Prose by Lorelei McEwen
Art by Natalia Mohar
Disclaimer: This piece depicts the world through the lens of an autistic protagonist. It is my intention for this piece to foster understanding and acceptance of both autistic struggles and strength. This portrayal is based on my personal experience as an autistic person and may not ring true for everyone on the spectrum. This depiction is a sole, unique interpretation of the autistic experience and is not meant to represent the experiences of all autistic people as a diverse group.
- Fool – noun
“a person lacking in judgment or prudence”
0. The Fool
a state of continuous curiosity, wonder, and
playfulness. To discover the world anew.
Six fluorescent lights, two lamps and four windows.
Two doors to the left – one led to the amenities, the other to the staff room. Another door on the right – the way out. Your way out.
The saccharine lady smiled at you and you pried your lips into a smile in return. She had been fumbling over your resume for a couple minutes now, her acrylic nails tapping against the polished desktop. To distance yourself from the overpowering scent of her floral perfume, you started to count each tap on the desk, but once she began rolling her fingertips across the glass surface, you turned your attention to the objects around you. As she looked at you, the corners of her eyes crinkling with something amicable, you realized you missed another window behind her desk.
Six fluorescent lights, two lamps and five windows.
“It says here you have experience in customer service. Tell me about that.” Her eyes brimmed with the curiosity of someone who had not just skimmed your resume.
“Well, I worked primarily in sales at several retail stores,” you replied. “I also did a bit of waitressing in Calgary.”
“Really? What was that like?”
“Great actually,” your voice mocked the enthusiasm you tried to emulate, but thankfully the lady didn’t seem to catch on. “I learned a lot about how to give quality service to customers through managing multiple tables, giving thoughtful advice on food selection—when prompted of course—as well as providing food in a timely manner.”
“Would you say that multitasking is one of your strengths?”
The left light in the corner flickered briefly like a firefly drifting through a dark meadow. You wished to be in that meadow too.
“I would say so.”
“What would you say is your biggest strength?”
You grimaced. This was the one question you didn’t prepare for with a carefully scripted answer.
Your strength at any given moment depended on many things. Did they want a quick thinker? Or a thorough one? A quiet demeanor couldn’t command a room, but could move foundations quietly until a castle was built from the inside out. Every asset could be seen in a bad light, every flaw in a good one.
The dialectical way of the world made life beautiful, but it also made it that much more confusing. How could one find a crystal answer without looking through the distorted glasses of assumption?
You remembered your first day of school.
The promises laid in a bold cursive sprawl of a self-made man hung above the door frame and you, a girl.
The children gathered in clusters, archetypes, and cliques forming in front of your very eyes. All you could do was watch. An observer. A researcher from the future glancing into the not-yet-ancient history of humankind. If humanity were kind, that is.
You wrote encyclopedias about your findings in your spelling journal, crafted theories in show-and-tell. Mr. Rogers, your middle school teacher, recommended that you join the art club.
You didn’t like painting.
The tacky pigment always clung to your fingers, leaving marks everywhere but where you wanted them. The sharp smell of acrylic always followed you around after, giving you a persistent headache. No, you’d rather paint with your mind than a brush. Rather construct philosophical inquiries than a paper-mache volcano. When Maryann’s mom asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, you replied “older,” because that’s when people had all the answers. Now up close, you could see the rosy hues in their fancy spectacles and you wanted to be nothing like them.
Nothing like Mr. Rogers. Nothing like Maryann’s mom. Nothing like the interviewer with her saccharine smile, who was now twirling her ballpoint pen around her finger with a lazy flourish as the silence between you drew on.
When your little brother was born, you were born again too. You moved into the smaller room with the door that whines like a cheap dog toy. You learned to answer cries that were not your own. You took on the mantle of a mother when both of your parents were away at work.
He was seven when you built the sky together. Under covers of darkness and handmade quilts, you had sewn paper stars into his favourite blanket and hung it above his bed like a canopy. And every time a star was ripped or torn from a pillow fight or any similar negligence, you’d secretly remove it to avoid your brother’s distress. He never pointed out the constellations that faded away each night.
If he ever learned that the sky was falling, he closed his eyes.
So why look up in the first place?
Two years later, when your brother drowned in the lake by your house, you pondered the same question. The grief that shook you violently in the following months felt like a death unto itself, yet your neighbours three doors down must have only felt a whisper of his passing. Was it better to have been a fool to his existence and live blissfully, or be made to grieve after knowing him? Which was more unfortunate?
You didn’t know if there was an answer. If there was, you weren’t sure you wanted to know it. You used to think there would be an answer to everything when you were younger, but that glass cracked the moment the ice on that lake did.
By the time you were fourteen, your mother had put you into dance lessons. You weren’t really sure why. You could not dance with the grace the other dancers possessed. Each one of your coach’s instructions you had executed with a surgeon’s accuracy, while others simply drifted along. At first, you scrutinized their inability to listen to the coach’s cues, but you couldn’t complain about their results. You’d prance stiffly along the dance floor, while your peers simply floated along, loosely following the technique that you adhered to like a Bible.
After one of your end-of-year recitals, you were ushered from the group by your coach. Her small, spiral spectacles sat on her nose more as an ornament than an aid as she put both hands on your shoulders.
“I sense such talent hidden here,” her finger tapped your sternum, pointing somewhere you couldn’t see, “yet you refuse to let go.”
You weren’t really sure what you were supposed to let go of, but you didn’t return the following year to find out. Perhaps it didn’t matter anymore. Those moments seemed so childish in comparison to the ones you faced now.
The red curtains closed. Roses flew. The bright certainty of youth was over. Now, you sat in an office chair, dressed in your ironed pantsuit, trying to formulate a thirty-second-or-less answer to a question that ran too deep for deep thinkers to grasp.
The lady shifted in her seat, rustling the papers in front of her as if to cover the brief silence between you.
“So,” she prompted again, not unfriendly. “What’s your strength?”
You pursed your lips thoughtfully before mustering the wisest response you could think of.
“I don’t know yet.”