I stand halfway up red lava tinged cliffs. It’s a wide ledge here. Below me, subdivisions with the remaining orchards scattered among them. In front, the white and grey granite wall. I pull my spray paint out of my pack and begin to create.
I’m drawing a six-foot-high face, the face of the Zero-Armed Peddler, my imaginary childhood friend. I once believed Zero Arms lived behind a secret door in this cliff wall that could only be opened with the right attitude, an unlocking kindness. I climbed up here today, knocking on the rock. Wistful fancy, but it settles my thoughts.
Zero Arms, big bellied amputated authoritarian who stands up for people having a rough time. He lost his limbs in a war, could have been any war. He wears three belts, to show he doesn’t fit in. He’s a good friend, grateful I created him. Arms is concerned about me, about my future, but he’s all in my head. Today I’ll picture him out on this wall.
I draw the face, about six feet high. I try to make it seem full of concern. Beside it I create a depiction of Arms lying on his side. I fit his whole body in across the ledge.
Below, I see Ally’s house. “I wonder if she’s home?” For the last week, I’ve been burning an inch of a scented candle every day, and chanting spells to magic up romance with her. Last night I dreamed she turned towards me by the baseball field below, under early morning light. We stood together watching a vision of Zero Arm’s portrait on the cliff. Her voice calmed me as she asked “Why does the Peddler have no arms?” and I replied “because he’s a pacifist,” and we both laughed and then she shimmered back across the field and became a shadow against the pines.
The dream motivated me to come up here and spray Zero Arms’ likeness, make it real. As I climbed, I focused with my ears, putting them up against the cliff, listening. My pulse calmed and I heard my heartbeat through the rocks. I pulled myself forward hand over hand, thinking of the door in the cliff.
There’s more space than solidity in any mass. When the atoms part, there’s an opening, always more to discover. Every preparation for another step up is a feeling forward, every reach a move towards a knob, a handle to pull on. I climbed well, believing in the search. Now I’m on the ledge. If the bottom of the cliff is a birthplace, and the top adulthood, I’m at a stop halfway through. I begin to create Zero Arms. The spray billows around me a bit. Most of it sticks to the rock.
There are two things I wish. One: People will look up at the cliff and see my imaginary friend’s face. They will remember it, if no one remembers me. Two: Ally and I will meet on the baseball field, and last night’s dream will come true.
I work for an hour or more, Zero Arms’ humongous eyebrows, the mop top hair, the wide and smiling mouth, all come out of my head and are sprayed onto the wall.
The face is complete. There is one item left. Call Ally. Depending on what she says, I will choose what to do next. She sat across from me in French class last year. I borrowed her pen from time to time. I think of the way she tucked her hair under her chin. She lives in my head now even more than Zero Arms. I imagine my arms around her, til my heart aches.
Her phone rings, and no one answers. I leave a message. “I dreamed your shadow on the baseball field. Did you dream of me? If so, we should talk.” These are words I’ve rehearsed since awakening today. I put my spray paint back in my pack, turn around, and begin to climb the rest of the cliff.
I open my hand, close it on a rock, leave the face behind. I’m glad Ally didn’t answer. The higher I climb, the more certain the conclusion, if I slip.
I pull my weight hard to the clifftop. The soles of my shoes press solid. I have strength to spare, my thoughts pull me as much as my fingers and arms. At one point, a clump of grass shakes loose and tumbles down, over and over. As things fall, they become smaller the farther they go, as if going back in time.
I look down at the valley again. My home, the land of my childhood. The phone rings. It’s Ally. If she leaves a message, that will be the sign.
After a moment, the phone buzzes. She has replied! I check the message while standing on another small ledge. Only a few more feet to go.
“Wow, Myles Barrow,” Ally texts. “Weird to hear from you. I’m just on coffee break. Got a summer job at the mall. Yes, I dreamed about you, too. Really strange. I dreamed you’d fallen off a cliff.”
I think of the scented candle from my pack. I must burn another inch.
“There’s been an unlocking,” I think. I wonder if anyone down there has seen the Zero Arms face, far behind me now.
I get out my phone and call Ally. It takes a lot of will to push those buttons, almost as much as climbing, but I want her to know I’m almost on top, and if she has strong binoculars, she can take a look.
If she does, I won’t have to climb the cliff ever again.
Harrison Kim’s worst fear is being stuck halfway up (or is that halfway down) a cliff. He has published short stories in various venues.