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American Annals of the Deaf

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Islay: A Novel
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For a long moment everything was still in the room; Lyson, with his chin high, proud, gazing with affection at the beautiful dollhouse, eyes shiny, chest heaving, while Mortima retreated against the door, her grip hard around the knob. Again the strong male odor startled her, and her heart accelerated. His happiness over such trivia was disgusting even when viewed against all the foibles she knew of the husbands of her friends. He had no right to be so happy while his wife, Mary, had to contend with the real, oh so real situations she and her friends dealt with every day just so that their husbands could enjoy silly things like toy soldiers. Her lips hurt from having been pulled over her teeth. Lyson’s fault! But she restrained herself; after all, it was her skill at her vocation that still was her best, most devastating weapon. And it was a weapon, not some little tin car pulled out of a matchbox. And she would use it—when the time was right. When it hurt the most!

Lyson is insane, she nodded to herself, then stopped herself lest he see her. But she needn’t have worried; Lyson caught sight of something he didn’t like in the mirror and hurried over and turned on the lights. He blanched. He seized fistfuls of Kleenex and mopped the sweat off his face and neck. He even tried to dry the armpits of his jacket, but it was futile. He slammed the ball of Kleenex at a wastebasket. Seizing a can of deodorant, he let loose a spray against his armpits. Sniffing all over himself, he found new areas of further concern and pushed the button again, raising a cloud of spray between his legs. Never before had Mortima been this intimate with a man, and her neck began to feel hot. She imagined her neck sweating, and she wiped it, cursing Lyson for the mess he was creating in her person. She caught herself again. The light from the vanity mirror was so bright she felt exposed; she held herself stock still, like a deer caught in headlights.

Finally, his face and neck were wiped dry enough to be presentable, and Lyson calmed down somewhat. Now he examined his ears by employing a small mirror held up at such an angle against the big mirror that he could see deeply into his own ears. Out came the Q-tips from a drawer, and he reamed his ears so thoroughly that if wax had been the culprit behind his hearing impairment, he would’ve heard Mortima’s gasping perfectly by the time the little mirror satisfied him that his ears were clean down to the drums. An examination of his nostrils brought out some tiny scissors from the drawer, and he snipped around inside until all the offending little hairs were gone. His shoulders brushed clear of dandruff, his tie pulled straight, his hands and sleeves wiped clean of chalk, he nodded to some imaginary flunky beside himself: Ready!

With the slowness of a very important man weighed down with the responsibilities of the world, Lyson pushed himself to his feet, a deep thought furrowing his brow; he moved slowly to a position behind the table where he could face both the dollhouse and himself in the mirror. For a fraction of a moment his brow furrowed ever deeper. His demeanor collapsed, and he hurried back to the desk. Out of a drawer he retrieved a matchbox and slid it open. It was no ordinary matchbox but the kind that formerly held huge wooden matches.

With the tenderness of servant toward master, he brought out a shiny tin soldier. Mortima saw that it was a knight in shining armor astride a horse with—of all things—wings! Over and through the assembled troops on the table he marched and flew the little knight, his lips pursed to emphasize the seriousness and splendor of the occasion. Around, round, and above the dollhouse, Lyson flew the little knight on the wings of—of—Mortima thought aghast, the Mobile Gasoline Company’s winged horse, banking one way, then sharply, like a jet, zipping the other. Mortima had never learned about Pegasus, the winged horse; nor had she learned the story of how Pegasus came into Lyson’s life, how his grandmother had started it all, how his dream had begun in a matchbox. Had she known the story, she’d have bolted out the door back to the tea party, screaming and wagging her finger. Instead, she gaped at Pegasus and worked her mouth like a fish out of water.

It was his dear grandmother who gave him the matchbox. It was uncanny just how she knew what would please him. For some reason, perhaps because they do not bear any guilt over the child, grandmothers do seem to know their grandchild far better than the parents do.

“Open it,” she urged, wiggling a finger in his dimple. Lyson would have torn open the box, but she caught his hands and showed how it could be opened without tearing. Out came a Rolls Royce. A Silver Cloud the size of an ordinary matchbox, yet its four doors opened like the real thing to reveal a steering wheel, seats, even a dashboard, and the hood opened to a miniature engine. So real that, even though Lyson had to press his ear to the floor to achieve this end, he could imagine himself driving the automobile around, under chairs and tables that transformed themselves into houses, skyscrapers, mountains.

This Silver Cloud began the great matchbox collection. And so the Dream. Every time she came to visit, his grandmother brought a new automobile. Cadillacs, Lincolns, Mercedes, BMWs, Ferraris, MGs, Bugs, even Jeeps. As Lyson grew, so did the matchbox collection: trucks, tractor-trailers, tractors, bulldozers, tanks, even warships. As the collection grew larger and more extensive, so did the dream. People thought the collection the finest they had ever seen of the matchbox set; Lyson thought his dream the neatest.

Yet the dream remained formless, like stardust, lacking content and substance, until one day his grandmother, the only one he ever confided his dream to—at least until Mary caught on years later and pried it out of him—anyway, this selfsame grandmother returned from a trip to Vienna with a genuine matchbox, a large one that formerly held wooden matches. The kind that, when struck, made fire.

“This is very valuable,” she stressed as she held it out of reach of his eager hands. “Be careful!”

“Say ‘thank you,’ ” his mother insisted.

“Promise,” insisted his grandmother, “you’ll be careful.”

She slid the box open and out flew Pegasus, with Lyson close behind. It was a shiny tin knight on a flying horse, the knight so straight and courageous in the saddle, the wings so proud and jaunty. Lyson ran after it, holding it high aloft, little engine noises sputtering on his lips. Around, above, and under the furniture went Lyson and Pegasus, sweeping around tremendous thunderstorms, soaring above mighty mountains, swooping under great bridges. Grandmother screamed, and mother seized him by one sideburn and took away Pegasus.


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