Experimental People

Here is a confession for you: I wave my hand in front of automatic doors before I walk through them. I am a happy fool and encourage you to enjoy a little false magic too. A flick of the fingers is all you need, a small movement, nothing grand. 

When I was seven and my magic fingers were short, I had a chemistry set. It was age appropriate, a birthday present, and so included no dangerous chemicals. Some lemon juice, maybe, some powders and other liquids. Nothing too corrosive or toxic. The purpose of the thing was that it allowed you to mix different liquids and solids together to make edible concoctions.

I didn’t want to eat anything. I wanted to make my fingers longer. There were enough test tubes in that set for me to slide one over each of the fingers on my right hand. So I did. I practiced waving and clapping like that and when I was done having long fingers I made a scientific discovery. I discovered my fingers were stuck inside those tubes.

I used to work as a high school English teacher. It is a hard job, teaching, an important one, and involves tricking children into acting like adults as often as possible. I work in a university now and, conversely, my job there involves tricking adults into thinking like children. If I’m being honest, I don’t know which is more important.

The high school I taught at didn’t have any automatic doors. I almost wrote a letter to ADIS, which is an Australian company specialising in automatic and sliding doors, asking them for a charitable donation. I drafted it and everything, began with a warm greeting, but soon discovered that I was not writing a letter asking for a donation at all. I was writing a manifesto of terrible ideas.

“Dear Managing Director,” it began, “First, let me say I am an admirer of your sliding door technology,” and so on, like that, it went for a while with me buttering them up because I wanted something for free.

“One of the functions I most admire about your doors is the transparency of them. I tell you, nothing makes me more nervous than a door with mystery on the other side. I do not mean I am afraid of something specific, or indeed unspecific, just that there is comfort in seeing what exists beyond any particular frame.”

I gave up trying to send the letter just like I gave up trying to get my fingers out of those test tubes when I was seven. I had tried to adapt back then, when I was not just a fool but a young one too, and resigned myself to not using pockets, to not making a fist, to becoming left handed. My father is ambidextrous. I am not. I tried to relearn the mechanics of my left hand, starting with writing the alphabet over and over. What I learned in the six hours in which I was partially crippled, and the only letters I could make were fat and oddly round, is that pencils are the engines of disappointment.

***

Once, when I was teaching, I confiscated a razorblade. Two kids were fighting over it. They weren’t trying to hurt each other. Both kids just wanted to open up their own skin, just a little, to make themselves feel. Funny old world, isn’t it?

Here are some metaphors I considered using to describe one or the other of the students:

  1. Her hair was fireworks (this was true, one of them had wild red hair that sprang from her scalp in rings, and her face was dotted with small explosions of freckles).
  2. Her forearm was a ski slope jagged with gravity and momentum (this referred to the older one, whose hair did not look like fireworks, and whose forearm was marked with previous occasions of feeling).
  3. Her fingernails were lily pads floating on the tips of her fingers (by which I mean the younger student chewed her nails like a turtle would a lily, poking its anxious head from the surface of some secret waters).

And here is the one I settled on, which works for both of them, and for me, and for you too, and for anybody with a coping mechanism, or anyone who drinks coffee in the morning: She was normal.

It was my sister who discovered my predicament when I failed to conceal my test tube claw at the dinner table and she too who rescued me from my own scientific discovery.

“Just use some butter,” she said, and I did. Those tubes slipped right off. I was crippled no more.

 

“More than functionality, however,” I said in my failed letter to ADIS, “you provide a service. Your doors, and if I am being honest, any automatic doors, provide a moment of fantasy, a second of cathartic regression.”

I was laying it on real thick, a fool with ordinary fingers.

“I am talking about the moment when you feel as though there is still a chance you are magic.”

Just imagine me telling those two girls, “The world is a fine place, okay, because you can pretend to control the physical state of things, if only for a second. You just have to learn how.’    Yeah right: That’s exactly what they were already trying to do. So, instead, I tricked them into acting like an adult, which is to say I lied to them.

“Everything will be ok,” I said.

They handed the thing over and I reported the incident. Eventually they graduated. I moved on to work in a university where there are pencils, yes, lots of automatic doors too, and still a few razorblades yet. All of them terrible ideas but all of them engines for one thing or another.

Daniel is a writer, living in Brisbane, Queensland. His short fiction can be found in REX, Stilts, Cow Hide Journal, Tincture Journal, and the London Journal of Fiction. He has twice been shortlisted for the QUT Postgraduate Writing Prize and is a regular speaker at Yarn Storytelling. He is currently completing a PhD because it is a qualification he can spell.

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