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Reality in Fiction: Episode 7 Empathy

It was the day after I'd willed Ijustam from the woods and as I walked across the playground I couldn't shake the feeling of being out of balance. It was exactly thirty days since the day we'd first met, and only the first six of them had I not known when I would see him again. Since then I had come to count on the pattern, and now it had been broken.

Or had it? Perhaps yesterday had been a freebie. I smiled to myself, feeling a spark of hope. If he came today then all would be right in my universe once more.

I headed to the one thing I didn't know the name for, to me it had always been "the big spinning thing." When I reached it I grabbed a hold of one of the four metal bars and began to push it, slowly at first as I dug in my heels, then faster and faster until I was running with it. I jumped aboard and sat down on the wooden platform, watching as the scenery whirled around me.

It wasn't long before it began to slow, "the big spinning thing" required the push of a few strong men or a group of kids for it to really get going and stay going for more than a couple of minutes. As it came to a stop I thought briefly of trying one more time, but my legs were still a bit sore from yesterday's impromptu race around the track and the subsequent run through the field. So instead I scooted back until I could lean on the pole in the middle and look out on the empty playground.

There was almost never anyone else here, the reason for that being twofold. Firstly a brand new park had been built on the other side of town last year, drawing the former patrons of this one to it with its bright shiny colors in addition to the small water park that had been installed, complete with slides and a big bucket that overturned on your head when it filled about once every five minutes. The entire ground of that park was man made, some kind of spongy material that I was sure there was a name for but didn't currently know it, which was intended to make it safer. If someone were to fall off the slide say, they weren't likely to get hurt; unlike here where the hard unyielding ground was sure to cause a few bruises and possibly a broken arm.

The second reason for the absence of people, was that this neighborhood, formerly a bustling place, had slowly become a ghost town, foreclosure signs popping up on every other yard. To me there was a bit of irony in that. The town could afford to install an expensive new park but the patrons of the town could no longer afford to live here. And I supposed if you were still making ends meet you were sure going to take advantage of the new park while you still could.

It didn't hurt my feelings, the solitude was most of the reason I liked this place, the feeling that it was mine alone in combination with the ability to dream without being disturbed. Except by Ijustam, he was welcome to disturb me anytime he chose. A smile played on my lips as I relived the feeling of his arm around me, his chin resting on my head. Butterflies had kicked up a wild frenzy in my stomach for those few amazing minutes and as I thought about it the party began anew. I pressed a hand to my abdomen, breathing rapidly. Was it possible to meet your soul mate at thirteen years of age?

I had told him that I loved him but suddenly the word love seemed inadequate. Especially if you equated it with the Hollywood version, where it didn't mean much more than an affinity for chocolate cake. What I felt towards my mysterious friend was much deeper, a longing for something I couldn't quite explain, a constant ache that was one part pleasure and one part pain. When I closed my eyes and slowed my breathing, going to that place inside of myself where I had once spent immeasurable time on my own; flying across a starry night sky or ambling through a thick forest of pines; a place that I equated with heaven- one far superior to the streets of gold and jeweled mansions my mother described- I was no longer by myself, he was with me. Flying and ambling beside me. And with him there, it truly was heaven.

I slowly opened my eyes and when they adjusted to the light I turned my head to the slot beside me and smiled at him.

"You looked so peaceful, I didn't want to disturb you. I will admit that a tiny part of me was hoping you would jump out of your skin when you saw me."

My smile widened a fraction, "I didn't hear you come, but I felt you. I wasn't sure if it was just wishful thinking, but I was still prepared."

"Wishful thinking? Did you think I might not be here?"

I nodded slowly, "I wasn't sure if I'd upset the balance by calling you a day early."

He laughed, a beautiful sound. "So how are things with your mother?"

My smile faded and I looked down at my hands. "I took the coward's way out," I admitted softly. "When I got home she was still so upset...I told her that I was working through my doubts and she didn't have to worry."

He reached under the bar and brushed his fingers on my arm, "That wasn't cowardly. It was her feelings you were considering. I would call that empathy."

Gooseflesh had raised in the spot where he touched me and I tried to hide the reaction, but when I looked up at him he was wearing that knowing look that was so common to his features. "Do you think there's even a point in talking to her about the ideas I have, the questions on my mind?"

He frowned slightly. "I think that depends on what you're trying to accomplish. It seems to me that for her all things can be explained by the church, which means every answer she gives you will be a mimicry of that. And if what you say to her contradicts it, you're likely to end up in the same situation as yesterday, assailed by beseeching prayer and the casting out of demons." He looked away.

"I came too early," he said quietly, as if to himself. He shook his head and turned toward her with a sad smile. "In the years ahead you will often feel alone. The questions that go through your mind on a daily basis will be alien to almost everyone you know. The indoctrination runs so deep that they'll be hard pressed to entertain even a fraction of the thoughts that will be commonplace for you. You'll often find it's kinder to allow them to live in their illusions than try and force them to see the truth. In order to fit in you will need to act, which is what everyone does anyway, the difference is they don't know they're doing it. All of life is a stage..."

"You didn't come too early," I assured him, wanting to erase that look of regret from his face. "I understand what you mean, and I can handle it. It may be a bit of a burden, but it's also an advantage. I would not trade one single moment of the time I've spent with you for a multitude of blissfully ignorant ones. I want to know. Even if it means that I'll often be alone in it. I can learn to be subtle. Putting forth questions that someone may one day stop and ponder and perhaps begin a journey of their own self-discovery. Or maybe they won't, and that's okay. I think...we're meant to cast our lines behind us, but not worry where they land. Our own focus needs to be on the free-flying birds ahead of us."

He stared at me for a moment and then smiled so brilliantly I was suddenly flying. He stood up and scanned the sky.

"There's some birds," he pointed to the sky above the field where a flock of geese were heading towards the woods.

I climbed to my feet, "Do you want to follow them?" I asked with a hint of challenge.

He glanced at me with an impish smile, then leaped off the platform and began to run.

I hopped off the spinning thing, shouting, "Cheater!" As I took off after him, my laughter trailing behind me.


The Playground Series: Scene 1
The Playground Series: Scene 2
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