8-year-old Ricky remained focused, carefully counting the number of paces as he walked away from the playground and headed straight out into the vast, open, grassy field of the city park. Ricky was a boy curious about all things. And the 8-year-old wanted to know exactly how many steps it was from the merry go round, to the spot-on center of the open green expanse.
Ricky counted his paces in his mind, while his mouth worked silently, as it always did whenever he was in deep thought. He never let himself daydream or lose his count; on the contrary, he tallied each successive pace, noting the incrementing total with a pronounced seriousness. Finally, he was nearly to his destination. He kept his eye on the central point as he counted… 497, 498, and 499. Ricky stopped. He was standing on the spot.
It took the young boy exactly 499 paces to get from the merry go round, to the exact spot-on center of the lush, emerald-green field. If Ricky’s total step count had been a perfect, round numbered 500, he would have been quite suspicious of himself. Most 8-year-old boys would take an extra step on purpose, and pretend that they had not, because a total of exactly 500 steps would seem joyfully miraculous, and a lot luckier than 499—but it was not honest, and the total would not be true. Most boys would not care. But Ricky would, and he knew life usually gave you a less exciting, but correct number. So this is how he knew that the count was indeed 499 steps exactly.
As he stood at center point, Ricky noticed his shadow. The afternoon sun that day was a joyful radiant orb and it bathed the park in long, extending, golden rays of light.
Ricky looked around him; he studied everything in the park with intense scrutiny. He studied the basketball court, and the yellow painted circle on the concrete beneath the goal. With pursed lips, he noted that the metal hoop had no basket. He counted the players, there were exactly eight boys playing basketball. The tallest one had red hair and freckles. The shortest boy had a green shirt with a white number “7” painted on it. Ricky made a mental note of this.
The 8-year-old next noted the swing set, and he inspected its geometry in keen observation. It was composed of two triangles and a long connecting pole that held four swing seats.
Two children were swinging. Ricky took a visual snapshot of them and closed his eyes. The swaying kids were in his mind; one child rolled swinging forward, and he grinned widely as his shoe tips rose up into the sky. And at the same instant, the other youngster rocked swinging backward, her hair splayed in front of her face, trailing behind in the air as she rose into the air giggling.
When Ricky opened his eyes, the two had switched. He raised his eyebrows in surprise.
Turning his head, Ricky saw the slide. He saw a parent trying to coax their small child up the ladder, but the blond haired boy was crying. His father finally waved for the child to come back down, but the boy, frozen with fear, clung tightly to the rungs crying. His irritated father reached up, wrapped an arm around the boy, and lowered him to the ground. Ricky held his thumb up at arm’s length and compared it to the vacant slide. The slide was exactly as tall as his thumb.
Ricky’s eyes swept right, scanning to locate the merry go round. His eyes locked on it and he examined its aspects in detail. The 8 year old observed the shining circular stainless steel base. It was like a sideways wheel. The lots of metal handhold bars rose up from around the wheel’s circumference. All handholds stretched in long rails and lead to the interior of the wheel where they all attached like spokes to the center axle.
Ricky remarked the merry go round was revolving quite slowly. It had no children to keep it company; it was alone as it turned quite elegantly in the wind.
Ricky keenly focused his blue eyes and visually took in the intricate facets of the merry go round. He memorized its geometric shapes, its lines, and its overall structure. He continued to study it until he could close his eyes, and visually recall every detail, seeing it all in his mind.
Turning to look behind him, the boy found the sandbox full of white sand. Brown wooden railroad ties contained the bed of sparkling, white grains, making a square around it. He gave the sandbox a nod of the head in friendly recognition. He did not memorize the sandbox; he already knew it well.
Ricky quickly spun around like a gunslinger, turning towards the merry go round again. He tested his memory of its details for accuracy. But it was different now. The wind was still blowing but the merry go round was absolutely still.
A very fat man sat on it, weighing it down. The man hungrily gobbled down a sandwich with one hand while reaching into a brown paper bag for another sandwich with his other hand. But other than the man, everything else about the merry go round was exactly as Ricky remembered it.
Lastly, Ricky turned and found the American flag on the tall pole at the far entrance of the park. Ricky stiffened; he stood at attention, he clicked his heels, and he formally saluted the flag, and then stood at ease.
Ricky looked for something else to observe and study. He searched about the entire park, as he turned a full circle looking around. He could not find anything else to look at. Had he really seen everything in the park? Was there actually nothing else to look at?
Ricky worried much about this as his mouth worked, thinking hard. To help him think even harder Ricky pulled his lower lip way out and held it there between his thumb and forefinger. After a few seconds, he let go and his lip smacked back.
Then it dawned on him. He slapped an open palm on his forehead. He forgot that there was a lot more to see. But it was not located in the park. It was the one place 8-year-old Ricky had not looked. He never looked up above the park. He forgot all about the sky.
Ricky craned his neck upwards and looked into the infinite expanse of the azure sky. His eyes squinted from the gilded brilliance of the extending fingers of the sun’s rays. The boy stared until he could not continue to gaze into the sun any longer, and then he let down his head.
Ricky looked towards the merry go ground to see if he still remembered exactly every detail of what it looked like.
Ricky looked for it, but all Ricky saw were large, black, oval splotches; the visual wounds inflicted on the retina by a fierce sun. Ricky closed his eyes, bent over and he began to rub them. He closed his hands into fists and twisted them against his shuteyes, lightly rubbing his eyeballs with his knuckles.
Ricky slowly regained his eyes, and he looked for the merry go round, it was still there, and it looked exactly as he remembered it in his mental image. The fat man was gone. The metal wheel turned gracefully again, alone and spinning in the wind, it looked like a ballerina in slow motion.
Ricky again craned his neck and looked back up to survey the sky, but this time he carefully held his cupped hands over his eyes to shield out the overwhelming fiery light.
He looked across the expanse of the sky and what he beheld struck him with awe. He observed dozens of colossal, snow-white, billowy clouds. The clouds looked like huge mountains, but not just any mountains, delicious mountains made from zillions of scoops of cold, creamy, sweet vanilla ice cream—Ricky’s favorite flavor. The clouds looked so scrumptious. But unhappily, they were far out of Ricky’s reach.
Ricky prayed for God to give him a large silver spoon and a white, feathery pair of wings. As he waited for an answer to his prayer, he promised himself if the answer was “yes,” that he would fly high up into the sky, sit on a cold floating mountain, take his spoon in hand, and gobble away. He would eat as much of the creamy, sweet mountain as he could, one spoonful at a time, stuffing himself until he almost busted.
Ricky waited for 5 minutes and then he decided the answer to his wishful prayer must have been “no,” which he pretty much expected it would be. But he shrugged his shoulders contentedly because it was definitely was worth a good try.
Ricky was smart enough to realize that the clouds probably were not really made of vanilla ice cream. He knew that the sun was as hot as the devil’s skillet and it surely would have melted all the clouds away if they were.
The sky would have cracked and rolled with thunder, flashed down twisted fingers of lighting, and then rain in a deluge of squillions of vanilla milkshake droplets.
And oodles of children with straws in hand would have sucked them all off the ground with straws a long time ago. And there would be no such thing as clouds any more.
Ricky glanced back up at the clouds. He panned from side to side across the wide azure heavens. There certainly were some gigantic clouds up there. But they just hung there as they floated sedately across the sky. As observant as Ricky was, he did not notice that the clouds imperceptibly stirred inside, in slothful, churning wisps, gradually transforming their shapes. All of the huge, white billows looked the same Ricky concluded.
Ricky was not impressed with the clouds. Obviously, clouds were not like things in the playground. In the playground, each object was different and Ricky could enjoy studying each one as a unique thing. These clouds were simply boring.
Ricky was ready to go home. But before he left, he decided that he would pick out just one cloud and try to study it.
The cloud he picked looked just like any other meaningless cloud. Studying this cloud was unexciting and Ricky quickly became bored. He soon started daydreaming as he stared into the cloud, then his eyes lost focus altogether. Soon Ricky was not thinking about the cloud anymore. In fact, he was not thinking about anything.
Then instantly, magic struck, it jarred him out of his daydream like an earsplitting thunderbolt that makes you jump. The same cloud no longer looked like just a cloud. Besides being white, it was as obvious as a photograph. The cloud looked exactly like Ricky’s long yellow school bus, and it was immaculate in detail.
From its wheels, to its two glass-paned opening door, to the emergency exit door, it was definitely his school bus. The windows were even open and the children’s heads were visible. The wind had shaped the vague, meaningless cloud into a bus, just as if someone had taken a giant pair of scissors and cut the bus out of a huge flat cloud, skillfully trimming away the excess pieces. It was a better job than his art teacher was capable of doing.
The bread loaf shaped child-transport vehicle slowly poked along across the sky high above the city park. Suddenly Ricky saw his bus driver Mr. Brown stick his head out the driver side window, and stretch his neck way out, to look behind the bus. Ricky noticed that Mr. Brown looked very nervous.
Ricky looked behind the bus and there was a new cloud. Ricky saw why Mr. Brown was afraid. It was an enormous billowy whale slowly swimming behind the puttering bus. The whale was much bigger than the school bus, and it effortlessly swam towards the school bus, slowly moving its huge tail up and down in the sky, effortlessly swimming towards the bus. And it was swimming faster than the bus was moving away from it.
Ricky knew that Mr. Brown had the gas pedal pressed all the way to the floor and was in a state of alarm, desperately trying to make the bus go faster, in the despairing hope he could outrun the whale. But it was obviously a hopeless situation.
This whale was hungry and scary. The behemoth haunted the bus, toying with the nervous bus driver. The monster took its sweet time, waiting patiently to catch and gobble down the school bus and dozens of delicious children. The whale would begin to swim faster closing in on the bus; and it opened its mouth in a huge grin because the whale knew the bus driver was in a panic. After a moment of catching up to the bus, the whale would slow down, swim casually, and the bus would begin to get away. Then the whale would swim faster again. Mr. Brown was sweaty all over his face.
The voracious whale jetted out a white wisp, which Ricky knew was the furious mist of its exhaled breath and tiny droplets of seawater. The whale bullied the nervous bus. And it grew overconfident and felt puffed up with pride. This was the whale’s biggest mistake.
What the whale did not know was that there was an even bigger, open-mouthed, white, wispy-toothed monster tiptoeing up slowly behind him. The monster held its arms and hands up high above its head, and its legs hung curled as it inched hungrily after the whale. The monster’s gaping mouth laughed silently snickering; the monster was trying so hard to repress the laughter arising in his throat.
Ricky was so overjoyed with the extravaganza of this drama in the expansive blue sky, that without thinking he began to spin round and round in circles. He gained speed and revolved in a fury. He held his arms straight out at his sides. Ricky the everyday boy had transformed into Ricky the human propeller. His blades were moving very fast. They probably looked like a blur, if anyone might see him.
As the 8 year old whirled, looking up he witnessed the sky. He saw the piteous school bus and the two predators behind it. The three living, breathing, clouds swung around in a panoramic circle, and became a blur of a swirling carousel above the small boy. The blood in Ricky’s head swooshed and he felt it push against the vessels beneath his temples as he continued to whirl in a world that was a distortion of blue and white swirling together.
No adult was there to tell Ricky to stop spinning so Ricky went round and round in wanton abandon. It was as good as if his mother let him miss a day of school without actually having a cold.
Ricky was circling like a ship captain’s wheel, unmanned and spinning out of control. In that moment there was no past, there was no future, there was just the sweet “Now,” filled with joy.
Gasping, from his phenomenal speed and physical effort, the need to breathe forced the boy to stop spinning and take a break. Ricky wanted to put his hands on his thighs, bend over, suck in some deep breaths and rest, while looking down at his tennis shoes in the plush green grass. But what happened was that he could not stand very well. In fact, he fell down on the soft ground. Because even though Ricky was no longer twirling in the grass, his world still was swirling all about him in his mind.
He felt nauseated for a second, and then a little scared, but finally he became profoundly curious at the experience he was transitioning through, at what he felt, saw, and what he remembered. He tried to sit up but Ricky was so dizzy, much dizzier than when was when he kept riding on the merry go for too long before he got off of it. Ricky began to get his balance and the spinning in his head lessened. The boy, like the insides of a running washing machine, was at the end of the spin cycle. In a few more minutes the washing machine would stop.
He shakily stood up and tried to focus on the tall, iron flagpole in the distance, and nothing else. Ricky wanted to look at anything that was not moving. However even the flagpole was moving a bit from left to right.
Ricky’s legs were weak and felt like standing on two wobbly Slinkys. Ricky staggered a few steps trying to keep on his feet. It took a long time but the washing machine slowed into a slower rotation, and then as it came to a stop, he finally was able to walk a bit.
Ricky tried to look back up into the sky for the bus, the whale, and the monster, but looking straight up made him fell dizzy again and he had to stare back at the grass.
When everything finally stopped moving, Ricky lifted his head and looked back up into the sky. The familiar clouds were still in the sky, but they seemed to have moved along in the blue a bit during the interim. And it looked like the last monster was just about to catch the overconfident, bullying, whale before the whale actually gobbled up the school bus full of children.
Ricky wanted to enjoy the moment and spin some more, but it was hard as he now had a terrible headache. The boy wanted to lie on his bed, take a long refreshing nap, and wake up, as if no time had been lost to sleep.
Then Ricky would go out into the middle of this grassy field in the city park and do the whole thing all over again.