It was the night before jogging and all through the house, my excitement was stirring – maybe soon I’d have a spouse. But then I awoke and with the toll of the alarm…my body was unwilling – getting fit, had lost it’s charm. I’ve always been full of half-good ideas…you know; spontaneous expensive trips abroad instead […]
Darkness surrounds him and lies deeply within him. Tonight, his approach to her bedroom window is stealthier than his previous visits. Because he has killed, the community has become alerted to his presence but they do not know who he is.
He draws closer to her home. Her lover’s car is parked in the drive. The light in the bedroom turns off. Satisfyingly, he nods. Soon they will leave. He glances at his watch. For once, they are on time.
The evil within him enhances and distorts his motivations. He neither understands why he does what he does nor does he care nor feel compelled to change its outcome.
The face of his previous lover swept across the desert he called a mind. Disappointed, he thought he had completely purged her from his life. No harm was meant when he had locked her in his basement. To him, she was a delicate and beautiful butterfly that needed his love and protection. But, he had been wrong again. Like all the others, her lies and mean-spirited ways had shone through. He had no choice. His hand followed the scar she had gifted him along his jaw line. He had tried. But, she had refused his love. Killing her, then, became easy and right. He took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. Now he had a new lover to watch over.
Cautiously, he approached the bedroom window. Like so many times before, this choice for his new love had left it open. The ambience of her bedroom was his eye candy. The perfume permeating the air was a gratifying delight, a banquet of celebration to her existence. This time he knew he had chosen correctly. He smiled to himself. Never since he had begun his “nightly visitations” long ago, and he had visited many bedrooms even while they slept, had he felt so strongly about someone.
His earlier voyeurisms of her led him to the correct dresser drawer. Opening it, he scooped up its contents and drank in her essence. Undergarments, closest to her skin, created sensual images of him peeling them off her. The thought of tasting her made him hard as his excitement grew to a feverish pitch.
A car door slammed. He froze. His heart-beat slammed against his chest. He took the trophies he wanted and carefully returned the rest. She must not know that he was there. Surreptitiously, he slipped across her room to the open window to make his escape.
He heard their angry voices surfing the warm night air. Then, there was silence.
Her key entered the front lock as her lover’s vehicle drove off. The quickness of her step surprised him when suddenly her bedroom door swung open. Her cellphone rang. And she turned away to answer it. If she hadn’t done that her fate would have been sealed. She would have clearly seen him captured in the wedge of light.
He did not want to kill her. That would shatter his dreams of being her lover. But, he was fully prepared to act on life’s unexpected twists and turns. Tying the length of her pantyhose in a knot, he stepped back into the darkness of the room and waited to discover her fate.
Her tone told him who she was talking to on the phone. And, he hated him intensely. A car horn beeped in her drive. The light in the living room turned off. Her key in the front door told him she had left.
For a while he lay on her bed in his imaginary world drinking in the smell of her undergarments, his trophies from this visit.
When he closed the window to her bedroom and climbed the fence into the field behind her property, he had made his decision.
Tomorrow, he thought, I will begin tomorrow.
A grosbeak valiantly circles overhead.
When this journey began, my hope was painted against an azure sky when the sun was high and the scent of pine and meadow flowers copiously filled the air.
Many times I have stood at the forest’s edge and let the sweetness and magic of its promise draw me in.
But, today, I hear distant drums heralding a coming storm, it marches across the glen. Have I languished too long? Will my peaceful tranquility feel the coldness of its blade?
My pace quickens, not outward but inward to the sanctuary of the camaraderie of the woods.
Briefly, the path is sprinkled with dabbled sunlight that spotlights a yellow-black spider spinning its web between milkweeds. An arduous task filled with purpose and hope in advance of the storm.
An ozone scent slides into me. I inhale deeply. In the innocence of my youth, I celebrated the normalcy of its breath but now I only feel sadness and fear.
The die is cast. How long will it last? While the once proud Northern Holy Fern, Walking Fern, Maidenhair Spleenwort Fern and orchids are compelled to hide in its inky bloom.
The gentle breeze lulled my senses; illusions in sunshine blinded my ears while my mind chose what was and not what is among my peers.
Tree trunks cry out; their struggle barely audible above the bellowing noise of the angry wind; their limbs scratch furiously at the sky; strongly with purpose they fight against their bully.
My hypothalamus drives me in earnest to my haven hidden in the hollow round the bend. The tumultuous journey of a storyteller, its story not easily told, arrived long before I was born. I had to see beyond its beauty and be disposed to undertake a promise never to refrain from learning its message riding full rein.
Everything begins one day, that’s just the way it is. Where it starts is rarely where it is. Tomorrow bleeds into tomorrow. If you take notice, pay attention, bear witness and commit, today does not have to be a cellophane footnote as part of the compass in your kit. Choices form the North Star to the future that fits.
Unimaginable yesterdays brought me to the rock where I sit. Before me the stalwart waterfall’s music flows. Though its majestic structure may have been decreed, adjudicated and arranged by forces beyond its control, its conclusion has not been clinched.
Voices and outstretched hands not emptied of hope ride with anguished arrow to my home.
And the falling water asks me as it has done so many times before: Will you stand against the storm?
Ouch! It was totally unexpected. Her home form lockers should not have been anywhere near mine. Yet, there she was, five lockers down from me. I couldn’t help but think that it was going to be an ugly school year.
She smiled. I smiled back. She spoke to me but I neither remember what she said nor what I said to her. The exchange was cordial enough but awkward, similar to strangers forced together in a social setting out of their control. But, we were far from being strangers. Or was I wrong?
When Chris was present, he became the center of Joan’s attention. As for me, I became nothing more than cellophane. I did not exist. Passing each other in the hall, as we frequently did each school day, I wondered: Do you know I’m there?
Growing up is darn right painful.
My feet dragged academically. Hurt had turned into anger. I had become consumed with thoughts of revenge. I found no solace in my brother Ron’s carelessly doted out wisdom: “Suck it up buttercup…plenty more yet to come.” Did he not know I felt diminished? That my heart was broken? That my life was in tatters?
Did Joan even care about the depths of my despair?
I’ve been told too often that time reveals all to those who are patient. But, I’m a kid. Isn’t that in part why I’m called a kid and not an adult? Being patient takes the fun out of things. Doesn’t it? Hmm…I felt as if I had followed the rabbit down the hole into a scary horror show of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of being late for a very important date escapes me because my life was at a standstill.
Life is full of surprises.
The school year trudged on and so did I. Then one day Joan approached me out of the blue. I was dumbstruck. Blood coursed through my veins so quickly that words were washed cleanout of my brain. I could only listen. During those precious moments together space and time stood still. There were no recriminations, no rancor, only clarity. By the time she had said what she wanted to say, I knew there was nothing I needed to add. A quick reminisce drew laughter and we parted as friends.
Though she was with Chris, a quick glance and a knowing smile as we passed in the hall, assured me that she knew I was there. I still loved her; I guess that was the saddest part: loving someone who used to love you.
Two weeks later, everything changed.
I had just exited Sam’s, the neighborhood variety store, when I noticed Joan walking toward me. Her head was slung low. I called out to her and waited. She barely glanced up as she scurried by me. “Joan,” I called out. “Are you okay? What’s the…?” She had already disappeared down the walkway at the side of the strip mall.
Why did I not follow her? It’s something I’ve always regretted.
Toward the end of the week I went around to her house. There was a For Sale sign on the front lawn. And the house was empty.
I never saw her again.
Time passed like tumbling tumbleweed in a strong northwest wind.
I had become an adult. I now could vote.
As a sophomore at a prestigious university, I had become, according to my parents, the proverbial know-it-all. I’m sure they would have frowned on my regular late night debates over pizza and beer. My defense: it was a yummy experience for fertile minds that provided fresh perspectives and clarity to the world’s problems. The debates were coed. Now that would have raised an eyebrow or two in my family. Mum’s the word was decided by me right from the start especially since I was interested in one of the participants. As of late, my active participation in the learning experience had waned. It leaned toward more lascivious endeavors. My daily state of being groggy and bleary eyed did not add to my hopes of remaining on the Dean’s List.
The lecture I was trying to follow was exceedingly boring. The professor contributed greatly to lulling my brain to sleep. The attention span of a gnat had suddenly become my norm. Not good, when the content of the class—thermodynamics—was a must go to in order to achieve my degree in chemical engineering. Glancing around the hall it was easy to deduce that I wasn’t alone in my struggle. But that was scant solace.
I took in a deep breath and attempted to refocus when a ball of paper ricocheted off my head, landing on the floor at my feet. A quick scan of the lecture hall turned up empty-handed. Bending down, I picked up the paper-shot and unfolded it. A drawing of a female stick-figure and the words “Do you remember me?” was scrawled on it. I must admit, it did not ring a bell. I took a cursory glance around the hall. There was no obvious source of the projectile. Unable to stifle a yawn or two, my attention refocused on the chalkboard several rows down.
Another balled-up paper careened off my head and onto the floor. But it disappeared from view under the feet of the exiting mass of people at the end of the lecture.
Gathering my textbook and binder, I began the steep climb to the exit. In the very back row, in the middle, a very attractive girl smiled at me. She beckoned me to join her.
I sat on the seat beside her. Though there was a familiarity about her, facial recognition eluded me. “Do I know you? I have a sense that we have met before.” The corner of her lip curled up slightly but she did not reply. There was playfulness in her eyes that could not go unnoticed. I held up the crumpled paper. “Was that you?”
She nodded. “Not a bad shot…eh? The second one would have solved the mystery I can see swimming around in your head. Though the student stampede may have put you in danger,” she chortled. “Put that down to bad timing on my part…like… in Mister Roberts’s class.”
That hint hit my memory banks like a lead balloon. “Alison!? Gee…It’s great to see you…but…but…”
“If your jaw drops any lower you’re going to hurt yourself.” She glanced at her watch. “When’s your next class?”
“Who cares…the rest of the day’s yours. Lunch? It’s on me.”
“Well, when you put that way…You got a place in mind?”
“The Mucky Duck.”
I’m not big on nostalgia but our walk across campus to the pub was most pleasant. When she mentioned Joan’s name my ears perked up. Unable to get a word in edgewise, Joan somehow got lost in the many twists and turns of Alison’s catch up tales.
As we sat across from each other waiting for lunch and nursing our drafts, I brought up Joan’s name again. I learned that she and her dad had moved to Montreal, Canada. Unexpectedly she and Alison had corresponded by letter for a short time.
“Do you still write each other?” I asked, hopefully.
She stared at me long and hard, took a swig of her draft and cleared her throat. “She stopped writing after… the baby was born.”
I could feel my whole body deflate like a punctured inner tube. The pain on my face must have been obvious because Allison hesitantly continued.
“Chris Brannon…as you knew at the time …Well…She was head over heels in love with him…and…She trusted him implicitly. Misplaced trust…” She took in a deep breath. “It’s the only kind way I can describe it.”
“Then… Chris… was the father?” I reluctantly asked.
“One day while she and Chris were at Ted Lacey’s…No…She… never knew who the father was from that day. Her father, wanting to protect her, pulled up stakes and took her with him. He had a sister who lived outside of Montreal.”
We sat in silence for what for me felt like an eternity.
Finally, I asked: “Does she still live there?” When my meal was placed in front of me, I had lost my appetite.
Alison’s gaze skirted away from me. I could see that a teardrop had formed at the corner of her eye. She pushed her plate aside and reached across the table to hold my hands. Her grasp tightened. Her words did not come easily; they carried much pain. “About a year after the baby was born, I received a letter from her father. In it, I was informed that …she…had committed suicide.”
When Alison and I parted, it was dusk. We promised to see each other again.
Beside the entrance to my residence was a small copse of trees. Standing in front of them was a young girl smiling and waving at me. She was radiant and beautiful. She appeared to shimmer from the overhead light above the door. My pace picked up from a lumbering gait. But, by the time I got there, she was gone. I could have sworn it was Joan.
It is I who is to blame. AYOH, the land of my ancestors, burns. Screams of my subjects still assail my ears. Their ghosts continue to ride the late night air. I am haunted by their unyielding reach.
I can see the fear in Ennea’s face through my tear filled eyes. She cradles Alyakim, our daughter. Between us, wrapped in the hide of the Great Olaffub are the few possessions we had time to gather. My spear and knife lie easily within reach.
Since the moon first awoke, Eoz, my faithful servant, and I have paddled. Its yellow globe travels to its resting place under the sky. Our journey is guided by THRON, the brightest star in the heavens. Behind us, the night is clear and crisp, the water still. Ahead, a strange mist rises like a wall; I can hear its energy within.
I have travelled in this direction because of stories my father, Suesdama, related to me in my youth and also from the teachings of the Wise Men. The survival of our bloodline depends on me. It may be our only hope.
The spirit of my father lies strong within me. I wear his ring.
Why had I not listened to the Wise Men of my kingdom? Their tubes with glass at either end had seen IT coming. But, IT’s Ambassador, Ikkin, had already spun his sorcery. I began to see conspiracies where there were none. Ikkin’s tongue and mind, well oiled in deceit, had blinded me and I did not seek counsel, where I always have, with the Wise Men of my realm.
The army of IT arrived without mercy. Their machinery of war was like nothing ever seen before. And, like a scythe through a wheat field, their armies laid waste to the land.
The suns Gorbut and Siotra passed over head 30 times before the city walls fell. Traitors within our ranks betrayed us.
Pleas from the living and the dying torment me. They have become nightmares haunting my existence, tearing my heart and soul apart.
I must save what I can.
The boat cleaves the low lying thick curtain of mist.
To ward off the chill, I wrapped myself in a blanket my wife, Eanne, had made for me. I cannot help but feel a growing foreboding as the icy coldness of the mist digs its tentacles in deeper. And I dare myself to confront the shadow-ghosts in its midst.
Above, THRON remained visible to reassuringly point the way.
My troubled thoughts consume me; I am unaware that time has slipped into another dimension.
The water became angry. I fell back in the canoe as its speed picked up. “Eanne!” I shouted, alarmed for her safety. But she had already prepared. Noticing the increased energy of the water, she had secured herself and Alyakim and our meager belongings in the boat.
Like a mother bear protecting her cubs, the water’s fury pounced upon us. It scooped in, clawing at us, trying to rip us from the bowels of our boat. Eoz and I struggled to keep our boat afloat and away from smashing against the menacing rocky shoreline. The roar was deafening. Focused, we did not feel the pain our efforts must have inflicted. I have no idea how long this lasted. For us, time had become immeasurable.
Without warning, our canoe shot out of the mist and into surreal tranquility. Nothing moved but us. We floated upon an oasis of quietude.
Once Eanne assured me that all was well, Eoz and I laid our paddles across the canoe and rested.
The water gently lapped against our hull. Its regularity was soothing and hypnotizing. Unaware that we had fallen asleep, our boat drifted.
When we awoke, night’s curtain was beginning to draw open to the day. In one horizon the brow of the sun, Gorbut, painted the sky in rainbow while in the other, Siotra had not yet awakened.
I was troubled.
“Is there something wrong, Neas?” my wife, Ennea, asked. She held our child closer to her bosum.
“THORN should be there,” I replied, pointing to its region in the sky. “It has gone…disappeared.”
“Master! Land!” Eoz yelled. His voice echoed many times before it fell into an eerie silence.
Dipping our paddles into the water, we moved tentatively forward.
Gold colored pebbles below the water’s surface scratched against the hull as we slid into shore. Eoz and I immediately jumped into the water and pulled the canoe onto higher ground.
Eoz deposited Ennea and Alyakim onto the sandy portion of the shore and watched as Neas and his family advanced to the edge of the jewel-toned arboretum that stretched full up the slope in front of them. Ensuring that our boat was secured, Eoz lingered awhile, attracted by the gold colored stone. Crouching down, he scooped some into his hand to examine them. It was then he realized they were shells not stones. An odor of putrefied flesh simmered above his collection. The longer he held them the more offensive the smell. He tried to wash them off. Some shells fell away while the others closest to his skin resisted, fixed in place by fleshy extrusions. Their size expanded as they began to crawl up his arm.
“MASTER! HELP ME!” he screamed.
Knife drawn, I turned back. Reaching across the divide that separated sand from stone, I pulled Eoz across to me. The flesh eating shells fell away and became rocks at his feet. Magically, Eoz’s bloodied arm transitioned to normal.
“What is this place?” Eoz whispered, examining his arm and hand in disbelief.
In light of what had just occurred, I could find nothing reassuring to say to Eoz. I too was thunderstruck. My teachings had not prepared me for this.
“Listen,” I said.
“I wish I could. My heart is still pounding heavily in my ears.” replied Eoz.
“There is no sound. It’s as if nature has been swallowed up.” I grasped my spear tightly and moved in front of my child and wife. Turning to Eanne, I said: “Stay behind me. Eoz will protect you. We must move carefully forward.”
I had barely begun my upward climb when an arrow slammed into the tree beside me. Then another arrow implanted itself at the very edge of my toe.
“I have come in peace. I am the son of Suedama. I seek Aidan.” My voice echoed and repeated several times before diminishing to the silence of infinity.
The air was sweet and refreshing.
Silence hung like a heavy wet blanket upon the forest.
When the voice spoke, it carried wisdom and strength.
“I know who you are. And why you have come. Our Teachers told us of your coming long before you were born. Our past, present and future are now joined as one. Turn and observe the mist on the lake. You have not come alone.”
Warriors of IT emerged in three strange, long craft. They hovered above the water’s surface. Suddenly, the water below them bubbled to frenzy then rose and separated. When the water began to settle the craft were gone. Only frothy burps marked their grave-site until its surface shone like glass again.
“More will arrive soon. You must follow me.”
“But, where are you?” I asked.
Giggling erupted around us. But I saw nothing. It sounded like mischievous children at play.
“WE encircle you but, I am here.”
A figure wrapped in a hooded skin stepped out several paces ahead of me and waved us forward. “You must hurry. Time is of the essence.”
Could it be? I thought
Cautiously, our spears at the ready, Eoz and I moved forward. Eanne with Alyakim remained at my back.
When the hood dropped back, the large hazel eyes that met us were warm, inviting and filled with strength and determination. I detected not a hint of malice from her. At her midriff she wore a wide black leather belt; its buckle was the largest and strangest looking buckle I had ever seen.
She pointed to two slots on the buckle. “Neas insert your father’s ring into this slot and turn to the right.”
“How do you know my name?” To say I was astonished that she knew my name did not do justice to my present state of mind especially when I noticed she wore a ring similar to mine. “Who are you?”
Briefly, her gaze cut through me. I sensed her power. She was examining my soul. Our minds were locked in battle until she let go.
Finally, she said: “Patience is a virtue. All will be known in its proper time.” Then she continued in earnest. “We must leave this location immediately.”
I became convinced she had a window into the future.
She inserted her ring into the slot on her buckle and waited for me to do the same in the other slot. “Neas, it is time. Trust your instincts.”
I inserted my ring and turned it to the right as she had instructed and watched as she turned hers to the left.
“Hold hands tightly and breathe in unison with me,” she instructed. “Our circle must not be broken.”
“Where are we going?” I asked
“To the Land of WE,” she replied.
In the blink of an eye, my world transformed.
Some people are alive only because it’s illegal to kill them. In my book, Chris Brannon fell into that category. So, when I turned to face him and saw the way he looked at Joan and her at him, I couldn’t help myself. My fist slammed squarely into his mocking face. It was with great satisfaction that I watched him hit the floor like a ton of bricks. Up until then, I prided myself in having a handle on life; now, that handle was broken. And I feared my hand was as well. From Joan’s expression, I saying “I’m sorry” just wouldn’t cut it. Anyway, it would have been one whopper of a lie. She’d have every right to scream “liar liar pants on fire, nose is long as a telephone wire.”
“As soon as his eyes are uncrossed he’ll be just fine,” I blurted out.
Now that was a dumb statement, I thought. The wiser choice would have been to have said nothing and hung my head in shame. If earth is the insane asylum for the universe, I had just become its most favored inmate.
Joan elbowed me aside and knelt beside Chris. Needless to say, I didn’t protest. Damn it! How could I? I had ruined her birthday party before it had even got started.
She peered up at me. It was apparent to me that any love I thought she had for me had been washed away. Her face had turned a cherry red. It was as though she were being boiled. Her eyes shot arrows that her lips silently enunciated.
I needed no translator.
“Get my dad!” she screamed, venomously.
“You don’t understand,” I shouted, “Chris’s …” I stopped mid-sentence. I felt as if I’d been hit by a Mac truck. This was how she had spent her evenings. WITH HIM. Like a hurricane across an unprotected flat plain, my new reality swept in cruelly.
She glared at me. And I recoiled.
Love had lured me here. I was hooked in hopeless battle. How was I not aware?
Escape. Now! Gather your thoughts.
My mind churned with panicked possibilities.
A wall of pursed lips of saucer eyed guests gasped.
When had they arrived? How long had they been there? Had they witnessed my strife and persecution?
She continued to scream for her dad.
But, her dad had gone AWOL.
I glanced back at Joan and thought: we had been in a time and space separate from the rest.
I cleaved my way through the startled onlookers. I did not care who I knocked aside. My mind did not need to dwell on their faces. I knew them all.
“Where is my guitar?” I demanded. “Where is my FUCKIN’ guitar?”
“Here asshole,” Ted Lacey bellowed, holding it up threateningly like a wood splitter.
Chris and Ted belonged to a gang known as the Lacey Gang. They had bullied me and others since kindergarten.
Ron? Were my eyes deceiving me? No!
I never felt so happy to see my brother’s face.
Like a bear trap, Ron clamped down on Ted’s arm with his grip
“Put it down or I’ll break your wrist. Now! And carefully,” Ron threatened.
Ted did what he commanded without hesitation.
Ron waved me over. He stared at me long and hard before speaking. “Take the guitar and get the hell home. Dad’s waiting for you. Oh, and one more thing nerd-head. Your language… I think I’d better wash your mouth out with soap later.”
I was about to ask why he was there when out of the corner of my eye I saw Chris making his way toward us. Ron had seen him too. Grabbing me by my shirt sleeve, he positioned me behind him. “Scram! I’ve got some business to take care of here.” I cringed when I saw him pull out a set of brass knuckles. An attitude of tangle with me at your own risk, my brother always had this scary aura of invincibility. Now I knew why.
To say I ran home was an understatement. I flew. Faster I bet than Jesse Owens. That journey was filled with no small degree of trepidation. Every moment I expected members of the Lacey Gang to pop out to exact revenge.
Dad met me at the door. Relieving me of the guitar, he allowed time for me to catch my breath. Then the harangue began. Boy, did he chew my ear off. I was grounded for two weeks. Based on how I felt at that moment, two weeks for taking his old guitar was no big deal. Stupidly, I told him so. Anyway, Joan had hurt me more deeply than he ever could. Silence hung over us like a heavily soaked blanket. I dared not breathe. He had a strange habit of curling over his tongue when angry. Vexed, his stare cut straight through me. I waited.
“Bill, leave the boy alone. Talk later when all’s cooled down,” my mother encouraged from the kitchen.
Like turning off a switch, my dad mellowed.
“What happened to your hand? You’ll need ice on it.” Gently he examined it.
After he had put together an ice pack and wrapped it around my hand, he gave me stern instructions not to remove it and sent me to my room.
Two hours later I was called down to supper. I had just reached the bottom step when there was a heavy knock at the front door. A chair scraped along the floor in the kitchen and dad appeared. With a quick nod of his head, he directed me to take my seat at the table, while he answered the door.
Curious, I decided to linger.
Two policemen met my dad at the open door. Between them was my brother.
“Jesus…” I murmured under my breath.
A bulging piece of liver for a nose and slits for eyes, Ron quietly listened to the conversation, nodding occasionally. Whatever they were agreeing to seemed to be going well. The three of them shook hands as my brother brushed passed me on his way upstairs.
“They won’t bother you anymore,” he whispered through swollen lips. His painful smile revealed a bloody hole where teeth once securely sat.
Supper was tensely quiet. After a very brief exchange of words between my parents, mom won out and took a supper tray up to Ron’s room. By the time she had started down empty handed, dad had already banned me to my bedroom.
My parents had never raised voices at each other until that night. Nor did they ever do it again. Lying in my bed, above the kitchen, I heard the angry muffled tones of my dad, punctuated by my mom’s crying.
Clasping my hands behind my head I reflected on events leading up to today. I felt cast away on a stormy sea where not even the shore wanted part of me. There were too many questions still to be asked and answered.
The night was long.
Haunting shadows became my nightmare.
How do I mend a broken heart?
Damn my brother! Until our little talk, breaking up with Joan had never crossed my mind. Unfortunately for me, that possibility has managed to weasel itself into my daily thoughts. Now it’s stuck in place with Crazy glue. I thought the summer was filled with promise. In a way, I guess, I still do. Except now it’s tainted. Damn him anyway! Caught in a conundrum to tell her or not, I finally decided on the latter. I had convinced myself that all this nasty stuff needed to play itself out.
Joan and I continued to spend our afternoons together. In my mind forever was still part of our equation. Often I brought my F.W. Woolworth guitar. My parents bought it for me three years ago. Though I wasn’t very good, Joan insisted on me playing and singing Honey Comb and Dream, her two favorites. She howled when I sang Hound Dog. I welcomed her laughter; it was contagious. We continued to share our dreams. I pretended to capture hers and to lock them in my heart. Gleefully, she giggled every time I did it. The lilt of her voice and the sweet scent of her perfume continued to affect me in ways I have never felt before. Oh, how we kissed.
Our time together melted away too quickly. And, with it, so did my concerns about breaking up.
Joan’s home was different from the others in the neighborhood. It was the only one with a green door and a small green window beside it. Beyond the door I was told there was an anteroom. I guess it made sense since her dad ran his clinic from the home. Sadly, I had heard that the community didn’t think much of him as a doctor. They said he had lost his marbles, had become queer in the head, since his wife’s untimely death. Except for the Duffy family, a family of twelve, his practice was non-existent. But, I liked him. He and Joan had come out a couple of evenings to watch me play ball. Though my team got trounced on both occasions, her dad always had a kind, supportive word or two to share. For me, that made him a double thumbs up sort of guy.
Except for those two occasions and, I must say, I found this strange, she was never allowed out in the evening. She made it plain that it wasn’t a topic she cared to discuss. Wisely, I guess, I did not pursue it. Sometimes, it’s best not to know the answer. Still, it continued to tweak my curiosity.
Standing at her door, I took in a deep breath and knocked. Until today, sitting on the swing chair with her on the back patio is the closest I had come to being inside her home. I felt nervous and self-conscious. Why I felt this way, I do not know. The guitar slung over my shoulder suddenly felt awkward and heavy. Precariously, I shifted the position of both gift and guitar and waited.
The pleasantness of her father’s smile welcomed me at the door. Normally his eyes were awash with playfulness and wisdom but today I discerned a hint of sadness. A steely proud man whatever the problem, he elicited the bearing of a military officer and the demeanor of an English country gentleman. Proud, strong and fair, his words were soft, reassuring and precise. He took my gift and pointed me along the grey hued hallway toward a room at the end. The living room and what I took to be his office because of the amply filled floor to ceiling bookcases were both heavily curtained. Layered in shadows and pockets of darkness, they offered no welcoming threshold. Though I could not account for it, the pores of this old house oozed with sadness. I felt like I was an interloper in a history that I could not possibly understand; yet its tentacles reached out for me.
Sunlight and dancing dust particles flooded out from the room at the end of the hall. My pace quickened. That’s where Joan waited.
She kissed me full on the lips. I felt my face flush with embarrassment when I realized that her father had entered with me.
“Um, happy birthday,” I exhaled, words stumbling out awkwardly.
Her father snickered as he placed my gift on the dining room table.
Her face beamed. “Oh, good, you did remember to bring your guitar. See, dad, I told you he wouldn’t forget.”
I don’t know why she asked me to bring it. She knew I wasn’t very good. “Where can I put it so that it will be safe?” I asked, scanning the room for a secure location.
“Let me,” her father volunteered. “When you’re ready I’ll bring it to you.”
Taking the guitar from me, he examined it. Glancing at me in astonishment, he said: “I’m looking forward to hearing you play.” I must have looked dumbfounded because he continued. “Don’t be so humble. It’s okay to be a prodigy. Joan never told me how accomplished you must be.” Positioning his fingers on the struts he played a few chords. And he took in a deep breath. “A Martin D-45…my, my…this is a rock star among guitars. You must feel privileged to own such a guitar?”
Mouth agape, not knowing what to say, I nodded.
“Be assured, it will be placed in a safe location, promise.”
My askance glance at Joan when he left must have said it all because she began to giggle.
“Do you have any idea what that was all about?”
Shaking her head and shrugging she took my hand. “It must be something special.”
“What makes you say that?”
“The way he was handling it—kid gloves and all that like a newborn baby. Well is it?”
“Is it what?”
“Nah, it’s just an old guitar of my dad’s. That’s all.”
My overly casual treatment of the subject belied a growing uneasiness. Grounded two weeks for the broken window was still very fresh in my mind. It sucked. And I did not want a repeat. I would have asked my dad except he was out of town on business. I had no way to reach him. Still… I could have cleared it with mom. “Anyway, who’s coming?” I asked, trying to divert my decision..
Her reluctance to readily answer my query surprised me.
Tugging my hand she led me out into the hallway toward the kitchen.
Was this a diversionary tactic? Anyway, what was the big deal about who was coming?
“Close your eyes. Don’t open until I tell you,” she instructed.
I smacked my head against the door frame. “Gee, Joan”
“I’m sorry,” came her quick reply as she more judiciously maneuvered me into the kitchen. “You can open them now.”
Vigorously rubbing my head, my eyes followed the direction of her extended index finger to the middle of the kitchen table. On it was strawberry shortcake decked out with fourteen unlit birthday candles.
Strawberry shortcake was my numero uno of desserts. But it wasn’t hers. Hers was chocolate cake—double chocolate to be exact.
Was I about to walk the plank? And this was her way to help soften the plunge?
“Ah…I’m a little loss with what’s going on.” My index finger couldn’t resist scraping some cream with a large strawberry on it and inserting it into my mouth.
She slapped my hand. “Shame on you! Others are to eat that. And take that sheepish grin off your face. It won’t help you.”
Obtaining a knife from the drawer, she smoothed out the location of my infraction.
“There, that’s better,” she said, eyeing me out of the corner of her eye. Several seconds passed before she spoke. “We need to talk.There’s something you need to know.”
She bit hard on her lower lip. I’ve got to know her well enough to know that that was not a good sign.
“You first,” I managed to say. I could tell by the question mark on her face that my reply had momentarily readjusted her trend of thought. Not known to her, I had decided that this was as good a time as any to discuss what was troubling me.
If she had had a pet, right then a there I would have sworn she was about to tell me it had died. Huge gobs of tears filled her eyes.
Whatever it was she was about to say, in that moment it was lost forever.
Following her stare into the space behind me, I came face to face with my nemesis, Chris Brannon.
There is nothing like the first love. I remember reading something about it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the book. I do wish I’d paid closer attention. Never felt feelings like these before. When I’m with her my senses are so charged up I think I will explode. Who knows about stuff like this? I’d ask my closest bud, Tony, but he still thinks girls are yucky. I can’t imagine that my parents would know the slightest thing about it. It’s too personal to share that kind’a stuff with them anyway.
Whom do I go to, my brother, Ron? Until recently, his social interactions with me were an unequal mixture of grunts and beatings, the latter being favored. He told me I wasn’t worth spit. It was something about not standing up to him, and earning my right of passage.
A guy can only take so much before reaching the end of the road. I reached it about a week ago. Boy! Did I get pummeled! At least now I only receive grunts. But, I keep my guard up nevertheless.
Still, our truce is timely. Six years older than me, surely my brother must know something about such matters?
Standing outside his closed bedroom door about to knock, old memories came to the fore. I broke out in a cold sweat.
Here goes nothing, I thought.
“Is that you runt?” he called out.
“How did you know it was me?”
“Are you kidding? Wimpy knock, wimpy brother. So bugger off.” His command was punctuated with a resounding fart.
The pit of my stomach churned in ways I had never felt before.
He must have heard my heart pounding in my chest because he yelled out: “Well, are you coming in or not?”
“I’m thinking about it. Anyway, you told me to bugger off.”
Unexpectedly, his door swung open and we were face to face. Hooking his fingers inside the front of my T-shirt, he pulled me in.
Silence reigned for several minutes. Feeling captured, I sat obediently anchored on his bed.
Drawing up his chair, he turned it around, sat down and rested his arms across its back and stared at me. “What d’ya want?” he asked, continuing to scrutinize me.
My mouth moved but nothing stepped out.
“Hey! Give it here!”
Reluctantly, I followed his direction to make eye contact.
“That’s better. I just want’a see if I’m right.”
“Right? Right about what?” I asked, somewhat confused.
“Pull my finger and I’ll tell you.”
“Must I?” I hated doing this.
The pungency of his fart was worst than any outhouse I’d ever been in. “What the heck, Ron…That’s awful! “ I complained while waving my hands in front of my face. I would have left right then and there but my legs were wedged between his chair and the bed.
Once he stopped laughing, he took on a more serious demeanor. “How’s it goin’ between you and Joan, anyway?”
“I love her. What can I say? She’s perfect.”
“Oh…I see. She’s your first.” He shrugged. “Watch your backside.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s a pretty piece of stuff; other guys are going to want her.” He straightened up in the chair. “Have you…you know?”
“Kissed her? Of course I have…many times.”
His forlorn askance glance told me that I had completely missed the target of his query.
“Move it,” he said, removing the chair and gruffly sweeping me off the bed with his arm. Reaching under the mattress, he pulled out a Playboy magazine and handed it to me. “Mom and dad can’t know. Do you hear me?”
“Okay then, read and enjoy. It will tell you all you’ll need to know. But, I want it back in clean condition. Oh, another thing…” He pulled out his wallet from his back pocket and retrieved a small square package and handed it to me.
It felt squishy and I could feel the outline of something circular contained in it. “Aww…?”
“It’s a condom. It’s for your banana.”
“It’s for your hard-on, nitwit. Once you’ve figured out what to do with it, you’ll need it.”
I shoved it into my pocket.
Ron left the bedroom, stood in the hall listening, then returned. “Strange. I thought I heard… dad. What I’m going to tell you is super hush, hush. Mum’s the word. Got it?”
I pinched my forefinger and thumb together and drew it across my mouth.
“I’ve got a film. Just knock if you need it. A little word of wisdom: first love’s no big deal. You’ll be over it by summer’s end. Just remember nerd-head, that there’s plenty of fish in the sea. Now get out!”
A few minutes later I was practicing grounders by throwing my Indian rubber ball off the back wall of the house. My first League game was tomorrow and I had managed to secure the position of Short Stop on the team.
I was surprised to see dad’s Ford Fairlane pulling into the drive. He has never been home this early. I called out but he didn’t hear me and entered the house directly.
Until my tête–à–tête with Ron I never thought of the possibility of Joan and me breaking up. Why would I? It’s never happened to me before. What does Ron know anyway? Why did I take that damn Playboy? It’s probably a setup. If mom and dad find out, I’ll be up a creek without a paddle. I can see it now: baby brother caught red-handed in the act of a taboo ritual. “Shit! I’ve got gel all over the inside of my pocket. Why did I squeeze it so hard?”
Anger can sure change the intent of an action because when I released that ball I knew immediately that I shouldn’tve. I was already in flight when it crashed through the dining room window; four yards away, I was well hidden behind a bush.
Boy! Dad was pissed! Scared, I huddled lower and watched as he surveyed the damage. Under the circumstances, the last thing I expected to feel was giddiness. Nevertheless, I did. I think it came about when I foolishly marveled at the break neck speed with which I had hopped over those fences. The reality of my situation soon brought me to my senses. The promise and optimism of my summer had… well…to say the least…definitely gone sideways.
Punishment of some kind was a certainty. Only its severity was in question. So, I settled down to wait. My chances would be better, I thought, once my mother came home.
Dusk was beginning to settle in when the worried calls from my parents and hunger pangs drew me home like a magnet.
The sun’s rays were just peeking above the horizon when Sergeant Snowden parked in front of Inspector Collier’s home. Twenty minutes earlier than usual and without his second cup of tea, he was grumpy. What made matters worse, the local newspaper, The Echo, was not yet out, and that meant no cross-word puzzle to work on while he waited. He took notice of a black limousine, five doors down on the opposite side, containing three men. Glancing at his pocket watch, he mentally recorded the time. The sleepy slumber of the neighborhood encouraged him to do the same. And, with a disheartened sigh, he crossed his arms and settled back to wait.
He wondered why the Inspector would want to go to 29 Edgestone Road. That 2-story, stone clad house to blokes like him peered down with the self proclaimed majesty of a pompous, overbearing lord. In short, as far as he was concerned, the house and occupants fitted well together. That’s why he never understood how Collier and Suzanne Moodie had come to meet and fall in love; he was from the Working Class, and she…well she was from the snooty Privileged Class. He could only put it down to the old adage that love knows no boundaries.
Still… he mused.
As for her brother, Reginald, now that was a different story. He had been Collier’s Divisional Commander. And, based on the tidbits he had heard, Collier had held him in low regard. What little he had had completely dissipated in the mud mired madness of senseless slaughter and butchery during the assault at Passchendaele. Britain lost thousands from their best assault divisions; among them was Collier’s brother, Joe. Salt was rubbed into this grievous wound when he learned that General Douglas Haig, chief architect of the carnage and a close friend to the Moodie family, had awarded Reginald the Victoria Cross for Valor. Knowing it was not deserved, Collier had vociferously voiced his displeasure. Sickened by Reginald’s sense of entitlement, along with that of his family, he broke off all contact with Suzanne. She had continued to profess her love for him but, as the story went, Collier would have none it. He had moved on. It was around that time that he had begun to date Lila.
Before returning to the Front, Collier was unexpectedly promoted to Captain. He suspected the Moodie family had a part to play in it. Whoever was behind it or however it came about, the end result was that Collier spent the remainder of the First World War, out of harm’s way, in Military Intelligence, Section 6.
Snowden clicked his tongue. An uneasy smile formed at the corners of his mouth. Suzanne Moodie had never married. And, since her brother’s death, she was now the sole proprietor of 29 Edgestone Road. Unrequited love carried lots of baggage: bitterness and cynicism: melancholy and despair. And, whatever the reason for Collier’s visit, he did not want to be stuck in the middle.
He glanced at the black limousine ahead. Only two silhouettes now appeared in the vehicle. Were they part of the surveillance Collier had told him about? He decided to investigate.
The door to Collier’s home swung open and Lila stepped out. “Sergeant,” she called out, waving invitingly. “Come in, will you, and have some tea. The Inspector is running a wee bit behind this morning.”
Briefly, Sergeant Snowden continued to eye the limousine while acknowledging her entreaty with a wave of his hand. Fate had smiled on him. And the decision to turn back was an easy one. He would receive his much needed second cup of tea.
Werner melted into the shadow as the officer entered the Collier home and the door closed behind him.
He had been watching the three men in the black limo all night. They worked on two hour shifts. One of the men had entered the back seat to sleep forty minutes ago.
The sun’s rays continued to rise and scatter across the horizon.
Patiently, Werner waited.
Pavel was supposed to be one of these three men. The photograph and description left by Otto had been seared into his mind. Werner licked his lips. Today, he would dole out Nazi justice for the murder of his comrade, Klaus Becker.
He attached the silencer to his weapon. The key elements were stealth and swiftness. He wanted to be gone before the neighborhood was aware of what happened.
When a bright shiny ball formed by the sun reflected off the middle of their windshield, he casually walked to the front of the vehicle and fired.
Dead fish eyes of the two men in the front seat stared back at him.
Pavel was not among them.
The third man did not do as expected and remained hidden. Werner crouched beside the front wheel and waited. He did not have to wait long. A splay of bullets pierced the back door. Werner grunted satisfyingly. The hole-pattern in the door told him the man was lying on the floor. Not wanting to lose his brief advantage, he quickly crawled under the vehicle and let loose a deadly spray of bullets along its floor-board.
Rising to his feet, he guardedly peered through the window.
The man’s bloodied head lay in obscured darkness. He concluded that the man was too thin to be Pavel.
The street had come alive with people.
No time to verify, Werner turned and ran along the alley from whence he had come. His car was parked on the street two alleys away. He glanced over his shoulder. No one followed. Still, his instincts told him he was not alone. He stopped. Blood vessels pulsated in his temple while he watched and listened.
Surprisingly, he discerned no immediate danger. Still, his instincts remained pricked as he began to walk.
An odd uneasy, deep rooted discomfort settled over him as he sat behind the wheel of his car. Experiential knowledge of any kind of feeling was never his long suit. He readily accepted his emotional impoverishment. Anyway, it had suited well the life he had chosen. So when he shifted into gear, gun ready at his side, he was fully prepared for whatever life was about to dole out to him.
Slowly, he drove along the street. His eyes skirted side to side. Intermittently, he checked the rear mirror.
The neighborhood was slowly awakening.
Where was Pavel? Otto had told him that he would be there.
He saw no unusual activity.
Ahead, police cars herald their approach.
He waited for them to pass on the main road and, then, drove in the opposite direction.
Spring had arrived early and, along with it, hopes that our home team, the Milwaukee Braves, would take the World Series again. Last year was the first time they had won the pennant since moving from Boston in 1953.
A cornucopia of scent wafted through the open window. Riding its gentle warm breeze like sweetness from heaven were spicy dianthus, the heavy scent of gardenia, nicotiana, lily-of-the-valley and lilac. My mom had taught me well and as she had promised, identifying those blossoms and more had become as easy as printing and writing my name.
This was my senior year and I felt especially grown up. Graduation was two months off. Though next year meant travelling to another school to complete grade eight, it was not without some degree of trepidation. Still, for the most part, I eagerly looked forward to it.
Chin saddled against the heel of my hand, I was locked in a daydream. Baseball tryouts were still a month away and the newly formed Duffield Baseball League portended tougher competition. So, when the snow had melted and the ground barely dry, I eagerly began to practice with my Indian rubber ball. I was always amazed by its speed as it coursed its way through the uncut grass. Agility in catching and accuracy in throwing were paramount as the ball bounced off the narrow section of wall beside the dining-room picture window. A nasty hop the other day left me with a shiner. Boy, did I get a ribbing from my friends when they found out.
Mister Roberts was one heck of a great teacher but somehow today his voice was surreal and did not resonate with me. Dipping the nib of my pen into the ink well, I neatly scratched his notes into my notebook from the chalkboard. I casually glanced around. My peers’ expressions said it all. I was not alone in my mental truancy.
Mister Roberts stopped teaching. Bracing himself against the front edge of his desk, he faced us with his usual toothy smile. “No sense me trying to teach you science when you’re not thinking about it. Huh? So let’s stir things up.” He glanced out the window. “What a beautiful day. Real learning begins out there.”
My attention suddenly piqued. The collective mental slothfulness of the class began to evaporate like falling dominoes.
He picked up a book from his desk and began to read:
“Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.”
Tilting his head slightly, he asked: “Hmmm…Now, what does this poem by Christina Rossetti have to do with science?”
The class shared a dumbfounded collective except Karen who waved her hand wildly in the air.
“Go ahead, Karen,” he said.
“Observation,” she replied.
“You’re right, the first step in the Scientific Method.”
He went to the back of the classroom and returned with a large brown empty cardboard box from the supply cupboard and placed it in the middle of his desk. “Soon we will be going outside.”
The energy level in the class jumped a few notches.
“Quiet down and listen,” he instructed half laughing and beaming a large smile.
Suddenly, a frown etched across his face; his demeanor became unusually stiff as his attention was directed behind us.
I could feel the energy being sucked out of the room.
The class turned.
Time and backbones noticeably became rigid.
The principal stood in the open doorway. His stern and uncompromising appearance sent a chill up and down my spine. An unpleasant twist gathered in my gut.
Conditioned on how to acknowledge his presence, the class in unison said: “Good morning, Mister Monkman.” He barely acknowledged our greeting. And, without so much as either a smile or an apology for interrupting the class, he waved our teacher over to him.
Beside Mr. Monkman stood the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. To say that I was mesmerized did not do that moment justice.
“Finish copying the notes from the board, class,” Mr. Roberts said, joining them in the doorway. “Once done, write down and explain the skills and tools you will need to do an effective job in observation.”
The three of them stepped out and closed the door behind them.
Every guy’s gaze—that’s fifty percent of the class—was fixed on the window in the door. That’s fifteen pairs of eyes including my own vying to be noticed by her. But, I was sure she was looking at me. I smiled and nodded. She returned it. I gave a circumspect wave. She did the same.
A ball of paper ricocheted off the side of my head and rolled onto my desk. This ticked me off. I knew it came from Alison. Lately, her favorite pastime was bonking me on the head. Once, every day for a solid week, she had left a yucky clump of her hair on my desk. I cringed with the thought of what came next. And I didn’t have to wait long.
Straddled between her desk and Diane Dawson’s, Alison performed a bizarre series of acrobatics. My glare was assailed by a screwed up face and a rude thrust of her tongue.
Ignoring her, I drew a bead line between my nemesis, Harry Brewer, who continued to smile, nod and wave, and the door. One conclusion resulted. And, it did not favor me.
Miffed, I had barely about faced to cocoon myself in a huff when a cacophonous sound of cascading desks followed by a resounding thump turned the room into chaos.
The pain was immediate. The desk beside me had wedged itself against my ankle. Everyone around me scampered to the door.
Splayed out on the floor between overturned tables and empty ink wells was Alison in a puddle of ink. Her red hair had turned a weird color of blue. Each time she wiped the tears from her face, she increasingly took on the appearance of a boxer who had been severely pummeled in the ring.
Not without great effort I restrained myself from giggling as I could feel Mr. Monkman’s cold stare squarely on me.
“Don’t move, Alison. Stop touching your face,” urged Mr. Roberts. “Someone, get the nurse.” He retrieved a bundle of paper towels from the back cupboard and fastidiously layered them around her to sponge up the ink. “Now, Alison, please remain still while I clear away these tables.”
Mr. Roberts’ tall muscular frame made easy work of uprighting the topsy-turvy desks on top and around her. I felt a great deal of relief when he removed the desk against me.
“You alright?” asked an unfamiliar voice.
I turned towards its source. Her face was so close to me that I was swimming in the deep blueness of her eyes. I had lost my words.
I felt flush with embarrassment when she used the back of her hand to lift my jaw into the closed position.
“A fight?” she asked pointing to my eye.
“Ah-huh.” I lied without hesitation. There are lies and there are dumb lies. This was the dumbest. But, at that moment, I felt a need to puff myself up. Some might say like a peacock during mating season, and, quite honestly, they would have been correct. “I’ll tell you about it if you’ll let me walk you home today.”
She smiled. “Okay.”
“What’s your name?”
A low hum settled over the class. The nurse had arrived and was examining Alison. A few minutes later she gave the class thumbs up. Alison was A-1 okay. Nevertheless, she and Mr. Monkman escorted her to the school dispensary. A full week would pass before we saw her again.
By the time graduation rolled around, I had fallen head over heels in love with Joan as she with me.
Time seemed to sprout wings as grade seven ended. And, like a spring board, we were launched into summer. Little did I know at the time that heartache and mystery awaited me at its end.