A Real Boy

by Josh Denslow

One of my earliest memories of Taylor, the first time I remember thinking of him as an actual person, was when he was about five-years-old. Until that moment, I had been as cognizant of him as I would an airplane flying overhead. I didn’t care where he was going or where he came from. I had just slipped into one of Denise’s hand-me-down dresses, the kind with frills on the shoulder that she refused to wear anymore, when I glanced out my bedroom window and was struck by how slowly Taylor walked down the driveway, his head tilted forward as he scanned the ground. He was looking for something, and I realized I had never thought of him as an entity that had any needs at all. Near the street, he knelt and pulled the body of a frog from the grass. He laid it on the cement and gently pressed his palm to it. I sat on the edge of the bed, rapt. Taylor’s face folded with concentration, but he didn’t move. He did this for so long that my leg began to cramp where I had tucked it beneath me. I knew exactly what he was trying to do. He wanted to bring it back to life. Because I believed so fully in him in that moment, I thought he might do it. That he was somehow capable. I worried that if I stopped watching, that would be when the frog would fill with life and spring into the grass, and I would miss when Taylor became a real boy. I willed the frog to take another breath, my fists clenched with anxiety. With no perceptible change of heart, Taylor removed his hand, rose to his feet, and returned to the house. I watched that frog for another half an hour before I finally gave up hope. I shook feeling into my leg and rubbed my ankle, pondering how I could ask Denise to repaint my chipped nails. I put on my sandals and clomped down the stairs. Taylor was in the kitchen, reaching for a cookie from a warm plate next to the refrigerator. I pictured him feeling hungry, and then him determining what to eat and how he would get it. I left him there, his hand reaching, his fingers stretching, his entire body rocking on his toes.

Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Third Coast, Black Clock, Pear Noir!, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf and Twelve Stories, among others. He has written and directed five short films, and he plays the drums in the band Borrisokane.

Besides being an accomplished writer of compressed prose, you are an avid reader of it. When you consider your favorite pieces, what is it about them that continues to draw your attention? My favorite pieces shock me with how much they can accomplish. You see them sitting on the page (or the screen, as it may be) like a challenge or a threat. I’ve found that I will give long pieces a few pages to lure me, whereas I might give a compressed piece only a few sentences. That’s a lot of pressure. Which is exactly why short pieces have such an attitude problem. The ones I love are precise without being scared of sloppiness. They move quickly, but know exactly when to crawl, when to walk backwards, when to disappear. They demand to be shared while begging you to keep them to yourself. And the best thing of all is that you can read them over and over and over and over and over in one sitting.

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