In the mornings the big house smelled of ocean air, cool shadows in the hallways, a chill to the couches and chairs not sat in since the night before; his older sister’s book lying open on the alcove’s cushion. The sun soon to chase away the comfort of quiet dawn. Before the house awoke, before parents rose for morning showers, before his aunt’s pancakes and cousins who liked video games, the boy would ride his bike. Down sandy streets and sidewalks shaded by beech trees, the boy on his bike that was his for the week, would pedal to the bakery in the shopping-center nearby. The damp air breezing on his bare arms and legs always felt kinetic, fresh, a harbinger of the heat to come; cool shadows fleeting post-dawn. He’d buy himself a bagel, an orangejuice and newspaper, and pedal back to the families’ rented beach house where he’d sit, at the table in the screened-in porch, to eat and read. Sometimes his mother would join him, with her eggs and tea and magazines. They’d eat quietly: the boy, annoyed by her presence, kept his wishes padded with silence. Then, for a few hours, he’d lie on his towel in the sand beside his parents and sister and cousins, listen to music and sleep. He’d swim in the sea with his father, and watch from a distance the girls who bathed in the wake. The boy had seen pictures of Ibiza and Corsica: in the late-afternoon’s drowsy heat he’d shower and feel himself ache: Daydreams of midnight seasides, conspiring liberties, they’d sneak from her window and creep the beaches with soft kisses and laughter only heard by the moon.
We used to make campfires out of sticks, bonfires out of pallets and the couches we’d find left behind in the clearing in the woods. A long dirt trail seven miles back, far removed from the indolent suburban roads. This is where we roamed under starlight. Midnight, the blackness viscous between the trees. We backed-in pick-up trucks in four-wheel drive and let the stereos play till their batteries died. We sucked down beer, we sucked down laughter, we built up our dreams in the mud of the clearing. We collected hickies on our necks, bruises on our arms and poison ivy on our groins. We jumped from the cliffs, swam clear across the reservoir chasing moon-silver ripples ‘cross the water. I pitched us a tent and only brought a single sleeping-bag, just to leave you with no other choice. We fell asleep by the dying fire-side chatter. Gentle breathing on my chest; your hair roasted in the smoke of cedar wood burning. I would have married you then. Laid a bed of moss in a cool den of willows, and made you my wife. We were seventeen. School taught the thrill of insubordination; rebellion was risk-free. Bliss was found in Yoohoo bottles and Taylor ham sandwiches for mornings hungover. And whenever the adult world seemed to press down, we’d retreat to our clearing in the woods. We’d haul back beer, shouting and singing. When they weren’t looking pulling you down in the backseat, quick to kiss tits and lips. And when the sun went down, we’d let the bonfire burn a week’s worth of our sins. I remember best the lasting form of the fire, the twists and jumps of the flames that appeared more physical and honest than the houses and streets we’d fled from. We didn’t watch the news, and didn’t watch the movies, but off in those dark woods we’d hear the bombs quietly bursting. Thud. Thud. Thud. And the fire would crackle, retrieving our attention and the CD would recover from its skip. Merriment. Booze spilled down your tits and a hard-on you grabbed through my pants.
I wandered through the woods on my own that final night. And what I found in the viscous black was a wind that sucked out my breath.