Redwoods were within reach; his home was on the precipice of a forest, and as young as four, he opened the garden gate and wandered up the street to stare at the towering Gods, marveling at what little light pushed itself through the canopy and counting day-stars on the mottled ground. In June, the leaves were so thick and green that they ate up all the sun, and he stood in blackness, feeling his path with chubby fingers. Moss and bark alike guided him deeper and deeper into the thickets, thorns catching his hair and clothing. He had cuts on his face and arms but could not cry; in a trance, he stepped over rotting branches and at the end of his journey, came to a creek. The trees parted for it, and phosphenes blinded him, receding slowly as he adjusted to the rush of brightness-
And for a moment, he was not in California: great gray buildings grew before him, and he gaped, eyes widening as he tried to comprehend their height, their mass against a sky dimmer than the one he remembered. He looked to his left, and there was a woman, thin and smiling, holding his hand, and he felt her pressure rather than just witnessed it. Mother crossed his mind, and as soon as it had come, he blinked, and there was the babble of flora in a warm breeze and water brushing over smooth stones.
He sat in the dirt, and it was hours before a search party came to his aid; Father clutched him against his chest and asked what he was thinking, where he had been, and Saer whispered, "I saw metal giants."
The marble countertop seemed ocean-vast, and he felt as insignificant as the poppyseed clinging to Mother's hand. She picked them off the hotdog buns Father had brought home and said, "You know I hate these."
Saer ate in silence: he liked beef franks, he liked mustard, and he even liked sauerkraut though he was sure that was for bratwurst. He could not fathom why Mother complained, why Father's face fell the way it did, why his heaviness exceeded her criticism, why his shoulders slumped when he took the seat beside Saer's. He looked at his son and whispered, "That's good, huh?"
"He would have preferred catsup," Mother said for him, and he wasn't sure why because he never liked catsup.
If he stood in the very center of his bedroom and stared at the ceiling, he saw stars. Not flecks of light in the ink-sky, Doppler pinholes poked through a black blanket- these were brighter and closer, suspended on silver stems that sprung from concrete gardens. They weren't like the giants: not as magnificent, not as impressive, but they were so beautiful they could leave him breathless. And if he spun and closed his eyes and opened them quickly, he would wake beneath a bridge and roaring thunder filled his ears: the cacophony of a million jewel bugs crawling and screaming as they fought for position on an endless highway.
The first time he sat and began to paint these images, all he could come up with were blurs of bright color against drab, like staring out a rain-blurred window-
Then he turned twelve, his parents announced their divorce, and he drew car-beasts writhing on a metallic monster.
"He has a lot of talent," gushed his art teacher to no one, standing with her hands on her hips. Her accent was deplorable, one of the many things he hated about his new home. Mother insisted Indiana was closer to her family, and he insisted he would have preferred to stay with Father, which was always met with silence or lame excuses that made him want to hit her. But he couldn't hit his own Mother, so he seethed, festered; he didn't make friends, and he had joined this art program because he needed an outlet.
Saer didn't think he was talented; his art could never capture the vividness of the images that popped into head, the desperate mania that accompanied each, the despair and glossolalia-rot to which he replied comfort. He had to soothe the pictures away, lest they take too much time and residence, siphoned sanity. "Can I have my portfolio back?"
"A lot of talent," she repeated but heeded the request, closing it up with the same care one might treat their own work.
If he walked past the mirror without stopping, out of his periphery he would catch a glimpse of a body that wasn't like his own, the hint of a foreign figure. If he stopped and looked more closely, he'd find his own face: blue eyes stuck in too thin contours, gaunt cheeks and a narrow jaw, pale brown hair in permanent disarray, and circles beneath his eyes from genetics rather than sleeplessness-
And if he tried to catch the other person in windows, puddles, storefronts, he came up with nothing more than a shadow on a backdrop of disfigured proportion.
Father called back a week after his birthday to say he was happy that Saer got the scholarship, and he was happy he'd be going to New York to pursue art, and maybe someday they'd visit now that he was eighteen, and it was his own choice.
But why had he never tried before?
On the plane to New York, he was bombarded with one image after another, clouding his head from natural thought. Every time he tried to close his eyes he was met with new catastrophe, oppressive white walls and a monochrome window that he pushed new hands against, felt the cold glass. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't sleep, he couldn't breathe, and he wondered if it was anxiety, but instead he drew on a napkin and hummed-
Surely, he drove the suit sitting beside him mad, but the misery was replaced by a soothing blank noise, and he felt peace settle between him and something distant, an inexplicable serenity that eased him to rest until the flight landed.
Elsewhere, a man with blue eyes sleeps amongst silent insanity, a lullaby in his skull.