It started with caviar and mashed potatoes. Every Sunday, Flynn cut a grid in the potatoes with his fork. He waited for the conversation to turn to politics before planting his caviar. Otherwise, from across the massive pine dining platform, his parents would scold him for being odd.
Perhaps, Flynn thought, if his mother served quartered new potatoes, roast and peas like every other London mother instead of serving him gizzards (for the iron), rutabaga (for the Vitamin C), mash (for tradition) and caviar (for society), he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be so odd.
But that was unlikely. If Flynn, who was 16 and peculiar, was served fish and chips, he laddered the chips and lined the peas along the side of the plate in an intricate wedding pattern. If fed porridge, he tunneled passageways made secret by the sinking sludge.
Flynn diagramed life’s chaotic jam band to mitigate it. At school, Flynn staved off gossips and note passers by organizing his pencil box. He sectioned pencils, erasers and crayons into squares, rectangles and triangles, distorting their depths, interrupting their rhythms.
While the rest of the boys played football in the private schoolyard, Flynn reveled in the straight, fuzzy white columns containing the field’s melee, cringing when the weather or the rough soles of eager feet splayed the white blades from their tight, neat lines.
As the boys at Flynn’s school grew out of football and into girls, Flynn grew out of food and pencil boxes, which were too easy, too small a canvass — he could carve a detailed food labyrinth in the time it took his father to pour the wine. Instead, during meals, Flynn etched half moons and crosses in the underside of the table, the pine easily denting beneath the pressure of his fingernails. At school, he etched campus trees, his flint knife feathering tough bark.
Girls threw Flynn deeper into his obsession. He wanted to understand their patterns — hair intricately weaved across backs, arced fingers tapping chins, gloss composing lips — but he was afraid to get close to them and so he etched.
Fear, and the debasement of Flynn’s sexual development, which was eviscerated before the butterflies in his belly aroused his groin, kept Flynn from women. It was his mother’s fault. She told him he had the lower carriage of a woman, his thighs and ankles fulcrums for two thick, shapeless trunks. His bum, which was supple, not muscular, sunk into his hips. Two pillows resting on fence posts.
Flynn walked like an ape — shoulders rolled forward, palms out. His face was non-descript. Not too blue eyes. Not too prominent nose. Not too full lips. Not too brown hair.
One day, Headmaster Benke asked Flynn to walk with him to the trees lining the back fence of the school property. It was a silent walk, until Flynn realized where they were headed. His heart’s symphony crowded his ears.
Pulling aside a large bush protecting an enclave of trees, Mr. Benke said, “After you.”
Flynn ducked the branch and stepped around a tree, which opened into a small but well lit clearing.
“Did you do this?” Mr. Benke pointed to the base of several trees covered in small, intricate carvings.
“Yes sir.” Flynn said.
“What are they meant to be?”
Holding his tie against his chest so as not to drag it in the wet leaves, Flynn took a knee and pointed to a cupcake-sized starburst surrounding a 35-degree angle. “This,” Flynn said, “Is Tuesday.” Pointing to 12 raisin-sized xs leading from three opposing rays — six ray on each x — Flynn said, “This is my Tuesday. This is father’s Tuesday. This is mother’s Tuesday.”
“And the rest?” Mr. Benke pointed to the geometric hieroglyphs that had turned the tree into an anthology of modern day fables.
“The rest is everything else,” Flynn said.
Mr. Benke looked at Flynn, confused. “This?” Mr. Benke pointed to a two-inch rectangular water tower.
“The improvements being made to my house.”
“And this?” Mr. Benke said, his finger massaging the smooth outer edge of an open-ended triangle.
“She has an accent?”
“She’s Welsh Mr. Benke,” Flynn stood, brushed the grass from the wet spots on his knees. He was uncomfortable talking about his mundane life and wanted to leave. “I didn’t intend to deface school property.”
“How does an angle represent an accent?”
Flynn thought of Catherine’s accent. It scaled differently than his own, ending on plateau distant from its beginnings. “I can’t explain it, sir.
“What are you doing after graduation?” Mr. Benke rose, put his hand on Flynn’s shoulder. Flynn tensed.
Hands safely behind his back, Mr. Benke motioned for Flynn to walk besides him as he unveiled his ambitious plans for Flynn’s future. It just so happened that one of Mr. Benke’s dearest friends, who owned a custom carpentry shop, was looking for apprentices. Hands on hips, feet firmly planted in the squidgy grass, Mr. Benke wanted to know what, exactly, Flynn thought of that.
Flynn thought it was the best future to share with his parents. So, after graduation, Flynn did as guided and learned the craft of custom woodwork as defined by the uninspiring John Harthworth and his eight moaning foremen.
Flynn loved the sweet smell of wood blanketing the shop, but the dust, the noise, the methodical, insignificant lines carved into standard-order crown moldings, the lackluster flowers buffed into wardrobes — the tedium — devoured Flynn’s interest in comprehension.
One day, while tending to his mother, who was sick in bed with Flynn’s condition, Flynn dismantled a metal hanger and created his first unattached expression. The freestanding rhombus awakened the familiar beads of passion that tickled like champagne.
Flynn’s confidence grew with his creations. His change in demeanor — the purposeful walk, the discerning eye — attracted Miss Ann Harthworth, his boss’s daughter, an internal beauty whose cleft lip scar and muffin top terrified all marriage proposals but Flynn’s.
Until they married, Ann appreciated, even bragged about Flynn’s masterful talents. But as soon as she met obsession, talent’s muse, she resented Flynn and everything he loved.
Initially, Ann agreed to keep Flynn’s structures — a descriptor meant to torture Flynn’s soul — in a small second bedroom. But the more Ann’s behaviors — once kind and gentle — curdled, confusing Flynn, the more he produced. Grand coils, alien triangles and Mayan spirals spilled into the hallway, the dining room and the kitchen.
Shaking, Ann replaced a structure monopolizing Flynn’s placemat with a plate of mash, roast and peas. “Flynn, I’ve had enough. If you’re not going to stop this habit,” Ann rolled her eyes at a twist of wires hoola hooping a fire hydrant. “We need to live somewhere where I don’t have to see it.”
Delivered in a freight of shame, Ann’s criticisms choked Flynn, who reached for his water. “Whatever you wish, love.”
Ann forced her will, thrusting fliers of strange places and business cards of strange people at Flynn, unknowns that might solve their problems. But Flynn, Flynn waited for something to happen.
One evening, Flynn’s mother called. A reclusive uncle had died, leaving him a 20-acre farm in Suffolk. Flynn waited a week to tell Ann, spending his free time furiously bending metal and researching the farm, which included a rather large farm house, main building, three smaller outbuildings, a small chicken coop and a four-horse stable.
“Ann,” Flynn touched his wife’s hand. It was colder than he remembered. Thinner too. “My uncle passed. He left us a farm in Suffolk.”
Flynn handed Ann a set of photos he’d paid a photographer to take from the property’s most promising angles. Ann’s scowl shifted as she thumbed through the six-bedroom farmhouse, the roses and hollyhock resting against its exterior, the thatched roof, the high generous windows and the soft faces of the horses, which were mounted on strong bodies and backed by wheat fields that reminded Ann of a serenity she’d never had. The well-kept outbuildings were equally impressive. One would serve as a guesthouse for admiring friends. The others would hide Flynn’s structures.
“How far is it?” Ann asked.
“Two and a half hours.”
Ann chewed a fingernail. “What about work? Family?”
“My uncle’s left us enough money to live on. There’s a train station nearby to take you into the city whenever you wish.”
In granting Ann a life separate from theirs together, Flynn sold Ann on the country.
Ann befriended nearby villagers and spent nearly half of every month in the city visiting friends. With Ann gone, his environment quiet, Flynn had fewer holes to fill and so he stopped creating.
“Not that I’m complaining,” Ann said one day after returning from the outbuilding she’d given Flynn, “but what happened? I thought the whole point of moving was so you could…do whatever it is you do.”
Flynn sighed, but before he could explain, Ann grabbed her handbag and left for the station.
Creatives that haven’t had the fortune to catch the eye of the kind of money that engenders artists, are satiated in times of calm, ignited by those of unrest. So, while it devastated Flynn’s ego, understanding of love and sense of security, Ann’s affair was, creatively speaking, the best thing that could have happened. The fact that she’d chosen the man who owned the only food co-op in the nearby village made it that much better.
Humiliated by the betrayal, Flynn took to the fields. Starting in the middle, he hacked labyrinths of varying shapes, depths and sizes. Sometimes he used a scythe, sometimes a pocketknife, rarely the tractor, which he found laborious and alien.
When Ann packed her things, told him she was moving back to the city and would write for a divorce, Flynn began sleeping in the trenches of his creations.
He did this for months, living off the land, making meals from the canned goods stacked in the cellar. When he ran out of cellar food, he ate the blackberries and wild strawberries lining his property. Finally, after a dastardly bought of diarrhea, Flynn made a list, got into his car and drove to the village.
He fabricated whispers recounting the tale of the poor sod whose wife shagged the grocer. Loading meat, beans and vegetables on the moving belt, Flynn stuffed a wad of notes in the cashier’s hand, anxiously filling the green plastic bags as she sent the food down the line.
“You all right?” the cashier handed Flynn his change.
But Flynn couldn’t reply. Jaw clamped, he frantically looked at the people judging the longhaired, unkempt bumpkin who failed to keep his wife.
Really though, the villagers were too distracted by the non-events in their own lives to remember Flynn’s Great Tragedy.
The public walkways crisscrossing Flynn’s property became among the most popular in the country, walkers and bird watchers planning their routes around the enchanting designs carved into Flynn’s wheat fields. The Suffolk Spirit Guide group, which tracked UFO circles, contacted Flynn several times, calling and stopping by the fledgling farmhouse to inquire about the designs. But Flynn never heard their calls or knocks, for he was four feet under the house, tunneling Ann away.
The longer Flynn stayed underground, the fewer walkers and gawkers crossed his fields, the aggressive veins and eager weeds devouring Flynn’s abandoned lifeblood.
The Tesco deliveryman was Flynn’s only contact with the world, and even that was brief. Every month, the driver delivered supplies to Flynn’s property gate, the farmhouse faintly visible in the distance. When the man left, Flynn drove to the gate, his back slowly bending into a table, his feminine frame no longer visible in his clothing, which hung from his elbows and waist, his hair and nails gnarly and unkempt.
Without light, people or the noises of the living, Flynn concentrated on making sense of Ann, women and the cruel yet tempting fate of love. Unlike the shapes, which represented the rhythm of understandable things — the pattern of the day, the cadence of a woman’s accent — tunneling gave Flynn an outlet for finding all the things he thought he’d figured, but had somehow lost. Every shovel full of dirt cooled the uncertainty in Flynn’s blood.
While Flynn settled his own foundation, the house’s began to weaken, the unsupported joints and beams bending toward his burrowing head until the corners of first the living room, then the kitchen, then the foyer, cluttered his tunnels with debris. On that final day, as Flynn struggled to clear plaster and cement from his s-shaped history, a great creaking warned of an eminent demise. It passed through his ears like a bit of wind or an ordinary bird song. Flynn closed his eyes, relaxed beneath the nothingness of his eyelids where there was no light to connect tracers to shapes or shapes to meaning.
He smiled. Finally, and without exception, there was nothing for Flynn to understand.
Ivy Hughes writes for several newspapers, magazines and literary journals including Success, Entrepreneur, The Boston Globe, Litro, Syndic, and Cleaver. She is a Colorado native, but lives in London, England with her husband.