The Diamond Held


An abstract piece of art, with splotches of gray and white on a black background. Bright blue intersperses the piece.

Art by Henry Hu.


Mark held onto the rattling metal doors on either side and leaned out over the road to watch the gravel and grass blur beneath his feet. When the colors began to separate, he jumped from the bottom step and was off and running before the old school bus had come to a complete stop. Napoleon, who had waited all day for this moment, dashed out from the cluster of Tiger Lilies near the roadside and chased after the boy all the way up the long, gravel driveway to the house.

Almost out of breath, Mark opened the screen door, called out, “I’m home!” then lowered his head and raced up the stairs, counting each dark wooden step in the rhythm of his pounding feet. When he reached his room, he slowed just enough to slide the report card under his mattress, grab the old tennis ball off the bookshelf then turn and run back down the stairs, jumping over Napoleon who had only made it halfway up. He held the door and waited for the puppy then ran deep into the middle of his big front yard. As the door smacked shut behind them, he stopped and threw the ball as high as he could.

The puppy, knowing the game by heart, tore out after the ball as Mark ran after him, slid to the ground and wrestled the ball away.

“Summer, summer, summer!” he cried out, rubbing the puppy’s belly as fast as he could. “No school, no books, no bus, no grades, it’s summer!” He waved his hands and shook his head like his silly old music teacher as he sang out everything he would be free of for the next three months.

“Summer,” he said one last time, basking in the word’s yellow warmth as he lay back, idly moving the ball through the air and studying the clouds which, as they were now summer clouds in a true summer sky, were infinitely more interesting than yesterday’s clouds. Napoleon, who had waited and watched until he could wait no longer, jumped and caught the ball in his mouth. Mark wiggled the ball away, got up and launched it skyward once more.

They played the game until the last touches of red and orange had faded from the clouds and stars were beginning to show.

* * *

The world was dark, the grass cool and damp on the back of his neck. Mark dragged his heels inward then kicked them out as he spread his arms and legs as far as they could go. He knew he was taller than he was last year. Stronger, too. He could feel it. He dug his fingers into the earth, breaking the tiny roots’ hold on the pungent soil as Napoleon watched, his eyebrows twitching left then right as he pondered the boy’s next move.

Mark turned his head until he could see the house, dwarfed by the slightly ominous blades of grass through which he peered. His father would be working late as usual, so only he and his mother were home and she was in the kitchen, preparing their end-of-school dinner. They would have baked ham, cornbread, buttery lima beans and deep-dish apple pie. All his favorite foods. He glanced toward the kitchen at the exact moment his mother’s slight, hurried form passed in front of the window. Remembering a trick from school, he brought his thumb and finger to his eye, squinted between them until the house appeared to blur and loosen from the earth, then picked it up and raced it across the sky, imagining his mother looking out the window in horror as she sailed about the heavens. But a single pulse of guilt warmed his face and he quickly pretended to place the house back gently on the ground before turning to the stars that without his noticing had burst forth like brilliant white flowers across a black sand desert.

“There’s Venus,” he said to Napoleon, trying to sound like his teacher as the sky’s electric beauty surged throughout his body, making him want to squirm against the ground. “It’s called the Evening Star, but it’s really just a planet.” Napoleon looked up, but settled back when he sensed the boy was not going to move.

“And you’re a dog,” Mark continued, lowering his chin so he could see the puppy in the starlight. “Well, a puppy-dog, and you’re on the earth, and I’m on the earth. But when we jump up in the air we’re in outer space because we’re not on anything.” His excitement grew as his understanding increased. “Hey, Napoleon, you’re a space dog! And I’m a spaceman!”

Mark smiled at the puppy as the truth of what he had said became as solid as the night and was reflected in Napoleon’s unblinking eyes as the common knowledge of all good dogs. He quickly looked back at the stars to see if there were any more secrets only to find himself slipping forward so rapidly he felt the corners of the sky begin to wrap around him. He yelled out and sat straight up, clutching the grass as the sky snapped back in place and was suitably distant once more. Napoleon stood, prepared to play if need be, but was quick to lie back down when Mark stayed put.

The boy’s fear turned into hurt then anger at the sky’s betrayal but was soon forgotten as he gazed upward, a little smile forming at the thought of the trick played on him. “Spaceman,” he repeated, feeling a pride and expansion within his chest as he leaned back and surveyed the sky, of which he was now a part, he felt, having passed the test. He lay back down and for the first time saw the sky as if both he and it were newly born, the veil of names and shapes stripped from between them. His body relaxed as if he were alone on top of the only perfect mountain – as in dreams, neither hot nor cold – eyes open, breath flowing. Just then a shooting star streaked across the sky like a bucket of white-hot coals dumped from a speeding train.

“Did you see that?” Mark whistled through his teeth as he scanned the heavens for more. Realizing he was bound to be caught looking in the wrong direction when the next star fell, he stopped moving his eyes and expanded his vision from the center out. Astounded by how much he could see simply by remaining still, he sailed his hand across the sky, watching the stars slip between his fingers. Then he shut one eye and lowered the back of his hand directly onto his face. As the giant shadow descended, he closed his hand, waited a few seconds, then flung the stars back into place, smiling at the trick he had played.

“And all the planets are going in circles around the sun, though you’d never know it by looking,” he said, glancing at Napoleon who, he reasoned, might know some things, but perhaps not all the finer details. “We’re all just floating in space,” he added, sensing a quickening of the air as he spoke the words that appeared without coaxing. “And the planets and the sun and the moon together are called a solar system. It’s like they’re the sun’s family, Napoleon, with everybody spinning together but not too close or they’ll get hurt. And the moon’s the dog ‘cause it’s always going round and round, just like you. And all the stuff between them is just emptiness…it’s all just floating in emptiness. And that’s like...well, they just are, like in a flying dream.”

Confused by his sudden inability to explain life to a dog, he frowned and shifted his weight as he looked deeper into the sky. Napoleon placed a paw on Mark’s chest and the boy gave him a quick hug before stretching out to absorb the brilliance of the sky in its entirety.


* * *


“And it goes on forever and ever,” he continued in a different voice, speaking the words as they made themselves clear, “until there’s another solar system, until there’s hundreds of ‘em all swirled together and they call that a galaxy and that, Napoleon, is what we’re looking at right now.” Inhaling the acceleration that filled his body, he lifted his arms to the sky like a conductor’s holding of a crescendo to its ultimate splendor as he waited for the words.

“But that’s only the beginning of it, Napoleon,” he almost shouted, after another taste of the images and sensations had drawn near only to fly from his outburst like a thousand startled birds. He made the supreme effort of calming himself, forgetting himself, until they could approach once more.

“And it goes and goes for millions of miles...of nothing until a galaxy...with millions of solar systems, billions of planets and shapes of color and darkness and...fight...and nothing to hold them together, not even air,” he intoned, nodding his head as the images — at once gigantic and lost in storms, obscure and cradled in dust — presented themselves in silent procession before they slowed, grew faint, and came no more.

“And there’s nothing between us and all of that except a little air at first, like a blanket, then that goes and there’s just more nothing,” he said, puzzled by how there could be more of nothing when nothing simply wasn’t. He wondered if you touched it would you disappear forever.

“Air’s only for us, Napoleon, the rest just…isn’t,” he added, hearing his voice barely rise above the ground as he attempted to complete the story with words of his own making, “And that’s the universe. That’s the end of it.”

Mark smiled triumphantly, partly for the dog’s sake, partly for his own, but his smile soon faded and his arms crossed over his chest as he felt the weight and emptiness of the sky upon him. “But I don’t understand nothing,” he said, “and it can’t end, that would be...it must be held, but that means...” The trees to his left and right began to dissipate, move upward and dissolve into the night. He no longer felt the ground against his back or the grass that had tickled his arms and neck, only the fine hairs rising along his knowing arms.

“It’s freezing out there, too, Napoleon,” he said as he rubbed his eyes with the back of one hand and pulled the puppy closer. “Colder than cold. The coldest ever.”

Mark had stared into the sky so deeply and for so long that without being aware of the shift he felt himself to be an immense slow creature gazing down upon a black, diamond-studded bowl, the pick of which would be his if only he could reach them. He shivered once and kicked, but could move no deeper. As he had climbed a small river cliff one day to reach down into the limestone for the bird eggs he had hoped to find, once more he was looking up to reach down for his prize.

“And you keep going and going and it never ends,” he whispered. “It never ends.”


* * *


As Mark did not know that within the sky lay the one perfect breath neither rising nor falling, the central point of which was the universe, complete and unassailable, to him each ragged breath of his own appeared to bring the diamonds closer. But breath was all that he had in this battle, so on he fought until the sky began to give a little at the center, bend forward with every inhalation, retract with every out-flow. Until breath and sky together formed mountains of silent air-curves that moved across the land, flattening the puppy’s ears and turning the leaves of the trees silver but no more. In exhausted desperation he clawed his hand across the sky and was pulled in a headlong rush of blackness toward the stars.

As he forgot the diamonds and watched his hands, captivated by the rainbow of invisible night-colors that swirled from his fingers and twisted together like multi-colored strands of silk, he reached the saturation point of time-consumption and was locked in a stance of frozen motion. He closed his eyes and the vision of the night remained, but now he was really in the night, the night of the night, and everything was pushed up and slowed down, illuminated and filled with the backside of itself. The colors streamed more brightly from his fingers, the wind blew more closely in his ear. He was more warmly held within the melting and mixing of time.

The swarming threads wrapped their cool heat around his wrists until his arms glowed in greeting to these firey snakes that slid ever more quickly onto his shoulders. Lapping and licking as they went, they pulled him forward until his arms were level with his eyes, sparks flowing so swiftly he was soon encased in a shield of light and there was only one more step to take before he went deeper.

He took that step and tumbled wildly, falling both up and down, though there was no up or down to define the spray of diamonds that remained beyond his reach. He found that by relaxing his body he was able to gain a little on the stars, that it was desire, more than effort, and then no desire, that brought them closer.

Below him was the image of a boy completely stopped, head tilted to the right, arms extended and upon his fingers the glow of entry. His expression was one of complete absorption, concentration, as if he had been forever stopped in time while examining the most amazing fact of his hands. And now they were on fire. And then they were not.

With only darkness below, the final tension between Mark and the sky dissolved as each stepped into the other. He was the star, the diamond held, for one exhilarating moment until he sensed a disturbance, a sideways glance given by the sky. Lights flashed behind that spot as an immense shadow slashed down and across and he raised his eyes to the wing of the Rune-Hawk that glides eternally between the unknown and the known.

His startled cry brought him back to earth as the bird turned its yellow eye upon him.


* * *


Mark jerked violently and sat up, throwing the puppy to the ground. Napoleon howled in fear then ran back to the boy and stood barking, his tail curled tight between his legs. Mark stared at the puppy in slowed confusion as the approaching wind swirled, grew louder, then dropped. The sudden down-burst drove him forward and he rolled with the dog in his arms as the wheels of his father’s car crunched onto the driveway.

The car’s hot lights swept the ground then turned and roared toward him as his mother called and called his name.


 

An image of Matt Dennison, a person with gray hair tucked under a brown hat sitting in a chair. He is outdoors, and the shadow of a tree covers part of his body.

Matt Dennison is the author of Kind Surgery, from Urtica Press (Fr.) and Waiting for Better, from Main Street Rag Press. His work has appeared in Verse Daily, Rattle, Bayou Magazine, Redivider, Natural Bridge, The Spoon River Poetry Review and Cider Press Review, among others. He has also made short films with Michael Dickes, Swoon, Marie

Craven and Jutta Pryor.









 

Exercising through various mediums, Henry Hu’s (born 1995 Hong Kong) emerging practice commits to an infusion. An exchange. An immediacy. A link between the interior and the exterior — of a self, a being, an identity, a consciousness. Each individual series offers an overarching narrative, steps away from the present for a spell: tasked with casting new perspectives, fresh air to breathe, a spiritual relief. Often juxtaposing the past with the future, differing forms of surrealistic fantasies unfold across his works; along with a recurring structure, the heart of all series rests in harmony. henryhhu.com