By Simon Marshall
I can see Billy through my fingers. He asks me to take my hands away. I move my fingers slightly apart, just to see more of him. I can see the bones in my fingers, the blood in my body; and between them there is Billy next to me with his hands over his face as well. I know that Billy is kind, he is my brother, he is good to me but he doesn’t miss a thing.
I sit up and curl one finger back slightly thinking that he can’t see me, but he can, he laughs, he says “I can see you Little One” and as he moves his hands away I push mine hard against my face, spreading my fingers. I push my head under the pillow, but only slightly, just enough. Has it gone yet? It’s dark now.
“Are you safe Little One?” he asks. I shake my head and peer out. Across the sheets I wave at him with my little finger. Make it go away I think. I think that still. It’s all too much but they don’t understand, always having to look.
Daddy instructs that we must always look, and keep looking and never hide. He always encourages me to look through things not at things, to look beyond into the space between things. I don’t always know what he means. I try this when I look at the sun. I squint as though squeezing every last drop of light into my body. I feel the sun’s rays inside me sometimes, and maybe that’s what Daddy means. But then it’s too much and I have to look away, but mostly I’m like that with people. When I see people, I see too much of them. I can see inside and I need to hide. It scares me sometimes.
Daddy tells me about a land where they tell their children to look away, to be scared of things, to be ashamed of knowing. They are afraid of knowing. They do not learn. He says this like he knows this place. When he talks he looks away, out of the window as though this place is nearby. He looks sad when he says this, as though remembering. I see him as a child and then … No, no, I am scared now that I can see this. Billy says it’s imaginary. Another land, with other people? Do they look the same? Why are they not allowed to look at things? I wonder if they also have homes, and pillows to hide under. Is that what they do, walk around with pillows over their faces so that they avoid seeing things? My Growth Mentor tells us in class that it’s all about perception and allowing the unknown to blow through us and then we see more. This is the frontier, where all the advances are coming from she says. We now see things we never knew were there. Atoms that once floated through us unknown are now as obvious as daylight, she says. This doesn’t help me feel less scared.
“Hello little one, are you seeing through me again?” says Billy. I feel his breath near to me, I feel safe with him. “We must go now; it’s time” he says.
Now I am again with my hands over my face. My mother sits next to me; our legs are hung over the ledge. I smell her sweat from the walk up the hill. She gently swats my hands away from my face. “I was once like you” she says trying to make me feel comfortable, she is trying to use empathy but it’s not working. If she put her arm around me it might help, but then she thinks this is all fun, and I don’t. She can’t see emotions like I can.
My uncle clears his voice and sings a note. I crouch down further, into myself. My hands are grubby where I dragged them on the ground beneath us. They smell of dirt, mixed molecules of powdered rock going back millions of years. I can smell ancient animals; I can read their thoughts. I know what they were feeling even though I know they had no sense of sentient feeling themselves. None of this makes me feel any safer.
“Little One?” Billy is sat next to Daddy. He has his hands over his face and flips them open quickly like shutters on windows. Each time he pulls a different face at me. This time he shows me his tongue. I giggle as I see this through my fingers. I open my hands and frown, playfully, and then broadly smile at him. Now it’s my turn to use empathy and I know it will work. I am reassuring him that I am alright even though I am still scared.
We look up as the sun rises, as we are all assembled, watching the colours fire against the reversing ozone depletion. I am looking through and beyond as instructed, atoms sparkle, my family rise in song; eyes focussed gathering the sun in their souls. I can barely look. ‘Look beyond’ Daddy says. He doesn’t understand. I am jealous of that land where children must look away, deny what they see. What I see are the minds of everyone around me, all the unhappy people in our own land, who even at this moment cry out for recognition, who need people more than the pillows under which they hide. My family face forward into the frontier of science, the congress of matter rises before us; the moment is reached. They think I see nothing, but I see everything. I am little, but I know what they don’t know. I know them all fully inside, even with my face hidden. I was born that way. That is my frontier and it is a vaster sky than they can possibly imagine.