Cartoon Sky


fiction by Cliff Benston


I saw a film, this time a dramatic picture for adults. In the movie a man is living with a woman who is his daughter. She is getting married. The fiancé is on a knee in a restaurant at the beginning. He names the lovelies about her, asks. When he meets the father, the boy is quiet but it is clear he seems to the father strange. It is, I believe, the boy’s thick body, like his whole body is made from tumorous tissue, the way the boy was like something was in all of him. This perturbs the father of the daughter, who is pretty, twenty, the kind that looks like a forty that hasn’t aged for twenty years. For the fiancé, on the contrary, they hired a man who looks like an ugly child of the attractive who gave up beauty for too much food and laughter. But soon the father likes him but there is one more problem for them, though it ends with happiness. The daughter, running through standing water, joins the boy, they kiss, and it is well for all three of them. My review: the sound and picture were good. The theater was quite comfortable and mostly empty. You could have put me the way I was sitting on a bed. We in the audience all laughed at the same few parts. It was a mostly empty theater. Overall, the movie was good though after the first twenty minutes it had become implausible. There is this scene with the daughter and the old father she lives with at a piano store. He’s dying for sure by this point. The shop says “Please do not play the instrument without permission” on the wall. So she asks the store man for permission. And then, when the father plays a song, he stops and begins crying. It is not real people and grown men to act this way in public but everyone now feels their license to do so whenever it comes up. At least in films. Maybe it’s because of the movies. But this scene was not the last scene—it was the kiss. And she really should not have been with the man and been with the dying father.

After that movie, I stayed for the kiddie film next door. I took the second to front row so no one would be around. This didn’t matter because this theater had every seat taken, no less on its second weekend playing. This movie might have been really successful. It was mainly of a little boy. The boy lived in a cave but acquired a dragon, and from the dragon, a mother. The dragon is a cartoon but the world is with real people and settings. He is green like the giant on the can of peas. The dragon is sweet-faced with dull fangs popping out a rack of teeth and he makes a kindly grin. The animal flies away at the end (the boy cannot keep the dragon but has the mother) and disappears into a blue as blue as his green while the boy and the pretty red-haired mother wave goodbye along with the rest of the Irish. But they must have drawn blue around the animation dragon because he does not seem to merge into real air. He couldn’t fit through theirs, which was the real McCoy (he was animated), so the director must have had to make one out of paints or whatever it was they made the dragon of. The one moment was this when I did see this displacement of the dragon because the actors are so good at seeming to see it. Such for them was no less a dragon than a townsman. You can accept their trusting actions, I told Bob, a friend of mine, a week before, because this is a film for children, and anyway if you can accept a dragon in a children’s film, then. It is a kindly looking thing. The boy in front of me fell asleep in the middle but seemed at attention by the end. You shouldn’t fall asleep in a movie you pay for. I leaned over to ask the boy about the dragon in the sky while it happened because you can’t describe something like that after. I pointed out the fly-away as it was going, tapped him on the shoulder which got him awake. He said, “What?”, no time. A good feature, which is why I saw it a second time, a week in a row, but upon the second time I realized this dragon movie might have done well, creatively speaking, for another creature, or even less a half hour.

Then on the way out I saw a professor whom I recognized by his beard. Now in the new building, he used to be in the one of which’s cluster I keep grounds for work. I nodded and he came over to me and talked, his son along. Asked how I was doing I told him about the new mower I got six weeks back. We chatted for some and he said he and the kid were going to the uptown diner if I should want to. So he was fine when I said sure, even though I never liked him much. Well, that’s being in a community. The boy got in the backseat. I put some comic book from on the front chair to his lap after his dad belted him in. The boy didn’t even say anything. Burgers—I got a cheeseburger and onions, we talked whatever on the changing seasons, he asked me how the changing seasons affected my work. He asked when should I plant perennials, if it was spring like his girlfriend says. The summer like his mother says because the seasons are changing more and more. I told him what I thought. He nodded. The son stared at the menu over the counter but we had our food. More questions I answered. One point, the professor went up to go to the bathroom. He insisted on paying, took the check I guess into the bathroom even. This left just the son and me there like old friends. He was small for his age, hadn’t said one thing all through dinner when it was only three people at the table. I asked, “You in school?” I figured some more questions. So what was left but smile at him, and I just smiled at him, then everything on his face came right to the middle. I smiled: I wasn’t even doing anything. I had offered to pay. The professor got back to the booth and said, “We’re all set. You all set, or do you need the bathroom?” to his son. Twice I had offered the check.

I told him I could walk but he said it was no problem. I lived right near the campus anyway (he needed something from his new office). I asked how was the new office, how was work, it’s what you do. Just great. He asked who was doing the bushes outside. He asked who did the main quad with the rock garden, the new one. Also who planned for it, the Japanese rock garden. This was just before we veered off—we were close to my house—while other cars pulled to the right and left of the road. Right near my house but more toward campus. People had their arms in the air like they’d fallen through ice. It seems to help to do that but you can’t push up through air but you can when it’s water. We could have driven right through the street because everybody had gone off to one side or the other. The professor grabbed the boy and ran. This is where, plain as day under the brand new lampposts, flesh-eaters showed up and were on everyone in sight. Which is why we should’ve stayed in the car, and I ran after the professor and the son who couldn’t have thought of a plan yet. So I yelled at them to follow me, and the professor said, “I hope you have a plan.” I said I have a cellar to hide in. We all three of us made it through half a mile of running.

The cellar where I keep my mowers is about as big as a big shed. It’s made from concrete, floor, walls, ceiling. Unfortunately the only light is from outside as there are no windows, only small slats on a wall for if there’s fumes. There are never fumes because we keep the mowers in good condition. And besides, would I need light inside here for mowers to mow at night? No. The father held the boy in the corner, kept looking at the kid’s arm—it wasn’t even hurt—so when I took it and looked at it both of them this time made that thing with their lips and eyes all together. You could see it sure was his son. We could see pretty well by just what lamplight came in by a well nearby pole. So he looked back down at that arm, said, “Are you sure you’re okay?” like he was asking if the kid had to pee, and just when I was thinking it, the kid said, “I should’ve peed when I had the chance. I sort of had to and now look at us.” The professor laughed and put his face back looking up to the cement-slab ceiling and had the kid in his arms. When I smiled, the second smile I’d tried to this boy, he brushed his back head hair on his father’s chin and the boy came altogether into a ball folding like a paper on fire, the professor lunged. He met my forearms with his nose but his hands, fingers, grasped and pulled them apart, me towards him. The place was so small the boy had to keep moving on the floor like a baby’s first steps, stumbling and excited, off of me and the professor. Now it was so dark, and I just saw the professor get the can of oil on my head.

I woke up still alive outside the cellar. They must have got it locked inside. I guess they’d put a lock in a cellar they wouldn’t put in a bulb. Well, the professor and the boy must’ve thought it safer together. And there was no one around yet when outside the cellar I came awake to the larger proportion of the night.

* * * 

I was a zombie, actually, one Halloween. Well, I was Jason, but Jason comes back from the dead, so. We were watching old cartoons on TV at my friend Jerry’s. It was this big party they had instead of trick-or-treating while some killer was said on the loose. I was twelve back then and already big for my age. Maybe it just wasn’t safe to be out anymore. But I had seen these cartoons before, years before, and I hadn’t liked them then either. They were the ones with the dancing skeletons with canes and top hats, but it wasn’t really that, the skeletons. These cartoons were made in the 1930s, so long ago at the very beginning of animation, the earliest cartoons. They got put to classical music and it shouldn’t have been for kids, with these moons, the ones with faces smoking pipes and craters on their cheeks. They talk and are disconcerting, and have deep black men’s voices, familiar but strange—moons that now laugh and sing but they could say anything. Sat real odd in me when I was that age, and still does. And I already was big for that age. Jerry was a werewolf started clawing at me. I took out the cardboard saber Mom made and I gave him this real cold look I had from one of those moons when it was silent but still on the TV, with angry, empty dog’s eyes, when you become what you just saw and you’re not happy to be doing it. Even though you still are. But you get used to handling that, later, because you’re an adult.

We got into a tussle, nothing too bad, and his father, Mr. Sanders, grabbed me. He had been laughing and dancing with his wife all night, and tugged my arm. I had stopped it by then but he tugged it again. This while his wife, Mrs. Sanders, went to see Jerry how he was. “What the hell are you doing?” Mr. Sanders was saying to me, a twelve-year-old boy. And I never saw Jerry again except at school. “You cannot do that!” He said this to a twelve-year-old boy, a man said this, and on Halloween. He and Mrs. Sanders got a divorce two years later. And it was too bad because I had spent the whole night laughing. We all especially Jerry were having a good time. One point, Brian McKenna said something so funny I laughed one of the seven or eight times you laugh this hard in your life. It’s a whole other laugh when you don’t have to worry even though it’s an A-bomb in the room, a nuke bomb. Everybody has it rarely: it’s beyond you, and it’s the same like when you’re crying when you hear a whole different voice appearing and disappearing like a bubble from you.