Saturday, November 23, 2019

Rounded with a sleep

Fernando was quarterback at Naples High. A popular, dashing, but reclusive, mysterious student. He seemed to live alone. No one ever met his parents or siblings–assuming he had any siblings. 

Miranda, she of the shimmering hair and flashing eyes, was his girlfriend  Although Caliban played on the same team, as wide receiver, he was jealous of Fernando. At first resenting the fact that he was the quarterback, making Fernando the titular star player.

To make matters worse, Fernando and Caliban were both in love with Miranda. When Miranda became Fernando's girlfriend, that fueled the jealousy, but he concealed his ire.   

Fernando's home lay at the foot of a woodsy trail, with a brick gateway. The estate was enclosed by a high brick wall. Once inside, a footpath led to a log cabin on a hillside. The cabin had a balcony with a sweeping a view of the lake below. Sloping down and out from the hillside was a sprawling mossy front yard with fruit trees. On one side was a forest. On the other side a ravine with a brook that emptied into the lake. 

The estate seemed to have its own climate, impervious to seasonal fluctuations in temperature. Although the foliage underwent summery or autumnal variations in color, with the occasional dusting of snow in winter, the deciduous foliage was never denuded. Fruit trees bloomed year around while songbirds warbled year round. 

Fernando and Miranda used to walk home together after school, hand-in-hand. They hung out at his place. Before dark, he'd escort her back to her own home. One time Caliban followed them, shadowing them at a distance, to keep out of sight. Standing behind a tree, he watched them pass through the gate. After a few moments, to approach it undetected, he resumed. But when he went to the gate, it was locked. Through the grillwork he could see a footpath on the other side, but the view was cuff-off by a bend in the trail. And the walls were too smooth and high to scale.  

On one rare occasion, Fernando invited the entire team over for a post-season BBQ. They trooped down together from the high school to his house, with Fernando and Miranda in the lead. The party continued into the evening hours, with a bonfire down on the beach. Then everyone went home. 

A few days later, Caliban skipped school. He wore a backpack with a rope, grappling hook, and accelerants. He was planning to set fire to Fernando's house. But as he made his way down the trail, there was no gate. The trail continued down to the lake. No cabin, fruit trees, or songbirds. Just a narrow footpath in the forest. And the air had a frigid edge. 

Was he on the wrong trail? But how could that be? He distinctly remembered the trail. And there was no other trail. 

A few days later he skipped school again, renting a little motorboat to find the estate from the other side. But the entire shoreline was forested. No cabin on a hilltop, with a sprawling front yard. 

On graduation day, when festivities were over, Fernando and Miranda walked down to his house. That's the last time anyone ever saw them. 

Caliban was baffled. Did the estate not exist in our world? Was the gate a portal to a parallel world? Or did the estate only exist in the imagination? A phantasmagorical projection onto a real spot in space and time? 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Bound for the Promised Land

Brian woke up in the E.R. He didn't remember how he got there or why he was there. He did have a headache. 

Turned out he suffered a concussion at the football game. This was the first time he regained consciousness since the accident. Other than the headache he was quite lucid. 

His parents and younger brother Bobby were at his bedside, relieved to see him come to. Yet they weren't as happy as he expected them to be. They seemed to be hiding something.

A few minutes later the neurologist came in. He began by telling Brian that the concussion probably did no permanent damage. But Brian sensed another shoe was waiting to drop. 

The brain scan revealed an unsuspected aneurism. It may have been there for years. And the location made it inoperable. 

Brian was confused. At first he didn't register the significance of the finding. So the neurologist explained to him as gently as he could that this meant Brian could die at anytime. He was very unlikely to have a normal lifespan. He'd probably die sooner rather than later. 

It's like the hospital room suddenly went dark. The news robbed Brian of his future. All his youthful dreams snatched away. 

He counted on having a normal life. Marry his high school sweetheart. Have kids. Coach football.

But now he couldn't plan long term. How could he risk having kids if he wouldn't live to see them to adulthood? How was that fair to them? 

He didn't tell Coach about the aneurism. That enabled him to finish out the football season. Playing football with the brain aneurism was risky, but what did he have to lose? He was going to die young, anyway. 

But after that he dropped out of school. Became increasingly bitter, angry, and alienated. He had nothing to live for. Nothing to look forward to. He was just waiting for the time-bomb in his head to detonate. 

He was sullen with his parents and his kid brother. He broke off old friendships. Broke up with his girlfriend. Spent hours a day walking alone on wooded trails, brooding. Or sitting by the pond, brooding. 

He had a therapist for counseling, but the therapist could do nothing to change the situation. He didn't need happy talk bromides.

But after months of feeling sorry for himself, and not without justification, he decided that was a dumb way to spend his remaining time. If he was doomed, shouldn't he make the most of whatever time he had left rather than squandering it? Rage was pointless. 

But even though he knew what he was doing was a waste of time, he had no constructive alternative. Then he remembered the Bible a girl at school had given him. She was always witnessing to other students. Everyone made fun of her behind her back or to her face. She took it bravely, but it hurt.

He had tossed the Bible in his locker, buried under muddy sneakers. Now he took it home and began to read. And read. And read. He drank it in. He warmed up to his kid brother, which was timely because since Bobby was going through a really rough stretch and desperately needed Brian's support. 

And watching Brian engrossed in the Bible, as they sat side-by-side on the bed, made Bobby curious, since he was into whatever his big brother was into. So he started reading the Bible, too. 

Their parents were irreligious and didn't quite approve of Brian getting religion, or infecting Bobby with the virus. But they preferred Brian this way to the sullen, disaffected Brian. 

Over the next few years, Brian coached younger boys from fatherless homes. And it gave him a chance to share his discovery with them. Some weren't ready for it, but he was sowing seed.

One day Bobby went over to Brian's apartment. Went inside. It was silent. Went into the bedroom to find Brian's lifeless body upright on the bed, with a Bible in his lap. Brian dead at 23.