The Connoisseur of Boredom

Cassandra’s inner thigh was so boring, that vast white continent, broken here and there where blue tributaries swelled near the surface.

If I were to build a village, Malcolm thought, tracing the saphenous vein, I would place it right here, along the banks of this blue river.

“Hold up!” he yelled as Cassandra rose. “You’ll topple the villagers!”

“Duffus,” she said, tossing him his pants. “Hurry up. Father’s home soon, and you know how he gets.”

Part of him craved a confrontation, but he was out the door and down the steps before Mr. Goth rounded the corner.

He’d decided to take the bus to Oasis Springs and hop off down near Rattlesnake, then walk the long hill up to his dad’s place. Walking suited him. Something about the monotony of a long walk, step after step, falling with each boring breath, the pulse ticking like an endless clock, suited Malcolm.

Extreme boredom, he had found, ceased to be completely boring and could even produce hallucinations. Once, when he’d been walking for several hours, his mind starved of sensation, he thought he saw the Tragic Clown approaching. “Great,” he said to himself, “now all we need is a guy in a hot dog suit, a panda suit, and the Grim Reaper.”

But his joke ruined it, and the extremity dissolved into the mundane, and it was simply boredom again.

Malcolm had become quite a connoisseur. He could identify from the sensations in his toes which stage of boredom he was at. So far, he’d identified seven distinct stages, with three main poles and countless substations along the spectrum. In mild boredom, when the mind simply began to feel as if it were locked in a stuffy closet, the sensation in the toes was normal–nothing particular to notice. Then, as the air slowly drained from the closet, the toes began to feel warm, enlarged. At the extreme stages of boredom, when all the oxygen had been sucked out, the hot toes pulsed. He had to be careful at this stage, for the sensations were interesting and slightly delicious, and if he let himself enjoy them too much, air rushed back into the closet, and his state returned to normal, everyday boredom.

Heck, it was cheaper than drugs.

The one time in recent years when Malcolm hadn’t experienced one of the seven stages of boredom happened a few months before his parents split. For some undisclosed reason, this drifter who’d been passing through town was crashing at their house. One morning, when his mom was at the gym and his dad at work, Malcolm came downstairs in the nude and found the drifter sitting at the long dining table with a plate of fresh-grilled veggie burgers.

The drifter saw him, but didn’t really look at him, and Malcolm felt this intense thrill–a sense of freedom. It wasn’t that he was turned-on. He just felt alive for, maybe, the first time ever.

“I’m not sure what kind of attention you’re angling after, kid,” the drifter said, “but whatever it is, I’m sure as heck not the guy to give it to you.”

And with that, the drifter grabbed his duffel bag and headed out the door, leaving his half-eaten veggie burger on the table. Malcolm never saw him again.

The old house looked just the same as always–a big modern pile of glass and steel perched there on the mesa. He stood at the front door, wondering if he should knock or just go in. He didn’t really want to hurt his knuckles by rapping on the steel frame. But then again, walking in uninvited felt like he was making a statement–like he belonged there or something.

The door opened before he made up his mind. And there she was, the old lady his dad had married.

Looking like a great aunt.

He wondered for a brief second where his dad would put encampments on the firm continent that was her, and then he chased those thoughts out of his mind noticing that, at present, he’d chased the boredom, too.

“Come have some tea,” she said, “after you set your bag down. I’ve got a fresh pot brewed.”

Clarissa led him into the kitchen.

“What’s that smell?” he asked.

“Butternut squash,” she replied.

He inhaled and smiled, in spite of himself.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“Never had it.”

They sat together at the kitchen table, surrounded by the aroma of Makaibari tea and roasted butternut squash, the silence deep enough that Malcolm heard the ticking of the clock on the landing.

He’d come loaded with his usual arsenal of noncommittal replies–sure protection against the prying questions of adults.

But Clarissa asked nothing. She simply sat in silence, sipping her tea, and gazing out the window towards the hills across the canyon.

It was annoying at first–this thick silence. Like what you might feel in the dentist’s office while waiting for them to bring the results of your x-ray. To drill or not to drill.

But then, once he realized she didn’t have a barrage of questions waiting, he felt himself settle.

He sipped the tea, and slowly, as the warmth moved down his throat, he felt this hard knot in his heart soften and relax.

“This tea is really good,” he said.

Clarissa nodded.

“It’s like,” he said, “it’s like. I’m not sure I’ve ever had tea like this before.”

“It’s from India,” she replied.

He counted twelve ticks on the clock.

“Do you know the story of tea?” she asked. “The myth of its creation?”

He shook his head.

“The story goes,” she replied, “and of course, the story isn’t true except in the deepest way, the way that all myths are true, that tea was discovered by a zen monk, looking for something that could help him with his meditation. Sometimes, when there is something there for you, it is as if it is lit up from within,” she continued. “And the tea plant was like that.”

“And did it help with his meditation?” Malcolm asked.

“The myth goes that it brought him into enlightenment.”

Malcolm laughed and looked at the leaves at the bottom of his cup. “Enlightenment doesn’t exist,” he said. “It’s just a trick of the mind.”

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