Looking Back / by charles desrochers

 

by

Charles Desrochers

Streetlights hummed their hymnals across the empty streets and off the high concrete walls to Sean and his friends as they walked the sidewalks hoping that in the next coming hours they’d reach safety and even more that they’d be home.

The gang hurried. Sean and Mike rotted in their shoes as they attempted to keep pace with Julie, her elegant pale form shivering while goose bumps crawl over her skin, her night gown flowing in the chilly wind. From time to time the wind played games with Sean as it fluttered her gown ever so slightly and he could see the girl’s smooth calves swinging faster and faster.

            Once he noticed he couldn’t help but think of it, that there’s something about that part of the leg. Sean had spent a good portion of his life stealing innocent glances at various women but here he was, hours removed from hanging by the neck from a pull-up bar in his studio apartment and only moments removed a fist fight, Sean found himself contemplating a lovely girl’s legs.

            In the time since the fight, Sean had been able, briefly, to consider that he hadn’t been considering anything at all. Not his job or social circle or any of the many things he had now spent the majority of his time worrying about. For a brief moment he was happy. Before this his entire life was a daydream, only not for a day but for a year, decade, lifetime. The world he saw before him- Sunset Boulevard after dusk- was new and the people, even Mike and Julie, were people once again and not merely actors in a play produced for his melancholic entertainment.

            He had stepped out of a theater and into streets filled with hums and halogen lamps crackling turned to crickets on a hot summer’s day along the banks of a lazy brook. It was never good for fishing but if needed it was gave shade and peace for sitting. He’d venture to guess that there wasn’t a better creek in all of Vermont where someone could get lost in his thoughts. This moment was as gorgeous as it was fleeting.

            He savored it, letting the memory roll in his mouth while he tasted every second of it, but soon enough it was gone. Now, rather than feeling the swift breeze pass by his face he was again stuck in a moment that was no longer tangible.

            “Why can’t I get out of my head?” He asked himself.

He wondered if there was something about him in particular that made him feel this way.

“I’m so nostalgic,” he thought, “Maybe the past is more important to me than the future. Why is that? It’s not-- wasn’t good.

I remember moments when we were happy though. Walking through an apple orchard at the festival, I must have been happy then, right?”

And just like that, Sean became wistful once more and began to remember that day in particular from just a few years ago.

They, Sean and Rachel, happened to be in the car, it was hot and humid, just like many other lazy Sundays. For whatever reason, they were heading west this time with nowhere in mind and no plans were to be had, just driving. When they reached the western border they turned left and headed south. Sean didn’t want to simply turn around and retrace his steps.

Where was the excitement in that?

He said he knew where they were going but that was a lie. He didn’t make a habit out of lying to Rachel so when he did she knew it right away. This was a small one though and thus innocuous enough for her to let it go without a scene. All he knew was that East would lead them home and they weren’t ready for that yet. This was their adventure, their romance.

The sun, which had been high in the sky just hours before, was growing weary and falling into the earth as the two lovers traveled through barrios and towns that had been all but foreign to them before this day. This is what travelers from different lands must feel like when they discover new cultures, Sean remembers thinking. He chuckled softly at how arrogant of a thought that was at the time but he’s nothing if not a prisoner of the moment.

On one such road, bordered by high and bright yellow or blue townhouses proudly hanging the Brazilian and American flags, their car came to a stand still as children scampered across the hood like cats would while crowds of people engulfed the vehicle. It resembled a riot for a moment until the mothers, fathers, dogs, brothers and sisters all came gently crashing upon the car like waves at low tide.

With their curiosity peeked by the ocean that lay before them, Sean and Rachel braved outside of this onetime life raft into the rapids now sweeping by.

Every year this particular town has an Apple Fair, or Cider Festival, whichever they feel like calling it that particular Fall, to celebrate the successful harvest of the seven orchards in town. In such a small place you would think that rivalry would make such cohabitation impossible, but not in Belfast.

Sure, there was the occasional jab over a bad batch of golden delicious and a retort over whose store sold more Dutch Apple Pies but this was all exchanged on a porch with seven old men on seven swinging chairs sipping seven glasses of Apple Whiskey.

It was a world that felt alien and familiar all at once for the couple back then. They’d never seen such an organic, near effortless gathering in all of their short lives. The stands, banners, booths chairs… All looked as if they were plucked from living rooms in the surrounding houses like a friend had thrown a small stone on  a window and asked their neighbor if they could borrow a seat. The entire town must have been out. The farmers, the bankers, the clerks, the day-laborers all came together in grace and gratitude over what the harvest had brought and every year they would continue to every year until the harvest had no fruit to speak of. If that ever did happen though, Sean thought, they’d probably still gather at the diners, cafes or bars to discuss their fulfilled lives in all of its simplicity.

“I want this,” he thought, “she wants it too, I’m sure.”

They made their way through the crowd at a snail’s pace, trying not to offend or trample anyone. From stall to stall they travelled eating popcorn, fries, candy apples and the occasional glass of hot cider to warm their souls like the sun would once it peaked out from the clouds. That is of course before the sun laid its head onto the lush green pillow made of the apple orchard spanning the horizon.

Sean felt the now brisk wind carrying scents of crushed dead leaves to his nose. In the distance he recognized the smell of campfires starting in the cold fall dusk. Music began to play to softly put the day to rest.

Rachel’s ears perked and her mind raced to find where the noise was coming from. Not soon after her feet followed point as she took Sean’s hand and hurried in the sound’s direction. Her dress was flowing in the breeze and he couldn’t care less about where she was taking him. The rest of the world could have disappeared for all he cared because in his sight only the vision of Rachel appeared crisp and clean, with all else being a vague blur.

They pushed through the crowd, gently nudging people as the backs of their heads began to slide out of the way like stalks of wheat being brushed aside. As the last stalk moved a half dome amphitheater revealed itself like an oyster rising from the ocean, emerging as the sea foam worked itself down the ridges and slopes.

Inside the clamshell a band was beginning to play. The bassist, a small woman whose instrument dwarfed her was finishing tuning the near comically large bass. She twisted and plucked, and twisted and plucked until just the right tone was evoked. Then, without knowing her amplifier was turned on, she got an impulse, a spark to play something. Blissfully unaware of her audience she played a line for herself, something that would make her smile. She’d never practiced it nor knew where it came from, it was of the moment and simply something fun to do while no one was looking. The crowd erupted in applause and fanfare. Realizing that she had given them a taste of something no one else had heard, a glimpse into her fancies, she stopped. She was thoroughly embarrassed but mostly bashful. Off to the side the guitarist clapped before walking to her with a smile and a hug.

Sean couldn’t hear what he asked the bass player but his lips seemed to read, “Ready?”

Like thunder rolling through the clouds, the first note of the night echoed off the columns of trees that surrounded this natural auditorium. One after the other, note-by-note, songs filled the air with more jubilation as the sky was set aflame. The clouds were napalm that in flashes drifted a transient type of ballet from north to south. Whatever it was, if the music was singing a farewell lullaby to the day or announcing the coming night didn’t matter to Sean. He and Rachel sat atop a knoll overlooking the clamshell and the small sea of people it rose from.

The lights flickered on as shade began to overcome the night’s sky.

To complete the moment, with jazz vibrating in the air and the grass under Sean turning blue then black, he rested his head onto Rachel’s.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you too,” she replied.

His heart went aflutter and his eyes began to glisten at how perfect the moment it was.

“Shining eyes,” Rachel whispered into his ear when she saw his face.

“Perfect,” he thought.

            As fast and as vivid as this memory had come it then dripped away.

Candlelight turned to street lamps, grass to asphalt, trees to buildings and so on and so forth. Once more, he was walking with Mike and Julie on Sunset Boulevard in their journey to safe haven.  

            “I was happy then,” he thought. “Maybe I’m happy again? Who knows? What’s happiness but a fleeting impulse that’s compared to the past? And just like anything that spends its time in the routine it’s bound to fall by the waist side when compared to nostalgia. “

            Sean was once again sad. Like many times before, he had ruined a moment, beautiful and temporary, with his busy mind.

            He walked further, not saying a word to the other two. Sean didn’t want to give them that rare glimpse into his mind.

            “Smoke?”

Sean turned to where the proposition came from. There stood Mike, exhaling the first drag of a cigarette and holding another out for Sean.

“Thanks,” Sean said.

One deep breath and a long exhale seemed to be exactly what he needed. Sean took a fresh breath, made so much sweeter by the filthy one before and cleared his head. He blinked twice and stretched his neck.

“I’m hungry,” he said.