Clouds like scattered powder rolled across the sky in waves of fair white and chilling grey. The sun peeked through the ocean of blue and ivory above and shone down onto the streets of a rural township. A variety of cars rolled lazily down the street and a soft breeze was blowing east. Rain water pooled into small puddles formed from the most recent spring shower and golden light shimmered off their surface.
A short, brown haired, unshaven man tip-toed along the concrete border of a sidewalk. He struggled to keep his balance as he trotted along, one foot in front of the other, the thin barrier separating the walkway from the street. His arms outstretched like branches, he smiled proudly. The world was his playground, everyone in town knew that.
He wore a thick brown raincoat; its unzipped center flapping open in the wind like heavy wings, revealing his black undershirt and blue jeans. He glanced up at the sun, his one-green one-blue eyes gleaming light.
"Hey, Jeremy!" A voice yelled at him.
He turned around to see an older woman tottering towards him, her thin grey hair snaking in the breeze. She adjusted her thick glasses and squinted at him disapprovingly.
"How many times have people told you not to stare at the sun? You'll go blind, boy!"
"Sorry Missus Anderson
" Jeremy whimpered "But doncha think the sun gets sad cause nobody will look at him? I mean, it ain't polite to ignore nobody, right? S'pecially when they're always watchin' over you."
She paused a moment, her lip hanging low. Her disciplinarian demeanor turned to a quaint smile "Boy, there's something delightfully wrong with you." She laughed.
Jeremy was never normal. As a child he seemed like any other, care-free and blessed by innocence. But as he grew, it became slowly apparent that something had turned south inside his head. He could not retain meaningful information or thought without struggle, he had the inability to empathize with others, his reflexes were sketchy, and failure in school had become an inevitable expectation. Jeremy was a child impacted with mild retardation.
His small town quickly became accustomed to the condition. Whether at the public schools or out and about, they took care of him and watched out for him. Jeremy was as safe wandering in the night as he was dancing through the day; everyone knew his signature grin and strange behavior. The town was his haven, full of love and understanding; he was safe and free to play in the bounds of his imagination.
Jeremy recognized his deficiency; he could tell just by the way people talked to him that he was different; just like how people talk to their pets. His brother and sister grew older and wiser and he always remained the same. He felt isolated, lonely, and unappreciated. Regardless of the state of his mind, he still felt in his heart. His only wish was to be regarded as something more than a special case, something of value and not a burden.
"Mrs. Anderson, where are we going?" he asked.
Mrs. Anderson took in a deep breath as her long-aged legs struggled to keep up with Jeremy. "
slow down kiddo, I ain't a marathon runner." She wheezed.
He frowned and dropped back into pace with her "But we aren't running..." he muttered.
She laughed, shakily catching her breath "It's an expression. You'll probably be used to them by the time you're my age
Jeremy nodded and walked on.
and to answer your question, we're going to the park." She responded "Beautiful things don't surface just any day."
"But there are geese in the park
" Jeremy grumbled.
"No one's forcing you to come, kiddo." She replied grumpily.
"N-no" he said "I really do want to go. Just promise me you'll keep those mean birds away from me
"I promise" she laughed.
The park was vast for such a rural community. The play set was a sky-scraper of multi-colored slides winding down to the earth, and swings numerous enough to fit the entire community. It was beside the river, shaded by trees guarding the skies. You could hear the whistle of birds and gushing of the river.
But today, the birds were unheard, and the roar of the waters were deafened by commotion. The park was full with the bustle and chatter of the townsfolk, all gathered at the park-bench square in front of the welcome sign. It was a conventional joke that the sign existed; many years ago it was vandalized, and for long time running all that remained where the letters had once been was the faded resemblance of their form. The mayor had claimed he would 'make amends' to the 'monstrosity.' But week after week passed, month after month, season after season, year after year; and nothing was done. The only thing left standing of the large and once beautiful welcome sign was a smooth grey wall.
"It's another vandalism
" one person murmured "isn't it?"
"I don't know what to think of it." said another.
"I think it's pretty!" a child cheered.
Two police officers stood off to the side; it was all they could do to keep the curious crowd under control. Subjects of interest were rare to find in this lazy town. Mrs. Anderson navigated her way up to the front along with Jeremy to meet the two officers.
"Well, I didn't know that this pretty picture had turned into a social event
" she commented dryly "Which one of you went around telling everyone about it?"
One of the officers arched his back and puffed out his chest. He had short cut red hair and a clean shaven face, his eyes were blue and he eyed her with an arrogant stare. "Well Mrs. Anderson, word gets out
" he said "--Doesn't take a genius to know info spreads quickly in a small town"
She glared at him "But it takes a fool to believe he is one for mentioning the fact!" she barked "...don't go spreading word throughout town next time to make yourself the center of attention, or my tongue might slip and tell your mother what you've been doing at that gentlemen's club two towns over!"
I'm out of the house!" he sneered, nervously averting his eyes.
She watched him contently "Atta' boy."
"Good morning officer Merrill." Jeremy grinned sheepishly
He met Jeremy with a genuine smile of his own. "Hey there, buddy. You better stop it with that guilty smirk or I'll start to think you've done something."
Jeremy raised his hands in the air "Don't shoot!" he yelled.
"I was just kidding
" the officer laughed.
Mrs. Anderson interrupted "Excuse me, but I brought Jeremy here to see the little piece of work behind you, do you mind if we take a look?"
The officer shrugged "Anything for the kid here."
She smiled and grabbed Jeremy's paw. "Come on." She pulled him gently to the front.
For a long time the welcome sign had remained dry, bleak, and dark-grey. Its high borders as ugly and poorly kept as its crumbling edges.
But something miraculous had happened, something both terrifying and wonderful.
Cool ocean blues and flaming reds were cast over the canvas like a portal to a perfect world. Gratuitous shining whites bordered the sky and rich earthy greens highlighted the acreage. It was a replica of the very park they were gathered, despite the abstraction. Birds flew over-head in the scenic portrait and the glimmering river carved its way across the landscape. Thousands of crisp blades of grass rose from the earth below and a frenzy and youth played freely in the parks' surrounding.
Jeremy observed the portrait with warm acknowledgement.
"It's wonderful, ain't it?" said the old woman.
"You think so?" Jeremy replied.
"Of course, child. Some people might think its vandalism, but as far as I'm concerned it's something beautiful."
You don't think they'll wash it down do you?" he blurted.
"I don't know
" she said, turning her head back to the officers "Merrill!"
"I wish you'd call me by my first name for once." He groaned.
"Maybe someday." She laughed "What'd you plan to do with this?" she mused.
The officer frowned "The Mayor is coming down to appraise the situation; we don't have any confirmation yet."
She nodded. "You're just going to have to wait and see, Jeremy."
Jeremy turned his attention to the crowd, they were ecstatic, chattering, some seemed happy even. A kind feeling kindled in his heart; one akin to uniting with an old friend.
"What's that big white bird in the river there?" a curious child called.
"Hm, I think it's a stork." Her mother replied.
"N-no." Jeremy Responded "It's a heron. Storks carry babies, herons carry fish. I already thought about it, who would drop a baby in a river?"
Her mother smiled "My mistake, sorry Jeremy. What are those birds in the sky?"
"T-they're sparrows, and some of them black-birds. But black-birds are bullies so I put less of them in there."
The mother looked perplexed "You. You put less of them in there?"
Jeremy nodded "Yeah, I did."
She frowned "Jeremy, you're a sweetheart and a really good boy. But you can't expect anyone to believe that you..."
"That I what
"That you made this!" She chuckled.
"I did! I did! I can prove it, look." He chattered. His hands shook with excitement and his eyes burned with light. "T-these are the oak trees on the side of the river; I made them just like in real life. I even put boot prints in the mud from when I went down there." His hands flew across the picture. "I made the sun orange! S-so people could look at it for once. I-I even put your kid up here on the swing set, see?"
The mother laughed "Yeah, it does look a bit like her. You have quite the imagination Jeremy."
He frowned "B-but, I did make it
A voice called from the left. "Make way, make way. Mayor's here."
A short balding elder with grey hair and thin rectangular glasses stepped up in front of the canvas. He looked it up and looked it down, smiling. The reflections of a politician shimmered in his eyes, and he methodically pressed his fingertips together, thinking quietly to himself. He turned to address the crowd. "Ladies and Gentlemen I'm as shocked as you are to see this work of art here today!"
A voice called out from the crowd "It isn't vandalism?"
"No, of course not!" the mayor shook his head. "Look at these artistic brush strokes, these fine vibrant colors. Do you see any paint cans just lying around? No, this is clearly the work of a master artist, a professional!" He paused, and eyed the townsfolk over. "
The very one that I hired to decorate this long ignored wall!"
He turned to observe the painting "Look, all of those joyous children, the great green grass, that puffy white Crane"
Jeremy interrupted "It's a Herron! and I only moved the paint cans so nobody would trip on them!"
The mayor looked to him and laughed "Oh, Jeremy. You're a funny child, indeed. But we all know the truth here."
He addressed the crowd once more "I had this painted early in morning, a tribute to the long awaited promise I intended to keep for our beloved town. But the tarp must've been taken off by some curious pedestrian. No matter, I hope you all enjoy it! No need to worry, there was never any vandal. You can all go home."
The crowd stood stagnant for a while, a bit doubtful and confused. "Good work, mayor. It's about time." Someone called out, the brief acknowledgement met with fervor from the others. The crowd disappeared with a variety of shrugs and nods, and slowly everyone disappeared from the park.
Only two stayed behind.
Jeremy stood there frowning "They don't believe me?"
Mrs. Anderson came to his side. "I called your brother Jeremy; he should be here to pick you up any second." She sighed "Don't worry kiddo, I believe you." She winked.
"Really?" he asked.
"Really." She replied.
An umber van cruised to the curb and the window rolled down. "Jeremy! I've been wondering where you were. If Mrs. Anderson hadn't called me you'd be lost forever! Get in here!" His brother yelled.
He looked back to Mrs. Anderson and smiled "Thanks
" He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a big hug.
"Any time." She replied warmly.
Jeremy ran over to the mini-van and threw himself into the seat. "Hi, bro." he chirped, buckling in his seatbelt.
His brother stared at him "Why
are you wearing a raincoat? It's perfectly sunny outside!" he chuckled.
" Jeremy said. "But there are plenty of puddles, and you never know if it could rain."
"That's rather smart of you, Jeremy."
"You think so?"
"Absolutely" His brother put the car into drive and went down the road. "So how have you been? I haven't seen you in at least a day." He mused.
"It was great
" he sighed. "Really great
Jeremy looked out to the sky, and back to the gradually fading park. He watched the road passing beneath his feet, and despite the buzzing in his head he couldn't help but conjure a sad thought. Would anyone ever believe him?
As he followed the trail with his eyes, the lines began to meld together, the world blurred by and he stood still, just as it had always been. But a comforting note rang true in his heart; a ray of light in the stormy haze of his mind. It brought a soft smile to him as he rubbed the side of his head.
It didn't matter.
Whether or not he was as smart as anyone else, it made no difference.
Whether or not he felt accepted or heard, it made no difference.
Whether or not they believed him, it made no difference.
He had created something beautiful.