Ordinary Sins

What’s Candy to an Artist?

The baby decided to cry in public. She was at that blissful stage before words were needed to create a policy. She didn’t have words, but she did have a policy. For nearly a year she had taken the matter under nonverbal consideration and had decided, without saying so, that actions spoke louder than the babble she heard around her. She hadn’t seen that all that grown-up babbling had gotten results. It was clear to her that talking was getting no one anywhere.
Crying was a reasonable alternative. She test-marketed her nonverbal deduction in supermarkets and restaurants. Leading indicators pointed in one direction: Cry in public!
Crying in public was bliss. It scrambled people more than pulling thirty books off a bookshelf. It made their faces light up like rain on the sidewalk. Crying in public worked. If a bit of a good thing worked so well, how much better would an abundance of a good thing be? She resoled to work on her policy until she knew she had it right.
Crying at the family reunion photo session one day was nothing compared to the next day at the airport. She wailed and screamed until a whole concourse of men and women and ageless genderless beings recoiled in nonverbal submission. More than submitting, some were transformed. An announcer unearthed a smile, while a janitor swept up his remnants of pity. A lethargic clerk declared early departure. A man in a pinstriped suit inquired about the convenience of buses.
At the airport the baby cried as if the sky were the limit. Cried to the escalators, the baggage carts. She cried to the metal detectors and the boarding ramp tunnels. She cried to the seat belts and tray tables. She cried to the televised instructions for safety. She cried until the desperate flight attendants brought out the toys, the ridiculous unswallowable toys. Toys—and then candy. “Would this candy be all right?” they asked the mother.
The mother, already sagging into herself, nodded weakly. The attendants handed the magical red, green, and blue sweets to silence the siren of wailing. But what’s candy to an artist? To one who has been transfixed by the glory of doing, of being one with her work? Crying in public! The resonant joy of screaming and wailing.
But look: whose face is that submitting above her? Whose eyes are those filling with tears? Whose trembling lip? Is this the final reward of practice, the gift of this mournful face, the deepening wrinkles of fear and regret? For this, above all, the baby is crying in public.

(Georgia Review)

Ordinary Sins: After Theophrastus