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A Room Full of Light

A Room Full of Light

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A Room Full of Light

319 pagine
5 ore
Jun 15, 2015


In this novel of hope, challenge and the light, author FJ Rocca probes the unusual world of the idiot-savant. In this case, a mentally handicapped young man possess genius with a paintbrush. While he cannot express himself in ordinary language and speech, his paintings are as penetrating as poetry. More than pictures, they are conversations of imagery in which he "speaks" the light.

His mother hopes that his gift may one day make him normal, if only she can find an open window to free his mind. But hope is a two-edged sword that can turn upon its wielder.

Her son's genius comes into stark contrast with a would-be painter who cannot tolerate the clash of genius with mediocrity, while a famous psychiatrist searches for a way to give him a life in which his paintings will be his salvation.
Jun 15, 2015

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A Room Full of Light - FJ Rocca

A Room Full of Light


a novel by

FJ Rocca

- Candid Bookpress -

This is a work of fiction. None of the characters exist in real life. They are entirely an invention of the author and are not modeled or based on any person living or dead. Any similarities occurring to the reader are purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 by Francis J. Rocca, All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

First Printing:  2015

ISBN: 9781329214828

You may contact the author at

For my beloved late brother Jack, who encouraged me at times when I’d forgotten how to encourage myself.


Chapter 1

He is never in darkness. Even when the light in the window is dark, there is light ongoing in his brain. Sometimes it is a tiny light, like the one his mother has plugged into the wall to remind him of the light which will come again when it is daytime, the little blue bulb in the shape of a caricatured animal; but sometimes it is not a tiny light at all. Sometimes it is a sun which fills the world with images. It beams and shouts and spills all over everything inside him and lights the dreams which run through the blackness behind his eyes. In the dream he lifts his hands and extends his fingers. He does not need a brush or charcoal. The images appear, not on the flat white stuff he uses to draw when he is awake, but on the air, visions in the atmosphere. He paints, not with colors from a tube, but with light itself!

For him, the light is like words, better than words. When he possesses light he can use it to speak. With his hands he can speak. He can speak how the sad winter trees are hung against the backdrop of a milk gray sky; how the sky itself weeps and pours itself upon the shabby houses and makes them swallow the people; and how, after the little splashes of rain have fallen and the sky is no longer broken, the light comes again and brings back the smiling people. Then he smiles as well. Smiles and feels the light pour from the sky. He holds up his head and lets it pound like rain, in petulant, tiny fists against his skin.

But the light does more than picture. Light gives reason to the things spoken by it. It riles his blood, makes the senses come forth with power, lets him know the faces of the children he sees, the shapes of birds and flowers, the air and even the very earth itself. The light lets him understand. When he is able to see and to speak, he can tell how he feels. No! The light is itself understanding. When he holds in his hand a piece of crayon or a brush charged with color, he is like the Great Creator, imbuing living scenes with light. But without the light, it would be futile. There would be no purpose.

The light comes first through the little window at the end of the bedroom and when in the morning he feels it touch him, he is bathed in it, cleansed by it, renewed with it. The orange of the new sun makes his body wake. He pulls himself from his bed and stands naked at the window to receive the light. And he smiles. At last the long renewing night is done and he can once again speak his images onto the paper. Even when the light from the sky is full of gray clouds and the sun is hiding, he stands at the window, glad of even the thin, trickling light that does not show the details of things. He will invent the details the light does not show.

Light is his blood, it fills his veins, renews the beating of his heart and movement of his brain and hands. It is a substance. He can feel it with his body!  It is solid light. Taste the light, juicy and succulent. He longs for it to bead down upon him, to thunder down on him like vast sound from the sky, hit him in the face and in the chest and on the groin like driving rain, cleanse him and make him smile.

He closes his eyes and something moves inside him and he feels his strength. His mind opens with ideas; a frenzy of images bursts out upon him. They scatter and pass in and out among themselves, gradually taking some position in relation to each other. The ebullient mass of colors and textures begins to take a broad shape. Lines await his action; masses prepare for the process of his decision; there is a merging of senses.

His hand is suddenly charged with dripping, brilliant light. He reaches up, up to the air which lays itself, supplicant before him like a vast tablet, readying to receive his images. His finger extends like the fine sable point of a painter’s brush. He goes to his table where the mother has prepared things. A clean, white sheet faces him from the flat plane of the table. He takes a stub of crayon and deftly turns it so it faces outward from the palm across the first knuckle.

He ekes out a line… and another line… and another... until, from the canvas of his senses, amid the curls and gnarls and blots of color, the unclear makings of a face appear, featureless but promising. It is a featureless face, a figure standing by a window, his window, where he has faced nakedly the new light. Now he places the light on the paper and spills it on the face. The features are luminant. He adds to the shape, hair, rudiments of a body. A starting smile grows on the blankness of the head. It is the body of a woman, a fine, comely body. A face he knows but has not yet drawn into expression. The body wears an amorphous garment with a broad pattern on it. Perhaps... perhaps a large hat covers part of the hair. But what face is it? The features are not yet clear. The face comes from somewhere behind his brain, from an ashen haze of memory, obscure as fog. He cannot tell who it is, but somehow he senses that it is perhaps more than one person, fused like ideas into one face and body. But who is this? Perhaps it is the mother. Or perhaps it is the girl. He cannot be sure. Has he fashioned a face which envisions them both? Perhaps, then, it is the face of a woman… perhaps.

Lynn Ann Benedict kept a strict schedule. It was her way of making life bearable for herself and her mentally handicapped son. Without a schedule there would be no chance. Random things were not permissible because they were not safe. The bus for St. Clare’s usually arrived at the corner by seven-forty. Her schedule began at six.

First she bathed and dressed him and brushed his teeth and his hair and sat him at the big table in his room to idle the time until breakfast. Breakfast!  How she longed for that word to have meaning. Donny could not eat a normal meal, which is to say that a plate of bacon and eggs or a bowl of oatmeal or even a glass of juice were impossible for him to negotiate himself. Whatever it was he ate for breakfast she must feed to him. Besides which, he was always too excited about going to school to want food, or his conception of it.

Instead, Lynn Ann labored over a blender, mixing ingredients into the jar—vitamin powders, so many ounces of juice, so many drops of cod liver oil, a little honey to make it taste—and she frothed the stuff into a muddy, whirling sauce. He had to eat aware or not, and if the joy of food eluded him, at least nourishment didn’t.

She looked at the kitchen clock and sighed heavily. At the foot of the stairs she called to him loudly, two floors up. It was a ritual. He would not come when called. She longed for a reason to complain about it the way other mothers did. She dreamed about complaining casually to a neighbor, I just don’t know what to do about Donny. He’s so busy with his drawing and activities that he doesn’t come when I call him.  It would be a proud complaint.

She called him twice, the ritual was complete. The longing evaporated with the fantasy and she got back to her schedule. She picked a wash cloth from the counter and trudged the steps to Donny’s room. From outside the door she called him softly and knocked before she pushed the door. When he heard her he turned, and when he saw her he smiled and stood. She went to him and took the little stub of Conte from his hand and dropped it onto the sketch pad on the table. The face on the paper looked up at her but she ignored it. She did not recognize the face, it was someone he’d seen, she knew, but she did not care. It was another drawing to be added to the dozens that were put away in the closet at the far end of the room. It was a finished drawing, with all the features filled in now, a face, a smile bathed in the light of his window.

He stood while she touched him up. After he’d sat for the better part of an hour working his Conte crayons and charcoal and Wolfe’s pencils he needed it. As she fussed the washcloth over his hands and mouth and cheeks and forehead in deft, efficient little motions, she could feel him watching her. His eyes had changed over the past few years. Before, they had seemed a great, bland blue, lacking focus or purpose. Now they peered deeply when they set on something, especially on a person, on a face. He seemed to see the faces in things as well as people. Faces in trees, in clouds, in the rough dirt, they peered, those eyes, studied things, studied people. They seemed to study her at times and make her uncomfortable. What did they see? What did they want to see that they had not seen?

She didn’t want to think about this. She was busy, busy with her schedule. She combed his hair a second time and straightened his collar and made sure his shirttails were tucked tight and proper and that none of him was out of place. It was as though she were placing him, like a corsage, into one of those plastic bags the florist uses that promise to keep the contents fresh forever. He must not "wilt but stay fresh, untouched, clean and new. The only signs of wear had been those foolish smudges. She had gone at them with a vengeance and restored him to innocence.

It’s almost time for the bus, she whispered as she stood back inspecting him. On impulsive she reached up and rubbed his nose playfully with the wash cloth, trying to get him to giggle like a normal child does when teased. Donny did nothing. He stood and peered at her face, his jaw set, his mouth slightly open, like a door ajar.

Bus is coming, she said deliberately. Can you say ‘bus’? She waited hopelessly. BB-UU-SS, she said again. His brows knitted. He stared at her lips watching them form the words to shape the sounds he could not learn to imitate. Gently she placed her index finger to his lips. I love you, she said. He put his arms around her in an abrupt, clumsy, tender embrace. She thought: He doesn’t even know who this woman is he’s hugging or why he’s hugging her. She closed her eyes against the thought.

Is he holding this woman? Is it his woman? No, no, he does not know. But why does he hold her so? And what is this feeling that makes him want suddenly to be one with her in this tightness? He cannot comprehend the sensation in his heart but there is surging warmth to it, some urgent need to live. He does not know what it was called in her language, but he could probably draw a picture of two people hugging this way. Two people he does not even know. They are naked and the man, the woman, their bodies touch, and their hearts, they touch too.

She felt him press her body against him. She felt his strength, her weakness, his hand at the small of her back, moving slowly, the pressure of that hand closing her against him, against his groin, taut, suddenly erect,  heady and wanting. Lynn Ann closed her eyes tightly shut ‘til the white lids ached. No, she said, holding her breath. No, Donny. You are my little boy. I am your mommy. She felt the fear hard at her back. She took a deep breath and held on to it, pulled free of him and held his hands. Then she let go of the breath in a vast, rushing sigh. Her temples throbbed and the pulse in her neck beat a racing rhythm. She paused a minute to let the hollow sound in her brain subside.

She busied herself again so as not to think. She brushed his clothing once again, and checked the buttons on his shirt quickly. He held his hands loosely out to her but finally let them drop. She looked down. His erection did not show. She hoped it had gone. You must not let Sister Catherine ever catch you this way, she whispered desperately. Oh God, if only you could understand me. She touched her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes again. She might faint. She must move, must regain her footing. Keep moving, stick to the schedule. The bus horn sounded and Donny’s eyes opened wide. Yes, she said gratefully. It’s time.

She led him down the stairs. He began clomping, one step at a time, too rapidly, like a toddler on foolhardy, uncertain feet. Slow down, she called a step or two behind. And hold the railing or you’ll break an ankle. She reached in behind her and turned off the light. The room was at last in darkness. She could no longer see the drawing on Donny’s table, the portrait of someone standing by the window, the features of the little face incised in warm-black on the cream colored paper.

The bus reached the corner just as they did. Lynn Ann held Donny’s hand all the way to the step of the open-folded door. She could hear Sister Catherine’s voice leading the children in a ritual chant: What do we say when somebody comes into the room? And the choir-like responsory: We welcome him or her! The chant rang like the shrill voice of a choir slightly out of tune. Then let’s welcome Donny.

Welcome, Donny, welcome! They shouted and clapped in wild jubilation, as Sister Catherine stepped down and led Donny down the center aisle of the bus. Lynn Ann poked her head in the door and watched. That’s very nice to make a place for Donny, Wanda, she heard Sister Catherine say to a little girl with a face the reflected the dull, perfect innocence of Downs Syndrome. Donny can sit next to you today.  The little girl clapped and put her hands to her grinning mouth. Sister Catherine turned back toward Lynn Ann. Thank you, Mrs. Benedict, she said. We’ve got him now. Sister Catherine smiled wanly.

Alright, said Lynn Ann. And thanks.

You’re welcome, Mrs. Benedict, said Sister Catherine, but you know...  The nun approached the door and reached for Lynn Ann’s hand. She held it solicitously. It really isn’t necessary to hold his hand all the time. He’s a not exactly little, now, is he?

Well, not exactly, said Lynn Ann. She did not intend to challenge Sister Catherine whose face was full of authority.

You see, we feel they don’t learn if we do everything for them.

I understand that, said Lynn Ann. But he rushes when he sees the bus. He gets excited and anxious. He might fall and...

Mrs. Benedict, interrupted Sister Catherine. How will they learn if they aren’t allowed to fall once in a while? I’ve had lots of experience with these children, as you know, and I can tell you, a little fall now and then won’t hurt them. I think sometimes we parents encourage our children to be dependent. Lynn Ann choked back the obvious challenge: But you aren’t a parent! She held back and Sister Catherine continued. We don’t realize it, of course. We don’t mean to hold them back. But deep inside we have our own insecurities. Sometimes we are the ones who’ve become dependent and can’t let go, can’t let them live their lives as God intended.

But how do we know what God intended? Lynn Ann asked. She tried to conceal the bitterness, to keep it from embittering the words.

We don’t. We just have to trust. Eventually, God’s intentions are demonstrated to us. We must only do what we can and after a certain point, we must let go and let God do his work. When we try to do too much, to control too much, we make bad choices, even though we mean well. We get fooled into thinking we know everything until pretty soon we are left with no answers at all. Now, I know you’re his mother and you have a lot to say about what ought to be done with your own son. It’s natural. But I’m a mother too, Mrs. Benedict. Don’t let this habit fool you. I’ve had as many kids as you can imagine, year after year and class after class of them. You’ve raised one, but I’ve been raising hundreds, and believe me, I’ve felt all there is for a mother to feel. And I’ve learned a lot of things too. I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to let go.

Well, thank you for the advice, Sister Catherine, said Lynn Ann. I’ll try to remember everything you said.

Yes, well... I assume we’ll be seeing you later on?

Lynn Ann looked blankly for a moment. Then she remembered. Oh, yes, the meeting. Yes, I’ll be there later on.

Sister Catherine smiled broadly. Wonderful, she said. I’ll look forward to it.  She nodded to Lynn Ann and turned again to the chanting. The doors rattled shut and swallowed the pungent voices, diminishing them until the sound disappeared like the voices of migrating birds carried by winter over some vast southern horizon.

Chapter 2

He cannot describe the room around him, but he senses that it is a familiar place. He feels it, although he possesses no words with which to say what he feels. He has no language in the ordinary sense, no progress of ideas, no logic or train of thought. His notions are quick, fleeting images, forms in a gigantic collage of feelings. But he feels vehemently!  The notions are pulsing, vital, but then too quickly gone, back, back into the blackness behind his eyes.

The eyes! Of course! Of course, the eyes are like hands! He feels with his eyes. They are better for tasting than any mouth, better than a nose for sensing smells, better than a soul to feel things inside. The eyes are clear, his vision uncluttered. The experience of his eyes is whole, like tasting and touching all at once. Seeing is the quintessential sense. With his eyes he can experience the walls of this room, a presence of color, shape, mass, tall planes hued like pale blades of grass. And from the walls, whole, square-shaped blocks have been excised to let flood the head clear for the surging light, the sometimes violent light!

It rings like bells, the light. Through and through his body, in the organs beneath his skin and on its surface, the light is pulsing like blood, moving his brain, awakening his hands to speak, to be his voice. His mouth can utter no meaning. But his hands! His eyes are his brains, his hands are his voice.

It is odd, the strangeness of the sounds issuing from the mouths of the others:  bursts, rhythmic hisses like gurgles, a square blast of moaning, singing and chanting. Then he hears something like a cough. Why? It is unexplainable. Can these others in the room, the little ones in the bright clothes and the big one in black robes, can they speak as he does, with a stump of smudgy black stuff in his fist, put to the nearest surface? He longs to speak, to speak with someone, to fill the surfaces with lines and masses and clotted clouds of color and exchange them like speech, the shapes, the things of the brain inside the eye, trees, faces, bodies like loping animals, sometimes naked on the clean lawns.

The little child girl, the one sitting in front and stealing looks back at him, can she speak? Can she tell him something she too knows? Can she know it with her eyes and speak it with her hands? He has heard them call her some sound he cannot reproduce. He tries to shape his mouth, to form the word, to form the angular shape of hoarse sound of her name. AW-NN-DA...

He sighs inwardly. He cannot use his mouth to say word sounds in the way others do. What useless things are words!  They are said into the air and disappear like vapor, gone before you can breathe enough air to say another. And the black-robed creature, the one in the strange, ominous, enveloping garment and the white crown and bib. Who is she? She is like a raven clown, a bird? Can she speak in the real way, as he can? She seems unable to do anything but utter harping noises, harsher than the others, thin-voiced and monotonous, and angry, too. Yes, but at what? What have the children done? What has he done? Has he done some reprehensible thing, some shameful act, to inspire such nagging? Now she is approaching. Her voice has gone from harsh to a soft, solicitous, stupid moan. He longs to tell the creature that he does not understand her anger. Perhaps if the creature could speak, as he does, without language but with meanings on the paper, he would suddenly know and obey. Would she be happy then? But she cannot speak in the real way, with images. She is dumb of images and he feels acid in his stomach. He has thought of showing her how to speak, but whenever he tries to show her what he feels, with his voice, the voice of his hands on the gleaming surface of the paper, she grows angrier!  She seizes his hands and stops him.

He looks around. The dun walls are surfaces. The sky is a surface. Even parts of the floor resemble a surface, all to be drawn upon, to be filled with images, to be filled with light. The surfaces call to him like a void to be filled with the thoughts in the mind of the eye. He takes an oily black stump from the desktop. It is made of wax and pigment and smells like childhood. He holds it in his hand and lifts it to the white paper which stares up at him on the table in front of him. She comes at him suddenly the creature in the swarming robes, attacking with her shrill mouth, nagging like a magpie a harpy!  She seizes his hand and turns the waxy crayon around so that it sits precariously in his fingertips. This is not an artist’s way, to hold his crayon like the others hold their pencils, so that he cannot speak!  She pulls at his hand and twists the black thing he uses to draw! It changes his voice!  He cannot tell the truth in this voice. He cannot show the way everything is.

The others do not seem to care. Is this because they cannot speak as he does? To them the sounds seem more important than the light. But he cannot make the sounds; he must speak with his crayon. Yet the creature holds him back. She holds him back and forces him to twist the way he speaks. He cannot do this. He cannot twist the light into untruths. He cannot speak this way. He must try to be silent. The black bird has forced him to be silent. If he held her tightly by the lips, would they be able to bark their strange sounds? She has forced him to impotence.

Frustration knits his brow and he drops the crayon from his hand. He cannot bear the unresolved need to speak. He looks about him, an anxious void swelling inside his abdomen. But he suddenly once more feels the light pouring in all over him. It pours on the creature too, but she does not feel it, the extravagant, healing light, the salve, the balm of light, like cooling water over his body. Bathe in it. Let it wash him. Live in it like a fish. Like some creature in the vigorous, coarse river, feeling the water hard on his back.

There is a distraction. The others are using their strange sounds as his mother does when he is about to sleep, strung all together in a droning song. But his mother’s sound makes him drowsy. It is a sweet sound. This sound forces something up inside him, some lump of hot, molten stuff, up into his abdomen, then his into est. Cacophony!  Is this pain? Is it sorrow? Something stings his eyes and fills them with a hot liquid. He cannot tell what it is that rises with such heat inside him. He is suddenly seized. His hands begin to move by themselves, out of control. Something inside is moving him. Not outside, but in the deep part of his body, his numb brain. He sighs and breathes hard, fast, involuntary. He must speak, must find a surface to draw the hearty meanings down, out, onto. Speak!

His brain rings like a chime, loud and painful. Some chalk!  A crayon!  Something, anything so he can speak! His fists open and

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