The Man on the Horse

I.

The fabric of dreams disintegrates under the influence of the morning sun’s first rays. Shemhamphorash awakes. It is mid April and the air is chill. The sun, white and cold against the horizon, infuses the landscape with a pale-blue hue, renders it harsh and monochromatic. Shemhamphorash, eyes open now, blinks and adjusts to the severe lighting. He is on his back, warm within the folds of his beaten orange sleeping bag. He can hear the mounting murmur of traffic, the first traces of the morning commute. The city, like him, is making the reluctant transition into consciousness.

He stays like this for a while, unmoving, as if deep within his bag there’s a fragile piece of eternity that must be protected against the bitter temporality of day. So thus he remains, resigned to watching the steam as it slowly curls off the wide expanse of the river below, a macrocosm of his own thin wisps of breath.

The traffic turns into a persistent hum, and eventually he succumbs to restlessness and decides to walk down to the park. He rises arthritically, swaying on his feet for a second, before reaching down again to fumble with the folds of the sleeping bag. After a second he resurfaces, holding an old plastic grocery bag, tied at the top and filled with birdfeed. Shoving it into a jacket pocket, he glances at his campsite, as if to make sure everything’s in order. Then he proceeds, chin to chest, down the path towards the park. Shemhamphorash likes feeding the birds, but hunger has no personal significance for him: gods don’t need to eat.

II.

Positioned on his favourite bench, he attracts crowds like some sort of avian messiah. Pigeons, their heads bobbing stupidly as they search for a morsel, are outwitted by a pair of jays. He smiles; there’s enough in the plastic bag to go around.

Three youths walk past and with a flurry of wings Shemhamphorash’s feathered disciples disperse into the heavens. Usually, Shemhamphorash doesn’t take much notice of people, nor do they take much notice of him. But on this particular occasion, he hears one of the boys mutter under his breath: fucking bum. Some hidden store of pride stirs within him, and eyes aflame, he draws himself up and proclaims: I am Shemhamphorash, destroyer of worlds! My power is terrible! With a thought I could unravel the cosmos! They stop and turn, and the one who spoke takes a step forward. His pose is careless and arrogant, his youthful features twisted into a pitiless sneer. He leans forward and each word stings like acid: Then why don’t you do it, old man. Shemhamphorash smoulders with rage, and their eyes lock, and for a moment he considers it. But then he slumps and averts his gaze, and the boy laughs as he turns back to his friends. Shemhamphorash doesn’t look up until they’re gone. And on the walk home, his cheeks burn with shame.

III.

The day starts as it began, only in reverse. The ebb of traffic draws low, waves slowly receding. The sun is swallowed by the horizon. Shemhamphorash lies on his back, eyes open but unseeing, trembling with pain and rage. His bluff had been called, this he accepts. The birds, the sunlight, the trees, the moon, the stars—not to mention all the love, hate, friendship, desire, hope, dreams that makes up this cosmic sphere—how could he possibly destroy all that? He weeps silently; he just hasn’t the heart.

So he lies there, cursing the terrible helplessness of his power, and stays like this for a while, indifferent to the city that is drifting into sleep all around him. But eventually his eyes close, and he too slips into a restless slumper. And he dreams of atoms unbinding from atoms and dissipating into nothingness.

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