by Eva Langston
I stand at my usual spot in Jackson Square. People swarm around me like termites, stopping to take my picture or toss a few coins in my bucket. I can see them moving out of the corners of my eyes, and I can hear their voices, loud and slurring from rummy Hurricanes. It’s getting on towards five o’clock, and the muscles in my calves are knotting up. My skin itches under the metallic make-up, and inside my silver spray-painted jeans, sweat rolls down the backs of my knees.
My mind drifts away from my body, and I wonder if that robot man down there is really me. I don’t feel connected to him at all. I don’t feel connected to anything in this world. Not really. And this isn’t drugs or booze talking, like you might think. I don’t touch that stuff. My head is mixed up enough as it is. Makes it hard for me to fit in most of the time. People think I’m strange, or stupid. I have trouble keeping a regular job. And I never had much luck with women. They require too much concentration.
At least in my current profession my mind can wander off as much as it pleases. And street performing pays the bills, believe it or not. Used to be I didn’t like being around people. Now I’m around them all day long. But it’s different this way. They have different expectations of me now.
Used to be I didn’t like being around people. Now I’m around them all day long. But it’s different this way. They have different expectations of me now.
As I hover over Decatur Street, I notice a man and a woman and their skinny little girl coming toward me. The girl stares at me with these big brown eyes like she can’t quite believe what she’s seeing.
I really do look like a statue. I’m perfectly still, and my eyes are glassy. The girl wears a pink dress, and in one hand she’s got a strip of those pastel candy buttons, the kind that stick to the paper when you try to bite one off.
“You like the robot, sweetie?” Her mother digs in her purse and pulls out a dollar.
The girl takes the money and creeps towards me. She drops the dollar into the bucket, and I do my routine for her: I move my arms and jerk my head, making mechanical sounds. Then I snap back into position, still and silent.
A few other kids run toward me, shouting, and tourists hold up their phones, trying to capture me on video. But the little girl, she isn’t impressed. She takes a step closer. Her forehead wrinkles up. She reaches out and touches my greasy, silver-painted hand, and suddenly my mind zooms back inside my body, and I feel a prickle in the place where her little fingers touched me.
She squeals and jumps back. Her sheet of candy buttons drop to the ground. “He’s real!” At first she seems scared, but then she starts to laugh. She wipes the silver paint on the front of her dress and it leaves a shimmery streak over her heart. “He’s a real man.”
At first she seems scared, but then she starts to laugh. She wipes the silver paint on the front of her dress and it leaves a shimmery streak over her heart. “He’s a real man.”
“Come on, sweetie.” Her mother takes her hand and they start to walk away.
“Wait,” I say. It’s my real voice instead of robot noises, and it comes out phlegmy from lack of use. “Wait a minute!” I say again, louder. I step down off my crate and try to run after them. I want to talk to the girl and hold her tiny hand. I want to circle my fingers around her wrist like the string of a circus balloon that won’t ever fly away.
My legs are stiff, and so are my painted jeans. I lumber after them like some kind of zombie. When I get close, I reach out and grab the girl’s arm.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” The father is shouting at me, and the mother is screaming. The girl starts to cry. I try to explain myself, but I’m nervous, so I make machine noises instead of words. Everything is happening too fast and too loud, and I drift away. I watch from a safe distance as the mother scoops up the little girl and runs off down the street. Then I see the father pull back his fist like he’s about to punch me, but before he does, all my muscles go soft and my whole body crumbles to the ground. “Weirdo,” he says. “Leave us alone.”
I stay there in a heap on the sidewalk for a while, and people walk around me like I’m a pile of silver trash. Finally, my mind starts to settle inside my head, so I get up and walk back to my spot. When I get there, I see that someone has stolen the cash out of my bucket. All that’s left is a few nickels, and that strip of candy buttons, face-up on the ground nearby. I step onto my crate, and my legs feel tight as springs. I hold my arms out in a robot pose. There’s a small spot on my right hand where the silver make-up was rubbed away, and as the wind blows off the river, the warm air touches me there, against my real skin.
Read The Story Behind “Silver Man” on our blog.