The Reading Park Sign’s Dream
written by Mathias Svalina
I am at a meet-up event for signs. Life as a sign can be lonely, always standing in the same spot, always watching people walk by you with only a quick glance. Sometimes I say Hi! to people as they pass, but rarely do they ever say hi back. The meet-up for signs is in a bouncy castle. The bouncy castle is as large as a real castle, hundreds of rooms, bouncy walls hung with ornate tapestries, bouncy floors covered with heavy wooden tables & chests that wobble & topple as I bounce by. I befriend two signs at the meet-up. One is a backlit plastic sign for a Holiday Inn, a bit dated & weathered, faded so the green & the yellow are nearly the same shade. The Holiday Inn sign is cool. She seems delighted just to get out of its spot, to be able to meet a few people. We don’t talk much, but I can tell she’s happy to be here. The other sign is really fun, at first. He’s full of energy & ideas, playing pranks & laughing & goofing off. It’s hard to understand what he is a sign for, as there is so much written on him: a jumble of words written in all-caps & crossed out over smeared paint & angular sharpie & drippy spray paint & scribbled ball-point pen. The sign tells me there is treasure in the basement, that we should search for it, that it will be an adventure. And at first I’m caught up in the adventure. It’s hard not to be caught up in what this sign says. He’s that kind of sign, immediately convincing. But as we descend bouncy stairwell after bouncy stairwell, deep into the bowels of the bouncy castle, everything wobbling like gelatin, I grow less convinced. Are you are there’s even treasure down here? I ask. There must be some kind of treasure in a place this dangerous, the sign says. And for a moment that logic seems sound. For a moment I can see myself on a screen, torch in hand, flames flickering heroically on my lettering. And then in the next moment, I can feel the horrifying weight of the unstable castle above me, feel each surface sway. But I continue to follow the sign down, down, down, stairwell after stairwell, until we reach the very bottom of the castle, which is as still as bedrock. A full-size Olympic pool sits at the bottom of the bouncy castle. The water is crystalline clear. The pool glows from within. We found it! the erratic sign shouts. The treasure. He dives into the water. And it is only then that I see he is made of cardboard, many times folded, rippled from being rained-upon & dried out. He swims down to the bottom of the pool, ink & paint rising off his surface as he swims. He swims until he has shed all his ink, all his words, until he is no longer even a sign.