Cristal Guderjahn and Amy Souza

Layered Life
By Cristal Guderjahn

Acrylic on canvas
Painted using Amy Souza’s story (below) as inspiration

By Cristal Guderjahn

Acrylic on canvas
Painted using Amy Souza’s story (below) as inspiration

Herbert and The Shoeshine Boy
by Amy Souza

With the brushing and the rubbing and the moving from foot to foot, the shoeshine boy loses his place in history. But his customer…

It was a warm day, or maybe cool, on the cusp of spring or fall, circa olden times. The man, let’s settle on Herbert, decides to stop on his way to or from work so his wingtips shine. He wants to impress a new boss or his father or the girl he loves who’s playing coy. His heart swells with ambition or lust, but he is a simple man of simple means and a shine is all he can afford. He feels certain, though, that he will or won’t attain the greatness he does or does not deserve. He’s not quite as destitute as the boy at his feet, although perhaps it is true that he’s more so.

His hair—brown or blonde or auburn—is cut in the style of the day. Short, crisp. Made to sit neatly under a hat. He wishes his hair to be tousled. When he run his fingers through it he imagines the touch of the girl who will soon love him.

Once, as a boy, he’d overheard his mother and sister, Carol, two days before Carol’s wedding, talking in the kitchen, not even in whispers. (They mustn’t have known he was there, figured him to be out delivering papers or shooting marbles or doing what young boys do.) He liked the sound of the women’s voices when they spoke to each other, so different than when they talked to him (like a child!) or his father (like an idiot). To each other they spoke in tones both confident and free, though certainly young Herbert couldn’t have expressed it as such or did and was ridiculed.

His father no longer lived with them, or maybe so. The man had beaten his children or loved them, perhaps both. The house, in the family for three generations or two, was always alive with sounds and smells. Or it might have been quiet, still, Hector a lonely child with Carol, years his senior, his only sibling. Mother resented her time spent in the kitchen, sulked about it or relished her role as nurturer, inviting neighborhood children in to play while she baked mincemeat pies and sweet, airy breads.

On that day when Herbert played eavesdropper, he listened first to the lilt of their voices until, like toffee to teeth or flies to paper, the words and their meaning stuck and Herbert felt his face flush.

“It can be enjoyed,” his mother was saying. “But it’s like your grandmother told me: Expect nothing from this life and you will sometimes be pleasantly surprised to receive something.”

“But what does it feel like?” Carol asked, and their mother released a world weary sigh.

The room fell silent, awaiting an answer, and the boy slipped out of the house undetected or his mother heard a rustling in the parlor and whooped young Herbert’s behind. The whole scene remains with him, or went missing that afternoon.

Now an adult, Herbert lives in the city, a small one or large, maybe medium-sized, the city where he grew up or close anyway or thousands of miles from home. He enjoys this new life or curses it every day upon waking. He takes pleasure in small things like a buttered croissant first thing or pines only for what he cannot have: a house on the water or a beautiful bride or a job in which he orders other men around or works diligently on important projects and is praised for his attention to detail and insightful, well-written reports.

He’s traveled these city streets safely for many years or has been mugged in an alleyway at night while drunk or completely sober, just out to clear his head.

But Herbert loves it here, longs for a small town, aches to venture west like a modern day gold rusher. He reads the paper, pays no attention to the news, rallies for causes, remains in the shadows. People love him or hate him; he has many friends, spends too much time alone, is held in high regard or overlooked by everyone.

Or we turn the page of the picture book and dream of Herbert at night, coloring into his black-and-white life.


River 6
By Cristal Guderjahn

Acrylic on canvas
Inspiration Piece provided to Amy Souza

By Amy Souza

Tails in constant motion, like the chaos of creation.
They swiggle and swim
in circles,
going nowhere.

Huddled at the bottom of the narrow gulley where they’d hatched,
they form an inky carpet that pulses with unconscious intention.

Until one day a face appears.
Tiny lungs.
A foot, a leg, then
The tail, useless,
falls away.

And so its purpose, the pollywog’s,
is to survive in order to die,
to trade itself in for the

new better being.

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