It could only be right that a fractured man could grant fractured glimpses of beauty. He first understood that he would never be the person he had dreamed of being one damp summer night after the carnival he was working for had officially closed. One small boy still stood by him, waiting breathlessly for him to finish his creation. Gracefully the carnival’s balloon man twisted the rubber once more, and a thing – finished, complete, entire – rested in his hands. The boy’s face fell. “Is it done?” he asked skeptically.
The balloon man looked sadly at him and nodded his head. His mouth opened briefly, as if he could attempt to explain, but he snapped it shut, shoved the balloon into the boy’s hands, and turned away. A child would never understand what he had made. He barely understood it. He had made sadness, pain, an aching hope that sometimes looked more like despair than anything else. But it was also only a balloon. All he had pushed into that boy’s arms was a balloon. The child could be expected to see nothing else. It was entirely natural, he told himself, shrugging his shoulders to shake it off.
It was entirely natural also that he sank down to his knees and let one broken sob escape into the humming night air. He wept harder, silently, knowing that these tears also would go into the next balloon he made. And no one would understand. Perhaps if someone who could see, someone who had felt any of the things he had felt… but the chances of that were so slight. He knew that. He gently wiped the tears from his face with his rough, sensitive, creator’s hand.
Still he continued to lie to himself. He didn’t know how to quench hope any more than he knew how to communicate beauty. Truth. Anything, really. So he gave up balloons for sweeping blank canvases and dainty brushes and the most glorious colors he had ever seen. He tried again.
Hour after hour, he stared at that blank canvas, dreaming his dream and deciding where each arm of his glorious creature should go. Day after day, he painstakingly spread the glorious colors on the canvas – no longer blank – and waited like an expectant father for the birth of his perfect child. This time – this time – it would be perfect. It wasn’t even a hope in his mind; it was assured, because if it couldn’t be assured, there’d be nothing to stop him from stopping right then and there. There’d be nothing, so he didn’t consider the fact that it might not be perfect.
Months passed. Long months, months that swallowed the heat of the summer and spat out indifferent weather. Indifference slowly cooled to passionate anger, anger that realized itself in hard freezes and heavy, high drifts of snow. But the artist worked on, oblivious. One day, he dared to think to himself that soon, perhaps very soon, he would be finished. A sort of ill feeling of dread crept over him, but he swallowed all his doubts and patiently kept working.
Three more days in which a storm raged, throwing pieces of ice at his windows, tearing at the trees, his roof, anything it could get its hands on. The third day, however, found the sun playing on a delicate sheet of ice covering steep drifts of snow. Breeze querolously questioned the stiff branches of the naked trees. But the artist didn’t notice. He was staring at his finished painting, such glorious colors on the previously bare canvas, clutching his delicate paintbrush tightly in his fist. His painting was finished.
With a superhuman effort, he tried to push the panic rising in his chest away. He would observe this painting as if it belonged to someone else. Yes. He would. Second by second he felt the light die inside him. Where was his dream? Where was the beauty that had been in his head? How had he so badly managed to destroy it? This time he needed to see no one else’s face fall to know he had failed. He felt his heart break a little, as if it was a steadily shrinking glacier that had just had a piece split off. He watched the lonely chunk of ice that had once belonged to him slowly drift away, and again he felt the tears threatening his eyes. This time he was too tired to cry.
For months – as many months as he had poured himself into that failed painting – he did nothing. He survived. He existed. And he was never quite sure if he was improving or sinking farther away, building a higher wall around his mind or peeking out around the corners. Those were long months of emptiness.
When the summer was again old and golden, something inside him shifted. One more time, he told himself, thinking that it was again a lie. He knew even more, though, that if he didn’t have a lie to live by, he would also have no hope to live by. So he took his lie and held it close to his chest.
A lie clutched against him and a pen in his hand, he began to write. Singular, unconnected words came at first, then phrases, phrases like “death and her gentle fingers,” “a broken heart for a weapon,” “a life lived upside down.” Quickly he swept them all away. He knew now what he wanted to say. This time he needed no months of time, no painstaking strokes. His mind held it all and he let it out in a flood, paying no heed to his quickly tiring fingers.
He wrote all that dark, dark night, but he knew a writer has no distaste for darkness. The darkness fed him, was the spilled blood for a sin offering on the altar of his frustration. When soft rays of sun illuminated his paper the next morning, he finally threw down his pen and sighed, sweeping the hair back from his face in a gesture of contentment, peace.
The questions that fell upon his mind were worn at the edges, familiar friends instead of damaging daggers. Still, they whispered in their tender voices, “will anyone understand? Will any beauty be in this? Was it worth it?” He sighed and patiently accepted the duty bestowed on him. With steady fingers, he lifted the papers he had so recently written. He began and he read straight through them all, not pausing.
When he finished, he leaned back in his chair, a faint frown creasing his face. These words weren’t what he wanted. They didn’t scream of hope. They didn’t laugh of the bitter cynicism that could steal a human soul. They didn’t promise to always lie pleasantly. Yet if one knew how to look…perhaps there was a shade of his truth in there. Perhaps there was the faintest imprint of his mind on those flat pages. Perhaps that was the best he would ever do. Perhaps that was just who he was.
After all, it could only be right that a fractured man could grant fractured glimpses of beauty.