BIG AS A CIRCUS
The air smelled like doughnuts. And, standing there, I felt like a pair of scissors. It was the moment I knew my mother could never love me, not really, not as much as I wanted. And I knew it like trees know things, just standing there. We were standing on the street corner waiting for the light to change. She was holding my hand. I was four and she was all grown up. I could stand there forever. But she was in a hurry, and I could feel it in her hand.
Cars went by. A bus went by. A bird hopped in a little circle on the sidewalk, and each hop started and stopped so suddenly it was like magic. The bird looked like it wanted to speak, but it couldn't. It could only sing, and if it started, it might sing forever, I thought, because it was a very small bird. It looked like a teensy-weensy man in a bird suit. Mommy's hand was so big it felt like it could be made of everything that ever was. And holding and holding her hand felt like a river the way it went on and on. And I knew, like a tree knows, it takes a very long time for something to get big like that. If I hugged Mommy's leg, it would feel like a tree coming out of the ground. But this wasn't the time for that, not at all, not then. Her hand wanted to fly away.
Waiting for the light, I remembered the story my mother read me the night before about a boy who rode on a whale. It was called "Bertram and the Whale." I was lying on my back then, on the rug, looking at the ceiling as my mother turned the room into an ocean just by the words coming out of her mouth. I loved my mother's voice, not just the sound, but where it came from and how it stayed and sweetened the air, like her voice had a big wooden handle on it and you could turn it and make ice cream. And then, waiting there for the light, I began walking on the roof of my mouth with the tip of my tongue and pretended my tongue was moving without my brain telling it to move, which made it feel, for a second, like someone else's tongue, which made me think that I, too, was made of everything that ever was or that the me inside me could be someone else.
Standing there, Mommy's feet got realer and realer and bigger and bigger in her red shoes that were so shiny they were magical too, like the bird hopping in a circle. My feet would be big some day too, but first I would have to eat a lot and grow a lot, and it would take a long time. Or, and it was a thought that made me laugh, I could just go to the circus—because the circus always made me feel big. I could sit on the long circus bench and eat popcorn and watch the elephants and smell the hay, and if I didn't look down, my feet could be all grown up.
"Come on, come on, stupid light," Mommy kept saying. But the light didn't change at all. It just looked at us with its big red eye. And, all of a sudden, I thought of the Cookie Monster and wondered what it might be doing, right then; if it was taking a nap, and if it slept with its mouth open, and if its breath smelled like cookies, and if its cookie brain could imagine the ocean if it hadn't ever seen the ocean. But I had seen the ocean and stood in the freezing water and smelled the fishy air and watched the seagulls and it made me feel grown-up knowing I had done all that.
"Can we go to the beach, Mommy?" I asked.
"NO! We're not going to the beach! And quit bobbing your head around!" Mommy said. She was crushing my fingers now, all of them.
I wished then I was an elephant or a circus or a bird, so I would be enough. If I was enough, Mommy wouldn't be mad right now, I thought. I wished I could be enough. The elephants were enough when I watched them. The circus was enough. The little bird was enough. But I wasn't enough. I could never be enough. No matter how much I wanted to be enough, I couldn't be, not now, not ever. A river is enough. A sky is enough. A whale is enough. Bertram's bag of hard-boiled eggs was enough—the eggs he threw at the stars. I stood there and stared with all my might at the round red light. It didn't look "stupid" at all. It looked like the brightest, reddest red I ever saw, and it tasted, with the light coming through it, like candy at the back of my throat. It looked like the very place in heaven where they made lollipops. And I knew it and my hand knew it and I wished I could make my mommy know it. But there were things a little hand couldn't say and a big hand couldn't hear.
A writer, speaker, artist, and creative thinking consultant, Jon Pearson has been a cartoonist for the Oakland Tribune, an extra for the New York Metropolitan Opera, a college professor, and a mailman. He writes now for the same reason he played with his food as a kid: to make the world a better place. His work has been nominated for a 2014 & 2016 Pushcart Prize and a 2014 Million Writers Award and has appeared or is forthcoming in Baltimore Review, Barely South Review, Barnstorm, Carve, The Citron Review, Crack the Spine, Critical Pass Review, Cultural Weekly, Existere, Faultline, Fiction Fix, Forge, Lake Effect, OnTheBus, The Penmen Review, Pretty Owl Poetry, Psychoanalytic Perspectives, Reed Magazine, Shark Reef, Sou'wester, Superstition Review, Tower Journal, West Wind Review, and Wild Violet.