Saturday, May 1, 2010
Dark Section by Dennis E. Bolen
Far as I know we never knew each other before that moment whenever the hell it was but it is known that Bill—the guy writing notes—died 1988 of AIDS in San Francisco. There was a dark section in his history but his sister sent a note to the reunion so we know what happened. The guy next to him, Al, worked his dad’s quarter section outside Estevan until a tractor rolled on him so now he hobbles around and manages an apartment building in Regina.
That’s me in the middle, you all know my story. Goofy Sandor to my left went into accounting but tossed it to make zillions in the tech boom, lost it, then made it back. He had me down to Miami last year after our get-together and we tooled around the Keys in his Tollycraft 53. Had my own cabin. Cooked in the gourmet galley. Tended the best-stocked boozebar I ever saw. But all those women. Too young for one thing. And too many. I mean you get to a certain age.
Out on the end Roy of course had those wives and lost all his real estate then came up with some kind of internet spamscam and got sued by several governments the world over. Last time anybody saw him he was going by another name—funny enough there’s a dark section in my head—I can’t even remember his real one.
But one thing distracts me looking at this blurry moment from so long ago. It’s the reflection in the windows above us. An opposite-bound train. Oblivious though we were, there we stood smirking at a kind of crossroads. It wouldn’t have made any difference to us. I know now as I did then that we would never have thought to go any direction than together.
Big Men’s Uniforms by Bonnie Nish
They had plans in their big men uniforms. Big plans; beer and poker at the back of the bar car, if they didn’t get carded. Who would card a guy in uniform anyway? It was unconstitutional. One by one they left the bright sun to board, leaving behind the town which they never felt did them justice somehow. Parents who couldn’t see beyond the great divide that was the sign on the highway out and the cemetery that was the locked door in. They were leaving no matter what, even if it meant a burial at sea or a bullet through the head on some foreign beach. They made a pact to one another never to look back.
Unbeknownst to them, these five best friends from public school became the nameless billboard for the good times of war. Caught on a passing photographer’s Polaroid, this moment was plastered on city buses in a place none of them had ever even been. Their smiles and easy going manner made thousands of other boys want to grow up and become just like them. Suddenly every boy over the age of 12 wanted to leave behind their families and dogs and baseball teams and go off to kill some evil enemy. Only that evil enemy had a gun and a tank and didn’t think twice about killing a mamma’s boy.
If only these friends had known what was in store for them, they would have shouted at the top of their lungs, not to do it, not to go. They would have told them not to leave their mother’s embrace and the warmth of their beds. The horror of the trenches, the smell of death, knowing it is ending even before it began, well they would have made a different pact. They would have thought again before heading to the back of the bar car. They would have hugged their mothers longer and taken the dog for one last walk. But then again maybe it is best they didn’t know. After all they had their plans in their big men uniforms. They had their smiles and the moment of ordering that beer and never being asked for identification. They were men!
Smaller, Prouder by Forrest
A photo kept man to man by the occasion a missed birthday is celebrated, having survived a tornado, two Midwestern floods, one very angry conversation, and now it’s being used as a coaster by Anselm’s daughter. I want to talk to her—nothing else but that. Anselm has me let it go. Time for blowing out Bobby’s candles. His cake sits a few days short of nineteen and we still recognize it as ours: broken neck during a drill, not long after Peterson snapped us at Central Terminal. We all looked at his camera better then. A world of boys off making our smaller wars. Not so proud, I had thought. The daughter shakes the water off sheepishly without a word, dismisses herself outside to the patio with her ladyfriends. They have a fresh round of pink champagnes. Guess we don’t command much flair, fellas, Peterson tries salvaging, as I hand the photo to Fitz with the first slice of Bobby’s cake that I can muster.
A Few Extra by Bill
Before this one there was a picture of Russell, who was my mom’s uncle, sitting in a chair in his officer’s uniform with a dachshund on his lap, but I don’t know these guys and need to look closer to see they aren’t guys, not yet. Or I can’t tell, just like can’t tell what year that bus is from. And this is the only one of them, of these kids in the stack in my hand, taken from the box at a yard sale where I’m buying back pictures of my family from a stranger.
Russell had a mustache, a good old boy like Lancaster, and he draped his left leg over his right and looked like he was always going to look from that moment on. The dog seems to like the attention. They have a frame too of another photo of his, a bust shot of head, shoulders, the cap pushed back just a bit to knock off the shadow on the forehead. The frame is a billfold with the facing pane the notice from ’44, but that was an earlier photo the air force used.
They want a quarter each for the photos but $5 for the frame so I can take it home and stick it in a drawer. There is another picture of a kid standing beside a wall covered in ivy and I take that one too and another single pane frame for a buck. These kids by the bus and the kid with the ivy we’ll probably hang on the wall.
Putting it Back by Beth
Her favorites are the ones with flashes of light, like this, with the sun shooting off the bus’s window. In another, a pregnant woman in a dotted dress holds something she must have moved quickly: cupped in her hands, the light tinders, flares.
The room is small and off the kitchen. For another family, it could have been a mud room, or a walk-in closet, or even plumbed to be an extra bathroom, something useful. She keeps the door closed to company, but when she goes in she opens the curtains to the row of icicles, gleamed and dripping.
She's stacked the pictures in shoeboxes, tied them with twine. On each is a piece of an index card labeled “Luggage” or “Garden Hoses” or “Fur Coats”, “Dogs’ Collars” or “Adventure Books” or “Fishing Trophies”. “Rhinestone Sunglasses”, “Crocheted Blankets,” “Costume Jewelry”.
The night of the fire had been humidity waiting to break, the stream running high, frogs calling from tree to tree. She woke first, to the campfire smell, the smoke rolling low over their beds like fog through the islands. She had dreamed it many times before, many times since, the slow-motion burn, the what-to-take. She didn’t take anything.
The Warning Track of Summer by Alan
Late August always brought with it a kind of post-supper glow. Though everybody was about to go somewhere, the leaving we took was slow. Our bellies were full, our hearts were leashed, and our minds were on fire. This was the way it went every year. This is the way I remember it.
There’s not much else I can say about those days. We were thirsty for starlight’s drip because we believed we could catch anything with our tongues. We believed we were pioneers when we stared at treetops at three a.m. We were formed by a kind of unconditional love that only a few feel - mostly boys, sadly. And this is what shaped our future relationships. This democracy. This recess. This at bat. This swing. That fly ball shooting way past the warning track of summer. We watched it fly straight out of the park and into the atmosphere. And, god, did we want to follow it. This was the start of all things beautiful that will eventually pass. That should pass. That pass whether we like it or not.
There were a few who stayed, of course. It’s hard to leave something this good. Even if it broke their mother’s backs (instead of their hearts), they stayed. They stayed. And we left. Sort of.
Boys by Johanna
He was always writing in that book. Sitting across the table at the diner, he scribbled in that book with crinkled brow, each stroke of the pen stabbing at the pages, filling them up with inexplicable urgency. I wanted to slap him hard with my extended palm across the flat plain of his cheek. Sometimes, while on break from working the line at the factory, he would smirk while scrawling down seemingly genius ideas in that book. His pen couldn't move fast enough for him as I chocked on my cigarette. I daydreamed about putting my butt out on that book, watching it burst into flames. I laughed maniacally. On the weekend, cruising down a back road, the windows rolled down on the Packard, Glen Miller Band blaring from the stereo, his pen caressed the pages of that book with whimsical grace while his up-curled lips revealed a wondrous world inside his head gushing out through his letters. I wanted so much to swipe that book from his hands and kiss his smiling mouth while speeding dangerously through dense forests.
One day, while he was in the shower, he carelessly left that book out on the bed-stand. I finally had my chance to open it up, read the secret passages that consumed him. Lifting the leather bound pad, I sniffed at the cover, ran fingers over the soft pages. Then, I shut it and shoved it inside the drawer. That was when I realized my greatest fear, not that those pages would finally affirm how much he despised my presence, but that there would be no mention of me at all.
Boys to Men by Nicole
I am not a boy in the picture. I am from the outside looking in. I am thinking this could be my grandfather but it isn’t. However some of the boys or all of the boys were eventually grandfathers to someone. Or maybe no one. Maybe one was gay but didn’t say it to the friends standing there in the 40s. I am thinking it is the 40s. Not now; then. I like that the bus seems to be chrome or silver in this interpretation: in my creation of the story. I notice the one who is reading and writing. The one with the photo and the pen in his hand. Is it a checklist? Is it a To-Do or the writing of an address? No No. It’s a photo of him with a girl and maybe he is signing I love you. See you soon. I’ll miss you. I will never forget you. What was it that he wrote to the woman taking the picture? If only I could know. If only I could see in. They appear not more than 18 when they left on this day in the photo. Did they come home men with amputated limbs, holes in the heart where love once lived? I assume they had too many experiences imprinted in their brains of the many things they never ever spoke about. They lived a lifetime of silence because of the war because of the images left to haunt them. The ones of the one who didn’t return and the many others reasons that turned these boys into men.
Photographic Memory by Lyle
In that instant I took the photo, the sun came out and the glint from the train blinded me temporarily. I closed my eyes and lowered my Spotmatic. They laughed at something and then a train pulled out of the station on the platform next to ours, deafening me with its blaring horn blast. Fumes coughed up out of the locomotive formation and swung down in the breeze along the platform. I disappeared for a moment in a state of sensory depravation and I knew at that instant I wouldn’t be coming home. I remember that thought as I look at the photo so many years later. That glint brings on the same thoughts ending in sensory deprivation every time. One of the boys — Frankie — sent the photo to me. I don’t know how he found my address. Surely he hadn’t hired a PI.
When the horn stopped and I opened my eyes, the boys were still there, in the thinning, twisting mist of exhaust, but they weren’t laughing anymore. Or rather they had no expressions. They scintillated, phantasmagorically, all looking off in different directions.
Another horn blast shimmered through the air just as I opened my mouth and said, I’m through. We boarded the train shortly after. That’s the last thing I remember from this photo.