The Artist


Christopher Conlon

after Joe Bucciano's "Jellyfish and Triangles"

Copyright ©2018 by Christopher Conlon

The Artist
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I don't expect anybody to believe this. Andy Singer was a boy I knew sixty years ago and I have no evidence for any of it. But this is what happened, and I tell it here truly.

Andy was a strange boy. Small for his age, dark-featured and very quiet, all he did in school each day was draw. He seemed to have no interest at all in anything the teacher had to say; poor Mrs. Ennis could rarely distract him long enough from his artwork to get him to read or to work a problem of arithmetic. Instead he just drew and drew, with any sort of pencil or pen or crayon on any sort of paper, or even, during recess, with a stick in the dirt.

What did he draw?

It's hard to describe, but it was mostly two things. There were creatures, things that looked kind of like jellyfish-round-topped like that, with tentacles dangling everywhere beneath them—and triangles.

All sorts of triangles, big ones and small ones.

He did this, as I say, all the time. Incessantly.

Once I came up to him on the playground and asked him why he did it. He was just then drawing his jellyfish creatures in the dirt with a crooked old stick.

He shrugged. "I draw what I see," he said.

I looked at the image he'd created. "Where do you see those, Andy?"

"In front of me." He looked up then. He had big eyes that were a very dark gray, almost black. He pointed past my shoulder. "There's one behind you," he said.

I turned. "I don't see anything."

"That's the strange part," he acknowledged, returning to his sketching. "Nobody does. It seems weird that other people don't see them. They're right there." He looked up away from me and smiled suddenly. I suspected he was seeing another of his creatures.

"What do they do?" I asked.

"Do? They don't do anything." He shrugged. "They're just there."

"What about the triangles?" I asked, gesturing to a spot in the dirt where he had drawn several.

"Those are their—airplanes, I guess. The way they travel."

I thought. "Where do they come from?"

"I dunno. A long way from here."

From then on Andy and I talked occasionally at recess, but I wouldn't say we were friends—I was more interested in baseball and football. But I'd see Andy out there at the corner of the schoolyard all the time, alone, drawing with a stick or even just with his finger, and I'd feel sorry for him. Yet when I went to talk with him I could never get him to talk about anything for very long other than his creatures.

You'd think that such a boy—I mentioned he was small, didn't I?—would be mercilessly bullied, but Andy Singer was too odd for bullies. There was something disquieting about him. Other kids stayed away. It didn't help when the welfare people discovered that Andy's parents weren't living with him at all, that there was no one in that little house at the edge of town but Andy.

How could a ten-year-old live on his own? Where did he get food? Who paid the rent on the house?

I never learned the answers to those questions, because shortly after the welfare office discovered the truth about Andy Singer, he died.

I saw it happen. I saw him outside town, at the railroad tracks, staring as the 5:15 came rumbling through. I was on the opposite side and saw him step onto the tracks. I heard the train whistle sounding frantically. I saw Andy Singer disappear under the train wheels and I saw his bloody, mangled body a few moments later lying motionless on the tracks.

Everybody agreed that poor Andy had committed suicide because he knew the government people were about to take him away to an orphanage.

The vision of his body disappearing under the train haunted me for a long time. It still does. Understand, I just happened to have been there, wandering around as I often did after school. I never should have seen it. I never should have been there at all. But I did see it—I saw all of it. The body disappeared under the wheels and—

As I say, I don't expect anybody to believe this. But I'm old now, old and pretty sick, and it's time I tell it.

When Andy stepped onto those tracks, in the second or two before the whistling train plowed over him, I saw his face. He was looking upward with the happy expression he only ever had when he was seeing his creatures in the air before him. Here's the thing. I saw them too. As clear as day, four or five jellyfish things floating gracefully on top of their triangle structures. I saw them. They were there.

And then Andy was dead.

Now anyone who hears this story will think, well, he's an old guy and his imagination has played around with that bad memory of seeing a boy hit by a train for so long that it's become jumbled together with his remembering some childish drawings from somewhere. Who knows, maybe they weren't even the same boy. Could be he's remembering two different boys from long ago and somehow put them together in his senile old head. I even believe that myself sometimes, to be honest.

But lately I've been seeing the creatures myself.

They float in the air before my eyes. And no, I'm not dreaming. I'm not drunk. I see them, just as Andy said he saw them. I don't know what they are. I don't know where they're from or what they want. Did they kill Andy all those years ago? Make him walk in front of the train, push him somehow? Or were they emissaries of a different kind, knowing what was about to happen and floating there ready to take him on to—I don't know—Heaven?

All I know is that for the last month or two of his life Andy was obsessed with those creatures. And as I've said, I'm old now. I'm sick. The cancer has me and isn't likely to let go. Doctors say I have a month or two, maybe three.

One last thing.

My daughter Dorothy came over yesterday with some good chicken soup. She visits me every day to feed me and keep the place tidy and my medicines straight. Anyway, she brought my grandson Tim this time, a bright little boy all of four years old now. He and I were in my study while Dorothy was making the soup. I was in my chair, seeing the jellyfish before my eyes, when my dear little grandson looked up at me.

"Grandpa," he asked, "what are those things floating in the air?"

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