Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 19, 2134

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The rest of the gang had not been brought back yet when Mateo and Leona returned to the timestream. The first thing they saw was a bearded and disheveled Darko jump out of the bushes and try to attack them. Then he got on all fours and slinked away quickly like a chicken who totally knows that it’s over. He started grunting and talking to them in gibberish before hiding behind the shelter, which he seemed to think was sentient and complimenting him. The two of them just stood there and watched, knowing what was really happening. Finally, Darko stood back up and took off his dirty and torn jacket. “Goddammit, I spent all year growing this itchy beard just to make this joke, and you’re not even mildly amused!”
“Yeah, sorry about that, but we knew you would be okay,” Leona said.
“Because I’m a badass?”
“Yeah, let’s go with that,” Mateo said. It was mostly true, but also he had been living there for years by now. Being alone for just the one wasn’t that big of a deal, and unlikely to have been the worst thing he had ever experienced.
An hour later, the others in their group literally stepped out from the fire one by one, casually brushing ash off of their bodies.
“What the hell is this?” Darko asked.
Mario was shaking his head. “Apparently Arcadia had not yet read the Harry Potter books, so—after a few lovely weeks of her trying to figure out how to safely mimic the effects of floo powder—she started transporting us like this.”
“It is safe,” Aura added, “but it’s not pleasant.”
“How did the classes go?” Leona asked.
“Oh, they were fine,” Lincoln said. “Not hard at all.”
“Well, that’s because you have superpowers, Linc,” Horace spit, minimally irritated. “The assignments were hard for some of us. We were expected to have already understood a lot about the practice of medicine.”
“I made study guides for everybody.”
“Those may have well been written in Greek,” Paige said. Then she turned back to the three dropouts. “We did all pass, though...even my dad.”
“Hey.”
“So we’re cool? Did Arcadia confirm that the expiation was completed?”
Aura nodded. “She did. And she said we should get some sleep before the next one. It’ll apparently be rather easy, but it requires daylight anyway.”
They went to bed, and then several hours later, they all woke up.
A young woman was waiting for them patiently amongst a legion of easels, more than there were people on the island. “Please,” she said to them in a warm and pleasing vaguely British voice, “partake in your breakfast first. An artist’s soul cannot be fed before the stomach.” She immediately seemed like the kind of person who spent a great deal of time doing yoga and meditating. And when she wasn’t doing those things, she was probably just enjoying the beauty of the universe. “Class will begin...whenever you are ready.”
They did as they were asked, but ate a little faster than they normally would. The woman remained steadfast in her place on the beach. She seemed completely at peace in this position, and was doing nothing to make them feel guilty for taking up her time, but still, it felt unbecoming to dawdle.
“So, we’ll be painting today, huh?” Darko asked, stifling a burp.
“We will be creating art,” she answered. “Paint is but one way to do this.”
He peered down the beach. “Is that a sandcastle?”
She slowly looked to her creation, but waited to answer until she was facing the group again. “I built that earlier this morning to greet the day. You may do so as well, if you find sand to be the medium that better expresses your heart.”
Darko seemed rather smitten with her, and was trying to covertly make sure there was nothing on his face. Fortunately, he had taken the time to shave before bedtime. “We did not catch your name. Or do you have a name? Do you identify as a symbol, or a color?” He was trying to be sensitive to her perspective.
Luckily, it was probably rather difficult to offend her. “My name is Marcy.”
“You’re gonna teach us art?”
She smiled and shook her head. “Art cannot be taught. It must realized...remembered. I will be your guide today.” She turned her attention to the whole group. “To get the sense of what it is like to transcribe the beauty in your mind to something others can enjoy, I ask that we all begin with the canvasses and paints. Once you feel comfortable, you may move onto something else; like I said, to whatever speaks to you.” She approached her own easel. “Arcadia,” she began, pausing to purse her lips. It would seem as though there was at least one thing in the universe that she did not consider valuable. She fought through her feelings, though, and went on, “has asked that I lead this expiation. You are required to come up with something beautiful, and says that I must approve of it, and it must be beyond your first piece. Funnily enough, for someone who spent the first several thousand years—if not longer—of her life in an art gallery, she still does not understand what the definition of art truly is.”
“What’s the definition?” Darko asked of her, enraptured by her every syllable.
She didn’t just look at him; she examined his face, ensuring that he was ready for the answer. “Art...is whatever keeps you from turning away.” She took a breath and centered herself. “You will all pass this expiation. I guarantee this now.”
They got to work, or rather they got to life. Mateo was confused when Darko chose an easel in the back row. Surely he would want to be as close to Marcy as possible. When questioned on this, Darko just turned his easel away so that no one else could see. Mateo slyly got a few peaks a little later on. Darko was in the middle of painting strawberry blonde hair, which matched that of Marcy’s. With no signs of being uncomfortable with this, or an explanation for how she knew without seeing, Marcy walked around to keep an eye on everyone’s progress, excluding him. She somehow knew that he was painting her, and also that he would not want her to see it until he was finished, if ever.
Marcy’s ability to be sensitive to other people’s needs made Mateo assume that she was universally liked by all who met her, which meant she might have been used to an onslaught of people interested in her in less platonic ways. That she was the complete opposite of Darko; who was wild, reckless, adventurous, and slightly judgmental, explained his personal attraction to her. He could probably do with a little more calm and stability in his life. Though he was regularly preoccupied with his own problems, Mateo realized now that life here had probably been the most difficult for him. Sure, Téa didn’t love the outdoors, Saga had always missed her camera, and Horace didn’t much like pooping in the bushes, but Darko had never before been required to stay in one place and time. He had always been running off to explore new sights, eternally comforted by the fact that he always had an exit. He needed someone like Marcy to teach him how to find peace in doing nothing.
“Maybe we’ll be able to keep her,” Leona whispered to Mateo while she was painting the ocean they were all facing right now.
“I wouldn’t want her any more mixed up in all this.” He was painting a portrait of Jesus. He was using darker colors to better reflect Jesus’ true form as a Middle Eastern man, and was inspired by an infamous drawing he had once seen of him smiling. No, he wasn’t just smiling, he was laughing. Mateo had always liked this representation of the OG Savior, and had always felt disappointed by its lack of replication by others. Jesus was about love. Too many focus too much on his birth, and his death. They all but completely forget everything he did in the middle. He had dedicated his life—and, yes, in more ways than one—to peace, love, and happiness. It wasn’t that he died for everyone’s sins, but that he felt like he had done everything he could to show people what love meant. He did not fight against his murder, because he believed that this gave his murders power that they did not deserve. He died with endless love in his heart, and not even death could take that away from the world. Mateo had changed from angry to accepting of his situation as an unwitting time traveler, but it took Marcy’s class to remind him why he was able to do that. Painting was proving to be cathartic, helping Mateo get back to his faith once more. For the first time ever, he was treating an expiation as a gift.
Some paintings were better than others. Mateo’s wasn’t half-bad, if he did say so himself. Leona’s was worse than he would have expected. She said that her film major mind was in conflict with her physics mind; each from a separate timelines. She wanted to reproduce what she saw in her environment, but she was being too exacting. The lines were too straight, and the colors in less of a gradient than they should have been. She wasn’t bothered by this, though. Painting was not her thing, nor did it have to be...nor was it anyone’s on the island. Except for maybe Darko. His portrait of Marcy was spectacular. Once it looked like he was satisfied with the result, Marcy walked over and took a gander. As expected, she wasn’t surprised. She even sounded enthusiastic about it, whereas with everyone else, she turned out to have been feigning endorsement for their benefit. Again, no one was particularly bothered by this seeing as art just wasn’t in their wheelhouse, except for Paige the photographer.
While Marcy stepped aside to engage in a deeper discussion with her new protégé, everyone else moved on to try other things. Aura started building her own sandcastle next to Marcy’s, expressing her nostalgia for her childhood when her parents took her to Myrtle Beach every year for vacation. Lincoln started carving at a monolith Arcadia had silently apported to their location upon Marcy’s request. Paige and Horace put on these special suits covered in paint that allowed them to create something out of their own dancing and rolling around on a giant canvass. They laughed the whole time. Mario was absolutely determined to draw a perfect turtle. When he grew too frustrated with one, he would throw the entire easel on the ground and move on to another. This was probably why so many of them were set up, even though one could simply start again on the next page. Mateo through Marcy would try to calm him down, but she wasn’t the least bit perturbed by his outbursts. She would later tell Mateo that this was just ‘part of Mario’s process’ which is something sacred and personal to each individual, and should only be encouraged.
For the longest time, Mateo and Leona just stood there on the treeline, watching everyone else enjoy their newfound hobbies. They weren’t interested in painting any more. Neither one of them had grown up near enough a beach to feel anything strongly about sandcastles. Sculpting just sounded like a whole lot of work, and would take too long for their unchosen lifestyles. Seeing their reluctance to do anything, Marcy halted her conversation with Darko, and walked over to them. She suggested that they stop thinking of art so narrowly. Though her passion was visual art, and the expiation was technically supposed to fall under those disciplines, not everything is black and white. She was taking it upon herself to have the authority to give them permission to do something different.
That night, after hours of rehearsing, they performed the dance number that The Rogue, Gilbert Boyce had forced them to prepare, but never actually present, during the tribulation period. It took them over sixty years, but they finally had it down pat. The audience loved it, which included Arcadia. When it was over, she was smiling and clapping with all the rest. Then she nodded and gave a thumbs up to indicate her approval in their method of accomplishing the expiation; as if they required it.
The next year, they discovered Leona’s wish to have been granted. Marcy was still on the island with them. Click here for the next installment...

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