Circularity


Promise is not a quantifiable resource.

It is not measurable in near-perfect, atomic amounts like helium or hydrogen.

It cannot be weighed, like meatloaf.

Things can get a bit messy and quite metaphysical when one tries to measure atomic amounts of meatloaf.

One begins to ask questions like:

Is this oxygen particle part of the meatloaf?

What about this wily, shrimp of an electron?

This molecule of water?

Yet promise is even harder to measure than meatloaf.

Imperfect, imprecise, colorless meatloaf.

A gross piece of meatloaf

But promise has hue.

It is dazzling in shape, and delicious in flavor.

In that it beats meatloaf.

Fluctuating, it is a briny, colorful, and foamy wave.

Now a wave of red.

Later its crests and troughs rise and fall in the silver reflections of the moon.

Later still it becomes gold, as the rays of our own tired suns rise above oceans of thought.

Pushing.

Pulling.

Crashing.

Diminishing.

Disappearing.


Certainly, it can be said that he has much promise.

The character of that promise lives in a dean’s office, on grainy wooden floorboards, surrounded by Rubik’s cubes and rocking horses.

It is vocalized by the touch of his mother’s hands, urging him forward.

Encapsulated in unfamiliar vibrations that the woman’s voice sends through him.

The quantity of that promise is explained through the puzzle pieces he aligns,

The figures he correlates and counts with his darting eyes and pointing, minuscule fingers.

The promise is justified by the school that he enters at the precocious age of two.

He has little say in the matter, reaching his hands towards his protectors’ arms each morning,

Only to be whisked away and dropped in a neat group of little Einsteins.

Genius school! His parent’s squeal.

Look at the size of that brain!

When he returns, they massage his round head greedily, as if it is a solid gold ball.

And it is.


His promise comes into question no earlier than the age of five.

Before five it is all still embryonic.

Hard to tell if the intellectual fetus will grow beautiful, hazelnut eyes or a freakish, deformed tail.

Even harder to tell if a child will emerge from the birth canal stunted — unable to speak besides in stutters—or as a herculean glory-child,

Glistening in the sticky blood of its competitors.

Worthy of parents’ love.

The promise begins to crash when, in geometry class, he is asked to draw

A circle

On the blackboard.

Buried deep are his notebook attempts at circularity —

Hiding their radioactive, Uranium-235 exposed visages from the outside world.

Now, on the board, his white circle surrounded by dark void glares at the classroom

Contorting its face into the most grotesque of forms.

Unlike any other circle seen in this world.

A girl in the first row of chairs screams

He winces.


He starts asking the question about death.

His parents speculate that the circle incident has undone a faulty valve in his brain.

His brain, mind you, which is not quite so large anymore.

Not gold.

Just meat.

The death question is the only question he asks.

His imagination’s only vocabulary.

He rises from his bed at ungodly hours, shuffling into his parents’ room like an automaton,

Curling into a fleshy ball

Asking the question.

They tune him out, at their wits end.

He asks everyone he meets.

He writes the question a thousand times on a desk in his chicken-scratch handwriting.

The question makes thirteen other children cry —

Unlucky number.

He asks the question to the dean.

And finally, he asks it to the pavement, as he leaves her office for good.

The drive back home is silent.

More silent than the silence after noise.

More silent than a broken wave in a calm sea.

He sees circles everywhere,

Mocking him.


Him: Do you know what happens when our lives end?

Her: You mean when we die?

Him: Yes.

Her: We go to heaven.

Him: You think we deserve to go to heaven?

Her: I like to think God’s more forgiving than some critics make him out to be.

Him: OK.

Her: What’s the right answer?

Him: What?

Her: What’s your answer?

Him: Why is mine right?

Her: Because I never have the answer you’re looking for.

Him: Not fair.

Her: Tell me. What happens?

Him: Nothing happens. It’s void.

Her: What’s the word for a person like you?

Him: Nothing happens because life’s a story.

Her: Oh yeah: asshole.

Him: Nothing happens after a story ends.


A laugh for stories and circles.

Dark comedy of youth.

Funny how one’s brain can race through memories instantaneously, like an electron jumping from particle to particle.

Eyes tracing a neural constellation, looking for the brightest star.

Atop his arms lies a breathing mass.

Meat and cartilage, not yet solid bone.

Turning his head towards the window beside him, he watches the sun claw its way above the ground.

It’s getting slower, he thinks, wandering, with no conviction.

With alarm, he realizes that the sleeping mass has escaped.

His eyes lift, catching the same figure, crawling away, glancing back at him with its bizarre, toothless grin.

Why are you grinning at me, he asks,

And then notices that the figure is not crawling, but walking across the floor.

Confidently walking after five months of life.

A sharp intake of breath, as he watches a brilliant wave rise above him.

It overtakes him.

His synapses pulse, washed in a draught of nostalgia.

The standing loaf of meat giggles, and he is brought back to the present.

He considers telling the other meatloaf, who is dreaming in the room above.

The one who believes in God.

He puts the thought away.

Promise, he mutters, as the wave comes crashing down.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Benjamin Attal’s story.