Endy (and anyone else who's interested in reading and critiquing) this is the story I was talking about and asking for your help and advise with. There's another thread with the version in which I have the switching back and forth between the narrators. But I wanted to post this here as an alternative-because truthfully, I like this version better (and I couldn't edit or delete any of the posts in the other thread to change that version).
Thanks in advance for your help with this.
(I read your poem on your death thread Endy. Let me know if you want me to take it to be critiqued or not. If you do, I might need to get you to explain some of the symbolism to me, so I can relay that, so they can have an accurate idea of what you were working toward).
I'm no longer able to pinpoint the exact day or time that the idea first entered my mind, but by the spring of l994, it had taken deep, and some would say, dangerous root. By May of that year, I was unable to think of anything else and as each slightly longer day brought me closer and closer to the date that I had chosen to take action, I realized that the word for the emotion that best described the way I felt was anticipation. This was a good sign to me. I had expected to be filled with dread or regret at the thought of actually doing what I was thinking of, and if that had been the case, I might have- no I would have- aborted the plan. But what I actually felt was a mixture of excitement and peace as I dreamt and planned, and this made me feel that what I felt led to do and what I was meant to do were one and the same thing. It was a very satisfying and reassuring feeling.
As well as not being able to determine a moment that I began fantasizing, I cannot pinpoint any pivotal or determining factor that pushed me to the point where I began planning to enact my fantasy. There was no proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. It was more of a sad, ill-fated combination of events that had pushed me to the figurative edge of what I failed to recognize as a dangerous precipice, and I truly believe that the insertion of just one extra bit of happiness or good luck or the omission of just one further sinking disappointment might have changed everything.
I liken my situation to certain tragic stories I've read in the newspaper, where if only one single factor had been changed, everything might have ended differently (read: happily) for those involved. For instance, I once read of a family of four whose car entered an intersection at the exact moment some drunk driver ran a red light - broad -siding their vehicle and killing everyone inside it. There was some confusion initially as to the identity of the driver (male) as he was not in possession of his wallet. And I thought to myself, "What if that father and husband had realized that he had forgotten his wallet just as he was walking out the door to get in the car? What if he had slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand, smiled apologetically into the interior at the three smiling and expectant faces waiting for him, and loped back up the stairs to snatch it off his dresser? Something as simple as that would have delayed him just the twenty or thirty seconds necessary to avoid the drunk driver and buy his family forty or fifty more years."
And then I thought to myself, "What bad luck." And whenever I look into the eyes (usually smiling) that stare back at me from the grainy and indistinct photographs on the front pages of any local newspaper from anywhere in the country on any given day, photographs that alert readers to the fact that someone somewhere is grieving, I'm always struck by the same thought. I think to myself, "When that child/ woman/ man was born and first held in a pair of grateful arms, as they grew and laughed, walked to school or sang in the church choir, was there ever any sign, or indication that they would be one of the unlucky ones, one of those poor souls who would at some point innocently cross paths with a sad or violent fate long before it should have been legitimately expected? Those are the kind of thoughts that run through my mind when I see those pictures and read the stories that accompany them. I always search the eyes looking for some kind of sign, some hint of sadness or premonition. I never see anything.
For a long time, I had never seen any sign in my own life that it would be anything but average. It had all started out so benignly. I was an only child, born to two people who had married late and had given up on the thought of any offspring by the time I came along. My mother was one of those sweet-tempered, naturally nurturing and maternal women with a kind smile and broad hips, who appeared born to bear and raise children. She had passed her fortieth birthday without even so much as a pregnancy scare and had resigned herself to filling her life with her work as a nurse and her wifely duties to my father, so when it finally came, the unexpected but long hoped for fact of her pregnancy was a source of great excitement and joy to both of my parents. My subsequent birth and childhood literally became my mother's reason to live. I remember my father as being silent and stalwart, kind to my mother and I, but not overly expressive. He worked at the lumber mill in our small town, where he had started as an employee straight out of high school. By the time I was born, he had risen through the ranks to the role of yard supervisor and would have finished his working days there, but for the fact that one Tuesday morning at the end of March in the year I would turn seven, I watched through the front window as he walked toward the car and fell on his knees beneath the tall pine tree beside the driveway. At first I thought he had slipped on a patch of black ice, smooth and invisible and hanging on stubbornly into Spring, refusing to melt in the shaded area that skirted the tree, but as he turned to look back at the house, I saw his white and stricken face, eyes and mouth open in a large O of surprise, and I knew it was something else entirely. He died of a heart attack in the emergency room later that morning, never having fully regained consciousness. He was forty-nine years old.
My mother increased her hours at the hospital to make ends meet and I grew into one of those big-boned boys of average height that seem always to blend into the background. I had brown hair and eyes and a medium complexion and my only distinguishing characteristics were my thick, heavy and very dark eyebrows and my unusually large frame. My eyebrows gave my face what I perceived to be a marked brooding and almost menacing appearance, which combined with my stocky frame and somewhat awkward and clumsy gait to give the overall impression of a lumbering and particularly bad tempered bear. Having spent many hours contemplating this unpleasing effect in the bathroom mirror, I decided to counteract this mildly sinister aspect of my appearance by making a conscious effort to smile almost continually. I found the change this produced in my persona astounding. I was still big and lumbering, but seemed placid, content and almost pleasantly vacant, and it occurred to me then that it might be advantageous to seem to be someone whom no one should take seriously. So that is who I strove to become. Although I was bright and a good student, each year I found that most of my teachers initially expressed surprise at the superior quality of my work, almost as if they had expected less of me for some reason, perhaps because my almost blank affect had prepared them to expect a lesser intellect.
I showed no athletic aptitude at all, but I was stocky enough by the time I was in junior high school that coaches and gym teachers were always asking me why I didn't play football. In an effort to find a more comfortable social niche, I decided to give it a try. But although I had the size and physique of a football player, I did not have the stamina to practice and play, and this soon became obvious on the field. I went to two or three practices but quit when I found that I couldn't make it through the drills. The simple truth was that I was not fast or aggressive enough, or even very interested in learning the plays, so the very same coaches who had encouraged me to play did not do or say anything to dissuade me when I decided to quit the field, but did encourage me to stay on as manager of the team. It was in this way I established myself as a willing and helpful foil to some of the most popular boys in our town, not exactly a friend, but a useful acquaintance, who was able to bask somewhat in their reflected glory. I played along good-naturedly when they taunted and teased me, thus making myself indispensable to their sizable egos by providing them with a lesser and unworthy but totally willing devotee. They soon turned their taunts to other less valuable and fortunate recipients, less valuable, because unlike me, they could not provide the completed homework pages, essays and hastily copied test answers that these young men needed in order to retain their eligibility to play, and less fortunate because their torture and humiliation was unending, or would continue at least until the day they would walk out the doors of the school for the last time. Mine had ended the day they realized that I not only could, but would do anything they asked - and with a smile.
I was however, not considered valuable or of any consequence to these people outside of school hours, so most days after practice and when I had time on the week-ends, I spent hours walking in the fields and woods that surrounded my small town snapping photographs with a simple Pentax thirty-five millimeter camera my mother had given me for my tenth birthday. Photography quickly became a passion, and I almost never went anywhere without my camera. I have always been and still am a keen observer of people and nature, and found it comforting to have a record of those observations. I talked my mother into allowing me to convert the small downstairs half-bath into a darkroom, and was soon developing my own pictures. I worked odd jobs around town, bagging groceries in the winter and mowing lawns and weeding flower beds with the lands crew for the township in the summers to make money to buy the film and paper and chemicals I needed for my photography, and before I knew it, the years of my childhood had passed, almost silently and without incident, and I was preparing to graduate from high school.
Early in the spring of my senior year of high school, I experienced what I would forever view as a momentous incident because it marked the first time in my memory that an event elicited a response from me that was instinctive but also quite alien, especially in the aspect that for the first time, I found myself unable to control my reaction to a stimulus. I now realize it was the beginning of what would come to mean the end for me.
I was walking down a street through a new development of split-level houses that was being built on the outskirts of our town. Our little town, Hartland, Pennsylvania was within easy commuting distance of Philadelphia, which sprawled crowded and seemingly another world away, although it lay less than an hour east of us. For most of my childhood, Hartland had consisted of only a small, distinct square of four streets comprising the business district, radiating outward as the homes become fewer, larger and spaced more privately until you reached the absolute outskirts of the town where a small cluster of mill houses sat bordered by large farms with tracts of fields and forests that seemed to stretch for miles on out to the interstate. My mother and I lived in one of these mill houses on a street that dead-ended in a stand of mature maples and oaks and other deciduous trees that provided a barrier between the fields of a large dairy farm and the homes of the mill workers. It was in these woods, through a tract of about seven acres that I often walked. In the previous year however, the dairy farmer had sold off a portion of his acreage, including this stand of trees, to a real estate developer who was meeting the ever increasing demand for more modern and elaborate housing within commuting distance of Philadelphia by creating a brand new slice of suburbia which he had named "Tall Oaks." The quaintly meandering streets had been laid out, but were still unpaved . It was difficult to tell where one lot ended and another began. Rust colored hillocks of raw dirt were piled about waiting to be leveled and seeded into lawns on the small quarter acre lots where each house stood, dark and vacant and in varying stages of construction.
Mon 5 Feb, 2007 11:40 pm
It had been a cool and windy day in mid April. Though earlier in the afternoon, the sun had made an appearance and warmed the air to some extent, by the time I had made my way through the now much thinner strip of woods that separated the mill houses from the newer and bigger houses of Tall Oaks, the sun had gone down and the long shadows of the encroaching trees lay like dark pools on the vacant street.
As I progressed toward the end of the street, the lots grew larger, more shaded and private and the houses progressively less finished. The road ended in a cul-de-sac, dead-ending in what was clearly the largest and most private of the development's lots containing the shell of what I could tell would eventually be a large, handsome, two-story, center-stair colonial. The foundation, framing, insulation and roof had been completed but the siding, doors and windows had yet to be installed. As I stood, deciding whether to continue walking through the lot, or turn back around and walk home, my mind registered the odd incongruity of a bicycle lying against one of the hillocks of dirt. It looked to be the bicycle of a young boy, but it was not in such derelict shape that I would have assumed it to have been abandoned. I decided to investigate.
As I walked off the street and onto what would become the lawn of this house, I realized that there was a canvas bag, of the type used to carry and deliver newspapers, hanging off the handlebars of the bicycle. I pulled it open and saw that it was more than half full with copies of The Hartland Daily News, each folded neatly into thirds and bound with a red rubber band. I looked up and down the street, and into the treed lot - which was quickly darkening now - and called "Hey, anybody here?" but my query was met by still and absolute silence.
I walked over to the front of the house and tried to crane my neck to such an angle that it would be possible for me to look into the house through the dark and vacant rectangle that would eventually contain the door, but as the steps to this entrance had not yet been installed, the plywood floor of the house was just level to my shoulders, and I could gain no view of the interior except that which was directly in front of me. I saw nothing of any interest, but decided to hoist myself up and into the house for a more thorough view. My footsteps echoed as I stepped gingerly across the plywood subflooring, being careful to avoid the bent nails and other debris I could just barely discern littering the space. My eye was drawn to a large opening at the back of the house into which the last feeble bits of daylight strayed. It looked to be an opening for a set of patio or French doors in the room that would eventually be the kitchen.
As I walked toward the back of the house, a slight movement, as subtle as an intake of breath, distracted me and caused me to look upward into the space from which the staircase would eventually descend. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I realized that I was looking at the rubber soles of two sneakered feet. I backed away and again craned my neck, looking upward, frowning in confusion and concentration, as my mind seemed unable to make my eyes believe what they were seeing. I saw the slowly swaying outline of a young boy, just barely twelve or thirteen years old, I would have ventured had I been asked to estimate his age. He was hanging, a rope around his neck tied from above to a second story floor joist. Without conscious thought I reset the F stop of my camera (to make allowance for the dwindling light), carefully focused, and shot a photo.
Suddenly conscious that I was sweating profusely, I turned, ran a few steps to the front of the house and jumped through the opening-gray now in the twilight- and landed on one knee four or five feet below on the packed ground in front of the house. Still on my knees, I swiveled around, looking left and right. All remained still and silent in the deepening darkness. There was no one to help me. I ran to the bicycle that still leaned, a strangely evocative and poignant omen now, against the hillock of dirt. I searched the canvas bag for any sign of identification, though I was doubtful that a boy that age would carry any. As I suspected, there was nothing. I don't know what strange impulse led me to unfold one of the newspapers and take a picture of its front page, carefully focusing on the date, but that is what I did next. I refolded the paper and placed it near the bottom of the bag. I then began running home.
As I ran, my mind was already formulating a plan as to what I would do once I got to my house. I would run in the front door, go directly to the phone and call the police. My mother was working the three to eleven shift at the hospital and was not due to be home until ll:30 pm, but after I called the police, I would call my mother at the hospital and ask her to come home. Having arrived at a plan, my ragged breathing calmed somewhat and I slowed my furious run to a slower trot- the boy after all was clearly dead-time was no longer of the essence for him-an unfortunate fact to be sure, but a fact nonetheless. This slower pace allowed me time to reflect on what exactly had happened, and as I walked I remembered the strange impulse I had had to take a photo of the boy's hanging form in the empty house. I began to think about how events might unfold after the police had arrived and searched the house- what questions might be asked of me. "What were you doing in the woods? Why did you go into the uninhabited housing development? Was anyone with you? Did you see anyone enter or leave the area? Did anyone see you enter or leave the area? Why did you carry your camera with you? Is there any film in it? Did you take any pictures today?"
I realized that although I would give perfectly honest answers, they would serve no other purpose than to direct suspicion in my direction. If I was going to alert the police, I would need to get rid of the film in my camera. I stopped walking. My finger hovered above the spring-loaded button that would pop open the back of the camera and expose the film destroying the images on it. I hesitated. The boy was dead. There was nothing anyone could do for him now. The men who were building the house would find his body in the morning, little more than twelve hours from now. Twelve hours in which his parents would worry, (as an only, long awaited and coveted child I was more than a little familiar with a mother's frantic worry) but twelve more hours in which the death of hope would be delayed for them. And strangely, I realized that I did not want to destroy the pictures I had taken. I wanted to see those images.
In the time it took me to make my decision, I had reached our front path. I walked into the house, past the telephone on the desk in the front room, into the darkroom at the end of the hall and carefully closed the door.
Mon 5 Feb, 2007 11:49 pm
That night, I was lying on my bed when I heard the front door open and close softly. I listened as my mother turned the deadbolt, heard its reassuring catch and then closed my eyes as I heard her approaching footsteps, almost silent in her nursing shoes aside from the odd squeak of the rubber soles on the polished hard wood floor of the hallway. Despite my best intentions, I found that I was holding my breath when I heard her stop outside of my bedroom door. Though I was not asleep, I pretended to be. I had turned the light off and was lying under the covers on my side, my inert form turned toward the wall. I reminded myself to breathe slowly and evenly in simulation of sleep. The light from the hallway slanted across my bed for a moment as she opened the door a crack and then disappeared as she closed it, having satisfied herself that I was safe in bed and sleeping. I exhaled slowly. I waited until I could no longer hear her footsteps retreating down the hall to her own bedroom before I turned on my bedside light. I pulled the 8x10 photo from under my blanket and studied it for the hundredth time that night.
He looked like he was sleeping. Whatever I had expected, I hadn't expected that. I had been prepared for the features of his face to be arranged in a mask of terror or torture- eyes wide with horror, tongue distended- some sign of struggle or fear- any or all of the characteristics one is programmed to accept as typical of a violent death as presented by various forms of the media. This boy simply looked as if he had fallen asleep, though admittedly with his neck at an extremely odd angle. His eyelashes dusted his cheeks like dark shadowy fans, his mouth was closed. His hands hung open and loose at his sides. I had had black and white film in the camera, and although I had had no conscious memory of his facial expression (thus my surprise at seeing that it was so peaceful), I did remember that the darker stripes on his crewneck t-shirt had been red, and that his jeans had been blue. The sneakers that had almost brushed my hair as I passed beneath them were black Chuck Taylor's. In the picture, I could see the white stars. I felt like crying.
I had done the wrong thing. I had known that what I was doing was wrong earlier that evening, as soon as I saw the boy's image begin to emerge in the developing fluid as I pushed it back and forth with the tongs. It was almost as if he had come swimming up at me through the dark depths of some surreal pond, appearing and then disappearing, indistinct and watery until finally he materialized permanently and inescapably on the paper in my tray. What had been only a single glimpse so odd and almost fleeting enough that I was able to convince myself I had imagined it, was now here before me in black and white. I had produced solid and incontrovertible proof that what I had seen was real. Every time I closed my eyes I saw his form hanging in what I knew was now a cold, dark and silent house. I felt sick.
I got up from my bed and looked out of the window. The moon was lighting the tops of the trees, but the wind was picking up and clouds were scudding across the sky, obscuring the stars. I opened the window a crack and felt the night air against my skin. It was cool and moist. I could smell the dampness. I knew it would rain before morning. I folded the picture in half and placed it carefully in an old picture dictionary I had used as a small child. I placed the book on the bottom shelf of my bookcase among copies of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, Old Yeller and an old set of encyclopedias I had kept from my childhood and got back into bed where I laid, eyes open and staring into the darkness, for most of the night.
When my mother knocked on my door to wake me up the next morning, though I was awake, I didn't answer her. She opened the door and advanced slowly until she was standing over me at the side of my bed. I felt her hand on my shoulder.
"Wake up, sleepyhead." I could hear the smile in her voice. "You need to get up right now, or you'll be late for school."
I groaned, "I don't feel good today. I'm not going." I couldn't look at her so I turned over to face the wall.
"What's the matter? Do you have a fever," she asked, brushing my hair back and placing the palm of her hand on my forehead before caressing my cheek and patting me on the shoulder. The smile in her voice had been replaced by concern. "You don't feel warm - no fever. Does your head or stomach hurt?"
I mumbled quickly and almost incoherently, "My head- it hurts. I didn't get any sleep last night. I just want to sleep."
She stood silently, and though my face was turned to the wall and my eyes were closed, I knew she was studying my form.
"Mom," I said, "I've handed in all my work for this quarter and all I need to do is study for exams. Missing one day won't kill me, and if I feel better later, I'll go in late or use the time to study. Please, I just need to get some sleep."
"I'll get you something for your headache. Are you hungry? You should eat something. It might make you feel better. Can I make you some eggs- or if your stomach's upset, how about just some tea and toast ?"
"I'm not hungry. I'll eat later. Don't worry about me. I'm just really, really tired," I said burrowing further into the covers.
"Well, if your head hurts, it might be because you haven't eaten in a while. Did you heat up the casserole I left in the refrigerator for you last night? What did you eat for supper?"
"Mom," I almost yelled at her, "I just need to sleep. I promise you, I'll eat something in a couple of hours. " Please " I could hear the desperation in my own voice. She apparently heard it too, because she backed slowly out of the room saying, "I'll bring you some Tylenol and call the school." A few minutes later she appeared with the tablets and a glass of water. I took the tablets from her hand and drank the water.
"Just go to sleep," she said. "You'll feel better when you wake up. I'll be down the hall. If you need anything, call me."
I had never felt like such a lying, useless piece of **** in my life. I mumbled my thanks and turned over to try to sleep.
When I woke again a few hours later, I realized the muffled but steady and insistent drumming sound I heard was rain on the roof and against my window. The light was dull and gray and I had to look at the clock to ascertain that it was past noon. I pushed back the covers, got out of bed and walked down the hall to the kitchen. My mother sat, already dressed in her white nursing uniform, reading the newspaper at the kitchen table.
"Oh, there you are. You had a good, long sleep. I looked in on you- you were out. I guess you needed that. Do you feel better?" she asked, an encouraging smile on her face.
Even though I didn't, I lied, "Yeah, much better. Has it been raining long?" I asked.
"It's been pouring since about four this morning. She rose from the table and walked to the stove." "I have to leave in a couple of hours. I made some soup, although you didn't eat any of the casserole I left for you last night. That's probably why you had a headache. Are you hungry now? Do want me to get you something to eat? How about a bowl of soup?" She smiled sheepishly when she realized how many questions she'd asked without waiting for answers. I smiled back at her.
"Sure," I said. I was hungry. I hadn't eaten anything in almost twenty-four hours. "Can I see the paper?" She slid it over to me as I sat down at the table and she turned back to the stove to heat the soup.
I looked at the front page and all through the first section devoted to local news. No mention of the boy anywhere that I could find. I was confused. "Anything interesting in the paper today?" I asked my mother.
"Apparently a little boy has gone missing. There was just a small paragraph describing him and giving a number to call with any information or sightings. He didn't come home from the paper route that he does everyday after school. His parents must be frantic, thinking of him out somewhere in all this rain."
"Where was that? I didn't see anything about it."
"It was here in Hartland. So strange. Nothing like that ever happens around here."
"No, I mean, where is it in the paper. I want to read about it."
"Oh, I think it was at the bottom of the third or fourth page. It was just a short paragraph. Hopefully by now they've discovered that he was at some friend's house or something." She shook her head disbelievingly and sighed heavily, "Although you'd think he would know to call them. He is thirteen years old, after all. Old enough to know his parents will be concerned and show some consideration for them."
I had found the item. It was just seven or eight sentences. The boy's name was William Matthew Callahan. He was called Billy. Billy Callahan. He was thirteen years old. He was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds. He had reddish blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes. No distinguishing birthmarks or scars. He was last seen wearing a red and white striped t- shirt, blue jeans, and black sneakers while riding a blue bicycle and carrying a bag of newspapers. Several people on his route reported seeing him and receiving their papers, but the majority of those who usually had their newspapers delivered by him had not received them last night. His parents were concerned because although he was "prone to be easily diverted and distracted" as his mother kindly put it, as well as "mischievous, curious and sociable," he had never neglected to deliver his papers or come home by dark before. Anyone with any information was urged to call the police station. A number was given.
I carefully folded the paper and began to eat my soup.
Mon 5 Feb, 2007 11:53 pm
The thing I found most attractive about her was the fact that she seemed utterly unaware of how beautiful she was. I had noticed her the first time she boarded the bus, that first day of school back in September the year before. I had already seated myself where I had habitually sat everyday through my sophomore and junior years, next to the window and more toward the back than the front. I had chosen this seat because it was strategically placed between the loud, boisterous group of popular boys and their male and female "groupies" (as I thought of them) who rode in the back of the bus, and the quieter, more reflective and independently operating loners who peopled the front. If I wanted to be bothered to talk, I could turn and talk thereby retaining my somewhat dubious status as an (admittedly peripheral) "insider". If I didn't, I could look out the window or face straight ahead. I had found myself looking out of the window more and more often as my high school years progressed. Even though the bus passed the same scenery everyday, it was more interesting than anything being said in the back of the bus. By the time I started my senior year, I'd heard all that I needed to hear.
But that day, I happened to turn from my reverie in time to see her step hesitantly into the center aisle between the rows of seats. She stood for a moment, a flush deepening on her cheeks, as she tried not to appear to be looking for a friendly face. And when that didn't seem to be forthcoming for her, I knew she'd settle for a visage that at the very least did not appear unfriendly and/or threatening. I quickly arranged my features into a smile. It was to no avail. She lowered her eyes and sank quickly into the first available seat behind the driver. I abandoned the window, and faced straight ahead studying the back of her head, during the trip that day and everyday after that.
Her hair was that particular shade of blonde that always reminded me of the tassels on corn. Each strand reflected the light, and ranged in tone from almost white or silver to yellow and on into caramel or light brown. It was uniform in texture, straight and heavy. It fell to the middle of her back, like a velvet curtain. I longed to run my hands along its smooth expanse- to feel the silken weight of it- to lift it and see what it covered. But I'd never even spoken her name.
By the time she boarded the bus that last week in April, ten days after her brother had been found dead, (murdered as it happened by one of the men working construction in the development- he had been sloppy, left irrefutable evidence at the scene and was arrested quickly), I knew her name was Rosemary Callahan. I knew she was a sophomore which meant she was probably fifteen, if not almost sixteen years old. I knew she would be grieving. I hadn't known she'd had a younger brother until I read about his initial disappearance in the paper. And even then, when confronted with the fact that the last name of the missing boy was the same as the girl I'd been watching on the bus all year, I had hoped against hope it was just a coincidence- that he bore no relation to her. When I boarded the bus two days after I had seen the boy in the house and Rosemary's seat remained empty, I knew my hope had been futile. William "Billy" Callahan. Rosemary Callahan. Brother and sister.
Every other day, she had stepped into the aisle and taken her seat quietly, amid the cacophony and chaos that typified the morning run on our school bus. I think she liked to feel that she was unnoticed, and I liked to believe that she was- unnoticed I mean-by anyone except me and her friend who sat beside her everyday. But on that day as she stepped into the aisle, eyes cast down, unable to meet the curious and pitying stares that she knew awaited her should she look up, she was met by silence-until it was broken by a single voice.
"Hey Rosemary- I haven't seen Billy lately. Where's he hangin' out these days?" The voice belonged to Frank Davis, the star of the swim team and a fairly intelligent person, when he wasn't stoned, which unfortunately was not usually the case- even at 8:00 most mornings. He sat surrounded by his minions, jeering at her from his seat in the back of the bus. There was a smattering of giggles. Rosemary said nothing and took her seat behind the driver. She looked straight ahead. One of the girls in the seat across from her moved to the seat next to her and patted her on the shoulder. Rosemary turned her head to smile at her and I could see that her cheek was mottled. She had that type of fair, almost translucently porcelain skin that wore a blush like a stain.
Frank, unsatisfied with Rosemary's lack of reaction to and/or recognition of him, started in again, "I mean, we all know what happens when you start hangin' around with the wrong pe " I didn't let him finish the sentence.
"Shut up, Frank," I said, muttering under my breath at first and then turning to face the back of the bus I said, loudly enough for everyone to hear, "Shut the hell up, you stupid ****."
"Hey John, I mean, what's it to you?" he asked, genuinely perplexed. I'd never once intervened before on anyone's behalf when Frank or one of the other jokers decided to make a meal of someone. "Just trying to have a little fun here, man. No big deal-not hurting anybody," he said looking into the faces around him for support. But even his most loyal stooges averted their eyes. In the silence that resumed, I turned forward in my seat to see Rosemary looking at me. She quickly turned her head, and stared straight ahead until the bus stopped. She was the first one off. I watched as she walked quickly and alone through the doors of the school.
Tue 6 Feb, 2007 12:54 am
I followed her through those doors that day, as alone as she had been, and that's how I decided to remain. I abruptly cut off any of the scholarly support I had been providing for all my "friends" on the football team, much to their surprise and chagrin. I made the decision just in time to watch them flounder through final exams alone, unaided by the copies of old tests and cheat sheets I had made it my business to provide them with in the past. It was interesting to me that not one of them ever asked for tutoring or study sessions. I could only surmise they had no interest in actually obtaining any type of knowledge, they only wanted a grade. .
Anyway, for those who were seniors, it was not a major issue. They'd already been accepted to schools, many of them on football scholarships. They were the lucky ones. Their acceptances would not be rescinded, except for those who proved to be the most dire failures. And once they entered college, the coaches would make sure they received the grades they needed in order to keep playing.
But for the sophomores and juniors, it was another story. If they got two F's, they'd be ineligible to play the next semester. It was almost gratifying to see the desperation in their eyes when they realized they'd be on their own. To this day, I smile when I think of it.
I never made any effort to speak to Rosemary during the remainder of that year. I didn't believe that I had the right. Added to which was the fact that though it may have been cowardly of me, I didn't want to know how the murder of her brother scarred her- or how my actions (or lack thereof) the night I found his body may have additionally negatively impacted her emotions. I wanted to be able to pretend that I had been nothing less than her protector, that when she had needed me, I had been able to step up to the plate. I couldn't bear to hear details about how I may have let her down- even if she herself was unaware of my involvement and subsequent lack of appropriate action and the fact that I had made a decision that may have added in any way to her distress.
I finished my senior year of high school having accepted a merit scholarship to attend Villanova University in the fall. My academic success was gratifying, but the fact that I would be living away from Hartland, was even more so. That fact alone, brought me no small amount of relief. I believed that it would be best if I left it behind me and continued my life elsewhere. I wanted to be somewhere among strangers who knew nothing of me, whose expectations of me were uninformed by any of the circumstances of my past life, who would not see the liar I knew myself to be when they looked into my face. I wanted to reinvent myself. I wanted to forget what I had done and become. But most of all, I wanted to forget the silent girl whose face I had memorized and conjured up like a talisman each night in the darkness of my room. I wanted to forget her sad eyes, blue and empty as two pieces of sky. Because though she had never looked at me, I knew that if she did, she'd see what I really was. And I couldn't bear for her to know. I'd hoped I would never see her again.
But that was not how it was to be. I worked for the township again that last summer before leaving for college. I'd leave the house at six in the morning, as our crew started early each day, in an attempt to get the lion's share of the mowing done before the sun began it's relentless and what I came to view as, evily intentional, assualt. Even so, by 11:00, which was when I'd walk into the diner each day for my lunch break, the back and front of my chambray shirt would be wet completely through and I'd sit shivering in the cold blast of the air conditioner as the damp material stiffened against my skin and I ate.
I had been following this routine for a couple of weeks when one Friday morning, I entered the diner and sat at my usual table, alone and silently waiting for the waitress to appear and take my order. I was studying my hands and fingernails, which were black and grimy with dirt (I'd been weeding that day) when I heard a voice asked me if I needed a menu. I felt an immediate rush of annoyance at being asked such an obviously pointless question, as two vinyl clad menus were clearly evident on the table standing between the salt and pepper shakers. I looked up expecting to see the tired face of the graying and stocky middle-aged waitress who took my order (which never varied) everyday. Instead I found myself glaring angrily into the face of Rosemary. Rosemary Callahan.
Her hair was pulled back from her face and fastened in some way at the nape of her neck, and all I could think was that I wanted to release it. I wanted to see it as I had seen it everyday all that year, shining like a fall of light down her back. I heard her ask me again, "Do you need to see a menu?"
I looked up into her eyes and smiled. "No, I know what I want...I mean, I get the same thing everyday," I said. "I'll have a cheesesteak and a coke," I finished lamely, watching her hands as she wrote the order down.
"Okay," she said simply as she put the pen back into her apron pocket and turned to walk back toward the kitchen.
I turned my attention back to my hands. Suddenly embarrassed by how dirty they were, I determined (for the first time that summer) that it would be a good idea to wash them before I picked up my sandwich to eat it. I abruptly got up and walked into the men's bathroom. I opened the door and a wave of warm air hit me, almost as if I had walked into a wall. There were no air conditioning vents in the small, close and dark room, and as I stood at the mirror and washed my hands, I noticed dark streaks of sweat and dirt on my face and that my hair, stiffened with sweat, was standing up in odd spikes. I ran cool water over my hands, washed my face and tried to comb my hair into place with my dampened fingers. It was no good, it made no difference, and I felt suddenly unable to breathe in that airless place.
When I got back to the table, Rosemary was just putting a plate down. She looked at me, a relieved smile on her face, and said, "I was wondering where you'd gone. I was hoping you hadn't left."
"No, I wouldn't have done that."
She blushed and I realized that I had sounded chastising, abrupt, so I smiled and explained, "I'm really hungry. I've been working all morning."
She looked me full in the face. "I recognize you. You were on the same bus as me, weren't you?"
And as easily as that, she opened the door to me.
Wed 7 Feb, 2007 09:30 pm
sorry Rebecca - I've had some stuff to deal with
but I'll get back to you as soon as I can
(I've read through and I'm impressed (very King-ish plot. I like that! Very intruiging)
speak to you after i've put together some thoughts
Thu 8 Feb, 2007 05:17 pm
I'm not sure how I feel about this - critiquing someone else's work - I'm not even really sure what I'm meant to do.
I understand how very personal the work is and criticism can be hard to take, if you feel it's coming from someone who doesn't appreciate the complexity of writing.
At the same time, you strike me as someone who doesn't ask for one thing and mean something else - so I hope I can be honest and give you some worthwhile feedback.
Forgive me if I'm clumsy.
Anyway, here goes
There are certain parts of the story which stand out for me. The first, as you can probably guess, is the scene when the narrator (John) finds the youth hanged.
The set up is really good. The overturned bike, the stillness, the half-built house. At this point the story begins to feel allegorical.
I especially like the way you draw the reader into the house, one step at a time. Good pace. It has that quality of wanting to see more, but at the same time, of being hesitant.
Hitchcock often used similar 'tentativeness' with a camera to make his audience nervous - leading to the shock that comes eventually. The way John reacts is a subtle twist on that Hitchcock style, which I'm sure S King would applaud.
Although I personally didn't feel he should be ashamed of taking the photograph - the calculative way that John 'reacted' by adjusting the camera for light etc, does give the scene a sinister quality.
There is one line that seems to distract - when he estimates the age of the victim. For some reason, that line brought me out of the 'trace' you'd pulled me into. I thought I'd mention it. Maybe you could just refer to him as 'the youth' or say 'he was only a few years older than me' or something else simple. To keep the reader from losing the atmosphere.
Another scene that stays with me is a long one - from the time John is deciding to develop the film - until he reads about it in the paper.
The interaction between son/mother is very good and very believable. Very visual.
Also, the father's death - it is powerful in its briefness.
I especially liked your use of the long sentence here:
" At first I thought he had slipped on a patch of black ice, smooth and invisible and hanging on stubbornly into Spring, refusing to melt in the shaded area that skirted the tree, but as he turned to look back at the house, I saw his white and stricken face, eyes and mouth open in a large O of surprise, and I knew it was something else entirely."
A great sentence that!
I don't want to be negative about any part of the story - it's personal to you, I understand that, but the narrator's description of himself? It didn't quite work for me.
" I grew into one of those big-boned boys of average height that seem always to blend into the background. I had brown hair and eyes and a medium complexion and my only distinguishing characteristics were my thick, heavy and very dark eyebrows and my unusually large frame. My eyebrows gave my face what I perceived to be a marked brooding and almost menacing appearance, which combined with my stocky frame and somewhat awkward and clumsy gait to give the overall impression of a lumbering and particularly bad tempered bear"
It's well written, but I copied it over because I thought it might be good to look at it out of context.
When I read through this passage I could not connect with John the youth - what I saw was a middle aged man.
No offence Rebecca, you know that, but I don't think a teenager would talk about himself like this (not the ones I've known anyway) and even if the narrator is sixty years old when he writes it, it still sounds kinda like dare I say it? Like a teacher's observation. The use of the word 'perceived' for instance.
Do we need to know the colour of his eyes?
If it's important that we do know exactly what he looks like, maybe it would be better to write a scene where he is studying himself - perhaps in a school photo or mirror - or when he's comparing himself to the school bully who wants to take him on - just because he's a heavy-weight.
I don't know - (I'm being honest with you here - hope that's what you want).
One other thing.
I think the first page is very strong. There's no dialogue as such - but that's good, I don't think you need it. It's informative and engrossing, - but later on, when talking about school, you started to lose me.
Here could be a good place to use John's voice 'to describe him'
I remember reading something King said once. Instead of taking a paragraph to describe the character - allow the reader to 'identify' him based on what that character says and does.
It's just a thought, but if there was dialogue between John and - say a guy who wanted to test him out because of his size - but finds out that instead of a rival, he's found a potential homework-slave . I don't know .you could say a lot in a scene like that. And a bit of dialogue there would be good.
I liked the bits on the bus with the girl. Again, intriguing.
Just one observation - I think Frank backs down too easily. Or John wins too easily.
In reality Franks 'stooges' as you call them, would probably go right on laughing along at his antics, whatever he did. And Frank would probably use ridicule on John to shut him up - especially in front of the girl. That's what my gut tells me.
Hope these thoughts are of some interest to you.
Over all, I think you're really onto something. The story comes across as darkly intriguing. I think John could do with a bit more 'life' in him, but that's just my personal impression.
I feel your strength is in your ability to use description in such a way as to draw the reader right into the detail of a scene. Your writing is very good in my opinion (for what that's worth) and I hope that you continue with this, because it is well, it feels important.
Well, that's it. (F*cking glad that's over - think I'd rather be on the receiving end!)
Hope we're still friends
Thu 8 Feb, 2007 11:56 pm
Hope we're still friends
Endy- Are you kidding me?! This is the best critique- bar none- I've ever gotten. I'm not exaggerating. I can think of only one other person, my friend Jenny, who also writes, who has gone into such depth and made such spot-on observations. Teachers usually have loads of stories/papers to grade so you get kind of a cursory going over from them and in my writing group, it's a more immediate vocally given reaction you get, so I've never been in a situation where I've gotten such a thorough and thoughtful written reaction that I can refer back to, point by point. I really, really appreciate it.
I know my problem is with the narration. As I said, I feel more comfortable writing in John's voice, because I want the story to retain that kind of creepy, something slightly off-kilter air about it. I hope he doesn't seem over the edge though, because that's not what I'm aiming for. I want the reader to feel an uncomfortable understanding of his emotions and motives and understand his eventual problems-you know- look at it and say, "Jesus, that's bad, but I can see how it all added up..."
I don't want him to come across as some kind of deviant that can't be related to (eventually, when the story unfolds). Do you think that's working?
I think you're exactly right about his description of himself. In fact, you're so astute. I was actually describing someone I know- who I came to know as a middle-aged man. It's amazing to me that you picked that up.
I also think you're right about him estimating the boy's age. That's what a girl would do (an older girl, at that), but not what a guy would do.
The whole school bit was in an effort to show how John was different from others that age in that he could already kind of detach and look from an objective stance at what most kids feel totally immersed in and sometimes overwhelmed by. Again, as a means of setting him apart as different-not bad-but just slightly different. But I'll look at that again.
I had Frank back down because of the inherent tragedy of the situation-even he knew he had stepped over a line. But you're right, that may not be realistic. I also wanted John to be seen as making a choice to disengage from that whole scene-I didn't want it to seem like his isolation was imposed upon him. Just kind of another step away from what is more normal socialization for a person that age. If you read in that light-do you think it works?
John will come to life very shortly now. Rosemary will be his reason for living...
I thank you so, so much...I appreciate your feedback and your encouragement. I did read this in my class and got really good responses, from the teacher (who's a published writer) and the other students, so for the first time I feel that I have something worth spending time on. Also, my daughter keeps asking me, "What's going to happen", and she's a voracious reader, so I figure I have to finish it, if only to give her a finished product.
You are very, very good at this. I'm sorry to hear you didn't enjoy doing it, because as I told my friend Jenny when she did it for me-you have a definite gift/knack/talent -whatever you want to call it- for it. I recognize it, because it's not something I'm able to do to any level remotely approaching what you've done. And yeah, when I ask for criticism, I really want it. Please don't feel uncomfortable-I asked you, specifically, for a reason. I trust your writing instincts and respect what you think and have to say- and I know you'll be kind and honest about whatever you feel led to say.
I will continue with it. I've got loads of ideas now. Thanks so much for your help.
Still your friend (really and gratefully) - Rebecca
Sat 10 Feb, 2007 09:49 pm
Hi rebecca - thought I choose 3.30 in the morning to write back to you -
I'm glad you're into your story - because I'd like to know what happens, too. You must have a good relationship with your kids to share your writing with them.
I've got a friend from Ireland who I'd trust with my life. Last time he came over to see me, I kept thinking about telling him, "By the way, I'm writing poetry now."
Everytime I thought about it - I'd grin to myself - because I could too easy see him rolling around on the floor with his feet kicking the carpet, laughing his head off at the very idea.
Even worse would be if he didn't laugh.
A doctor once asked me what I did during the day to keep myself 'positive.'
When I told her, "I write poems", she looked taken aback. I really think she thought I was taking the piss.
I think I'm going to stay up now and watch the dawn - I'd better go and make some fresh coffee - going to write for a couple more hours.
Thanks for your post, Rebecca - it cheered me up a lot.
Speak to you again
Sat 10 Feb, 2007 10:49 pm
I think your writing is generally very good. If anything, by way of a suggestion, I would want to see you let the characters carry the story, rather than the narration. It brings an immediacy to the scene and keeps us involved with their actions. We see them more clearly and feel more involved. By being less analytical (the voice of the narrator) the characters let us form our own impressions and the story moves along, carrying us in the flow. - Just a thought.
Sun 11 Feb, 2007 02:22 am
Thank you Edgar, for your comments. I think you're right, and now that I've got another character introduced for the narrator to interact with, I think it will get easier for me to do that. Part of my difficulty is the fact that it's supposed to be a short story, so I feel limited in the number of action scenes I can employ to carry the story, (as well as not skilled enough to do it successfully). I know what both you and Endy are saying, but I've hesitated to add a lot of peripheral characters (which I would need to do in order for him to be interacting) in the interest of brevity.
I like mysteries, and Ruth Rendell is one of my favorite mystery writers because she is really good at getting into a character's head and communicating his (usually) very strange and different thoughts. Maybe I need a little more practice at it-but that's the kind of thing I was aiming for. I'll keep chugging along though. It's too bad there's no way to have kind of a work in progress thread on original writing, so that suggested changes could be employed and commented on (by those who were interested) without starting an entirely new thread.
Do you think that's something that can be considered within the new and improved version of A2K that's in the works? Any idea when that will be unveiled, by the way?
Thu 22 Feb, 2007 04:57 pm
The site seems to be running better now.
Are you writing?
Thu 22 Feb, 2007 05:07 pm
Yes, it does seem to be running better now-but no I'm not writing much of anything these days. Lots of distractions with work, which kind of saps any concentration I have for anything else. I swear Endy- I really can only focus on one thing at a time- it's pitiful. But major pressure will be off tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to that in terms of really having the time and peace of mind to focus on something else without feeling that I'm endlessly procrastinating, and not doing what I should be doing.
But I have been reading a lot more lately- that's how I relax and I'm getting some ideas for when I can take some time and really focus.
How bout you?
Thu 22 Feb, 2007 11:40 pm
I've been up all night writing a reply to Spendius on the revolution thread and I'm completely finished - need to crash now. Sorry I've run out of steam but I'm glad to hear back from you - hope you have a good break.
I'm off to London for the march this weekend. I'll check in soon
Sat 28 Apr, 2007 03:56 pm
I dreamed about her that night. In my dream she was walking with me through the strip of woods that separated the old development in which I lived from the new development they were just building. As we walked, I took pictures of the columns of sunlight that fell through the trees and she spoke to me of the cathedral-like silence, pointed out the squirrels that scampered up the thick trunks of the oaks and bid me breathe in the scent of the wild garlic. "I love this scent," she said in my dream. "It smells like the color "green". Don't you think so?" she asked me, smiling into my eyes.
I didn't speak. My gaze was focused, like the lens of the camera, on the opening at the edge of the forest, through which I could see the still unpaved, curbless and darkly meandering road that passed through the middle of the new development. As we stepped through the gap in the trees, the shafts of sunlight which had fallen at our feet like puddles in the leaves disappeared as the sun noiselessly slid behind a bank of clouds and we proceeded in shadow. I could see the house at the end or the road in the distance, the cul-de-sac in which it nestled a crescent of gray and indistinct airily drawn space, the house rising darkly within it.
The hillock of dirt on what would become the lawn- still there. The bicycle with its seat taped with gray duct tape and bag of folded papers hanging from the handle bars- still there. The black square that would one day hold a door- still there. Rosemary chattered happily beside me, saying, "I wouldn't mind living in a house like this," and then she stopped suddenly. "That's my brother's bicycle," she said, grabbing my arm. "That's Billy's bike what's it doing here?" she finished slowly, her voice rising in a question.
And in my dream she advanced toward that black space that would one day hold a door, and I reached out my hand toward her shoulder, speaking for the first time, "Don't go in there. It might be dangerous " I said in my dream, but before I could touch her, she was turning to me laughing, and saying, "That kid- he's supposed to be delivering papers, and here he is fooling around," and I looked up into that black space to see a small, fair-haired boy standing, backlit by brilliant sunlight through the opening at the back of the house that would one day hold French doors, to see him smiling at me with a grin which reached clear into his eyes, which were as sky-blue as his sister's.
I awoke with a start. I could tell by the quality of the light in the room that it was late. I rolled over to look at the clock. 7:32. "Oh ****," I mumbled as I swung my legs over the side of the bed. As my feet hit the floor, I remembered it was Saturday. With nothing less than a feeling that can only be described as immense relief, I pulled my legs back under the covers and lay back on the pillows. Determined to reenter my dream of columns of sunlight and blue eyes that had yet to know sadness, I closed my own eyes as my hand began to move rhythmically beneath the sheet.
I knew it was a long shot, but I had to see her before 11:00 on Monday morning. I had to know if I had dreamed the pitch of her voice and the sound of her laughter accurately. I knew the diner closed at 3:00 on Saturdays, so I decided to show up for lunch at 2:00.
I felt immediately upon walking into the diner that she wasn't there. I tried to scan the room quickly and unobtrusively, but I couldn't see clearly- I was blinded by the transition from the glare of afternoon sunlight to the dimness of the interior of the diner. The rattan shades over the picture windows had been drawn and the overhead light turned off in an effort to counteract the airless brightness of the afternoon heat. With a sinking heart, I stood stupidly in the middle of the floor, wondering if it was even worth it to stay to eat. I was momentarily distracted by the shaking and whirring air conditioner unit mounted on a plywood platform in the corner of the room and turned my head. When I turned back, Rosemary was standing in front of me holding a menu.
"You came back," she said, smiling. I nodded. "You must really like our cheesesteaks," she said, smiling again. I noticed the dimple in her right cheek.
I mumbled something suitably vague in reply as she gestured around the room.
"As you can see, you can have your pick of tables."
As my eyes adjusted to the dimness of the interior of the diner, I noticed for the first time that I was the sole patron.
"Slow day, huh?" I asked her as she followed me to my usual table.
"Yeah, I guess it's too hot for people to even think about eating.""
"It's never too hot for me to think about eating, " I said, wincing, as I immediately regretted having said it. I sighed in resignation.
But she laughed.
And I determined at that moment that there was nothing else in the world I wanted as much as to know her and to maybe make her laugh again.
"What time do you get off?" I asked.
I saw her studying me intensely and then she answered decisively, "Three o'clock."
"Well, usually a little after" she continued, as if my hesitation was in disbelief.
"I usually have to refill the salt and pepper shakes and do some prep after we close, but it's been so slow today, I've already had the chance to get all that done."
I dove ahead. I knew that if I hesitated for even a moment to think, I'd never have the courage to continue speaking. To ask what it had by now become imperative for me to ask her.
"Would you want to maybe go for a walk or something after work? Or maybe a swim?"
She put her pen and pad in her apron pocket to free one small hand, and brushing back an errant wisp of golden hair, mentally hesitated only a moment before answering.
"Sure. A swim would be nice on a day like today." As her eyes swept the floor in embarrassment, she continued, "But I'd have to go home first to change. Would you mind walking home with me?"
Her blue eyes searched mine. "My parents won't let me go anywhere with anyone they haven't met." She lowered her eyes again.
"I know it seems stupid, but they're kind of strict like that."
"No, no, I don't mind at all. I don't think it's stupid. I think it's a good idea," I finished lamely as I watched her hand reach for her pen and pad in the pocket of her apron.
As she flipped the pad to a clean sheet of paper, she said, "Let me guess: cheesesteak and a coke- with fries."
I nodded and smiled and watched as she turned gracefully saying, " I'd better get your order in before he closes down the grill."
I watched her as she walked through the swinging doors that led to the kitchen.
I continued to watch as she came back to the table to lay my silverware and napkin neatly and then walked to the counter to fill a glass with ice and my drink, and I noted the gentleness with which she moved through the room- as if barely displacing the air around her.
Mon 30 Apr, 2007 09:21 am
I won't keep on interrupting you, but I just wanted you to know how impressed I was when I read this. You seem more relaxed about your writing - (and more confident). That comes across and allows the reader to believe - to trust and enjoy. I found it absorbing.
Mon 30 Apr, 2007 10:43 am
I won't keep on interrupting you, but I just wanted you to know how impressed I was when I read this. You seem more relaxed about your writing - (and more confident). That comes across and allows the reader to believe - to trust and enjoy. I found it absorbing.
Thanks Endy. It felt easier and more natural. It just kind of flowed (not exactly for the first time-but to the point that I noticed that I was enjoying it more). I'm glad that came across.
Tue 29 Apr, 2008 06:00 pm
The Plan (cont.)
We left the diner that afternoon and walked through the streets, which were empty and shimmering in the late afternoon heat. Having spoken the words I'd needed to speak to bring me to this point, I found that I could think of little else to say. My heart was beating wildly within my chest; I felt flummoxed, amazed that it was to me that this was happening. I'd dreamt of this moment, over and over again, but had never really expected to experience it in waking life. Though I'd bathed and groomed myself carefully that morning, I felt sodden by the heat and slightly grimy. I felt as though my skin shone with an oily sheen, and hoped that she would not look too closely at me. I felt at a disadvantage.
Happily, Rosemary seemed oblivious to all of this. Though she did not laugh and chatter as she had in my dream the night before, the silence lay comfortably between us. The lack of tension in the air relieved me of the need to think of anything to say. It felt easy to be with her.
Before I knew it, we'd arrived at her house. My only recently acquired landscapist's eye noticed the grass growing long and darkly matted beneath the spreading boughs of the sycamore tree which dominated the front yard and the rosehips weighting the stems of the rosebushes until they dragged in the dirt of the flower bed. They badly needed pruning and mulching.
She motioned to me to wait on the front porch as she peeked around the front door which stood ajar. There was no sound from inside.
"I'm home," she called into the shaded interior of the house. "I've brought a friend with me". There was no answer. She opened the door wide and motioned for me to step past her and inside. The house was clean and cool and quiet.
"Have a seat," she said gesturing to the sofa. "I'll be right back." She walked up the stairs and opened the door at the top. She shut it softly behind her. I could hear two feminine voices murmuring quietly. Rosemary opened the door, leaned over the upstairs hall banister to smile down at me, saying, "I can go. I'll be right back, I just need to get changed," and disappeared down the upstairs hallway.
A moment later the door at the top of the stairs opened, and a shorter, older, and slightly disheveled version of Rosemary emerged. She descended the stairs slowly, her hand clutching the railing, her eyes lowered to watch as she placed each foot on each step- "like a child would do," I thought as I watched her. She looked up as she came to the bottom and smiled tiredly in my direction.
"Shameless, I know, sleeping in the middle of the day. But this heat- it just saps all my energy," she spoke advancing towards me, her hand outstretched to grasp mine. I remembered my manners just in time and jumped up from the edge of the sofa, to take her hand, as she said, "I'm Rosemary's mother, Maureen. Very nice to meet you."
Her hand felt small and frail in mine. I shook it gently, nodding and smiling in silence.
"And your name is ", she prompted, smiling and kindly looking away as I blushed furiously and struggled to speak coherently.
"John," I managed finally. "John Ross."
She nodded. "Rosemary says you two rode the bus together to school. What year are you in, John?" She motioned me to sit again as she sank gratefully into the chair beside the sofa.
"I just finished my senior year," I answered.
"Oh, so you've just graduated? I hadn't realized that. Congratulations. Do you have plans for college?"
"Actually, yes. I've been accepted to Villanova. That's where I'll be come September."
"How exciting for you. Villanova is a good school."
Her fine blue eyes clouded over and seemed to focus on the middle distance. Silence once again invaded the room.
At that moment, Rosemary ran down the steps and her mother seemed to waken from her reverie saying, "Rose says you two are going swimming, John. She's a good swimmer, but if you're going out to the lake, please keep an eye on her. Don't let her take any unnecessary risks." I could feel Rosemary shrinking in embarrassment beside me.
"Mom" was all she said.
"Of course. Yes ma'am, " I answered gently.
"It was very nice to meet you John," she called as we opened the front door.
"And you as well," I called back into the coolness of the living room where she still sat. Rosemary shut the door behind us.
"She's not herself right now," she said quietly as we walked up the drive and out onto the sidewalk. "I guess you've heard about my brother," she continued, looking everywhere but directly at me.
"Yes, I'd heard," I said feeling more at a loss and as powerless as I ever had in my life.
"She'll never be the same," she said simply . She squinted her eyes against the sun. "She blames herself. It was her idea for him to get the paper route."
I could think of nothing to say. Rosemary continued quietly, almost as if to herself, "She was such a happy person. I wish you could have known her before," she increased her pace suddenly, and walked slightly ahead of me.
I quickened my own pace until I was walking beside her. I wanted to offer comfort, but I didn't know how to. Before I could think, I did what I'd been wanting to do since I'd watched her hand lay the fork and knife and spoon next to my plate in the diner- I reached out and hesitantly took it in mine. She threw me a sideways glance that I pretended not to see, and apparently coming to some decision within herself, did not withdraw it. We walked the rest of the way to the lake in silence.
My memories of that day play in my head like a silent movie. I remember amber water so clear that I could see the individual stones that lined the bottom of the lake. I remember our feet, my brown, hers white, and the silt rising as they advanced into the deep, kicking up sand so that the water clouded until nothing below the surface remained discernable. I remember that first sharp intake of breath as I dove beneath the surface and I remember thinking at certain times during that afternoon and early evening that if I could have, I would have stopped the seconds sliding by. I watched the lowering sun with a sense of desperation.