Saturday, August 14, 2010

Zell's box of Many Splendid Things

Zell was a bit of a loner. "Was" and "a bit" being the key words. Everyone has a little developing to grow through and Zell's took a little while longer. No one is born perfect, not even his Aunt but she's pretty close if you ask her.

He grew up safe and loved. That may not sound like the most
interesting story but it sure beats the alternative. Zell's childhood was pretty interesting, even if he did not often notice it himself.
Just about everybody thinks their lives could be more interesting. Especially when they are young.

On the western coast of a very fortunate place to be lived
and his family. His aunt, who was really his great grandmother was the first to come to this land. She remembered what things were like back there. There, where many other people with roots like Zell, came from. But Zell and his family kept mostly to themselves for their ways were different. Slightly mind you, but different enough to be very noticeable. Even back then and there too.

Zell walked home from school after a long day of keeping mostly to himself. He raised his hand a few times and spoke when spoken to but he really just wanted to be alone. He had gotten what he wanted. It left him feeling a little funny. He thought of this after his bus dropped him off at the stop, 4 blocks away from home.He walked the rest of the way.

His mother, Paula, stood in the front yard. Her hair was long. It swirled on the top of her head. She wore a dark blue pantsuit with a white blouse. She had a calm smile on her face. One that was full of patience and ready for work. She was talking to the clouds. Three of them to be precise.

"The city would like us to negotiate the next storm"
The first cloud, a small blue one, frowned despite its lack of face.

"Hmm, yes we understand your concerns but please, think of ours. There has been a disturbing lack of
THUNDERING in the past three months" His voice exploding on his favorite word, echoing throughout the block.

The second cloud, gray, big, and wide swooped down to Paula. It floated at her eye level. She sounded very sooty, I mean, snooty.

"What sort of example are we setting for the pufflings. Us Ele-mental Cloud-Citizens must be and feel free to practice our beliefs. This country was founded on raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggggggggggg down on all outdoors. Why I remember the nice people who used to run around this country before you. They looked a little indecent in their feathers and leathers but they would perform the nicest little dance for us. For hours!"

The third and smallest cloud was dark and stormy. It did not say a word. Instead, it eliminated the lawn ornaments on Zell's yard one by one with awful, quiet lighting. Paula would duck or jump from time to time but she never lost her nerve.

"I see, I see. I'm glad we are talking here. We truly value what the atmospheric community has to offer. Could we hold off on anything major until the 4th day of this week? The day after tomorrow is the buffalo wing/jerk chicken snack alliance meeting"

The blue cloud floated up and down for a while, thinking.
"Why, what is on the 4th?"
Paula clasped her hands and smiled.
"Its not what's on the 4th, its what on the 3rd. The international fire festival will be held that night. Its not very fun and its certainly not safe. I'm not sure why we keep doing it. It must be one of our old blue laws"
The large blue cloud bobbed up and down. Thinking.

"Very well, I shall refrain from bringing
until midnight on the 4th. I think I can speak the same for Rainetta and Stormy" He floated away into the distance.

"Hmmmmm, yes" Said the big gray cloud as she evaporated into nothing. "See you again soon", she echoed from nowhere. A small, hyper-localized downpour materialized above his mom. It rained on her for 7 seconds.

"Always a pleasure, Paula"
The small dark clouded whispered before exploding. The whole
block was filled with a bright light. When it was safe to open them again, Zell spotted and quickly stamped out a crab grass fire.

"Wonderful! All there's left to do is for me to pick up my check at city hall!"
She turned.

Zell wished his mother had a normal job. Like most children, he was too familiar with is parents to be impressed with them, not matter how much they really deserved admiration. Especially from the people they strive for.

"Hi honey bear! How was school?"

Zell told her about how he got what he wanted that day. How that made him feel. Worst of all, he did not know why he felt it.Every feeling has got to have a reason. They can't just come from nowhere!

"I love you Zell, but I'm what the boys in the House call, and everyone else if you ask them, an "Alpha Dawwwwg"

She threw Devil Horns with her right hand, or the Cowbunga gesture, depending on whom you ask.

"I'm not great with other people's feelings. I have a hard time with yours, and even my own sometimes"

A gentle breeze skipped past the two, a division. Zell remembered and would ask less like this from her as he grew up. The distance would grow as time went on but they never stopped loving one another.

"Talk to your father. He knows the heart like no-one else. Trust me"

He walked inside. He resumed his worksheet. Zell had started it on the bus ride home. His fractions had received all the concentration and gravity one can give your elementary math homework in such a situation. He picked up his pencil, ignored a few now obvious errors he had made previously, and resumed.

"You do not add the denominators, Pug"

Zell looked around. His aunt had a way of filling the room with her presence. He circled the room with his gaze. On the 2nd time around, he found her; right in front of him.

"I only did it wrong on this one"

"Also wrong, I can see where you made the same mistake over and over. Go back to problems '3,7,11,13,17'"
"I'll do them later"
"You'll do it now"

And so he did, his aunt's eyes providing silent tips and quiet feedback. He thought of his day. How he wanted to be alone, got just that, and how it made him feel empty.

"Aunt?" Zell did not know her name, only her title. He would not dream of referring to her as anything else.

She was gone, off to perform one of the many essential things she invisibly completed everyday.

He looked out the window just as the light shifted. A cool breeze came through the window. Maybe it was the same one from before, around the world and back again. It drifted through the room and out another window. Zell wondered where his father was. He heard him from his office.

Even though the door was closed, the muffled music still came through. Zell received lessons from his dad; at least a couple times a week (for all sorts of things). He did not like it that much but he was pretty good and getting better. He was starting to recognize the notes. He was begging to read the language of music. He always wondered why his Dad's music was just a little bit different, a little bit off from everyone else. Zell walked through the door and put his hand over his eyes, from experience.

Zell felt a few hit his face as he walked in. The black notes swarmed around the room. He opened his eyes. Marcus was somewhere between sitting and squatting, pounding away at the keys. Every time he played, a note would appear. Flighty, unprintable; they swooped, hovered, and perched all over the room. Marcus was getting ready for work tonight. Zell usually did not disturb him around this time but he wanted to talk about how today made him feel.




Marcus was startled. His hand slipped. The noise manifested in red tangles of lines. They looked like asterisks.

"Big Guy! How are you? Did you have a good day at school?"

"Yeah dad. I got to use the internet today for a whole half hour. I had it all to my self for recess"

"That's great! You like that!"

"I know, but"

Zell looked at his feet. He was not sure how he felt anymore.

"You don't sound too happy"

"I think ummm, I think I want to play with other kids more. I just don't know how"

Marcus smiled. That was rare. He almost always had a grin on his face, pleased with his life, himself, and the music within. He rarely seemed to react to the mixed world around him. Marcus was a beta dad; not aggressive, not passive, but quietly right. He wanted his son to come to the proper place on his own, no matter what the problem was. Marcus knew that doing the right thing because you wanted to was the only way to make a good thing stick. Paula, who was much stronger, who could command the weather even; she handled the day to day discipline. She was good at it.

"I know just the thing. I'll talk to your aunt. But first, grab the net and help me catch the best ones for tonight's performance"

Zell snatched the healthiest, highest flying notes and gathered them in a bag. He tied off the top and held it up to his father.

"Thanks. Now don't forget, I need your help cleaning up"

Zell frowned.

"I don't like doing that. I hate stuff like that"

Marcus lowered his sunglasses ever so slightly. Paula was one of the few to ever see Marcus without his shades. Zell barely knew what his father's eyes looked like, but he knew just enough to be afraid. Marcus had nothing there. Not "no eyes", nothing. No thing was there and it was so loud. The further you looked into that which was not there the louder it got.

"I'll put the good ones away Zell, now clear the room"

Zell put one hand over his mouth and the other on top of that. He whispered. The noise, the notes were all gone. Vanished. It was quiet, silent. It felt like there was something beyond stillness. It felt like there was less audible material in the entire universe because of what just happened. Because of what Zell did. Something his father taught him. It was unnatural like there would never be a sound again anywhere.

Marcus walked towards the piano and played a single note.

"Good job. Don't tell me you do not like 'stuff like that'. You're good at it. 'Stuff like that' is what makes this family special"

He closed the door before Zell even knew he was in the hallway. He got back to his homework. He fixed the mistakes he made before. It was a Friday but he did not want this hanging over his head all weekend.

He watched a little tv and then went to bed. He dreamed of his animal friends. He dreamt
of his glass boots that let him walk on walls. He watched a tucan, one he knew very personally, fly with a rainbow in its wake. It was funny how well he knew his animal friends, whom he only saw in the occasional dream. He knew them better than the real people in his real life.






And so he did. His aunt had tilted the top if his mattress forward. With one hand even! He gently slid down to the foot of the bed.

"Your father told me you'd like some more friends"

"Yes, yes I do"

"Now that I think of it, do you even have any?"

Zell could only think of study buddies and acquaintances. Ironically enough, the latter being a word he learned while with a study buddy.

I'm going to make something for you. Something you need to share. It will help you make friends. But first, we have to do some shopping"

Zell Marcus, Paula, and his Aunt sat down for breakfast together. His dad was tired from performing late last night. Mom was pretty satisfied with how the weather was turning out. Paula and Marcus ate traditionally while Zell enjoyed two lunches and a dinner whenever possible. Friday was his turn, so the night before he laid out the food and the spices. He said the prayer for the occasion, gave his thanks, and crossed it with a wish. He had faith it would cook itself through the night. Why wouldn't it?

Zell's Aunt did not like to drive. She was great at it but did not enjoy the experience. So she would often take the alternative route. It was not the most scenic way to go but it got you there, fast. She grabbed Zell and led him with one hand and the gas can from the garage with the other. She flicked her wrist and poured a few drops on the cold floor. She wrote the address of the mall on a small piece of paper. She dropped it into the gasoline pool and let it soak. They climbed into the car. As her hand turned the keys in the ignition, the note burst into flames.

When the smoke cleared they were there. Zell and his aunt stepped out into the parking lot. Zell's aunt wasted no time. She knew what children liked. Not what adults think children will like but what they actually do. They went to the Electronics Boutique before they changed their name and became ever more obnoxious. They bought the latest Playstation, a few games, and many controllers.

They went to the musty Games Workshop. Zell gasped, not at the fantastic creatures and wicked battle vehicles but at the fact he saw a girl in there. A pretty one too. His Aunt purchased all sorts of monsters, soldiers, aliens, cyborgs, robots, elves, and plenty of paint.

They stopped at the comic store that was rapidly morphing into a one stop hipster shop. They picked up ongoing serial issues, one shots, and graphic novels. Zell grabbed decks and packs of collectible card games with more of the monsters, vampires, super heroes, hackers, and lizardmen kids love.

They drove back. Doing it the special way in public was too much of a hassle. Zell was relived. When they pulled into their garage, Paula and Marcus were waiting for them. They held hammers and saws. A wood chipper roared in the back. Zell was a little nervous until he saw the box. It was sitting on a card table, waiting for him.

It was long and wide. It was a jewelry box that a boy could love.The box was bright green, no, yellow! It seemed to change colors the more you looked at it. It almost smiled at you. Even without a face. Maybe it was the way the handle looped or all the fun for nothing buttons it had.

He moved the top up and down. it did not squeak from its hinges; it giggled. Zell had never been more excited about something so empty before.

His aunt put the bags and boxes of toys on the floor. Zell's attention snapped back to them. He watched in horror as his mom and dad smashed them all! Hammers rained down on the video game paraphernalia. Plastic, metal, and discs flew all over the room. They picked up the pieces and placed them in the box. Paula scooped up the little army monsters and threw them into the chipper. She collected most of the dust and put that in there too. Marcus tore the comics and collectible card decks with his bare hands. Sometimes he did many at once, like those strongmen with phone books. His aunt scooped up the remains and poured them into the box. It was more then Zell could bear. He ran to his room in tears.

He stayed up late playing video games before going to bed. They were now not as fun as they were before. He dreamed of his animal friends again. Now they were boring and little difficult to be around. His glass boots broke after a few steps. He woke in the middle of the night. Restless, he crept silently down the starts as only little boys can do. He went into the garage. The box was still there; still spectacular. Zell was very confused that night.

He opened the box and peered in. Nothing.

"It's just a stupid box. Nothing but junk"

"Wrong even more. This is a box of Many Splendid Things"

Her aunt walked in, or rather, appeared.

"It's empty. Why did you give me a cool looking box with nothing in it?"

"Zell my little Pug, the box doesn't work when you're alone. You have to share it"

She put one hand on his shoulder and with the other, she reached inside. She pulled out something round. It was glowing. It was wonderful! He could almost see it.

The next thing Zell knew, he was on the bust to school. Sunday had vanished like so many do. He sat next to Billy. Back then to Zell, he was an/əˈkwāntns/ ,someone he knew a little bit about but generally ignored.

"Hi Billy"

He smiled. It made Zell smile back.

"Hi Zell. I said 'hi' to you a few times before but I'm glad you just noticed. What's in the box?"

Zell realized it was in his lap. Oh my God, I can't believe they did this to me! Why did they make me take this to school? Talk about making friends, the kids are going to eat me alive because of this. THEY ARE GOING TO MAKE FUN OF ME SO MUUUUUCCCCCH

I don't know, Billy"

Billy reached in. Zell held his breath. Billy's arm bent and he pulled out two collectible card decks. Each one was in its own special case.

"Cooooool! I love this game. I didn't know you were a Spell Jammer!"

Zell did not know he was one either. He did not know how or when he became one but he did know how to play. Somehow. And he wanted to. With Billy.

"Let's play"

And so they did. Zell would play with Billy many times growing up from then on. Every time he was with friends and he reached into the box, he'd pull out the perfect toy for the situation. Without even knowing what he was looking for! He made other friends too and people even more special to a boy than a good friend but that came much later. That required a different kind of box. He made friends and special friends his whole life and even beyond that. The box helped start the whole thing but as time went on, Zell found other ways to reach out to people. He found new ways to like and be liked.

Zell would later grow up, grow into and later apart from, his very strange family. Yet he always stayed close and would never forget his box of Many Splendid Things. Even after he finally put it away; confident and comfortable around people. Zell was not a loner anymore.

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