Rain quits after midnight and the smell of wet canvas makes the boys peel off everything, leave the tent, and pad naked and fast through the tickly grass of unfenced backyards.
One becomes separated from Two and Three.
He struggles to keep from shouting for them, and from joy as he runs. In the chilly air his erection bounces and sways.
This is the last of the boy.
Two and Three gallop on. Three snorts the black air, inhaling the ooze of earthworms and the damp earth itself. Trees and brick.
Two is able to shit in an enemy’s pool, which amazes Three. On demand like that.
They spot a man slumped on a street-corner bench, asleep or dead. Two dares Three. Both boys approach.
Silver-haired in the streetlamp’s glow, the man wears a long coat with peg-shaped buttons, the kind that twist sideways to fasten. He stirs.
It don’t fit him right, Two says.
He reeks, Three says. Musty.
The coat seems to have been thrown on hastily during a period of years. In gaps of stretched fabric the boys detect bare white geezer flesh. He raises his head to them.
They recognize his fierce grin as from a family album. Mad fins cut the surface, calliope music rings out, a shock of memory thrown forward. He’s their friend, suddenly gone to skeletal sag and ancient weariness. Impossible! One.
Dawn makes silhouettes of the houses. A rumble vibrates through the sidewalk. The boys turn.
Toward them rolls a seething parade of mothers.
* * *
In person the girl’s dull as a book review, dull as tax breaks for the rich. But as a violin player? Tops. Everybody says so.
Her parents take her of music class out anyway. They have their reasons like always and the reasons make sense per usual. Blah blah. Homework.
At some holiday buffet her grandfather – he of the acid wit and penchant for thunderstorms and the toggle-buttoned canvas paletot he refuses to discard – edges near her, scooping beans. He mutters to hell with them all, Elizabeth.
Then come the mysterious noises. Squeaks in her wall like mice or bats. Furniture moving around in the next room. An occasional moan.
She takes the case from under her bed, fingers the bouts, waist, neck, strings.
Her lone friend comes over and, seldom speaking, they watch movies about faraway places. America. She says, this family feels like it’s made slapdash, too fast. I want a dog.
She flunks again. Her parents acquiesce, knuckle under, pretty much throw in the towel on the kid. She is allowed to resume her lessons.
The house de-haunts.
Her twitchy instructor wears more-colorful shirts and is pleased with the unlikely progress she has made while absent. From exquisite, her music has improved!
Her grandfather enrolls her in the Conservatoire’s music program. Pays.
* * *
The man seated in the damp, tropical airport has been traveling for so long that he has stopped thinking about how the light slants into his empty apartment, touches the furniture and fades. No use trying, in his imagination, to walk through the park; he is unable to arrange the trees correctly, find the pavilion. Nor can he make out the faces of the people at his job anymore. He can’t remember what his job was.
Of his past he conjures only a disjointed slide show. Creek fishing with Two for spiked bullheads, the odor of mud and wildflowers around them. Watching the grim carnies assemble rides, drawn by his nose to the funnel-cake stand. Backyard campouts.
The woman to his left fumbles in her bag. He leans ever so slightly toward her, savoring the ferric tang – she’s menstruating – an added layer of humidity like a halo around her. Around them.
She flips her hair, ties it and lifts her arms, stretching. Under the nearest arm, a tuft. She’s European, he guesses. French maybe. No, stereotype. They shave. Artist?
From the horn bolted to the ceiling squawks an urgent voice. She gathers her things, makes ready to stand. That’s when he notices the scuffed leather case at her feet.
Weighted by her bag, her backpack and the case, she trudges toward the gate. He resolves to speak to her. Must, before the chance rinses away.
And say what, he doesn’t know.
He reaches her at top of the boarding plank.
Later the man wakes in a bed on the other side of the world. Beside him, she stares at his face. Did you dream, she asks. (He thinks, when am I not.) Tell me, she says.
Silence falls. His nostrils are busy with the bread that emerges piping from the oven in the boulangerie two blocks away. They will marry and have three sons.
The man pours forth a story. It’s partly what she asked for – bits of his dreams are stirred in – and mostly it’s what he wants to give her, invented word by word. Which is how their happy life together goes.
What about you, he asks. Your dreams.
She hops off the mattress, finds her instrument and begins to play.
About the writer:
Randy Osborne‘s writing is listed in the Notables section of Best American Essays for 2015, 2016, and 2018. His work has been published in four print anthologies and nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, as well as for Best of the Net. It has appeared in Salon, The Rumpus, Full Grown People, The Lascaux Review, Flyleaf Journal, 3:AM Magazine, Empty Mirror, Fiction Attic, Identity Theory, 3Elements Review, Bodega, SLAB, Lumina Journal, Loose Change, SunStruck, Green Mountains Review, 34th Parallel, Spry Literary Journal, Scene Missing, Thread, and other small magazines, as well as the Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal Constitution, San Francisco Bay Guardian, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Osborne lives in Atlanta, where he recently finished a book-length collection.