Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring Break, Part One: Big Dumb Bobby

Part One
    The sun was setting over First street when Bobby made a decision in his head. He was walking with Sarah and me down the street on a breezy and almost warm evening during the spring break of our freshman year in high school. Not one of us were going anywhere for spring break, nor had we really grasped that we should probably do something out of the ordinary during these days of idleness. We were walking down the sidewalk without a plan for what we would do in an hour much less the next day or the day after that.
    "That's a hairy rug." Bobby pointed out, inanely, a doorway rug hanging half way off of the curb of a Baptist church. 
    "Move your hairy muff!" I yelled without thinking and kicked the rug the rest of the way off of the step. I looked over at Sarah with a smile.
    Her face was wrinkled. She tried to grimace at me, but she could not hide that she was slightly amused by my outburst. "You're so weird." She laughed with a faint breath.
    Something must have sparked in Bobby's mind a moment after that. He must have suddenly realized that these moments we were encountering, of idle freedom from our pedagogical training and parental concern, were finite. Spring break is only a week long. "What are we going to do this week?" he asked because he did not know the answer yet. 
    "I'm trying to impress Sarah." Would be what I would have told him if Sarah was not there. Both Bobby and I grew up with Sarah. We lived on the parallel and perpendicular and serpentine streets near each other. We found each other to be friends by proximity before we knew what was to really find someone. "Who cares!" Is what I actually yelled with a sustained cadence. I paused for a moment in a solid and crouched stance, one arm against my thigh. My hand was fanned out against the cheek of my face to echo what I had yelled against the sides of houses and the hills beyond and the sky above us in all its colors and hues, subdued or profound depending on where one is. There is always a right place to finally respect the need for a silent moment. 
     The sun wasn't setting anymore. It was, as it is now, sunset.
     "It's spring break. We have to go back to school on Monday. We should do something cool." Bobby said with slight frustration, walking ahead without looking back at us. 
     Sarah was walking ahead of me, after I had stopped both of them with my statuesque outburst. I touched her shoulder when I caught up with her. She brushed it away. "What do you think we should do?" She asked Bobby, who was stumbling ahead of us down the concrete side walk slabs laid on a street that outdated our births. With every step or wheel that passed over that broken and forgotten street the cement eroded back to consciousness the train tracks they had long ago covered, so close to the flowing pollution of the river. This water was our home. 
    There was only the sound of our footsteps and breathing in the waning light.
    Sarah had begun to fill in as a woman by this time. Her breast had begun to swell slightly under her Sid and Nancy t shirt. I didn't know anything about Sid and Nancy at the time, but I still found the t shirt cool and I thought it made her more sexy. A young bosom clothed with a reprint t shirt of the movie poster for "Sid and Nancy." A drama about dumb adolescent punks in London based on real human beings. That Sex Pistols bass player who fell in love with a crazy loud mouthed groupie, then eventually -probably- killed her, and soon after overdosed on heroin in the seventies. 
    "I really like your Sid and Nancy shirt." I said after the three of us had walked in silence for a few minutes, inevitably heading home for dinner, since our parents were home; maybe even waiting for us. 
    "Thanks." She said as if it were an impulse to accept any compliment she received with a practiced sound byte. I looked at the ground as we continued walking quietly.   
     The silence had given Bobby time to ruminate the quandary he purposed vocally and was continuing to consider mentally. An answer, a solution to a question that he was taking much more serious than I was at the time. "I know what we should do tomorrow." He finally said. All three of us stopped and Bobby turned around to face us with a smile. 
     "Well what is it?" Sarah said with an unexpected shortness, an almost rudeness in her tone. Her left arm was draped across the front of her torso and her right arm was pushed forward, slightly, elbow bent in a nearly ninety degree angle. 
    The annoyance in her voice startled Bobby, because his face went blank. His thoughts so shortly ago organized and tidy seem to have crumbled. His young unfocused mind was trying to grasp the right subject of thought as random thoughts and subject caromed between his ears. Preston Blair. Non-Euclidean Geometry. Bare legs. American History. Mountains and rivers. Staged plays. Portrait. Dancing. Stages. Dinner. It's dinner time, I guess. Another minute of quiet. Walking. Say something. You need to say something.
    "We could go to the abandon construction site on the South side of town." He said. 
    "What are you talking about?" I said, mimicking Sarah's annoyance, feeling an irrational urge to gang up on Bobby with her. 
    "Over passed the river, passed the Wea Valley. 231 intersects with 25 heading towards Shadeland. There is a foot path that leads toward the train tracks. Out there, in the middle of nowhere, some commercial builders decided there was a space of land that would be perfect for wealthy home owners who wanted nature and privacy." Bobby finally said with surprising lucidity.
    "Shit." Sarah said. "I've never heard of that." The frustration in her voice had melted away. She sounded legitimately interested.
    "Alright. What's your point?" I said holding on to my bullying tone. He was desperately trying to sell to us, Sarah and I, the rigid world of modernity seized again by the nature of a world larger than ourselves. "What are we going to do there?" I asked. I inexplicably grasped Sarah's hand and, surprisingly, she returned my grip and held my hand as we waited for Bobby's answer.
    "I don't know. Just, like, explore." Bobby answered. "What else do you have planned?" 
     Sarah looked over at me. "Yeah, it will be fun."
    "Awesome!" Bobby said happily. "You guys meet at my house at nine tomorrow."
    Sarah let go of my hand and said "Alright." She started walking away from Bobby and I towards her house. "I'll see you guys tomorrow morning"
    "Yeah." Bobby said.
    I stared at her silently for a moment as she walked away and then finally echoed Bobby. "Yeah."

    It was windy and much colder than the day before. I walked over to Bobby's house. Sarah had not arrived yet, so I circled around the block, trying not to look as though I was eager to be in only Bobby's company. I had worn my black hooded sweatshirt and flipped the hood over my head, shielding my ears from the erratic gusts that pushed against me at every corner. Staring at my feet as I walked, I suddenly heard a familiar voice almost yell my name.
    I looked up and realized I had nearly run into Sarah and Zeke. "Oh." I said stopping my gait abruptly, nearly tripping over my own feet.
    "Zeke asked if he could come along." She told me.
    Zeke and Sarah were locker neighbors in high school. He was a nervous little kid and slightly effeminate. Sarah and he talked to each other all the time and Zeke liked her very much -too much in my opinion- but she made it clear with her actions if not her words that they were and perpetually would be only friends.
    "Hey." I greeted them with a monosyllable. I stared at both of them for a moment, then stepped in for a hug with Sarah. I watched Zeke's face for his reaction. He turned away with subtlety and pursed his lips as we embraced.
    "Good to see you too." Sarah quietly laughed.
    "So where are we going?" Zeke asked, sounding mildly annoyed.
    "You didn't tell him?" I addressed Sarah, wanting to ask why he came at all if he didn't know where we were going. Without waiting for an answer I said. "To an abandon construction site outside of town. We're going to have an adventure."
    "Oh. Is that why you wanted to borrow my mom's car?" Zeke turned, squinting suspiciously towards Sarah.
    "His mom carpools to work so her car was available. I'm a pretty good driver and if we follow the speed limit we shouldn't have any trouble getting pulled over."
    All of us were under sixteen.
   "I figured it would be quicker to get there, or at least get closer to the site, then if we rode our bikes or walked." She was wearing a mischievous blushing smile.
    I tried to mirror that grin while looking into her eyes. "Alright."
    Bobby walked out of his house wearing a blue Jansport backpack inflated to its maximum girth. Standing in the driveway, we all turned to face him. "Hey guys. Hey Zeke, you joining us?"
   Zeke turned to Sarah without answering Bobby. "How far away is this?"
   "Not far." Bobby answered, walking towards us."Where are you guy's hiking bags?"
   "Hiking bags?" I asked Bobby, but really myself.
   "Bobby, guess what." Sarah said, her smile still beaming. "Zeke let us borrow his mom's car."
   "None of us have a license." Bobby said, still walking towards us with a smile. A gust of wind pushed him to one side and he skipped a small step, catching his balance.
   "I'm a really good driver, so it won't be a problem." She started walking towards him. "I figured the less time it took to get there, the more time we would have to explore."
   I started to trail behind her towards Bobby." Yeah, we definitely want to have as much time to explore as possible." Had I intended for that to mean specifically Sarah and I, sneaking off alone, exploring each other as well as our surroundings? Maybe. Somewhere in my young mind, probably.
   "It's pretty cold out today." Zeke announced and began walking towards the rest of us. "All I have on is this long sleeve shirt."
   Bobby stopped walking and pulled his backpack off of his shoulders. "Oh, don't worry. I packed an extra sweatshirt." He unzipped the top of his bag and pulled out a navy blue sweatshirt crumpled at the top of the bag. "It's my dad's old Bears sweatshirt. He's a Colts fan now, so it doesn't matter if it gets dirty." He handed the thread bare garment to Zeke. "I also brought snacks and water. Trail mix. It's got plenty of M and Ms in it."
   Zeke draped the sweatshirt over his head. The sleeve hung far below his fingertips. The ironed on orange and white Chicago Bears logo was peeling away from the fabric and fluttering in the early spring wind. "Thanks, I guess." He said, unable to hide the unease in his voice.
   Sarah pulled the key chain from the pocket of her tight and worn black denim jeans. "Alright, you guys ready?" She pushed the unlock button. The tan Ford Taurus beeped and blinked its headlights behind us. "How do we get there, Bobby?"

    When we parked the car in the gravel parking lot next to the train tracks, I had my arm around Sarah and her body was pressed against mine in the backseat of the Taurus. Zeke was in the front seat and Bobby was driving.
    "We're here." Bobby announced. He decided to drive in order to not have to explain the partially intricate directions in getting to this particlar parking lot. I was more than happy with the decision. He unlocked the doors from the front seat.
    We walked along the railroad track for a half of a mile or so. The woods along the train tracks were lined with prickled and bare trees.; leafless in the early spring. Areas hidden from the sun were spotted with the remaining grainy gray patches of snow from the passed winter. Bobby told us to be on the look out for a small evergreen tree to the right of the track; if we found the tree we would also find a stone tunnel dwelling forty or so feet below the tracks. It was an old drainage tunnel that allowed the flow of rain runoff to pour down towards the river passed the trees in the valley next to us. "It's big enough to walk through." Bobby said with excitement in his voice.
    Zeke was trailing the three of us on the track, staring at the ground and occasionally picking up an oddly colored rock or blunt brown shards of corroded iron, worn from over exposure to the schizophrenic nature of Midwestern meteorology. I, too, occasionally stopped to ponder those jagged asymmetrical anomalies. All of them looked rare and unfamiliar. I picked up the biggest one I could find, heavy for its size, sandy and gritty in my grasp. It was vaguely shaped like a hammer or even a rudimentary ax. Carrying my hefty chunk of rusty metal, I strolled back and forth between Sarah and Zeke. "This is pretty cool." I mischievously smiled, bounding light in foot from one wooded rectangle to the next and back again.
    "This is kind of like the movie Stand By Me." Bobby said, walking ahead of us.
    "Do you guys want to see a dead body?" Sarah said looking up at the back of Bobby's head and backpack with a blank face.
     Bobby and I giggled for a moment before we heard Zeke unexpectedly yell "Green!" He pointed to the small fir sapling to the right of him on the side of the tracks.          
     What?" I asked looking up from the primal iron weapon I was carrying. I saw Bobby quicken his pace toward the small green wisp of foreground ahead of me. Then I focused on Sarah's face and figure. Everything else was blurry: the tracks, the trees, the earth, the very little sky in my vision, Bobby, that very little green smudge to my right. The only thing in focus was her bright smiling face and her nearly Venus figure in her fleecy blue form-fitting sweater and skin tight dark gray leggings she had bought at the mall. She giggled at me. "Bobby found the tunnel."
    I slammed the bulk of metal in my hand against tracks with all my might. "Let's do this!" I yelled in glee. The sound of the rusty metal hitting the tracks rang out through the valley.
    "It's just down there." Bobby pointed down passed the hill of loose gravel before us.
    All four of us stared downward silently for a moment.
    "Um... How do we get down there?" Zeke asked without much surety in his tone.
    I jumped forward, landing sideways in the small rocks; two waves of pebbles rippled down towards the bottom of the hill; a duo of small avalanches. "It's easy." I yelled. With each step I took, a new wave of stones poured down the hill. The gravitational momentum brought me to the bottom of the hill in seconds. "See?" I said looking up at the rest of them.
    When Sarah, Bobby, and Zeke finally made it down, next to the tunnel entrance -each in their own cautious and discerning way- all of us stood staring into the depths of the stone opening; pondering our next course of action.
    "What do you guys think?" Bobby asked mildly.
    "I can see through to the other side." I noted without engaging the question.
    "I think we can make it. It can't be that far." Sarah with a confident tone.
    "Wait, why are we going through a drainage pipe?" Zeke finally asked in frustration.
    The facade of the tunnel looked like something out of Arthurian legend. It was stone and the web of knotty brown vines surrounding it looked ancient, not of this time and place. A steady flow of murky gray water poured out of it; over the cement ledge onto the wooded forest floor it's threshold faced.
    "For adventure Zeke." I chimed in.
    "Couldn't we have just climbed down the other side when we were up there?" Zeke asked.
    "Well...yeah." Bobby answered, for the first time a little baffled by the way Zeke was acting. "But when was the last time you walked through a tunnel?"
    "Yeah Zeke, this'll be fun." Sarah finally added.
    "We don't even know what's in there." Zeke exclaimed with a hint of panic in his voice.
    "I know. That's the fun of it. It's an adventure." Bobby said. "And we'll help each other through."
    Fat chance I'm helping  Zeke through this tunnel was the first thought in my head. I looked over at Sarah and she was smiling at Zeke, but she had furrowed her brow in thinly masked annoyance. I knew she was wondering how she could persuade Zeke to do what he clearly did not want to do. She wasn't going to leave him here. "Come on Zeke, we can do this." I said, mustering the most sincere tone I could manage.

    Bobby didn't bring a flashlight, but Sarah had a smartphone with a flashlight on it. We passed it back and forth, inching our way through the tunnel with feet, forearms and hands pressed to the curved walls. The flow of the water over the years left the ground of the drainage tunnel staggered with dark potholes and pools of varying and occasionally menacing depths.
    "Guys this one looks pretty deep." Bobby said pointing the light of Sarah's phone down into the black water basin beneath him. "So be careful."
    Zeke's left foot slipped off of the ledge while he hovered over the pool. He was bringing up the rear and Sarah had turned around and illuminated his path with her phone. The splash hit both her and her phone.
    "Shit!" Zeke yelled.
    "What happened?" I asked, just ahead of Sarah in the enclosed space.
    "My fucking foot slipped into the water!" Zeke yelled. His voice echoed against the walls in a deafening screech. "I knew this was a bad idea."
    Sarah handed her water streaked phone to me. "Don't worry." She said to Zeke. "Give me your hand." She pulled him up again and he managed to find his footing.
    "How much longer is this fucking thing?" He asked vehemently. "You said it couldn't be that long." He said this, I believe, to all three of us in front of him.
    "It's not that much farther." Bobby announced in a loud, even, and entirely audible tone. He was at the head of the line. He was right.
    We reached the end of the tunnel to find a metal ledge damming up the slow surge of dirt and organic material. It looked like a large entrance to a crawl space that had been neglected for decades. The dirty water trickled over the rusty arc ledge and flowed down the dark stone tunnel we had just emerged from. We stood huddled in the small hole for a moment, looking out at our new surroundings, on the other side of the track, this time from the valley up.
    "We can climb out of this. No Problem." Bobby said inspecting the ledge. He stretched his leg up and planted his foot into the mud beyond the threshold a couple inches above his waist. he began to hoist himself up with his arms grasping the thin metal wall.
    "Help him." Sarah whispered into my ear. I felt the heat and moisture of her breath and for a moment I had goosebumps.
    I pushed his other foot up toward the earthen tier he hoped to reach.
    "Thanks Jed." Bobby said and held out his hand to help me up.
    "I got this." I said, waving his hand away as I pulled myself up to ground level with my hands and arms pushing on the ledge. My right arm fluttered for a moment, as though it might give. I swung my right foot onto the edge and pulled myself the rest of the way up.
    Sarah giggled when she saw my arm almost give.
    Zeke made a spitting sound by flapping his lips with his breath.
    "Fuck you" I muttered under my breath. "How's that wet shoe?" I stood up and brushed the mud and leaves off of my damp Levi's and looked around from the slightly higher elevation: a wooded valley next to train tracks, brown leaves matting the ground, bare trees, a sky of a scattered gradient of every grey imaginable, a faint blue hue.
    "Sarah, take my hand." Bobby said, looking down at her still in the ditch of the drainage pipe. He grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her up to our level. "Zeke, do you want help?"
    "I got this." He aped me sarcastically. His foot slipped again, but Bobby caught hold of his hand and pulled up.
    "No problem." Bobby said, but Zeke lost his balance once out of the ditch and fell forward into Bobby who slipped backwards into the mud.
    "See?" Sarah said. "We made it through."   

Aaron C. Molden   

No comments:

Post a Comment