Matt Wilkinson was born in Santa Cruz, CA, 30yrs ago. He lives in San Francisco. He knows that we hear everything w/in our auditory range—everything: conversations, hammers-falls, tires, bees—but we filter it out from our consciousness in a sort of psychiatric ignorance until it becomes relevant (which is why he perks up when he suddenly hears his name in a crowded bar). And all of this is quite simply pants-shitting to him.
Somewhere now—at some drugstore aisle or mall kiosk or gift shop tourist-trap thoroughfare—somewhere there’s an eight-year-old boy being an eight-year-old boy: hiding behind a spin-rack of greeting cards, waiting in ambush for his unsuspecting mother, who is fifteen-or-so-feet away, behind a closed door, applying makeup in a recently remodeled bathroom.
What’s going to happen in just a few moments is this: The sun’s going to shine through the window; the mother’s going to emerge; the kid’s going to squeal, and the kid’s going to pounce; the mom’s going to embrace him; and they’re both going to walk out into the daylight, holding hands.
But first thing’s first: greeting cards. Greeting cards are folded cardboard rectangles, the covers of which promise something peaceful & sentimental :: landscapes; puppies & kittens (together!); symbols which may or may not be Buddhist, but are close enough anyway; old-timey swimsuit models w/ humorous talk-bubbles; two sagging, wrinkled old people whose faces melt together in a passionate kiss :: some honeydrop thing that strums us like a chord; something known, and acoustic—almost universal. But when the card is opened, there is only blank slate affection. This space is, of course, for the buyer to add their own personal touch to something that is almost completely impersonal: a product of known, marketable appeal. And in the buyer’s own hand would be written some message of graded sentiment based upon the intended recipient (provided there is an intended recipient at the time of purchase) and their relationship w/ the buyer. And the recipient accepts them, to varying degrees of amusement/sentiment—the idea being that he/she (the recipient) has not gone unnoticed.
The boy hides behind these things, not thinking these thoughts. His smile is insuppressible—gapped, yet-to-fall baby teeth peeking out like timid mice—as he fidgets w/ anticipation behind the rack.
Fifteen-or-so-feet away, behind a closed door, the mother applies makeup in the bathroom mirror, under buzzing fluorescents. The bathroom has been redone. The tile is shining; the colors are multifarious & bright; the doors are painted white; all the locks work; the toilets are clean; an old woman in the stall closest to the sinks has shat herself (which, but for the smell, is of no concern to anyone). Mother can see the bathroom door behind her in the mirror, and every time it opens there is a bombardment of color & noise, of people moving & talking & laughing too loudly, and kids giggling, and machine sounds, and things made of metal crashing & thwacking & banging :: and she can see the glossy magazines adorned w/ young women, & old women whose business it is to look young; and she can see the rack of cards, and the boy waiting. She takes her time in application—concealing crow’s-feet & smile lines & other such striations of the human face caused by natural aging & emotion—under that harsh light, that insectoid hum of fluorescents swarming about her, until she finds herself standing stone-still & staring into the mirror, water flowing continuously from a broken automatic faucet in front of her. She notices a nick in the bright new linoleum when she reaches for a paper towel. She dries two thumbs and eight rough & ringless fingers, one-at-a-time. The boy is waiting. The mother sighs as she heads for the door, having forgotten about the shat-pants air, which she now palpably tastes.
She’s only just stepped through the door when he attacks, too eager, too early, a consequence of his long wait. The rack of cards rocks & spins. He streaks toward her shrieking a ridiculous, helial battle cry—like a radio frequency of code, dit-dotted by laughter—that goofy, gapped grin spread across his face.
It’s like a card, rich w/ potential sentiment; and one begins to expect things. One expects the boy’s steps to fall soundlessly. One expects mother’s smile to grow in proportion to his nearness to her. One expects mother to drop to a knee, arms extended. One expects the world around them to be exhaled in a fuzzy aura of light & music & slowness as they embrace, sun streaming through spotless windows. One expects the general, acoustic idea of love.
But what happens is this: The sun indeed shines through the window; and the glass is indeed spotless; but only mother’s one arm comes out limply as the boy charges, the other arm hanging at her side. Her smile is mostly an effect of her lipstick; she accepts him; he smothers her coat in hugs & kisses; she corals him toward the exit. It’s not an embrace; it’s an acceptance. Noise & color & crowded reality flow on w/ the broken faucet. And the sunlight outside isn’t the warm kind.
And she doesn’t look at the greeting cards on the way out, the disturbed rack just now going still, its many cardboard pieces promising so much human feeling—containing none if none is applied.