It’s another gray Saturday outside, the sun little more than an argent smear overhead. Inside, seated on what I’ve come to think of as “my” bench, the warm artificial light of the gallery washes over the paintings on the wall before me. This is where I’m most comfortable; and though I always spend my first hours each week studying a new work, I always end up here.
“Good afternoon, Billy,” Johnny says, settling beside me.
“Hey, Johnny,” I return his greeting without turning my head. Sudden movement while I am focusing on a work usually results in a bit of vertigo. Johnny knows this, so he never seems to take offense at my lack of eye contact. He’s older than me, and more traveled, with an odd sense of style.
“Sarah joining us today?” I feel him looking over my shoulder, but I try to keep from reacting. Sarah, like Johnny, has been a constant companion since my first trip to the gallery, but lately her appearances have been sporadic at best. To be honest, I don’t like her being around all the time.
I miss her when she’s not, though.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “She was pretty upset last week that we ignored her the whole day.”
“Hmm,” was all he said.
I closed my eyes to clear the image, and then turned to my friend. “I still don’t understand the color choices the artist made with this work,” I said, pointing to the canvas in front of me. “It was so out of place for the period.”
Johnny looked at the painting, tilted his head to let his long hair fall to one side, and said, “I’ve heard he was responding to criticism from a rival painter.”
“Ah,” I nodded. That I understood. Tell me something should be done this way or that, and I’ll go after every scrap of evidence to prove you wrong. I did that with my mom all the time. I looked at my shoes, laces untied and flopping freely as I swung my legs. “I’ve been thinking about ‘William.’”
Johnny smiled. We discussed this many times over the past few weeks, and was, after all, his suggestion.
“About time, Bill… um, William. You’re going on ten, now. Much too old to keep such a cute moniker.” He leaned over toward me and said, “Maybe now you’ll call me Jonathan.”
He knew as well as I that wasn’t an option. Words and sounds carried more than just meaning for me. Some of them were associated with tastes and smells. “Johnny” was okay, as far as smells went, but “Jonathan” smelled like pure dog poop. I couldn’t even think the name without getting a whiff.
I smiled as I wrinkled my nose, and said, “Daddy thinks it’s silly, but Mom seems to like it.” Mom doesn’t smile much anymore. Her smile smells like honey and lemon, and is one of my favorites, so I take every opportunity to make it happen.
Johnny sighed, started to say something, then stopped. The silence fell like a heavy coat around my shoulders, rough wool and scratchy. He was always careful with his words, and I appreciated the thought. Sometimes, though, the silence was worse.
“Are you still going through with it?” he said at last, without looking at me.
I continued to swing my legs. The breeze it stirred sounded like a lullaby, and was just as calming.
“Yeah,” I said, still watching my feet. “Daddy thinks the gene therapy will fix the part of my DNA controlling my condition.” I took a shuddering breath, refusing to look Johnny in the eye, and said, “He says it’s not a cure, though. My brain is hard-wired now, so he thinks the treatment will only keep it from getting worse.”
“Sensory overload,” he said with a nod.
“Yeah,” I nodded back. Synesthesia. The word tasted funny, but daddy is a geneticist and he explained it to me.