The Magic Spot

by Jeffery Bennett

 

A story inspired by Giorgio de Chirico’s “The Melancholy of a Beautiful Day”

 

He lay in the grassy median of a road which bounded one side of a large inner-city university.  How he had come there, nobody knew.  From his looks, though, his path had been a cruel one. His body showed the signs of a life wracked by insupportable pain.  His face was hollow and sallow, his eyes vacant, except for a glint that reflected a fading desire for mercy if not kindness.  His ribs bowed outward like the bars of a birdcage draped in thin gauze.  Scars and fresh cuts blended with welts delivered from an unknown hand.

He had come during the night and now that day had come he lacked the strength to move on.

It was mid-fall; the weather pleasantly cool.  The cloudless sky was an intense blue, and a soft wind drove some dried reddish leaves down the median, swirling over his head.  He took no more notice of these than of the passing cars and students. They–the drivers and students–took no notice of him.  The students were by turns animated, self-absorbed, rushed.  But all had plans, plans encouraged and confirmed by the beautiful day.

At last, one student did take notice.  She stopped, abruptly grabbing the hand of her companion. “Look!” she cried. “Look there on the median.”  He did look.  She continued, “What should we do?”

He answered uncertainly.  “What can we do?”–with more uncertainty: “Nothing I suppose”.

She persisted.  “Of course there’s something we can do.”

He–the same lack of conviction as before: “He’s too far gone.”

“But we can at least give him some food and water.”

“He won’t–probably can’t–eat.”

“He will”.

Her friend relented, seemingly glad to have been convinced.  They made to a small convenience store on the squalid outskirts of the campus.  It was a dirty little store with bars on the windows. Here they purchased a bowl, a jug of water and some cooked link sausages.

They returned to the object of their mission.  He was still there.  They crossed the road to the median.  She approached to within a foot of him and poured some water into the bowl, tentatively pushing it in front of him. He ignored it.  Her friend laid the sausages before him.  No response–but only for a moment.  From what mysterious fount sprung that energy?  He fairly leapt from the ground greedily snapping at the sausages, swallowing each one whole.  He turned to the water and frantically slaked his horrible thirst.  He laid back down, exhausted.

The students felt relief, the relief which stems from fulfillment of an onerous, unasked for obligation.  They left and walked to their little apartment not far from the convenience store.

That night they worked on a common assignment; neither said much regarding the events of the day.  Before going to bed, she said quietly, “We’ll bring him more food tomorrow morning before class.”

The setting of the sun had brought an uncomfortable drop in temperature. He shivered alone during the course of the night.  He had shivered–always alone–during the course of many nights.

The morning came; they returned to the dirty little store and then to the median.  He was gone. A slight depression in the grass remained.  They looked at each other and again felt relief; but this time it was the relief at the cessation of an obligation which both feared would go on.  Guilt followed on relief, a guilt short-lived.  For these students too had plans, plans encouraged and confirmed by the beautiful day.