the origin of clouds (a novel)#2

            It was five years ago, at the end of August. A miserable, humid day in Cleveland made unbearable by the lingering stench of the hospital medical waste incinerators puffing fiery green smog throughout the night. A smell that would offend any sky, even on the clearest day. Strange Love heaved and grunted as he grappled the railing along the sticky, milk white stairwell, still wet with paint from two days prior. Maybe from the toxic haze, the gluey walls seemed to shimmer in the yellow glow emanating from the safety lights buzzing overhead. He felt like a fly in sticky paper, legs heavy with every entangled step.

            At age fifty-seven, he felt older than the years he had lived. He was no longer that man other men envied for his strength and women suffered for his beauty. Neither of which seemed natural for a slight man, barely six feet when he stood straight. His appearance was as confounding as his teenage nickname that had stayed with him so many years. Everyone was fascinated with how the quiet, young man conjured so much attention from women. The women were more curious about how strange his eyes glimmered, hinting at a remote tenderness that spoke of sadness, more than anything that had to do with their unusual color, one green the other hazel.

            This was long after anyone had remembered that the sight of the little dark skinned boy with two different color eyes had once repulsed them. This was long after children hissing “demon” at little Lincoln in the school hallways and the sting of snot berries (tiny bits of chewed paper boys blew through straws they snuck out of the cafeteria) followed with taunts and laughter at recess. This was long after he had come to dread walking with his back to anyone for more than a few steps, for memory of the day someone had come up from behind and shoved him into his locker. Where he stayed for what to a young boy who was already afraid of the dark seemed like weeks, until the fire department arrived to pry him from his nightmare. This was long after the beatings his father gave him for the shame he brought home. More than any one thing that wounded his pride, these assaults gradually ate away at his soul. That small voice that recalls a time and place we once knew, before one person or another tells us what they think we are or ought to be, would no longer reassure him.

            Yes, this was long before his strange appearance was considered something special, beautiful even. Before the proof of women who stayed through the lies and cheating and debt from bills going unpaid to support his drug habit made their loving him feel like a curse. Long before he took to combing through the police blotters and obituaries hoping not to find some mention of other men he had grown up with for proof that there were still plenty of years left to hold onto his raggedy piece of life.

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