[ Oyster Boy Review ]

Robert McNellis

Little Man

When I wake up on Sunday morning, I get a cup of coffee, which my wife has already made, and go sit in the red armchair in the living room. The first thing I notice, Sunday after Sunday, is the painting on the far wall in front of me. The subject of the painting is a field of flowers, though the treatment is rather abstract. What inevitably strikes me about the painting is the vibrant play of colors: oranges, yellows, blues. Little Man seems to like the colors. If he were here in the living room right now, he would utter one of his syllables of enthusiasm. But he is at the store with his mother.

I think Little Man made up his own name, chose his name from among his limited choices. I try hard not to push him into things, like playing soccer or picking names. But I may have.

Behind the red armchair is a window looking out on the side yard. If I turn my head and look over my right shoulder, I can see the top of a large oak and the deep blue sky of an autumn morning. Example: You're walking in the side yard, just outside this same window with a camera in your hand. You stumble. The camera clicks just when it is pointed upwards at an angle of sixty degrees, more or less, measured from the ground. It's one of my favorite pictures. I hear the back door close. Little Man and his mother are back from the grocery store. He walks into the living room from the kitchen carrying a can of Diet Pepsi. I wish I could spell the way he says Diet Pepsi. Before we let him drink out of cans, he was good about setting his glass down when he was through with it. My wife vetoed, through the proper channels, buying a cup with a spout on it. He points up at the picture and says what sounds like lie. He probably means light. He can't actually say Little Man. He might be saying Light Man. Or lima. He likes lima beans.

When my wife brings me another cup of coffee, Little Man goes back into the kitchen with her. I don't eat breakfast on Sunday. Little Man's mother is cooking eggs or French toast, either of which goes good with Diet Pepsi. There are books on the shelf. Might I open one, do something? I look back at the painting for a possible answer.

A few minutes later I hear Little Man and his mother go out into the back yard. The small clock on the bookcase says noon. Sunday afternoon has begun to rage. The idea of whiskey has been chemically sponsored. I get up to go into the kitchen. Through the window I can see Little Man splashing in his pool. I look at the whiskey bottle but decide for a beer instead. I go back into the living room and sit down. My arms are extended, figuratively speaking, like a bird, but I can't fly away from it. I'm a bird who knows. Just a little too little.

The colors of the painting seem hot as I drink the beer. Lean, trim, living on plants, no letters today. The desert corresponds to my contribution, as it could be envisioned, twenty years from now. In the desert, deserted by wife, it's not her fault, half a bottle was more than the agreement. Step after step. Thirst increases. Birds circle above the hot sand. There is a hill ahead. But it will be like all the others, flattening as I get near. And nothing to drink. But there is this photograph, this time I didn't slip, Little Man is looking up at the camera, at me: at me, not so lean, not so trim, not living on plants, not contributing, me before the desert.

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