A PRODIGY SWOONS
Copyright © 2004 All Rights Reserved
The boy sat huddled at a table in the library. Alone. The chair was too high and his legs dangled, kicking at nothing. Bookshelves loomed over him, taller even than adults, as if knowledge were on tiptoe, straining to appear intimidating. The book he read was large and unwieldy and he had difficulty holding it while turning the pages.
The word "Treblinka" alighted upon the boy's brain like a dying butterfly. Its sound fascinated him, and he mouthed the word over and over, committing it to memory. The pages crawled with numbers and strange names, and these soon became tiresome to the boy. He skipped through more rapidly and began to fidget. He was about to put the book down when its first photograph flickered before him. Only a soft whoosh of paper and light, but his world forever changed... The photos were black and white, which triggered only a vague response in the boy that meant it was long ago. Still, since it was photography, he also knew that it did happen.
Bodies, naked, rolled in languid somersaults before the bulldozer. Forms draped together in an embrace more intimate than sex. A filigree of barbed wire rose against the white stark sky. The trench gaped open, a muddy cunt, a lacerated womb begging for its children to return. Angled haphazardly like letters exiled from the alphabet, the swastikas were somehow primal and intriguing to the boy. The guards and the guarded, all bore a certain awkwardness akin to what the boy knew as shyness. A shyness before death. However, he saw no blush stain the colorless photographs. No pink cheek. Or crimson blood. The pages slipped by, dreamlike, filled with gauntness and chiaroscuro. Soldiers, officers, affected strange graceless poses near the dead and naked. A boot tilted arrogantly, trouncing the human mush. A rifle barrel was downcast, afraid to raise its glance.
A woman sat down across the room from the boy, and beneath the table he saw the twin shapes of her bare legs. He was still too young for unambiguous sexual desire, but felt inside himself a stirring, a prophetic yearning that seemed to say: "Someday I will desire that." And he longed to feel that future desire. The boy wanted to see her thin legs in black and white, in the mud of Treblinka, and to touch them softly without shyness or embarrassment, to press her flesh with a fingertip and shiver with relief at her warmth. He flipped through the book's pages until he found a pair of limbs that matched the woman's. The boy peered across the room and compared them to the real thing. A tiny erection sprouted in his jeans. The heap of death in the photograph overpowered him with an intense horror that went straight to his groin and stayed there. Throbbing. The boy grew dizzy and closed the book. His eyes swirled with tears and the room seemed without color.
Minutes later, the boy's silent mother arrived at his table. She picked up the book, read the back of it, and slapped him lightly across the cheek. He came to his senses with regret. As she dragged him off his chair, the boy looked frantically for a final glimpse of legs. But there was no woman anymore. There was nothing at all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason DeBoer is an editor in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared in The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, Other Voices, The Barcelona Review, The Wisconsin Review, Exquisite Corpse, and The Review of Contemporary Fiction. He is currently working on Stupor, his debut novel.