydrant, and if he had not been out here, she would have never given it more than a second of her time, she never had before.
“I’m worried about you.”
He did not look up. Now he was only vaguely aware of her presence beside him, and it came only from the dull nagging sensation pulling on his skin, making it just a little more difficult to work, just a little harder to find new angles and cobwebs and worlds. He would not respond, he knew words would do little to appease her. He knew it did look strange, he was strange, but he could not stop. There were doors, there were angles, there was eternity to capture.

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