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Tommy Boy Blue

Tommy Brown should have been sharpening his pencil for the day's math test. Instead he stared out the classroom window at a chickadee bobbing on the branch of a pine tree. Always a chickadee, a house finch, or a sparrow. Silly, nervous birds with high-pitched twitters and chirps. Tommy decided that one day he would look out and see a white-plumed egret or a flamingo or a pelican balancing on the branches. Maybe an eagle spreading ten-foot wings. One day he would make it happen.

Tommy Brown had many talents and was still learning. At that moment, tapping his fingers on his desk, Tommy decided to use his ability to, at times and with very little effort, conjure the dead.

Tommy closed his eyes and called forward the Italian mathematician Fibonacci, whose theories were far more interesting than anything Miss Hempel talked about in her math class.

Fibonacci appeared wearing a loose, yellowed shirt and scuffed shoes with buckles on the toes. On his head, a dark droopy hat with a snip of purple ostrich plume. The purple ostrich was another bird Tommy decided he'd like to see bobbing outside in the pine tree.

In his seat, Tommy edged over to make room for Fibonacci's ample behind. Miss Hempel glanced at him, cocked her head. Other children turned to look, sneer, and chatter like silly finches. Tommy couldn't believe he'd ever felt like one of them. He grabbed his calf and pretended to rub a charley horse away.

Fibonacci perched beside him; when he laughed, his breath smelled like wine and fish.

"So Tommy Boy, what childish babble are they teaching you today? And when on God's verdant domain will that harpy discuss something of substance? Inductive constructions. Geometrical subtleties. Or Pi. I quite enjoy Pi."

"We're doing fractions," Tommy whispered.

"Ah, little fractions. Tedious, but necessary, I suppose. Everything is but part of a progression." Fibonacci gave Tommy a playful elbow to the ribs, which sent Tommy spilling to the floor.

Through the floorboards, Tommy felt Miss Hempel's feet tapping; it was the sound of fractions dividing the distance between them--one-half, one-quarter, one-eighth. Her feet tapped to a stop. Tapped again while she informed him that since he couldn't behave, he'd take his test in the hall.

As he dragged his desk toward the door, amid the giggles, flutters, and chirps of his classmates, Tommy's only consolation was the delicious squealing, the hungry-metal sound the desk's feet made as they scraped along the floor.

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In the hallway, Tommy quickly completed the test and set down his pencil. As soon as he climbed from behind the desk, Fibonacci slid in and took his place. Fibonacci picked up the pencil and licked its tip. He seemed to enjoy the preposterous nature of it all.

"With all the questions of the grand design to ponder, they ask you to add one-third plus two-fifths? Without detailing the larger context of the problem? Ridiculous. Perhaps next they will ask you, without explanation, to raise a barn with a crew of journeyman pigs?"

Tommy shrugged. He didn't see the point either. He'd always understood fractions. He enjoyed debating Fibonacci about geometrical subtleties, abstract numbers, and Pi. He knew the answers to Miss Hempel's questions before she wrote out the test. And if asked, he could even graph, in six dimensions, all the reasons why one might want to add one-third to two-fifths.

But nobody thought to challenge Tommy in this way. So he left Fibonacci doodling on the test. He hopped down the hallway, which was empty and offered a boisterous echo.

"Hush, boy," Fibonacci said. "You must be patient. Remember the nautilus; it can build but one chamber at a time. All unfolds according to its own design, its own progression. One, one, two, three, five…."

"Eight, thirteen, twenty-one. Yeah, I know, but I don't see any progression happening. I'm bored."

With care, Fibonacci centered the pencil in the groove on the desk. Then he folded his arms and looked at Tommy. "Consider your current situation--a young boy trapped in this tedious wasteland--an equation to solve. You understand that there is a progression, but you have not yet discovered what that progression is. Perhaps you need perspective."

"Perspective," Tommy said. He'd stopped hopping. He closed his eyes.

A moment later DaVinci appeared, scratching his wild grey beard. He was dressed for bed: white stocking cap, matching night dress, soft leather slippers that made a faint flap against the floor. He carried a large, leather-bound volume under his arm and held a candle, which he quickly snuffed between his fingers.

"Well, well, you again," DaVinci said, eyeing Tommy.

"Fibonacci says I need perspective."

With a sigh and a polite nod, DaVinci handed the candle to Fibonacci. Then he looked around. He considered the structure and texture of the walls, the concrete blocks painted off-grey and white. He ran his fingers along the lockers, whistling, the sound of wind through leafless trees. He stopped in front of the smooth grey terrain of a janitor-closet door, then motioned for Tommy to join him. When Tommy did, DaVinci tapped the pen that Tommy had clipped in his shirt pocket. With great flourish and a slight bow, DaVinci pointed to the door.

Tommy pulled out his pen, a silver-nibbed beauty given to him by his favorite, oddest uncle. Tommy uncapped the tip. He pressed the pen to the door, then pulled it away and stared at the bright blue dot he'd inked.

DaVinci leaned in close. "Draw a progression. Anything you can imagine or desire. But do not think. Let it emerge as it will."

Tommy repositioned his pen on the dot, then closed his eyes. In the instant the dot became a line, his mind jumped to the pine tree, the chickadee, a walrus, a snail. The line became a curve, then a swirl. A pattern of swirls. DaVinci whispered something in his ear--words that made Tommy forget he was a boy in a hallway in a barren concrete wasteland of a school.

While Tommy drew, Fibonacci doodled nautilus shells and spirals over Miss Hempel's invented numbers. DaVinci stood before a bulletin board and copied the image of a glider into his leather-bound book.

Tommy sketched a blue-toned landscape, a masterpiece, across the closet door. When he finished, he opened the door and sketched some more.

Moments later, after giving a bluebird wings, Tommy felt a pull, a pale blue wind rise from his creation. He heard the moo of azure cows, felt a periwinkle sun warm his skin. In a twinkling stream, water bubbled over sapphires and indigo agates. Tommy couldn't resist; he kicked off his shoes and splashed in. Water grew deeper, rose around him until he floated in a private, blueberry-flavored sea.

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When math period was nearly over and Miss Hempel came out to retrieve the test, she found the paper covered with equations too complex for her to understand. And nearby, standing in the threshold of a blue-sketched doorway, was Tommy--barefoot, eyes closed, drenched.

She marched him to the teacher's lounge. Scolded him for playing in the drinking fountain, for letting his imagination distract him from his test. She dried him off, then grabbed a nylon scrubby. She scoured blue ink from his hands until he feared his skin might bleed. Beneath his skin, veins trailed like tails of exotic blue parrots. Tommy wanted to tap Miss Hempel's forehead and ask his own question: If blood is blue inside his body, but red outside, which color of blood is real?

Before Miss Hempel marched him back into the classroom, Tommy paused and stared at his marvelous blue door, at DaVinci and Fibonacci who bowed before fading from sight.

Smiling, Tommy took a seat amid the other children. He felt the blue progression spreading, multiplying--all the while dividing and redividing the separation between him, his classmates, Miss Hempel. Tommy knew he was, in a sense, still a boy in a chair in a barren concrete wasteland of a school. But he was also a boy with parrot tails in his palms, and one day very soon, everyone would understand what that meant.

Copyright by Barbara Jacksha

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Barbara Jacksha

Barbara writes:
I think of Tommy as the remarkably talented inner child biding its time inside most of us. Tommy creates his own reality, his own progression, because he believes he can. I feel a bit sorry for Miss Hempel and the other children who don't yet know that they too have amazing abilities waiting to emerge.

Barbara Jacksha is an editor and co-founder of Cezanne's Carrot and an editor at the literary journal flashquake. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in a variety of publications, including Beloit Fiction Journal, Margin, The Summerset Review, Mad Hatter's Review, Peregrine, Mindprints, Carve Magazine, Poetry Midwest, Tattoo Highway, Smokelong Quarterly, and Quercus Review. Her story "Geometry Can Fail Us" will appear in the upcoming W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas. Barbara's work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her screenplay, Lac Mirage, recently won the 2005 Southwest Writers national screenwriting competition. For more information, visit Barbara's website: www.barbarajacksha.com.

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