My Favorite Season

For recent high school graduate Eric Sterling, the summer of 1980 will be his last. He wants to spend that summer alone, but new neighbor Jayson won't let that happen.
Jayson has also just graduated, and is seeking his own final summer adventure before college and "adulthood" change him forever--a change he fears more than he lets on.
For reasons he doesn't fully understand, Eric is reluctant to tell the truth about his leukemia to his brilliant, capricious friend. Will Jayson pity him? Avoid him?
However, Jayson finds out anyway... and their real summer adventure begins...

[Thirty Chapters]

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7. Chapter Seven

           It's quite a place for fletchers and bowyers,

           Robin Hood, and me...

 

                                        Unorchestrated Songs

 

     Someday I must break this habit of waking up in a different room than the one I went to sleep in.

     This one was wrapped in wallpaper from another century: a pattern of bundled, colorful children rode toboggans down endless white hills.

     The sound of the ocean rolled through the window, pushing the curtains aside and drenching the walls.

     After driving for six hours, we had arrived at Scotland West at sunrise. After unloading the car, we only had enough energy for a quick tour of the house. I remembered glimpses of a room full of books, a small room with a huge piano, and several, thankfully, with beds.

     My bed was next to the wall. On my left, a walnut nightstand separated it from Jayson's, where he sat, reading, and did not look up until I sat up.

     The beds were huge, and high; sitting on the edge, my feet did not touch the floor. I could sleep on it sideways.

     Jayson closed the book, Stegner's The Big Rock Candy Mountain, and said, "Good morning. Afternoon."    

     I had slept in the car, then at Scotland West until one o'clock, waking with a headache—easily a combination of my early hospital release, the long drive, and the absence of Thorazine.

     I told Jayson that I always get headaches when I sleep a long time.

     He was instantly concerned. "I shouldn't have taken you out of there so soon. They said it was all right, but—oh, wait. He opened a drawer in the nightstand and pulled out a small paper envelope. "He said to give you these when you wake up."

     I pushed his hand away. "Don't you have any aspirin?"

     He blinked. "What for?"

     "Gee, I don't know...for headaches, maybe?"

     "I don't get headaches; Philip says I'm a carrier. What's wrong with these?"

     I did not hesitate. "Nothing." I took the envelope.

     "I'll get you some water." He moved to the bathroom, but I stopped him.

     "I can get it, Jay."

     "Okay. I promised the doctor I would call when you woke up." He moved to the door. "Back in a minute."

     I waited until I heard him enter the room across the hall, then I walked into the bathroom, poured a cup of water, and drank it. Then I tore open the envelope, dumped the pills into the toilet, and flushed it.

     I went to join Jayson in the library, feeling much better.

     He was still on the telephone: "...you're certain? Oh, well, I thought it was worth a chance, what with these freaky genetics, and all...just what is mine, anyway?...oh, that is so amusing, doctor." He hung up. "T-negative, ha, ha."

     He looked up at me. "Feeling better?"

     I nodded.

     "Good. How about a tour—" he was interrupted by the telephone.

     "Hello...yes, just this morning....oh, yes, better than we expected... indeed? That will be very helpful... indeed....well, of course that's mutual ...good-bye." He hung up and turned to me. "That was my mother. She says we have an account at Stuart's Market in the Bay. They sell a lot of other things besides food, so if you want something, just charge it."

                                                *                  *                   *

     Scotland West, and the adjacent Chameleon Bay, make up Fender County, the smallest in the state. Technically, it is part of the Outer Banks; the entire county consists of a twenty-four thousand acre peninsula, connected to the continental United States by a four hundred-foot wide strip of land and various bridges.      

     We left by the back door, and walked down a gravel path that led across the back lawn. I spied our first destination: a small grey structure of hapless wood: a stable.

     "Do you have horses here?" I spoke quickly. I have always loved horses—my name should have been Philip.

     Jayson shook his head. "This isn't for horses—it's for unicorns."

     "Unicorns." I felt no surprise.

     By now we had reached the stable. Jayson stopped at the first stall. "This is Rocinante, the swift."

     I stared into the structure. It was empty. The walls were bare wood. The dirt floor was covered with hay—brown dust showed through in spots.

     Jayson continued: "He is the son of Kaleph'N'r, the dragon hunter, and Saal: Ra, she who calls the phoenix with her song."

     Jayson pointed out that the stable was made of the remains of the old cottage.

     The whole side of the stable was decorated with, or constructed of, various ship nameplates.

     Jayson said, "That's about all that's left of the Laura Foster, which was driven ashore about a hundred years ago...the Lady Drake and the Joyful Mary went down on the same night a few miles from each other. And they actually managed to raise the Ballerina Girl from the bay, but Hurricane Agnes, in '72, sank her for good."

     A dirt path led from the stables to a grassy hillock. As we walked, Jayson pointed out a small strawberry patch. 

     For a moment, still walking, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply of the ocean air, the sweet grass, and the sandy path.

     Jayson said, "I called the place Scotland West. Officially we're part of Chameleon Bay. Nobody else in the family uses it, because a lot of my relatives are scattered all over. My family used to live here, until Dad built that...Belltown, then moved there. We rent the place out during the rest of the year, so it pays for itself, but in the summers it's mine. Do you know, there are actually people who come here in the middle of winter? Once, a family in Florida celebrated Christmas here...they said it reminded them of their old home in Delaware, although I never figured out—what's that?"

     We stopped. I had also seen the flash of reflected sunlight. We moved to the side of the path and searched the sand.

     "There!" Jayson retrieved the object. "A piece of an old mirror." He turned it over. "Probably from a compact." He rubbed the dust away with his thumb, speaking absently, "Stendhal says that a novel is a mirror dawdling along the road. Here we find a mirror by the road. Is there a novel—someone's life—in here? Will we see someone's joys and sorrows in it? And whose?"

     I took the glass from him. "Well, now that you've looked into it, maybe your life."

     Jayson turned to me with raised brows. I was pleased. It couldn't be too often that someone else's ideas impressed Jayson. But as I pondered whether to press my advantage, Jayson lost interest in the glass fragment as philosophy, and we continued walking.

                                                *                  *                   *

     During the tour, I noticed that Jayson seemed different—if not more serious, certainly more pensive. Was it because of me, or was it being back at Scotland West?

     More than a decade ago, Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book called On Death And Dying, in which she categorized the five stages of "dying": the first four—denial, anger, bargaining, and depression—were chronicled in The Diagnosis. So this story should be about the fifth—acceptance. Okay, it's about the transition from four to five.

     It should have occurred to me that Jayson would go through these, too. And my parents.

     While I'm at it:

        I should have been a pair of wings,

        Direction bound...

 

     I wrote those lines for the girl I left in New York, who once said that the word 'should' was the most dangerous word in the language, because it tortured us so much.

                                                *                  *                   *

     Here is an image I will carry until the end of time:

     On the trip here I was not sleeping all the time. I woke once right at sunrise. We were on some unnamed highway which sliced through a vast field of green. My window faced east, where the sky was grey, orange, white—and in the field, keeping pace with the car, were horses. A half dozen creatures blurred across the field with manes like snapping flags. I am the poet in this journal, but it was Jayson who pointed out that it was not characteristic of horses to "race the sunrise."

     I nodded, enjoying the sight until the equii slowed, and we pulled away.

     "Perhaps, Jayson went on, "they're young, and don't know the proper behavior for their kind."

     "Maybe they're a new kind."

     "It's hard for the new ones to know."

                                                *                  *                   *

     The path began to slope upward, and curve. Soon we stopped on the hill, overlooking Scotland West.

     We sat for awhile. Then Jayson said: Incidentally, you're sitting on a nest."

     I jumped up, looking around. "Where?"

     "Here...these rocks. It's a phoenix nest."

     I traced the huge circle of stones, which Jayson explained were the remnants of a lighthouse.

     "A phoenix nest. Is...ah...there one here?"

     Jayson raised a brow. "No. This is just in case one happens along. In fact, this whole area is for any gryphon, dragon or similar creature that decides to visit. It's called Fantasy Fane."

     Fantasy Fane was a rough circle of stones and mortar twenty feet across; the center was artistically overgrown with grass, weeds, and driftwood.

     "This used to be a lighthouse. It was built in 1860.  It was about fifty feet high, made of wood with a stone base. They didn't really need one, but they wanted one. Anyway, during the War, when the Union was capturing coastal cities, Confederates were destroying and disabling lighthouses ahead of them. Residents of Chameleon Bay blew up this one in April, 1862. Only, it wrecked the cottage, too. But by summer, 1866, that had been rebuilt."

     The salted breeze, racing the surf, nudged inland, and around us.

     "I love it here. If you stand at the shore, and just stare at the ocean, way out at the horizon, you begin to feel like you're standing on the edge of the world." He sat perfectly still for a moment.

"Did you know that the horizon is not real? It's just a line we draw in our own minds."

"So?"

"So it's different for each of us. What you see and what I see have got to be different things. Even though we're standing close enough so that, at that distance, we're one point, we see different things far ahead of us. I mean, I know that when I get to the point we're looking at, there'll be another horizon. Another line." He smiled wistfully. "I wonder what it will look like?"

                                                *                  *                   *

      We walked further. Jayson stopped, bent over, and straightened with a penny in his hand. "1962. Just imagine all the places this penny has been since then—the year you were born.  Around the country, possibly.  And who's held it? How many times have you held it? I think things like that are interesting, because it means that all our lives have intersected time and again."

     I shrugged. "I guess."

     "You guess? The fact that this penny is here reveals something about time and space that no textbook ever could."

     I raised my shoulders again. "Maybe it would mean more to me if I had an I.Q. of eight million."

He rolled his eyes. "It's not eight million." He tossed the penny away. "Good guess, though."

                                                *                  *                   *  

     My pre-Belltown days—the two months between the end of The Diagnosis and now—were visually interesting at the time, but that was all. I may as well have been looking at photographs. I mean, so I've seen the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall—so what? I didn't build them, so who cares?

     What brought it home to me was our trip to Niagara Falls—the last leg of the tour.  We were on the Canadian side, sitting in a snack bar/souvenir shop. There was a large picture window, with a view of the river and the falls for the diners. My parents and I went in, and without even thinking, I sat with my back to the window.

                                                *                  *                   *

     According to Jayson, the Niagara Falls are about 10,000 years old—but they don't look a day over 8,000.

                                                *                  *                   *

     As I sat on the stone, I absently scratched my initials into it with my fingernail.

     "I want to leave something behind," I said.

     I looked at Jayson. At first, a frown of confusion passed Jayson's face, then realization. He looked back toward the sea.

     I said, "I don't want to leave something for future generations—I don't care much for posterity. Just something for us. The rest of the world can find it's own symbols." I had been thinking about this since Jayson had returned to the hospital. "Like a song."

     Jayson didn't perk up, as I'd expected. "You know, I do the words, you do the music..."

     Jayson still did not react.

     I looked away casually, "Like Elton and Bernie."

     Finally he turned to me, but didn't say anything for a minute. Then:

     "It would have to be a ballad..."

                                                *                  *                   *

     I sat on the rocky phoenix' next at Fantasy Fane, and stared past the evergreens to the sea.  The Atlantic, steel grey and blue, rolled toward me. Jayson had gone back to the house.

     I turned to Scotland West. I watched the bright patch of blue fluttering above the house:

 

               If it's a waving flag you're looking for

               I'll be here when they call you

               The revolution's come and gone

               And now they don't know what to do.

 

     I had always been proud of my facility with words. I loved them. Poetry had brought it all together: the fun, the release, the aegis of the auteur. Although some of that early stuff...

     I frowned. What revolution? It was so easy to envision Jayson in a revolution—with a three-cornered hat and musket, screaming 'Cheeaarge!' Or in gleaming steel and mail, yelling 'Onward men, and leave no man standing!"

           If it's a shining knight you're looking for,

           We'll be here when they give up.

     "Here" where? Scotland West? Fantasy Fane? That could work, but whoever sang the song later would have to know that. A song with footnotes? And what rhymes with "up?"

 

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