Dustmites - Excerpt
The greatest ambition of Martin Short was to be a hobo. Although he had always been quite clear in the expressing of this desire, it still came as a somewhat nasty shock to his parents when the dream began to actually take shape. As far back as Martin could remember, when adults had asked him, in that condescending way adults ask children about their futures - a manner which usually hides an entire world of jealousy - what he wanted to do when he grew up, the conversation had gone rather as follows;
"Well, there, Martin. How's school going?"
"Not so bad, Mr. Smith."
"Glad to hear it! Can't say I miss the old days of chalkboards and sums, but where would I be without them, eh? Any idea what you want to be when you grow up yet, young man?"
"I'm rather thinking I would like to be a hobo, sir."
A slap of a hat on a knee, and a chuckle, "You're a strange one, Short. Although, I believe I used to want to be an astronaut, so what can I say, really?"
These conversations began to take on quite a different tone as Martin grew older, his future nearer, and it began to seem, to Martin and his classmates, that their options were beginning to narrow into points as doors closed or opened and a single decision – what they would do after high school – began to look as though it would determine the entire course of their lives.
"Thinking about your plans for next year, yet, Martin?"
"Yes, Mr. Smith."
"What're your thoughts then? Off to college? A gap year? I hear those are getting quite popular. Or are you thinking of looking into an apprenticeship somewhere?"
"Well sir, for the moment I'm failing terrifically, which means I'm right on track for becoming a bum."
To Martin's continual amusement, the knee slap and the chuckle remained as punctuation for this response, and he was continually baffled at the human ability to render fiction anything that was not expected. Most of what came out of Martin's mouth was imagined to be some sort of hilarious fabrication, and he became known as rather a comic. Martin would meet their laughter, and what they imagined to be the continuation of a long-lasting joke between themselves and the Short boy, with a wide-mouth smile of his own, further encouraging their supposition that it was all in good fun. Even his parents seemed to think that every word out of his mouth was in jest.
"How was school today, Marty?"
"I drew a pretty sick picture of a shark," Martin replied between bites of casserole, " I mean, I've drawn some pretty decent pictures of aquatic creatures throughout my career as a failing student, but this one is something special. I might even hang it on the fridge."
A drawn-out sigh and a shake of the head. A sardonic smile, perhaps, if they were in a good mood, and, "When are we ever going to get a straight answer out of you, kid? Where did you even come from?"
Martin felt quite sure that the reason for which people never took him seriously may also have had something to do about his appearance, and there may have been a kernel of truth to this supposition. Indeed, particularly when one studied the area around his mouth, there was something pleasant there, something laughing which was neither recalcitrant nor mocking. Rather, it was a laughter that seemed directed towards Martin himself, and belonged to someone who could not quite take themselves seriously. This mouth was paired with wide brown eyes which, large and perpetually bewildered, gave their owner the appearance of utmost innocence, while the freckles on his nose and cheeks added to the effect of child-like purity. His teachers themselves, faced with a great deal of evidence pointing to the contrary, were convinced that Martin would, at the last moment, get his act together and pass. After all, they told his parents when they met with them shortly before his final exams, that's what he's done every other year.
"He's bright boy, your son, brighter than most. He just seems to have trouble applying himself. He gets easily distracted, but we all agree that he has his priorities straight."
Martin kept his gaze fixed on a tree outside the window during the entire meeting. There was a bird's nest in the top branches, and a mother bird, a scarlet-bibbed robin, had just landed near it with a bug of some sort in her beak. Straining his eyes and neck, Martin thought he could make out a little movement in the nest; tiny mewling beaks and a flutter of scruffy grey wings.
On his Maths final, Martin drew a little silhouette of a man sitting under a tree. He paused and glanced at the clock, which told him he had another twenty-five minutes to kill, then proceeded to scratch a tiny sandwich into the man's hands and opening the little jaw so that he could take a bite of it. Martin figured that it was a ham and cheese sandwich, and thought about how much he'd like one right about now. Under the drawing, Martin wrote: Tim sat under the big tree and ate his sandwich without a care in the world. Tim didn't have a care in the world because he had no responsibilities, which was largely due to the fact that he didn't exist. Martin was not entirely sure what he meant by writing this, and the professor correcting the papers would be equally puzzled. While the professor would arrive at the conclusion that Martin was trying to be smart, Martin figured he didn't mean anything by it at all. He certainly wasn't trying to be smart; Martin couldn't stand it when people tried to be smart. Either you were smart or you weren't, and if you did happen to be smart, then there was no need to spread it around like your own manure. Tim's little story meant something to Martin only insofar as that he himself was planning on extracting himself from all of his own responsibilities quite shortly, although remaining all the while very much in existence.
Perhaps once this extraction had been completed, he would make himself a ham and cheese sandwich and go find himself a big tree to sit under.