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Amidst a Red Sea of Dusk
Amidst a Red Sea of Dusk
The leaves turn would a warm shade orange-red in AnnBurg when the fall came. They’d lumber from their branches and blow through the town, a similar hue to the street lamps in the evening. They were pretty, both the lamps, and the leaves. I loved walking along at this time, it helped me think, cleared my mind. It was something in color I think, so comfortable. It was a fitting color tonight, for it would be one to remember.
I was walking along the easy streets, bound for the stadium. It was the last weekend of football season, and I was in the marching band. Every week but this one, we would mark time through the town, people lining the side walk, full of spirit. This week, though, everyone was waiting for us in the bleachers. All the, people, lined end to end covered in light coats drinking coffee or hot chocolate to ward off the coming winter nip in the air. Only a few blocks away, I could hear them, cheering, as the boys warmed-up. I liked the people; I think that was why I always played in the band. It was nice to be watched.
As a neared, the field house came into view, its old concrete structure sticking out like daisy among roses. On the side of it was a steel gate, half rusted with age and weather. The gate
was rough in my hand as a pushed through it. I spotted my fellow band mates on a plot of grass at a higher level than the field, behind the far goal post. Passing the crowds, they were just as I imagined. A smile was drawn on my face. The wind blew and I was made aware of the cape stitched and hung across my right shoulder, signifying my place on the drum line as a senior, and a snare player. I felt my sticks rattle at my side, swinging with my quickened pace. In enough time, I reached the band in mass. As I sifted through the now at rest ranks, I came upon Bobby Johnson. “Hey Bobby, what’ up”?
“Hey Jay.” He never looked away from his instrument, his saxophone. He was affixing the reed to his mouth piece, and adjusting his neck strap. He turned to me. “Well,” he said. “I guess this is it huh?” He was referring not only to the game, but to us as well, as we were seniors.
“Yeah,” I chuckled in reply. “You up for some poker on the porch later? Dad’s got some new kind of something in the cellar, tastes like fire.”
“Damn right, I’ll need after this game. Everybody’ll be cryin’ and moanin’ ‘bout leavin’ and all that good junk. You couldn’t pay me to stick around here.” We shared a laugh, and then both went to our respective positions. Like every year, at the end of the year, we marched on and performed our special pre-game show. I went through the motions just fine, but my mind was somewhere far away from them. I kept rolling Bobby’s words around in my head. He wasn’t lying either, he was dead set on college. So dead set, in fact, that he’d turned down a good spot up the river in the mill, working under his uncle. Had he played his cards right, he could have owned that mill in ten or fifteen years when his uncle either became too old or passed. But no, such was Bobby’s way. Once he was set, he was set, and he was set indeed.
The game flew by for me like a television show on in the background while reading a book, present but not precedent. All games seemed to be this way. I don’t know why but, I guess I simply felt detached because I secretly wanted to be on the field playing. I was always sort of transfixed with watching Bobby, too. He fascinated me. He was extremely boring. I loved it. He did the most mundane things, in the most mundane ways. His pattern, I think, is what caught my eye and held my gaze. It was lulling, I guess you could say. He had a way of doing things the same way over and over again. He never touched his mouth piece after cleaning it. He never opened his case from the right side. When in class, before starting anything, he always centered his paper on his desk, a full pencil’s length away from either side of the table-top. Very peculiar, that’s the only way to describe him.
It seems now, in hind sight, that I was bobby’s only friend, and friends we were. Bobby’s company was just as intriguing as were his habits. We would, in our spare time, set to work on puzzles and challenges. We played chess. We even found a way, through pain-staking hours of rule analysis, to play euchre with two people. We rarely played sports, or spoke of girls or of school, or of gossip. No, we learned our heads in the tree of intellectualism and discussed politics, or religion, or philosophy. Really, the kind of deep stuff that leaves your brain just that much more tired. Again, I loved it.
The very next Thursday after the final game, the weather was still ripe and true with mid-autumn fire all around. An artist’s playground, and poets dream, this town was my corner of heaven. On such a gorgeous day, with such beautiful weather, I felt myself to be an awful clod should I waste it. What with it being one on of the last days in season for the thing, I asked bobby if he’d like to go fishing. He promptly agreed, “Yeah sure, lemme grab my tackle box, and rig my pole.” I waited.
“Ben Miller says the bridge out past Harmon’s car lot’s been hitting.”
“Think I care much what Ben Miller says?”
“I always pegged you for a smart one Jay-bird.” He always called me that, to this day I have no idea why, nor will I ever.
“Well, if not Harmon trestle, how about the pond across the field up past Drexel’s wood?”
“Sounds good to me, I’ll have mom through us a couple of sandwiches in a bag, and we’ll stay ‘til dark. When the wind is right, the fireflies light the whole place up, and the stars and the moon on the pond glow like a shine on a mirror.” And so we departed. I’ll never forget that night, or the last thing he said.
We collected our sandwiches and set out. We passed through Drexel’s wood at the end of town, and traversed the dense field that lay beyond until we came to our usual tree. For what seemed like miles, golden, dyeing grass waved slowly. The twilight kissed the field and the soon to be sleeping sun spilled forth over land. There, amidst the red sea of dusk, was our tree. Bare of nearly all leaves, our skinny poplar stood, hunched, like a claw, over a grassed embankment to a placid pool. The air was calm.
Bobby and I sat side by side and cast our lines into the water. Ripples slung out across the surface as our night crawlers and hooks submerged at first throw. Now we waited. As all fishermen do, we waited. There are two types of fishermen: those who fish for sport, and real fishermen. Real fishermen had no real intent or desire to catch food. No, a real fisherman fishes for one purpose, thought. When on the bank, pole in hand, one can sit for hours in private thought and never be accused of day dreaming or drifting. Fishing was a perfectly good excuse to organize the mind. Bobby and I were the second.
“I love the stars,” he said to me. It had grown dark, and we had long drawn out our lines. We sat on the bank finishing our sandwiches. The reflection of the moon shuddered and grew hazy in the pond as the surface insects gingerly graze the water. The blanket of stars overhead, along with moon, nearly full, and their reflections were the only source of light now. We sat in near darkness. “I love the stars,” he said again.
“Yes, I adore them too.”
“They put a man in his place. When I look at them I see college. I see myself as a similar star, among thousands of others, shining in the night. I can’t wait to go Jay, my place is already assured. My bed is there, waiting for me, and my early summer courses. I’ll be so far away. I’ll miss you, but you can come and visit, huh? I’ll miss Jen too. She’s always so nice to me, well, at least when no one is looking. And she’s even come to sit our table once, when Ben wasn’t nice to her. Oh Ben, now there is one thing I won’t miss. Ben Miller. That bastard, the way he treats her. He can give me as many swirrelies or weggie’s or black eyes as he wants, but I swear, should he ever lift a finger to her I’ll…” he trailed of looking at the ground. “Come on Jay, its late huh? Let’s get back. And so back we went.
We spoke not a word on the return trip. The grass swished as we walked. The branches snapped beneath or feet. The gravel crunched in yield to our gait. No voice however, was heard until we approached the walk way before my porch proper. We exchanged goodbyes, and he walked away into the night. I went to sleep that night feeling a little odd. I reviewed everything in my head. Had Ben really been that cruel to Bobby? Was he really that abrasive around Jen? Oh well, I thought, it’ll be over in less than a year, and twenty years after that, we won’t even remember each other’s names. I slept easy.
The next morning I ate breakfast as usual and dad drank his coffee while he read the paper. There was something oddly cliché about my life, it was kind of scary really, a little too predictable. With everything I ever did, you could end or begin it the phrase, “as usual,” and, it would probably fit. I walked to school, as usual. I enjoyed the scene and the air, as usual. I walked through the main doors, as usual. I strolled down the hall to my locker, not as usual.
A group had gathered at the end of the hall and a deadly hush had arisen over it. I heard a scream from within and the sound of a gasp that I was sure had come from Ben Miller’s deep throaty voice. I broke through the crowd to find something that left me surprisingly unsurprised. There stood Ben, white as ghost, staring down cold steel derringer pistol held by Bobby. Bobby was shaking violently and he was sweating profusely. He had a very black and swollen eye. Ben’s fist was red. I heard a sob. It was Jen, and she too had a dark cheek. Ben, still like a specter, tried to raise his hand say something, but was he quickly silenced by a wave of the gun from Bobby. “No, you don’t get to talk, you’ve done enough,” said Bobby. Ben raised his hand again-“Damn it, I said NO!”
No one moved.
“A dud,” Bobby stated. “Well how do’ya like that, huh Jay,” suddenly becoming aware of me. He looked at the gun, down its barrel. “Well, zip for one, let’s try’er again.”
This time there was no dud. This time, he was one for two.
Jenny sat next to me during the eulogy. She held my hand. She cried, hard. I felt devoid of just about everything, a piece of me was dead. She cried because she was overwhelmed with feelings she could not handle. I did shed a few tears. But I, unlike her, was not overwhelmed. I knew exactly what I felt: emptiness, death. An un-patchable hole had formed in my soul.
I looked around the room. I found Ben. He looked perplexed. He had the expression of man who was too much an imbecile to muster a conscious thought. The rest of the room was very bleak. I saw some pictures here and there, with some flowers too. Then I found the candles by the window.
The wind outside was blowing and the candles, especially a certain one, flickered. This one was fighting for every piece or oxygen it could keep, and to stave the force of the wind. The flame remained as the wind ceased. The flame however, was short lived, because the breeze had bended the stick in such a way that wax had fallen in on itself. The left over wick ran out quickly, and the candle snuffed itself, the flame died.