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The Herd is on the Move
I live in a picture frame and watch his every move. When his walls aren’t covered with used wrapping paper and academic achievement certificates from elementary school, they’re scraped down to the bare essentials—purple. It would’ve made sense, if the décor had actually served a purpose. Instead, he goes in and out of his bedroom door like a moth flitting away from the fly swatter, and chasing the sun by day. He does nothing but pass by my picture frame. He never stops to say hello.
But the house is snowed in now, so he has no choice but to read his eccentric collection of “totally kickass” manga inside. He occasionally sets the book down and stands in front of the mirror taped on his wall, absorbed in tutting and locking and popping until his muscles are sore and he sits down again to read.
His indecisiveness is hurting my eyes. I can’t move, but I suppose I can feel. It’s irritating, frankly. He never studies anymore but he got top-notch SAT scores in high school (having shoved them in my face and left them leaning against me for a month before dumping them in the recycling bin). He’s always busy being pulled by random impulses and never stops to map anything out. His whole life is running to this place and that. Eventually, he might stop—
—and look at me.
Then, he’ll turn away again, like he’s scared of me more than computers and proper cell phones. Apparently, he has a phobia of technology. He prefers instead to keep an antique telephone with a circular dial in his room. He gets his buddies to upload youtube videos of him running around in the streets doing whatever new trick he can do on his head. He won’t get near me, that’s for certain. I’m still here, though; gathering dust.
- 1 month later -
I can’t see the window from where I’m standing, but he’s been wearing fewer jackets and absolutely no scarves lately, so it must be spring. He was just out of the door again, adjusting another pair of weird sunglasses in the mirror, when a knock came. Someone was yelling.
“Kyle! It’s me!”
He immediately froze, as if it was the police knocking asserting that they had a warrant. The shell-shocked look on his face looked familiar in a most troublesome manner. I could’ve predicted what happened next.
Don’t do it, seriously don’t do it, I snorted.
He did. He dove under his bed, which was really nothing more than a huge pile of Ikea blankets.
“I tried calling, but that stupid phone of yours doesn’t receive messages. I bought you a freaking iPhone for Christmas. You could at least use it!”
The pile of blankets shifted slightly, looking cheeky.
“This is my third warning! Remember, after this I come in if the door’s unlocked!”
The pile of blankets hissed, “S***!” and out dove Kyle. He leapt toward the door in a completely over-dramatized manner and was predictably knocked back when it swung open by the hand of a tall woman in a polished black suit and boots that looked like the animal must have been painfully killed.
“You’re wearing those weird sunglasses again.”
Kyle scowled and adjusted his sunglasses. I wish I could raise my eyebrows. How very smooth of him.
“Don’t you want to go to the 10th anniversary exhibition?” The woman scolded, gesturing at me.
Seeming timid and utterly afraid, Kyle spared me a quick glance before staring at the floor. “Of course.”
“Then let’s go!”
“I never went to the opening night before, and she wouldn’t have wanted me to anyway!” He pouted. “I’m kind of busy here!”
“What, on your way to smoke weed with your friends?”
“I don’t do drugs!”
“You certainly look like you do. Come on, show her some respect!”
It took me a while to figure out they were talking about me. It’s a bizarre feeling, because I myself recollect nothing of my real life. The life I know is young and naïve, and has never gone beyond the borders of this frame.
Apparently, I’m dead. I came to this conclusion after Kyle stormed out with a heavy string of curses at his wake, and the woman in the suit simply stared at me for a while. She began shaking her head, tearing up slightly in the eyes and saying, “I’m trying, I really am…”
- 1 week later -
He doesn’t usually let small things bother him. My memory’s weak, and pathetically unreliable. I don’t recall him acting prissy when brooding over the world’s shortcomings, though.
A man arrives this time, and Kyle acts slightly more courteous to him due to the clear difference of muscle mass between the two men. He doesn’t spend much time in Kyle’s room. Instead, they go to another room where I can hear the kettle whistling and the clatter of tea cups.
Kyle doesn’t do much talking. I can hear the older man speaking with unforgivably clear tones, obviously used to giving inspirational speeches (which probably doesn’t work on Kyle, unfortunately). He’s talking about responsibility, and moving forward, and treating the past with love and care but never dedication because that’s what you need for your real life.
“Where’s the picture of my darling that you’re keeping, anyhow?” I hear him say.
Once they’re back in Kyle’s room, the man’s smiling at me as if he’s proud of something, while Kyle’s standing back looking slightly peeved at this invasion of privacy.
“She was lovely,” He said.
Kyle stepped forward and looked at me head-on, shocking me with his straight forwardness. Then I realized that he had a look of mock contemplation on his face. “Yeah, Mom is definitely hotter than Carla.”
The older man glared at Kyle. “Learn to watch your mouth.”
Kyle ignored this comment. “You really shouldn’t have organized a gallery exhibit though. She only did them when she was in college anyway, and then she did all the sellable, recyclable stuff so putting it all in a gallery kind of defeats the purpose.”
“If she were so concerned with minimalism, she wouldn’t have gone commercial at all,” the older man reasoned calmly. “All of her actions opposed one another, which is where you get—you know—all this from.”
He gestured around the room. Water bottles were hanging from a laundry line near his bed today. It was rather fitting to the older man’s point.
“Being indecisiveness. Being weird and artsy, that’s what. And I’ve always—don’t give me that look—I’ve always appreciated it. I married it, after all. But you can’t ignore what’s real.”
“Yeah you can,” Kyle mumbled.
The older man looked close to blowing a fuse. “You can stop giving me attitude, boy; you’re twenty-three-f***ing-years-old. Your mother died whether you like it or not. I certainly don’t, but I’m living through it!”
He left abruptly. I wondered what the point of him being there was.
There was an awkward silence after the sounds of his car faded away into the distance. Kyle looked up at me slowly.
“You know,” He said, “I heard that he pretended to be bisexual, just to get you interested in him.”
- 3 weeks later -
My son’s name is Kyle and his stepmother’s name is Carla. As for my widowed husband, I have yet to know. But as I live longer in my picture frame, I become more and more miserable watching life unravel and learning of all the mistakes I made in real life. And what’s more, I’m reminded of what I could be doing if I’d only gone on living.
How did I die? Who was I as a child? Did I love Kyle, and did I love my husband? Did I ever meet Carla in real life? It was torture waiting and it would probably hurt more knowing the truth. I wished for Kyle to just break me one day, to shatter the glass in front of me and tear my paper body to pieces. But I think he loves me, so he’s keeping me here.
He tried talking to me once. He almost made it, but not quite.
“I’m trying to dissect the human mind by creating a more primitive environment, you know? Something more isolated. It’s not really working, because I have conflicting interests. I have to buy books and art supplies from stores, and that means interactions with a commercialized society. I also belong to a b-boy crew, so that means more interactions with groups segregated according to…well it’s not race or gender or anything. But there’s still meaningless competition influenced by nothing other than camaraderie. I’m currently living off all the money you gave me in your will. There’s still a lot, but I think I need to start investing in it more and get a job, because this is a failed experiment.
“The walls are covered with random stuff because it reflects the impulses of my id. They usually have to do with the past, you see. Everything here’s more than a couple years old. But I can’t really comprehend them beyond the fact that nothing’s recent. I usually disagree with Freud, but the id, ego, and superego is a good template to use.”
I don’t understand everything, mostly because I’m a picture inside a picture frame on a young man’s dresser. I don’t know what a crew is or who Freud could possibly be, but I know that he’s trying to explain his situation to me in a desperate attempt to understand himself. He wants to know where he’s going with this, and why he feels stuck.
“I don’t get high off plants because you told me that was the wrong way to go. I almost tried it when I was fifteen. I don’t know if you remember that. You used to say that sexual experiences with someone who cooperated with you in mind, soul, and body gave a natural high that’s healthier than drugs. It sounds like yoga to me. It’s not that I don’t follow your advice. But I just don’t understand human interactions and I’d feel better if you were here to show me you, you know?
“…Why did you have to die?”
He dived into his bed again, not quite crying but maybe growling manly tears.
I don’t know, why did I have to die? I don’t think I would do a very good job with life, but I could at least comfort you.
- 4 days later -
I found out how I looked like today. Kyle moved his mirror so that it was facing me. I finally realized that I’m not a photograph, but a small sketch done in black ink. I’m beginning to see the resemblance between Kyle and me, except with his short hair he looks more like his father.
I don’t quite remember being his mother. I’m beginning to wish I did. Kyle’s incredibly honest with himself and curious about whatever subjects that might damn please him. He’s also a might big hypocrite but I can tell he wishes to fix it. He might be trying to tear down society because society took away his mother, but like he said, it’s a failed experiment.
“One mississippi, two mississippi…”
While he’s doing pushups, I content myself with watching the sunlight dance on the wrapping paper. I wonder if they’re from gifts I gave him.
- 1 day later -
“I guess I can’t avoid talking to you,” Kyle sighed. “It’s really redundant and seen a million times in all forms of literature. My dad thinks he’s younger than I am and my stepmom is…what you’d expect her to be.”
I tried to look sympathetic.
He collapsed next to his mirror, staring at me.
“I wish I could stay this age—unemployed, unattached…completely free…forever. But then again, if I were stuck in middle school with a schedule to follow and a house to lock me in, I’d at least have you there.”
He cleared his throat. “On a brighter note, if Dad runs for president like he’s been boasting about at all his dinner parties, I might laugh my a** off.”
- 2 months later -
After Kyle finds a job, a short-term internship but a form of employment nevertheless, he moves out of his house and into an apartment in the city. He keeps me in the clear plastic front pocket of his backpack so I can see everything. I must have been wealthy, because the house he’d been staying in was small but rather swanky. I see bushes and trees for the first time. He gets into a car with his friends and takes the wheel. I didn’t know he could drive. I don’t see anything except the underside of a seat and his multicolored shoes, but I can tell he’s good. I’m sure he is.
He got himself a spot at a magazine that features cutting-edge world hunger stories and natural science articles. It seems weird because it’s unlike him, but he never fails to be impulsive and overly sure of what he’s doing.
Kyle set me up on a cabinet in his new workspace. The office is always filled and noisy, completely different from his one solitary room with one solitary human. I watch him talk to people and file papers and type things up (holy crap, he can use a computer after all). Sometimes, he seems to be talking to himself. It takes me a moment to realize that he’s talking to me, asking if the syntax is right or if the dates are accurate. The fact that he’s talking to a portrait of his dead mother is befuddling, because I can’t help him quite as much as I used to.
He always seemed rather content, but he’s even happier than usual nowadays.
“So, Kyle, what do you plan to do once you leave us?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll probably hitch-hike out to the Midwest. I’d like to learn how to eat cacti.”
They laugh because they’re rational people and they think he’s joking. I don’t because he’s completely irrational and probably serious; either that or he has a horrible sense of humor. He pockets me on his last day, though, and I actually do find myself watching him walk down the side of a highway with a backpack in tow.
“I don’t really miss you that much anymore,” He said. “It’s like you’re with me again…except you’re completely frozen on a piece of paper. I have to do the moving for you. I hope I learn enough about the world, and I hope I make you proud.”
He takes me into his hand and looks at me, hesitant and puzzled. The red and white lights of the street illuminate his face like a spotlight.
“I’m doing this because I’m not afraid to forget you anymore,” He told me. “I know for sure that you’re my mom, and a part of me, and I know you for who you really are because you live inside of me. A-and…I don’t need this picture of you anymore, because the real thing is here.”
Kyle thumped his chest.
Do it, I wanted to say. You were able to confront me. You could talk to me again. I know you still love me. Go live your life.
He threw me onto the highway, and with a sudden crash a moving van ran over me mercilessly. I died for real this time.