The Book of Worlds

The man on the bench finished the edge of the last beak, touched up the shadow on a nape, and put down his pencil. The boy who was watching him slid closer and leaned in. The man tucked his pencil into a coat pocket. The coat had frayed cuffs. The hand had three fingers and one thumb. The boy nodded approval, and the man took a deep breath.

The man blew. His breath fluttered over the page until he was out of breath. The page continued to flutter. The edges of the pages flapped. The spine bent back, and upward the orioles rose, taking wing, darting over the park, alighting in the branches of a Norway maple, still lush with the fullness of Spring, and towering like a leafy fountain at its edge. A jeet-jeet of calls to the common air, a chickering of talk among themselves, and they fled the cover like bright droplets splashing toward empty sky and were gone.

The boy’s eyes lowered to the page, cream coloured and bereft. The man’s good hand smoothed it, clearing bits of carbon dust. The boy blew on it lightly, and it was clean. “What will we make next?” he asked.

The man smiled in a slow, spreading wrinkle. His eyes glistened, blue and green. He said, “I think it’s time you decide. Do you have what I asked you to bring?”

The boy produced a new pencil from one pocket of his trousers, and a small pocket knife from the other. He wore no coat. He was warm already in the morning air.

“Just like I showed you, then,” the man said.

The small hands, perfectly formed, moved quickly, deftly, as if he had practiced many times. He whittled the pencil to a point, not too sharp, not too long. The man lifted the book slightly from his lap, and the boy took it and set it on his own. He scooted back on the bench, locked his ankles, and rested the book firmly. “What will it be?” he asked again.

“Can you draw a giraffe?” the man asked. The boy looked up sharply. The man’s smile spread just slightly, almost a grin. He had missing teeth, but there was no odour from his breath. The boy smiled too.

“How about a squirrel? One of the grey ones,” said the boy.

“It is decided, then,” the man said. Then he leaned back, and closed his eyes, as the sun rose toward it’s warmest.

The boy looked across the park. There were squirrels already. “Not a copy,” he said to himself. “Never a copy.” He closed his eyes, clearing the image. He breathed in and out, deliberately, relaxed, then looked down at the page and began to move in quick strokes, almost no pressure, glossing over the page, until there was the barest outline of each part, nose to tail. Then he made darker lines, adding detail, until a perfect animal was represented on the page. It was simple, but it was all there – all the parts, all that was needed.

The man opened his eyes when the hands had stopped. Then looked at him, waiting. The man said, “The eyes. A little glint in the eyes. Something of life.” The boy added shading while the man watched, nodding slightly. Then he said, “now that’s done.”

The boy handed the book back to the man, and the man studied it, took a deep breath, and blew as before. The pages shuddered, leapt and, with a scattering of feet, a squirrel bounded down from the bench, along the walk, and up the trunk of another maple that was almost the twin of the first. Almost, but not a copy. Then he handed the book back to the boy, who smoothed out the pages, until they were clean again.

“When will I…” the boy hesitated. “When will I…” He did not fill the long pause with the rest of the words.

The man watched him. He yawned. He closed the book. “Tomorrow,” he said, “if you like.”

The boys eyes glistened. Blue and green. “What will you do, then?” he asked.

“I will rest,” he said. “I have made many things. It will be your turn to make them, only…”

“Never a copy,” the boy said. “If I make a copy, everything breaks. Nothing lives.”

The man crossed his arms. “There are never any copies, you know. You and I are a lot alike…”

“I know,” said the boy. “But our eyes aren’t the same.”

“No,” said the man. Then he closed his eyes again, and said the rest of the words, as if he had said them every day, as if he had said them for the first time once when his feet also didn’t touch the ground from a bench in the park. “There is nothing we make that is not a world…” His voice was quieter at the end, and became a snore.

“And a world,” finished the boy, “is not like any other.”

He looked up into the sky. A single cloud was there. He looked across the park and down past his feet. A blade of grass was bent, but still taller than the rest. Another was yellower. Another lighter. He looked at a sliver of bark on a tree, his eyes focusing on its lines. It was not like any other bit of bark. The curve was different. It was always different. He looked at the fingers of a man on the next bench, each a different size, each different than his own fingers.

He watched him, also sketching and also without looking up. It was a common thing to do, sitting in the park and drawing on a page. People could draw the same tree, but it was never really the same. He looked past the man’s hand, and could see what was on the page, and how each page looked the same. He knew, if he could see closer, the fibers of every page would be different. The man was sketching a park, and in the park was a bench, and on the bench were a man and a boy.

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