A Creative Introduction to my Favorite City
By Robert D. Gosselin
There are elves in Brattleboro, I know because I saw one while staring through the window of a van. At first I wasn’t sure what he was, but on that hot, sunny day in August my new eyes finally started working, and for the first time in my life I could see things how they truly are.
Once I knew he was an elf hidden ears became visible, unfolding up and open like daylilies. Long, golden hair cascaded down his shoulders. As he walked, his bare feet hardly touched the ground. His delicate limbs flowed like mercury. A naked chest shined like a mirror above tiny, black shorts. He gleamed and smiled and waved at all the other elves huddled in the doorway of the general store near the coffee shop. They all smiled and waved back.
I’ve been to Brattleboro before, right after a big flood when piles of bricks got knocked out of place from foundations hundreds of years old. Elves probably lived in Brattleboro then, but I still had my crusty old eyes and I they could only see the now. I traveled with a woman who made a promise to me, but she couldn’t see promises, not the way I see elves, and she rushed away like a squirrel when I turned my back. At first I was angry, but now I know when she left she took the first layer of crust from my old eyes. After that, things started happening fast.
The dying dancer took a layer of crust off my old eyes when he fell asleep after listening to me play my flute. The old man took away another layer. He fried it when the fireworks blew up in his brain. And Jessica, she’ll be mad when she finds out I used her name, tucked the last layer of crust from my eyes into her purse. She cashed it in for bus fare. It turns out my old eyes were nothing but crust, and then they were all gone. I couldn’t see anything. Not even elephants. All I had left was sockets.
In utter darkness, I slept on the floor. One morning my hungry cat carried two shiny new eyes over and dropped them into the empty holes on my face. I’m glad he didn’t eat them, but I still couldn’t see. My new eyes needed to be charged up. How do you charge up new eyes?
First, you have to be on fire. Still blind, I couldn’t see the flames, I just smelled what they scorched. Burning chicken skin, feathers and all. I’ve been told the sun burns hotter than fire. It doesn’t. I know.
After I got cooked, objects started to take shape, but only in outlines. So the gatekeepers, the ones who hate staring at what the flames left behind, realized my new eyes needed to be charged up even more, and I was shipped off to the place where they could get really energized: the factory that teaches you how to see only what’s real.
The first person I met at the factory was a short woman who shouted only in metaphors. She stood up on tip-toes, planting her face three inches from mine. She held two fingers like horns up on her head. “El Diablo! El Diablo!” After that, my new eyes started to work a little better.
Then I met the rapper kid from the Bronx, the one who knows the CIA has fortresses full of assassins under the ice caps. They go around hunting the 144 perfect people in the world. Well, he told me they got the first 143, and he was number 144. Even though his days were numbered, he sang gospel music like an angel. When he did, my eyes worked even more.
In the factory I also met the Impassioned Princess. She carried rows of symmetrical chevrons across both wrists. She owned blazing new eyes. They were quite wild, so I loved them. They worked better than mine because she saw right through me. One day she said, “let’s live together in our own castle, and we can get used to our new eyes together.” My heart usually tells me to trust more in the chaotic, so I nearly said yes, but I didn’t.
I said no because the King of the World taught me how to finally use that word. He spreads (truth) with bitter weapons and erases fantasy with recurrent sermons. His scepter is a needle, and his holy wafers are tiny: they don’t need to be pretentious.
Many of us stayed at the factory, and for a long time, but no elves. Only Shouters, Singers, Chevrons, and King David, all playing their lyres before the sedate throne of God. But when I left the factory my new eyes worked better. Enough to keep me from walking into walls.
I do know one thing, they did a great job putting tear ducts in my new eyes. I tested the bejesus out of them when I had to leave the factory. Here I tried to say—and go home—but when you get new eyes you can’t go home anymore. Elves can. They are always oh, so at home.
Okay, back to Brattleboro, I don’t want to talk about the factory anymore.
With my new eyes I saw an elf sitting next to a stop sign. She wrote tales and ballads in a notebook. She was a dusty elf, meaning she could turn herself into a bird and roll in the sand. Being a bird, she could also sing, and that broke my heart. It broke her heart too, because she silently sang her words as she wrote them. Her dusty face was tracked with lines, sympathetic tears of exquisite pathos.
The next day it rained, a real gullywasher, and soap suds ran down the side of the road and into storm drains. “Look,” I shouted. “The elves are all standing on top of the hill and washing their hair!” I couldn’t see them, but the suds smelled like flowers, and that’s the only kind of shampoo elves use.
Then the sun came out, and I saw another elf. She had bright eyes and dark hair. She smiled at each courtesy, and laughed at the river on the side of the road. She told me all the Brattleboro Elves got together every year under a waterfall, and they played together before spinning into a rising cascade of multicolored sparks. She said they all played naked. I really wanted to see this. Is it okay for me to say that? I don’t mind if it’s not, because I’m not thinking about looking at them the way my old eyes saw things. My new eyes wanted to see them sparkle and spiral up into the sky. And you can only evaporate if you’re naked. Clothes won’t vaporize. Not like skin does.
There’s even an elf working at the library. She stands regally tall with thousands of tiny flowers stuck all over her dress like diamonds.
Everywhere I looked my new eyes exposed elves, and the stuff elves use. There was the mirror of a famous elf. It stood in a golden field of fresh cut hay. People who can’t see elf stuff would call it a birdbath. I wanted to run up to it and fill it to the brim with sacred water from the stream, hoping the mirror showed me where my new eyes were going to take me. But I was locked in the van. An elf drove that, too. The same one who told me about the waterfall. I wanted to say to the woman next to me, “how lucky we are, an elf is driving us all where we need to go,” but I didn’t. My new eyes might let me see elves, but they don’t make me brave.
Then I left Brattleboro. Where I ended up, there are no elves. Perhaps I can go back and see them again, but only beyond a window, because if you ever dare to walk up to an elf and say, “how wonderful you are, young and supple and laughing with a voice so strong it never wavers, and your eyes, your eyes will never turn to crust the way mine did,” they turn away from you, and you will never be able to see them again.