The Yellow Man
by Philip Ivory
Table of Contents|
parts1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
His thoughts became dreamy, like sunlight filtering through trees. And then the world melted away.
“That’s how you ended up... here,” said the Yellow Man. “You went to a time and place that seemed safe. When Sherri would come, but she would be unchanging. Because the real Sherri was always changing, always moving you down the path toward the end of your friendship with her, and all that followed. You wanted nothing to remind you of that. And you’ve been locked in here ever since.”
Allan’s head hung miserably. For... 31 years?”
“Then... I want out. I want to leave here.”
The Yellow Man nodded. “Melanie is waiting. She will turn off the machines that are keeping us alive. But she wants a signal. She wants you to smile. To show you are at peace.”
Allan found himself laughing, not a happy laugh, an ugly one, filled with rage and frustration. “Smile? At peace? Are you crazy?”
“You need to finish. The last memory.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel at peace, reliving that? You already know, anyway.”
Allan yelled the dirtiest words he could think of at the Yellow Man. The Yellow Man sat there, waiting until Allan was too tired to yell any more.
Allan looked at the three boxes. The third one, the only one that had still been locked, had opened of its own accord. No key had been needed. What Melanie had said about the wet clothes had made that happen.
And there, on the table, somehow, the puzzle pieces had been finished: A complete scene of a grass-bordered pond, lily pads floating peacefully.
“You have to say it, Allan. You have to feel it.”
What did it matter? If the Yellow Man wanted him to relive it, then fine. Nothing could make him feel worse.
“All right,” said Allan. “After she rejected me in the hallway, when she said, ‘No!’ to my face like that, I sometimes rode my bike around her neighborhood after school, half-hoping to see her, but afraid to, too. And one day I did see her. She was heading for the path that goes out to the pond. So I ditched my bike and followed her.”
“I remember,” murmured the Yellow Man, as if he were seeing it too.
It was hard. Allan knew the facts, but putting them into words was like heaving up buckets full of stones out of cold, dark water.
“I had to hang back so she wouldn’t notice me. I just wanted to talk to her, to tell her I had friends like she did, I could even get more friends. When I got to the pond, some of her clothes were by the bank. She had worn her bathing suit underneath and she was already swimming. She was doing a crawl and sometimes bobbing her head under the water. There were big lily pads she had to dodge. There were even some daisies floating on the surface. She didn’t seem scared of frogs or anything else. She never seemed scared of anything. There was a sign that said ‘No Swimming.’ But she didn’t care.
“I stood by the bank and I called her name. She stopped swimming and the look of shock on her face was almost funny. She said: ‘Allan, you don’t belong here. Go on home.’ It made me feel like she thought she was talking to a bad dog she could order around.
“I told her I had friends, I could get as many friends as I wanted. I had even thought of a way to make her be my friend forever but I wasn’t going to do that, because it would mean hurting her. I said all this to make her realize she had to be my friend again, but nothing I said worked. She just looked at me like I was crazy. Then she started swimming again as if I wasn’t there. That made me mad, and I remembered I didn’t always have to be afraid and run away when people were mean. She had helped me see that.
“So I jumped right in the water in front of her. The splash was loud; the pond bottom was murky and slippery. The water went to below my shoulders. It was at Sherri’s neck as she turned and looked at me.
“My jumping in like that got her attention. I had been wrong about one thing. Something could scare her. She started screaming for help. I moved toward her so she was between me and the bank. I put my hands on her shoulders to try to make her be quiet and listen. She just screamed louder. The screaming reminded me of the ‘No!’ in the corridor so I pushed her back and down. I held her under and she was pinwheeling her arms at me but I was stronger. I let her up and she was gasping and had a wild look in her eye.
“I said, ‘Sherri, we have to be friends again.’”
“She let out a howl, the word ‘Help!’ twisted into twenty terrified syllables. Now I was really scared someone would hear her, and I pushed her down harder to make her be quiet and listen. She jerked and bucked as I held her down.
“And what did you say then?” said the Yellow Man.
“I said, ‘I’m not a nothing’.”
“Yes,” said the Yellow Man.
“I yelled it so she could hear me underwater. I let her up then, but I realized her body had gone still. I pulled her over to the side and lay her on the bank. No breath. No sounds.
“I hadn’t meant for her to die. I watched her for a while, begging her to wake up, telling her if she did, I would go away and leave her alone forever. She didn’t have to be my friend if she didn’t want. She didn’t have to marry me when we got older. She just had to wake up.
“It was too late. I watched her for a few more minutes, wondering if she might say something even if she was dead. But she didn’t. And then it was starting to get dark.
“So you...” the Yellow Man prompted.
“So I pulled her back into the water and let her float there, face down, until she sank. I ran back along the path as quickly as I could, grabbed my bike and rode home, wet and cold.”
A heavy rain had fallen that night. Allan remembered how scary it had been that night, thinking someone would know, someone might have seen something. But no one ever did.
The Yellow Man seemed lost in his own thoughts. He began muttering, a low, strange tribal sound: “We didn’t mean to, we didn’t mean to, we didn’t mean to. Oh, God. Oh, God.”
Allan thought he should finish the story, although it was hard to tell if the Yellow Man was listening. “I realized she would never forgive me. I couldn’t stand that feeling. That’s why I did like Dr. Sands said before. I put it in a golden box. And the next morning I couldn’t remember.”
The Yellow Man seemed to recover, wearily raising his head. “Until Melanie reminded us that night,” he said. ”And then you tried to bury it again, by taking all those pills, hoping to die. But now it’s out. Forever. We will never forget again, will we, Allan?”
“No,” Allan said. “No, we won’t.” He was crying.
The room grew brighter, and through his tears Allan saw two orbs of light, one hovering to the left of the Yellow Man, one to the right. They were round, like round glass fishbowls but with no opening, and light was pouring forth from each. Unlike the golden boxes, their light was pure white. It seemed to spool forth from the heart of each orb, unfurling easily outward through the clear containing vessel. Fleeting flecks of color, any and all colors, danced around the inside surface of the sphere.
The Yellow Man was lost to sight, swallowed by the blossoming light from both orbs, but his voice remained, speaking his last:
“The one on the left is you, Allan. Us. What we could have been.”
It was like a brilliant clear sparkling planet, small but vibrant.
Allan turned his eyes to the globe on the right. The warmth and power was many times greater. More like a roaring crystalline sun.
“Do I need to tell you what the other one is?”
“No,” said Allan, his voice breaking. He dropped his head and sobbed deeply. “I’m sorry, Sherri. I didn’t understand. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”
He seemed to stay there for a very long time, and the brilliant light remained, but it was not accusing or condemning. It simply was.
After some time, Allan awoke as if from a dream. He was alone in the basement. The orbs of light were gone. So was the Yellow Man. Allan thought of the Yellow Man and for once did not hate him.
Allan still felt he was eleven years old, and he knew that was not the truth. Truth was a terrible thing, but now, strangely, the truth comforted him. Somehow in the truth was the promise of not being alone anymore. He wiped his tears.
There was light coming from the half open doorway at the top of the stairs. Not blinding or magical light. Simple sunny light, as if a soft buttery beam had broken though his mother’s curtains upstairs, flowing past the open door. To be seen by Allan.
Nothing was as bad as it seemed in the dark, Allan thought.
It suddenly occurred to him that he could leave that room. He rose, placed a hand on the dusty foosball table so as to feel it one last time. And say goodbye.
He felt lighter. He took the stairs. Up top, the house was empty, quiet, peaceful. Windows were open. A breeze rustled the curtains. Children’s voices were wafting in from not so far away.
He stepped out into the warm, embracing sunlight.
Copyright © 2016 by Philip Ivory