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Portrait | J.M.

On his desk are several large, hardbound tomes. They are open and overlapping one another. They have been dogged by years of scholars, their edges rough and corners bent. They smell like old leather and must. Their pages are yellowed.

In his lap is a college-ruled notebook. Held to the paper, the tip of a number two pencil waits for his decision. Hunched over, concentrating through his dark, thick-rimmed spectacles, he considers.

Scratching out a series of characters, he forms the words with precision. When he’s finished, he scrutinizes the sentence. The thick, black eyebrows on his face come together. He flips his pencil, methodically erases the line, and then brushes away the debris.

The room he occupies is spacious and day-lit by large windows. There are several bookshelves, different shapes and sizes, spread out along each wall. The shelves, the curios they display, and the volumes they hold are a composition of merging worlds; themes intertwined. They are placed purposefully. They are placed with care.

His head emerges from between his shoulders, and he reviews the tomes on his desk. There is a sound like a dry paintbrush on canvas as his fingers trace a passage. He flips the page back. He flips the page forward. He reads. He conceives.

The athletic frame of his body is evident beneath his unbranded tee, though he is thicker now than he was as a boy. His austere face is distinguished by prominent cheekbones, discrete full lips, and deep blue irises. The orientation of his features betrays nothing of his thoughts.

There is a unique whirl at the front of his full head of short-cropped, black hair, which has marked him since birth. He wears it proudly or maybe because it cannot be disguised.

Words swirl around his head following his whirl like a school of fish flowing with the current. He spears one with his pencil, catching it and carrying it down to the paper. He skewers another and lays it down beside the first. His eyes are focused. He is meticulous. He is careful.

He reviews the open array on his desk again, comparing his catch and dissection. The translation requires the deepest understanding of the anatomy of thought, the art of cutting apart a body of reasoning, reassembling it with different pieces, and containing its intended purpose.

Suddenly, there is the muffled rattling of keys, and the door behind him opens. There are slow footfalls and other sounds of greeting. A woman enters. A full paper bag is carried close to her chest, and peering over the top of it, she sees that she will be ignored. She knows he hears her, and that he cannot respond. It is his way.

There is another. A set of faster footsteps than the first. Smaller, lighter feet. A little girl runs into the room from around the woman’s legs. She’s asked to shut the door, but she doesn’t shut the door. The woman sighs as the girl runs up to him where he has not turned from his work in his chair.

The swimming words are startled, and they dart away. At first, he follows them as they disappear into the sea of his understanding. When they have gone completely, he looks up disoriented. Returning from a far off, isolated place, it takes him some time to reconnect his mind to his mouth. When he does, a quirky smirk twists his face. The smile is understanding, loving, sarcastic, charismatic, and proud—difficult for most, he conveys it all at once as easily as breathing.

She giggles and returns the same.

He reaches for her, and she jumps back, coy. He narrows his eyes, and makes a sound that bears no resemblance to any word that has ever been uttered, and then jumps up after her.

His pencil falls. His notebook flies, and then settles and closes on the floor in a rush of paper. The chair spins and rolls. The girl giggles and screams in love.

The woman says something about being careful, but she’s smiling. Proudly, charismatically, a little sarcastically, and a lot lovingly, she understands how her family plays.

He catches his girl, flips her upside down, and tickles her belly exposed by gravity. He knows there is no translation for how he feels.

There are no words.

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