it happened with any warning at all. He was standing precariously with his body flush against the ladder. the paintbrush in his hand seemed to dance without his direction, moving with finesse around the intricate corners of the roof’s eave. Her face danced in the paint, created from the chiaroscuro of the half-hung lights and pulled his eyes into it without so much as a glance at him.
It was no longer the summer of such and such a year. The wobbling line that had crawled into the future, that was time, was vanquished like a fastly fading train track. Ricky was no longer the summer worker; the handyman painter; Ricky was the wingman, the oddball, the easy job. Still, Ricky was not without his plusses; Ricky had earned the nickname “Bricky”, for admirable reasons pertaining to his body. The reason was solely that Ricky wished to shed the identity that had been fostered on him-”Oh, that genius-what a weakling!”-an identity that Laura didn’t share an admiration for. Dicky became Bricky over the summer with the help of Ricky’s older brother. His old identity had melted away as forgetfully as did years now.
In his mind, Laura’s image was shimmering towards him. He could feel the heat intensely on his skin, though whether it was the sun or his own nervousness, he himself could not tell. Inside, he was the same doughy, smart alec kid he had been for the last seventeen years of his life. The terror that arose in him, of being unable to own the actions of his body, or, worse, to somehow have all his hard work undone in front of his eyes, chose to at the inconvenient moment undo his resolve. Ricky bolted. A shadow passed over him before he dared to look up again. There Laura had come-and there she had gone. No matter where Ricky looked, Laura was gone. Ricky dusted off his knees and kicked his sore legs home.
Later at night, when the heat had left his body, Ricky lay wide awake, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. He did not seem to see the stain in the uneven surface that had been above him for all the time he had lain there. The air was still hot, too hot, but Ricky felt himself reaching for the comfort of his blanket. He was not cold, exactly; the memory of Laura’s face and the short lived excitement of finally approaching her in the best way possible was like an ember smouldering in his chest. It was more that his entire body felt like a trembling shell, an egg about to hatch that had just let in the first tendril of air and touched the shivering chick inside. Ricky as of yet still felt unhatched. No matter how many bench presses he did, nothing would change that.
He must have fallen asleep, but he did not remember it. There were many things he didn’t remember after that. When he woke up, the sound of multiple metallic clatters swallowed the half-wisps of a name. The clattering was followed by a spike in volume of human voices, a roomful of voices that crowded like a threat in Ricky’s tiny room, his tangled bedsheet cocoon. He jumped up, wide awake, and fell. His veined, muscled legs were useless in the tangled cocoon. Had he been screaming? The pain that Ricky felt far surpassed the knock he had incurred to his head. He wished to be bundled off in his bedsheets to somewhere far away where the pain would stop. All he could hear was the screaming on the TV that he wished would stop. That was the last word he heard: Laura. From: Laura has been kidnapped. If only the screaming would stop.
Ricky’s world became silent. It might as well become black and white, too. He lost hearing in one ear, temporarily, but he could not hear where it mattered most. They put the TV to his right side, his bad side, in hopes of triggering it to life once again. Laura’s mom always stood a little bit to the right, where his right eye had swollen shut. Her image came to him through a pinhole, blurry as her voice. Was she sniffling, or was it his ear, fluttering? As hard as Ricky tried to recover, the same strokes regretfully marked his chart: awaiting recovery.
His muscles wasted. There was something sad about the fact that his body did not match the pallid blue of his hospital gown, so he strove to match it. There was another’s it strove to match: Laura’s. If she did not need food, he did not need food. But he was not delusional: he kept the two of them separate. Laura could no longer see his body, and so his body was no longer needed. He was discharged when he was found that no better recovery plan could be better than an action plan.
Back at home, he would replay the tapes of Laura’s mom’s pleas, over and over, until the batteries ran out on his laptop. Then he would do the minimum physiotherapy required of him, the maintenance of a body required to keep his senses sharp, in order to review Laura’s case more. Laura had disappeared a few moments after he had ducked behind a bush and reappeared on the other side hoping to get a glance of her rear view. She was alleged to be kidnapped by her divorced father. Ricky was pretty sure that she was gone.
It was time to graduate. Ricky had to decide-to work, or to go to school? There was a third option that laid unspoken in his mind: to continue the investigation of Laura. His hearing and eyesight had returned full force and he had never felt sharper before. Over the summer, instead of working a steady job, Ricky travelled over the province, with never more than a ticket and some money in his hand. These were places Laura had allegedly been seen. These were places Ricky could disappear behind a bush and reappear in a world Laura roamed and time would forgive any trespassing.
There were, of course, no results. Everyone expected Laura to fade from the minds of the newly fledged freshmen. Except Ricky. Ricky remained where he was, folded into a non majestic job where the days seemed to unfurl each morning, ready made, one day ending in the appearance of Laura.
He was not entirely unhappy painting other people’s rooms all day, every day. it was not truly a monotony-sometimes he was outdoors, sometimes he was indoors. He heard things. He was a fly on the wall, a secret correspondent. In his mind, he had never given up his search at all, and his parents were satisfied that he was saving up for college and no longer flitting across the province.
He grew back into the rigor of expected performance. Whatever he was delegated he returned, and more. His body reformed, constantly reaching and pulling, reaching and pulling, covering every inch of untransformed wall into a new land. He understood why sailors surged to new lands, even when the going was rough, because the ardour of performance could easily become amour.
And now she was here, observing the last leg of his journey. The fine features of her face arose from the thin blue splatters of paint on the wall, like hieroglyphs painted on fine china. He was enamoured, he felt joy for the very first time, he was complete.
He was taking off his painting clothes, what was he doing? He dropped his shirt; he heard it outloud, “What are you doing?” His motley overcoat heaved loudly towards the ground. His fingers did not hasten to climb down the ladder and pick up the shirt but to unfasten his paint splattered overalls; underneath it was just him, and the thin layer of his street clothes, barely enough to keep him warm. Barely enough to contain himself.
“What are you doing?” There was it was again, the comical refrain that everyone wanted of him; Ricky wanted none of it. He quit. He smiled on, ridiculously.
“Go on, git! You’re fired!” Ricky grinned straight into his boss’s embedded-into-the-flesh raisin cookie eyes. Just what he wanted. “I’ve had enough of you!” Ricky had not had enough.
She was not alone, he was with her. For once, Ricky not strain to keep his body from peeling away from the ladder. He did not feel that pull, that abyss, that had been waiting for him to fall all those years. His boss’s anger seemed to double upon itself, thicken the air, creating a meringue. She was there, he was there. He clutched the ladder and shivered as the photograph of her face shuddered in his mind, fading fast. If he let go, it’d be gone forever.
He clung on.