Hardly Noticeable

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


As I walked back to my room, I knew. As I ran the back of my hand along the segments in the wall, my fingernails clicking as they reached each valley between two pieces of tongue and groove, I knew. As I entered my room and smelled the mustard-milk air, I knew. There was power in my words, though I didn’t know what kind. The nine-year-old I could not look objectively. He couldn’t see the blocks of the pyramid, just the burning chicken. He didn’t realize that he didn’t set the objects in motion, he just calculated their path. He didn’t know the word prophecy, only the word curse. He didn’t see the words as a portent of the action, but the words as impetus for the effect. And it frightened him. Images of The Ten Commandments floated into his head, memories from Easter Sunday network TV. Did Moses warn pharaoh about the death of the firstborn, or did Moses’ words beget such violence?
I walked through the room, which was a picture of chaos. Cutting a path through the clothes on the floor, my foot got caught in the neck hole of a T-shirt. Something about the room was different, and it had nothing to do with the smell of burning wood wafting in through the window. It was as though the room had told a joke, but I had only heard the punch line.
I took down the notebook and looked at the page where I had written the words. I traced the form of each letter with my eyes, sliding along the curves, braking at right angles, hopping from word to word like arcs of electricity on a spark plug. It was not a question of whether or not my words had power: I knew they were powerful as lightning, solid as rock; they were not to be trifled with. To a nine-year-old boy, a boy whose voice was a high-pitched squeak, whose legs were splinters on a matchstick body, the next decision was deadly serious. Would I allow my words to work a Moses curse, or would I hold my hands up in peace, drawing blessings from the ether? Images reflected dimly in the mirror of my mind, images of destruction and images of renewal. I saw a wrecking ball demolishing an office building, the shrapnel of smoke dust, glass and brick flying through the air. A tree quickly sprang up in its place, a leafy, green oak towering high above the wrecking ball and bulldozers left over from the demolition crew. I replaced the notebook, still unsure about my newfound powers.
Suddenly, I realized what was different about the room. Looking down into the box I saw that the egg had broken open and the baby chicken had emerged. It was smaller than I had thought it would be: instead of the size of a fist, it was the size of two fingers and a thumb. Its feathers were hardly feathers at all: pitiful, fuzzy, covered in slime. It did not look at me, even after I whistled at it to get its attention. It searched the contents of its box home for any sign of life, its head and eyes frenetically chasing any hint of movement. It was strangely silent, however, and though its beak opened and closed, no sounds emerged.
It couldn’t talk. I had a mute chicken. My eyebrows hung low over my eyes, pushing down and towards each other like tectonic plates. The inside of my throat was like sandpaper, and my stomach churned. Though it had been a shock, I had been able to keep my emotions in check for days after my garden was destroyed. Somehow, though, the sight of this chicken trying to find its protector in a crappy cardboard box was enough to give my sadness a voice. I lay down on the floor, my head resting on a baseball glove, my feet tucked under a sweatshirt, and began to cry. After a moment, I fell asleep.


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