A Grammar of Dead Souls – Episode 2


“Now, just let your gaze relax. Imagine that you’re daydreaming,” my dad had said, his breath warming my right earlobe; his large, hairy hands one on each of my small shoulders.

“Don’t focus.”

He had slowly moved me backward away from the painting (it was more a mosaic of pixels, but he would insist upon calling it a painting – it being the only thing approximating to a work of art on our anaglypta’d living room walls).

“How’s that?”

As I moved back, my gaze resting on a point in mid-air moving away from the painting, a horse began to pull itself out of the mosaic and I spontaneously snorted.

With a single blink, the horse retreated into the mosaic and I shouted, “Again!” My dad’s smile, framed by black bristle: his teeth not yet yellowed, not yet stained with coffee cracks. His smile.

The idea that an image could be formed to trick the eye fascinated me from that point on. The Dalecarlian horse in the Magic Eye painting; the image of Princess Leia projected, blue like gas, upon the sandy floor of Obi Wan Kenobe’s hermitage; a hologram of Shakespeare that winked coyly at me when I turned a sticker in my hand: all of these things spoke of something between the object perceived and the mind that understood.

And so I trained myself to see what was not there. It stood to reason that, since the Dalecarlian horse did not reside in the painting – that it somehow sat between the painting and my realisation – that most anything could be conjured and projected as such realisation.

I would lie in bed and look up into the black dark of the ceiling’s coving and I would wait. Seizing upon a mote, pond-skating across the membrane of one eye, I would spin images off such motes and wait for them to form into shapes that I recognised. I would will such forms into the shapes that I desired, see faces that I recognised, often smiling, but sometimes angry and needing quickly to be banished with a blink.

All it would take is a resting of the gaze – an abandoning of focus – and I could will anything I wished into being.

And so it is that, thirty years later, I find myself sitting at my desk in an empty classroom, the ballpoint of my red pen frozen centimetres above the blue-lined pages of a non-existent child’s diary.

So it is that I find myself staring at a point centimetres above the blue-lined pages of a diary, with tears silently prickling behind my eyes.

Staring at the softly bobbing disembodied head of my still smiling son.


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