The Art of Living

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4: One Way Up

He walked past the school, and felt like he walked past fifty years. But his mind still ran like philosophy 101, and his words still sounded like a literature text book, both qualities he had prized. Now, he wanted a fresh base, a clean slate to build his mind’s inner workings on. He swept his hair out of his face, and the rush that his fingers felt to feel strong roots of hair was incredible. He still remembered the very first time he had run his hand through his brown hair at sixty. Strands had come out dangling like men hanging from nooses. The Professor saw them as dead men who represented his own oncoming death. Soon, he had grown accustomed to the falling hair. Like a Golden Retriever shedding hair in the summer, his strands were all over the place. The hardest to process was when a young student gingerly picked one up at his desk, eyes swimming between the strand and the Professor, who had looked on in embarrassment.

Now, his hair stuck firmly to his head, he wandered through streets he had walked through all his life, feeling extremely lightheaded. The café had long since exited his thoughts, but she hadn’t. He still thought of her, even though he now questioned her existence. He had long since grown accustomed to himself forgetting things or letting his mind wander to an extent where the reality around him was questionable. His own imagination could crawl up to the sky and oversee this mythical world he created, until something brought him back to ordinary reality. As a child, he had struggled through the phase of waking up from a dream with utter disappointment. He would dream of far off castles and dragons with iron scales and beautiful women in Nordic gowns, and then it would shatter him when a soft noise in his room suddenly tossed him out of a beautiful world and into an ordinary one. He began to question the concept of dreams at all. He had not begun to question God at this point of time, though, and so he deciphered miserably that this was God’s example to mortal beings. To keep them rooted to the Earth, he would provide them a glimpse of something grand, something majestic, something ethereal, and then, all of a sudden, he would pull them out. The first few times, Quicksilver had cried and cried. Soon, he began to project disgust at the world around him, because it was all too real. This phase ended quite quickly when he realized that escaping the real world was not a possibility. He then began to develop a film of negativity over his corneas, a negativity that made him question every single form of happiness. Would it be taken away as instantly as a dream ended?

A flash of gold. Quicksilver stopped, frowning. Glass windows in the residential area around him ricocheted light like a table-tennis ball, but he could see the golden light streaming all around the place. He could stop and remember the moment forever, for it was surreal. The narrow cobblestone pathway sloped upwards, and the little cottages on either side gleamed as beams of sunlight stood as if the very pillars of heaven had fallen to the Earth. No one was there to see it save for Quicksilver, and so he knew it was just for him. And he knew that the flash of gold was a flash of her. And he would pounce on that little speck of light before it could be pulled away from him without warning. This dream could not end.

As if the heavens themselves had opened up their glory to him, Quicksilver walked up the cobblestone pathway. He had walked this path before, but he could not remember it very well. The cottages seemed strange and untouched, as if the inhabitants waited in hiding until he passed by. He glanced left and right as he walked, hoping to catch an eye or two, but there was not a shadow of movement from within the windows. The cottages seemed to grow taller as slope advanced, and they now hunkered over him from above, almost enclosing him in a tunnel. The cobbled pathway went tap tap with his footsteps, and it was the only sound he could hear. Was this the path to the meaning of life he was looking for? A tunnel that slowly expanded around him until the darkness surrounded everything, and then, perhaps a flash of gold. The Professor did not know if gold awaited him at the end of the cobblestone path, but he felt ominous, as if something awaited him at the very end.

Thoughts of ends and beginnings are futile to a man who ages backwards, thought Quicksilver. When did he begin? At the café? And if that was so, when was the end coming? He did what he could only do. He lit a cigarette. There was no unsweetened tea in his grasp, but he truly wanted to see if the cigarette held his life like he thought it did. As he walked up, he focused more on smoking as much of it as he could, taking deep inhalations to speed its death. And just as a ship sunk its heavy hull slowly into water, the cigarette died and was thrown beneath a booted foot.

There was so much light around him now, as if the gold flash he had seen existed in the form of clouds of gold dust that reflected the sunlight into his eyes. He was lost now. An endless walk up a cobblestone pathway might have been aesthetic in the beginning, but he soon found his eyes straining. Too much light was too much sweetness in his tea. He looked around him, as if his very eyes could stir the cup of his life, allowing the sugar to separate and dissolve evenly. As soon as he did this, the shadows began appearing.

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