Monday, January 14, 2008

Christian at the Petroglyphs

Christian goes belly down on the ledge, cups a little fresh water in his hand and splashes the design carved in the rock. Fresh water pools are rare in the Virgin Islands, so animals and people have been congregating here forever. Christian wets the rock again and runs his index finger around the grooves. He runs his finger around and around and he doesn’t think much about the image, but he notices that the bottom of the curves hold water and are slippery with algae and that the tops are dry and rough with emptiness. His finger scoots fast through the slippery stuff and drags across the dry part. A little skin is left in the rough section.

Christian is on vacation with his parents and three younger brothers. He lets his finger go around and around until the sensation in his finger is so big that his ears stop working. Mom is bubbling with nonsense, much like her sleep machine which covers clamor with the sound of jungle birds. She would be pretty if her fists would relax, but she is worried that Dad will blow. Dad would be handsome with his shirt on. He loves them all and he is proud of what he has made, but the intimacy of vacation is too much for him. Boo, the youngest, will be the trigger and target of Dad’s discontent. Boo is tired from the hour long trek from the SUV, but he is too young to notice, so he wanders around the pool tempting the edge to make him slip. Dad says, “Stay away from the water, son”. But Dad thinks “Don’t make work for me”. Warned, Boo scoots back from the edge and wanders innocently, waiting to test the edge again when no one’s looking.

Christian lies there, deaf, with everything in his fingertip, when suddenly he passes through his fingertip and he is on the other side touching his own fingertip as in a mirror. Now he is the carver, one of the Taino who were the pre-Columbian inhabitants of St. John. Or maybe he is the one of the first people from Africa to stand here and draw images from the Ashanti culture from which he came. He slips naked into the pool, and hears the tap-tap of his labor, and he sweats and feels his sweat, and he is strong and independent carving something important, and he draws a breath over a 1000 years. His body and his carving reflect in the pool, both existing as matter and as light.

Of course Boo slips. He needs to know when slime and angle overcome mass and friction. But Dad can’t appreciate the brilliance of this physics lesson. He’s pissed. “I told you not to get so close to the water. See what you’ve done, your feet are all wet and you won’t like walking back to the car. You won’t like it. You don’t listen. It’s a long walk and it’ll be real uncomfortable, and you won’t like it one bit and I won’t carry you either. No, you are on your own. It’s a long walk, and don’t complain and don’t expect me to carry you”. Dad’s point about the consequence of action is a good one, but the point is lost in the harangue and Dad’s anger traumatizes Boo, altering his brain chemistry just a little and irreversibly.

Christian takes his finger out of the groove, and his hearing returns, and he also changes just a little and irreversibly. Fantasy sheltered him from the present unpleasantness, but it also opened, unexpectedly, into human history. He hasn’t listened to Dad, but he knows his youngest brother just got it. He is happy it wasn’t him who got it, but he is resolved to stick it to Dad soon. He stands, a little older, in this own time.

Anxious to cover up the little bit of shit that just dropped on everyone, Mom uses Christian’s rising as the cue to end the scene. “Christian, does that sign next to you have information about the petroglyphs? What’s it say? Will you read it to us?”

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