It starts with a dessert.
You see, Leonard Black was someone who did not particularly care for meringue cookies. He found them a bit too deceptive for his liking. How could it be that they looked so wonderfully crunchy on the exterior and then, within seconds, that same hearty crunch would disintegrate into piles of tiny, grainy crumbles after only one chew? No, Leonard was not a meringue man. He preferred foods with more strength, that would last long enough to leave him feeling a little drunk off the whole thing, his head spinning with meaning by the end of the final swallow. He wanted food that feels like a giant antenna had just downloaded the purpose of life and planted it inside his taste buds. Meringue cookies, on the other hand, were sneaky little twenty-second previews that managed to a) tell him nothing at all about anything important, and b) still leave him feeling abandoned when his saliva carried their remains off into the dark canal of his esophagus.
Now, another thing you need to know about Leonard Black is that he loved to drive his car an hour or so before sunset, when the light began to strike through windshields and blind every driver on the road. With most people, this is a time when sunglasses are grasped frantically from the depths of purses or the tops of heads as shields against this attack from the heavens. But for Leonard, this time was a strange mixture of thrill and meditation. He would concentrate as best he could on staying in between the sentries of raised orange and white squares on the ground that divided the fast from the slow, but once per drive, and only once, he would allow himself to lift his gaze and let the sun tumble through his eyes, kidnapping his consciousness so completely that he’d forget about lanes and roads and destinations and everything else besides the ceremony of this momentary sacrifice. His palms locked around the steering wheel, he would stare ahead and the slow chant of a phrase that had come to him years before in one of these sunlit trances would climb from his lips and stay in the air for the remainder of the heist:
To have, give all to all.
He didn’t really know what it meant, or why those words must be spoken at that time, but he would say them over and over for about a minute and release the rays from his mind, before refocusing his attention on the drive. Leonard preferred to be alone for these private communions, but it just so happened that on the afternoon of September 5th, his sister Louisa was in the car with him. She had been exiting the parking structure of a mall, where she was visiting a friend’s boutique nail art shop, when she heard the disappointing sigh of air leaving her front tire. Luckily for her, she had an older brother. Unluckily for him, he now had a younger sister occupying the passenger seat that was normally reserved for things holier than bodies. Unaware of her intrusion on his daily ritual, Louisa was now attempting to cajole Leonard into accompanying her to one of her many social “appointments,” as she called them.
“Did you know that the Webers are opening up their new gallery next week? Come with me to the party, Leonard. Wednesday, 8 o’clock. You’d love it. Well, maybe not. But it would be good for you! Mingle a little, talk to people. You really don’t engage with the world enough. Oh! And I heard Helen will be there.”
Leonard flinched. Helen was the woman he had loved from afar for a little more than six years, and to whom he had finally confessed his devotion at last summer’s “Solstice Soirée” – an invention of Louisa’s that was centered mainly around the collective pouring of such creatively named, season-appropriate drinks as “Fire in the Works,” a concoction of whiskey and strawberry liquor that was his sister’s personal favorite. Stoking his own fire a few too many times with this mixture, Leonard had stumbled over to the glorious Helen, laid both hands on her bare shoulders, and gave her a smile that he thought conveyed everything necessary about how she was his vision of salvation, how he saw her as a gentle queen who could merely look upon the raging arms of hurricanes and instantly inspire them to fold into prayer. He thought that his shining white teeth and sea-green eyes translated these sentiments perfectly, and that surely, surely, she understood them even more perfectly than he could express. So when all Helen did was laugh a little at this unexpected gesture and continue talking to her fellow partygoers, Leonard crumbled back into the crowd and swore that the reign of Helen the Great was dead.
“I don’t care about Helen. She’s not who I thought she was,” he said stiffly.
“Oh come on, Leonard. She laughed, she didn’t slap you in the face! I mean, you practically fell on top of her and then you didn’t say anything. What was she supposed to do with that? And how is she supposed to know how you really feel? I think this party would be the perfect opportunity to actually talk to her and communicate your emotions like a normal person.”
Leonard stared ahead and yearned for the curve that was coming up on Newell Road, a bend that gave him an exquisite view of the valley below, which would soon be tucked under a golden blanket of the most sublime sunlight.
“You just need to appreciate things as they are,” Louisa continued. You’re so caught up in all your musings that you get distracted and can’t connect with anyone else even if you wanted to. You’re handsome, Leonard, but you know, women, we can sense if something isn’t quite right with a man’s emotional attunement, and we stay away. No matter how good looking he might be.”
Leonard scratched his face. He always had an appreciation for aesthetics, but one that was without emotion, and aligned with an understanding of philosophy or cartography. He saw pleasant features the same way he saw numbers. Symmetrical eyes were usually encased in a misty purple fog, as were eights. Straight Roman noses met the world from a backdrop of burnt red, like every kind of seven. And full lips had the same attribute as threes, a gorgeous blue that lapped over itself in never ending waves. His so-called “good looks” were merely a series of colors and figures.
At that moment of contemplation, almost as if it knew that its subject was needing some reassurance about how the world worked, the chant of his sunset ritual popped into Leonard’s mind.
To have, give all to all.
“What I’m saying, Leonard, is that you’ve got to play up your strengths and, you know, don’t let them see your weaknesses too early on. Make them swoon with those eyes, and keep the talk about floating in the air, or whatever it is you think women do, to yourself,” Louisa said as she touched her brother’s arm.
Leonard gripped the wheel tighter, flexing his forearm slightly to intimate that his sister’s fingers should remove themselves from their current location. They would soon be approaching the curve on Newell Road, and he shifted closer to the edge of his seat. It was almost time.
To have, give all to all.
“Leonard, say something. You can’t honestly believe that you’ve given a good enough go with Helen and that’s that now. I’m trying to help you. Just keep that wild little brain of yours under control and it’ll be fine, I promise.”
Closer, closer, closer. Leonard pushed down on the gas pedal and leaned forward towards that stunning clearing which was coming into view now. He could see the tips of the trees with their light drenched branches and knew his thoughts would be swarmed by the sun soon, and that they would become nothing less than almighty.
To have, give all to all.
“Think of it as an exercise in containment. Show only the part of you that is relevant to the situation. So, for example, if you meet Helen next Wednesday at the Webers’ and she asks you how you’ve been doing, answer that you’ve been working on a new novel and that it’s going very well, and then politely ask how she’s been doing. See? You match her question with a response that doesn’t go too far above and beyond what she was originally asking. It’s really so simple, Leonard.”
Here, here, here it was, the curve, the bend in the road, the chance to have the crown of the sky imprint its image in his eyes and flood his being with the rays and offer the one escape from this wrong world. All he had to do now was surrender everything.
To have, give all to all.
“Leonard, listen to me. You’ve got to get a grip on yourself, at least in public, because, well, there are rumors going about that you’re not quite all there in the head. Now, I know that couldn’t be further from the truth, but they don’t know that. So remember your new motto, alright? Containment.” Louisa, proud of her successful diagnosis and treatment of her older brother, reached into her bag and pulled out two things. Having put the first, her sunglasses, over her eyes, she tapped Leonard on the shoulder and held out the other.
Leonard, trying desperately this whole time to ignore his sister’s ramblings, looked down and saw an open box of meringue cookies.
Now, the sentries of the road – those orange and white raised squares we mentioned earlier – reported that Leonard, usually quite in sync with their silent warnings, repeatedly ignored their commands to start turning right on the curve of Newell. But perhaps his vision was just too strained from trying to see the figure of his illuminated lord, and he couldn’t see that the bend in the road was before him, that he had to turn the wheel at that very moment. Or maybe the sight of meringue cookies was simply too stark a contrast for Leonard’s mind to handle in his space of devotion. Maybe he thought that the blitzes of sugar that dominated his world were too much, too much, too much, and now they were encroaching on the only thing that was truly sacred to him. Maybe everything that stood by meringue cookies was holding him back from his one home with that beautiful glowing creature hovering over the valley.
So at exactly 6:58 p.m. on September 5th, Leonard began his voyage back to the sun, and as his car flew for a few moments in the air after he did not turn his wheel for the bend in Newell Road, you could hear him whisper, “To have, give all to all.”
Emilia T. Monell is a proud second-year Narwhal in The New School MFA program and has the Christmas sweater to prove it. She is working on a novel about a writer in a coma and the parallel life he experiences inside his mind. Before coming to TNS, she completed a MPhil degree in American Literature from the University of Cambridge. Although her work has been published in England, she sadly cannot read her stories with a convincing accent. When not writing, Emilia likes to channel her spirit animal, Whitney Houston, and dance with somebody who loves ants on a log too.
featured image via Pixabay.