Class Reunion

The lake in August… The hill above the lake in August in the evening twinkles with yellow stars, winking on and off; fireflies signaling each other on the road to heaven.

But don’t sit down with those  fireflies. No.  No.  No.  Don’t sit on the grass. The chiggers will climb over your shoes, swing down your socks, burrow under your skin and start families. Their wee ones will keep you awake aaaalllll night long.  By the way, it’s also a mistake to stroll along the water’s edge. Thar be mosquitoes – thar.

The grass is long and dry in the parts the mowers haven’t managed to reach.  Elsewhere, it lies in thick rows that are rotting into the ground, high-class condos for brown mice and other vermin that skitter along their avenues – going door to door.

I guess the lake is like life, it’s nice enough – as long as you stay high and keep moving that is.  At the right time – like this evening – you might see a Luna Moth OR maybe even a randy, pimpled moon bumping and humping  near the treeline. Wild beasts,  – well, actually, tame  ones now – trying to scratch that old high school itch. Classic blunder. That’s poison ivy. That’s what that is.

Try explaining that to the significant one.  “Honey, I’ve got a rash….”

“Over your ENTIRE body!? FOR GOD’S SAKE!”

On the other side of the hill, in the meadow, it’s still. The party’s down on the dock with that old-timey music (Is it THAT old-timey??) a jukin’ and a jumpin’, laughter, the occasional splash, then the threats and tears. The dark is coming down from the sky, up from the lake, from beneath the trees.  It fills in the empty spaces that you don’t notice until they’re gone.   The dark is what the fireflies flee, climbing the blades of grass, leaping back into the sky, pretending to be lightning. Going home. But not before getting a little action if you get what I’m getting at.  Am I right?! Say no more, say no more.

Did you know that if you seal enough lightning bugs in a jar the electricity between them will cause the jar to explode. Not shatter, mind you, just pop the top. We used to fill up jam jars as kids and throw them at each other to see them pop and pour their yellow load into the sky. Only glass jars work; plastic stretches. Nothing’s any fun any more.

Someone is coming down the gravel road.  The face is hidden by a hood and the stoop of the back, but the figure is  tall and wide, filling the road.  Or maybe I am confusing the form, and the shadow of the form that paces along behind.  Hoodie walks alone.

Alone!  That’s no way to show up for your twentieth. This is the moment to go all in; rent the Tesla; hire the escort; MAKE them say your name. By the time you leave your High school reunion, nobody should ever wish to see you again.

I suppose Hoodie is coming for me.  I paid for an actor to take my place at my own reunion, but I wasn’t expecting this… this giant holding  a wizard’s staff.  I guess you get what you pay for, but I didn’t pay for the hoodie. Who wears a hoodie to a class reunion anyway, AND it’s 85 freakin’ degrees at 7:00 at night.

Should I stay?  Morbid curiosity keeps me.  How will my classmates react? Will they know; will they suspect; will they remember me? As the hoodie passes by, neither slowing nor pausing, I swing in just behind, matching the long stride step for step so the crunch of the gravel doesn’t give me away.

I should leave.  Hoodie is here so I don’t have to be and Mary is waiting, cutting carrots by the window sill. The knife slicing the orange, knotted threads makes a curious bell like tone, comforting, compelling and regular, another reminder that I’m still alive.

There are things I need to explain to Mary and I think I am ready now, but the paced, measured beating of the knife is mesmerizing.  I can’t get her attention.

I should return to my bed in the corner by the kitchen and watch Mary make dinner for the children, her knife keeping time with the monitor.   This hill, this place, is vanity – my vanity (Oh brother!  Cue Peter and Paul).

Hoodie follows the swish of the road as it skirts the hill, the big walking stick stumping away like a third leg in the gravel.

We haven’t come to the dock yet – or even the sight of the dock.  There is one more bend in the road,  guarded by a giant oak, its top aflame in the light of the sun, its roots churning deep into the earth, flinging broken granite across the hillside.  Funny to think of the tree and me, each incapable of knowing the other.  We run along on different times.  I am too fast and it is too slow.  The epic battlefield where it struggles to break the bones of the earth remains for me –  just a quiet place to sit.   Meanwhile for the earth, the tree doesn’t even exist.  We live by different clocks, the earth, the tree and me.  Anyway, no fireflies twinkle beneath these branches.

I could turn back.  There is no need to pass this way.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

Oh but it does peckerwood.  You can play your little theatre of the absurd, you can  howl , you can moan, but we are both passing this way. I’m just sorry I have to walk with you and all your rancid regret.

The wind has turned, swinging round from south to north and bringing with it a formation of geese that honk low over the lake. My classmates on the dock can’t possibly see them under the blinding party lights, or hear them over the “music” .

When they reach the shore one of them splits off and heads west for the Officer’s Mess.  Where is he going?

“See ya boys – gotta get back to the ‘nificant!”

The others scull on overhead, leaning into their oars with determination.  I turn and linger, watching them ascend into the darkening blue.  There is a vacancy there, an opening, an invitation to fly away to where the wind must inevitably (yeah, right!) turn.

I’m standing under the tree looking down, around the corner toward the dock; maybe a hundreds yards further on, low on the horizon, rests the setting sun.  The lake is cobalt blue with a spray of scarlet splattering across its surface from west to east.  It’s artificial, like a spilled pot of blue and red enamel on the floor of the workshop or one of those plastic plates of food in an Osaka restaurant window.  Remember Osaka?

Something between the willow branches and leaves mutters mouthlessly, stirring ripples in widening circles that die against the mud and pebble shore.  The frogs and crickets ignore them and carry on, unintentionally improvising music.  They’re just like the lightning bugs.  All these critters joining the group chat of LUV!

A gate hangs over the gangway and there Hoodie stands  and takes  a piece of paper out of an inner pocket.  I lean forward – far forward.  I “transition” from the tree to the gate and press against an indifferent shoulder.  On the card is written  my own name, in my own shaky hand.

Hoodie, with no concern for the smorgasbord of the senses that cries for attention all around, steps forward, creaking the gangway with heavy boots.  The dock is wide, flanked by Bayliners blue, orange,  and purple,  green bass boats with trolling motors, and at the end a burned black pontoon boat leaning and swaying on the dock’s shoulder, its red canvas canopy in tatters.  The revelers have set up a party tent and strung it with Christmas lights, that try to out-sparkle the stars.

There are probably sixty people on the dock, some in tuxedos, some showing a lot of skin – a lot of skin – I mean these people  asked for double helpings of skin  – triple helpings of skin – when they went to the skin store. More sit in the boats.  At least one empties her belly over the side to  applause.  A few more have excused themselves at some past point to find blankets on the hillside to satisfy their lusts – natural and unnatural.

Hoodie steps onto the dock standing tall, taller than I wanted.  Tall enough to attract the eye.  Tall enough to cause discomfort.

All eyes swivel to Hoodie. No one is looking at me back here on the shoreline.  I won’t cross the water.  The crowd parts, pushing together into the space between bodies that they didn’t know was there.  Slowly, deliberately,  the cloaked figure steps forward.  The crowd whispers. Silence falls.  Even the frogs pause at the solemnity of the moment – which is completely ruined by the continued retching of the woman hanging over the side of the boat.

The heavy tread tramps across the planks past each of the boats in turn.  At each one, Hoodie turns and looks wordlessly at the awestruck people who sit in them.  There’s no room on the dock to retreat to the edges so the dark figure of Hoodie is surrounded by space, repelling the revelers like a magnet turned round the wrong way.

Hoodie passes the last  group  and continues unimpeded toward the pontoon boat.  The crowd watches, murmuring together like a flock of starlings, rumouring wildly amongst themselves, driving  ideas first one way then the other with no apparent goal or direction. And Hoodie fades into the shadow, beneath the red canopy.  The people reassemble, reassess, reacquaint themselves shaking their heads and sighing.  A transition like this is a communal experience, and rare enough to give them pause.

There is an enormous splash and cries as that woman has finally fallen in. 

Nobody can see me here on the edge.  The sun has set.  The fireflies are over and as I look up at heaven the stars are going out one by one, first at the edges of the world and then faster and faster toward the center.

I still have things to say.  I still have things to say to Mary, but the knife has stopped and I can’t find the thread that leads back to where she sits by the bed.  I don’t want to speak I just want to touch one more time.  Before she gets her freedom.

Night doesn’t fall.  Night rises like a flood,  cold, black water numbing my knees, hips, shoulders, surrounding my face as I tilt back to breathe, blotting out the stars for which the fireflies yearn, pushing me down.

I struggle.  I struggle to rise,  but the dark water tastes of oblivion and I drown.

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