The Living Word

Norman was a twenty-something year old guy, fresh out of college and in a job that had nothing to do with his major, was unnecessarily difficult to obtain, and was, in his opinion, drastically underpaid. Nor was he in a serious relationship (in any kind of relationship, really), and had not been for many months. His flat was in constant disarray and smelled of cat (though he had none). He was in no position, financially or otherwise, to become a parent, and had serious doubts if he ever wanted to become one anyway. So you could imagine his surprise when he woke up one Sunday morning, hung over and speckled in white, crusty splotches that chipped and crusted as he sat up and gained his bearings.

He was sitting on the kitchen table of Norman’s one bedroom flat. He appeared to have the height and stature of a seven year old, with an overly large, balloon shaped head, bulbous at the top, tapering down to a pointed chin, and appendages that seemed uneven, almost deformed. His details, from his hair to his face to his clothes, were all painted, crudely (if Norman had cared to study him closely at that moment, which he didn’t, he would have been able to see lines of print faintly visible through the lighter shades of paint, the whites of his shoes or the baby blue of his large, cartoonish eyes). The kitchen table itself was littered with empty beer cans, strips of paper, and a large plastic bowl crusted in white, identical to whatever was on Norman’s shirt, boxers, and skin.

“The U.S. is stockpiling bird flu vaccine in preparation for another outbreak.” He said, “And the Kardashians have leaked another sex tape.” He turn his head stiffly, this way and that. His legs swung and kicked over the edge of the table. “I’m hungry.” he finished.

The night before, Norman had drank in his apartment, alone. He did this, not often enough for it to be a problem, but with enough frequency to raise hushed concerns with his family and friends. He drank, he paced, and eventually, after watching Bill Nye erupt a volcano with vinegar and baking soda, decided he would make something of his very own in paper mache.

He worked throughout the night, fueled by intoxicated obsession. He constructed a skeleton of toilet paper rolls, held together by masking tape and hope. He found a balloon, wrinkled and red, in the back of a drawer, which he over inflated, tied off, and balanced precariously upon a too long of neck. He found all the newspapers he could find scattered about the apartment; old crosswords, mostly unfinished, tabloids stolen from various offices, and Sunday editions of local and international news, thick with editorials, op-eds, and ads. He tore them into a pile of strips, short and long, fat and thin. In a bowl he mixed a thick, viscous concoction of equal parts flour and water.

He worked throughout the night, feverishly, soaking strips of newspaper in glue and slapping them to the skeleton and balloon, slowly building a frame, torso, arms, legs, head, uneven and lumpy. He constructed facial features with wads of paper, covered them in long, smooth strips, wiping away excess goo. Before the paper was dry, he painted his little humanoid figure, with pinkish skin, large blue eyes, thin black mouth, and flat brown hair. He painted a tuxedo with a red bow tie and, exhausted by effort and booze, finished with plain white, hastily brushed shoes.

He studied his work, satisfied (who said a Fine Arts degree was useless?), and stumbled off to bed. He collapsed without undressing, and slept the fitful, restless sleep of the drunk.

Now it was noon, and a misshapen boy, constructed of gossip fodder, extremist opinion, and alarmist editorials sat on his table, asking for brunch.

“What… do you eat?” Norman stammered.

The boy seemed to consider this. “Public skeptical of GMO foods” he mused, “Vegetarianism a growing trend amongst the young and famous.” Norman edged to his fridge, eyes upon the boy. The boy’s gaze, painted and unblinking, followed Norman. The fridge was sparse; a loaf of bread, an assortment of condiments, and leftover containers of undetermined age.

“Peanut butter and jelly?” Norman offered. The boy nodded in ascent.

As the boy ate, Norman watched him from a distance. He was skitterish, and would jump suddenly at sounds. As he ate, he offered Norman gossipy tidbits about power couples, sex scandals, and the growing concern of vaccinations. He had no teeth that Norman could distinguish, just a small black hole that opened and closed, taking chucks of food with it. Norman would nod or grunt in acknowledgement, sipping cold coffee from the day before. When the boy was finished, he put the plate aside.

“Noah was 2015’s most popular baby’s name for boys.” He declared, eyes upon Norman. “Am I Noah?”

“Yes,” Norman answered after a moment’s thought, “Noah seems a right enough name.” They gawked at each other a moment more, the only sounds being the ticking of a clock and the swinging of Noah’s legs.

This was how Norman became a father.

Needless to say, Noah was a strange boy. He was afraid of everything, from flus and epidemics to world crises and nuclear proliferation. He was always up on current football scores, and could astound Norman’s friends with random statistics on Manchester United players. He was also a gossip, and seemed unnaturally obsessed with American politics and reality television personalities.

He would go everywhere with Norman; to work, the store, and to the park on Sundays. He had an uneven gait, as his left leg was an inch shorter than his right, it’s foot askew. Norman bought a used trundle bed from the local flea market and set it next to his own. Norman would read chapters to Noah before bed, and Noah would keep Norman informed of local sales.

Years passed, and Noah was good for Norman. He gave him someone to care for, focus. Norman began to make an effort in the upkeep of his flat and, after time and a higher paying job (which Norman tirelessly hunted for, as his previous job could not support a family), upgraded to three bedrooms and a spacious backyard. Norman’s drinking decreased and his mood brightened. His friends came to accept Noah, strange as he was, and as they had children of their own, Noah had plenty of playmates, who did not find him strange at all.

Norman met a woman at the park, Michelle, who’s own daughter, Amy, curious and shy, asked if Noah could play. They sat and talked on a bench as their children ran about swingsets and slides. They hit it off, and two years later were married.

Norman and Noah had a good life, for many long decades.

Noah did not age. He was, of course, only paper mache, and despite the love Norman felt for him, not a real boy. Everything changed. His parents aged, his step-sister graduated and moved away. But not him. He seemed oblivious to his own immortality, but was continually alarmed by the growing state of the world, and fretted about it daily. Global warming, terrorism, disease and war. The world was a scary place, and though good things happened, they rarely made print. Sex and panic made the print and sold the papers, and as that is what Noah was made of, that was what Noah knew.

Michelle passed away at the age of eighty-two and Norman passed shortly thereafter, as widowers tend to do. Amy had gone a decade before from cancer. Burying your child is a heavy weight that Norman never had to completely face, though he did love Amy as his own.

He died in his sleep, peaceful and content. Noah staggered into his room and tried, unsuccessfully, to wake him. He lay down beside his father and told him the news, the sports, and the weather, as he had done every day for decades. He held his hand, tight enough that the paint and paper, already brittle and thin with age, chipped and cracked.

After running down the morning’s gossip Noah stood and walked out the bedroom. He did not now know what to do. His father was gone. He climbed the stairs to the attic, rattling off the scores of the previous night’s football games. He walked into the attic, reviewing current world affairs. He settled himself into a corner, bright with sunlight, and covered himself, like a blanket, in newspapers, journals, magazines, and novels. He lay there till night, staring up to the high attic ceiling and then, after reporting the evening’s news to nobody in particular, he turned his head and fell asleep.



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