Dark Shadow
(© 2007 by the author)

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I was just a confused grocery boy when I found the old man.  I rushed back out to my car, grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911.


            Once the police arrived we re-entered the house.  There were still clips of snow from my boots on the front rug as we entered.  The whole city had been without electricity for the last two days, but power was restored as I dressed for work early this morning.


            The local sheriff, we all called Enis the Penis, walked into the room and the echo of his boots against the cold floor made me shiver.  He checked for a pulse, and then lifted an envelope from the frost covered man and handed it to me. 


            “It’s for you.”


            I fumbled with the envelope, finally managed to pull the letter out, and began to read aloud.


            “I’ve watched this small Illinois town blossom and wither with age like some sinister mirror taunting me through the years.  We have much in common, this town and me, but I prefer to dwell on better days.


            The word ‘Fag’ didn’t exist when I was just a young boy.  Back then, the popular and most grave insult was ‘Sissy’ or ‘Sissyboy’.  We used words like daggers back then.  It was almost a challenge seeing who could destroy the other most completely with insults before one would falter.  There were many things you called someone, even your best friend if you were feeling froggy and wanting to work up their dander for a good wrestling match, but never ‘Sissy’.  That insult was saved as the worst thing you could deliver on another person in the world.


            The summer of 1942 was hot and yet another of those seasons of drought and dread.  I spent my hard earned nickel from my paper route on a bottle of Coca Cola and sat in the dark but damp shade of the local dime-store relishing every sweet burning sip.  The rest of my meager wages were always given to my mother.  Except for the movie house on the corner, it was the coolest most comfortable place in the entire city, and where my friends and I congregated each day.


            There were rumors that old man Johnson, owner and proprietor of the local five and dime, had mountains of ice stored away in the cellar in case the Japs came.  It was this, we suspected, that made the air here so cool and sweet even on the most horrible of days.  We didn’t have air conditioning in every building a person might visit back then.  When it was hot, it was just simply that, hot, and you suffered through it.


World War II was in full swing and each morning was a test of everyone’s metal.  A select few mothers would deliver the news of your father and whether or not he had died in battle.  The couriers from the state department were shunned and had long since left that task to them.  It seemed as though the house itself breathed a sigh of relief when the women passed us by each day.  My mother always said my father was too mean to die.  Some of my less fond memories left me inclined to agree.


I hoped then that one day we’d receive word of his unfortunate demise… but… as fate would have it, my mother was right.  The miserable son of a bitch took another 30 years before he died in his sleep.  To be more precise, it was a failing liver, and the drink that finally made worms’ meat of him.  I did love my father, and to this day I still have only good things to say about the dead.  “He’s dead… GOOD!”


As the sun sat each summer day, and we returned home from our adventures, the town seemed to awaken.  Supper was prompt and never a minute past 6pm.  I think it was the daily routine that helped us all survive the worry and fears.  Then at 7pm, the town started to thrive.  We kids would go out to play while the mothers would congregate on one porch or another.  They sipped lemonade and spoke in whispers as we chased fire flies or played tag.


            We actually played outside back then.  There was none of this electronic gadgetry you have today.  A toy to us was a corn cob with a few ill gotten bird feathers shoved into the top.  We’d toss it into the air and watch it whirl down to the earth like some strange space ship.  Our minds raced with the possibilities and those golden moments stole us away from reality.  In that twirling freefall of seconds, aliens raged across the land and we battled the forces of evil.


            No matter where the flock of our mothers started, they always ended at Old Lady Prewett’s.  Her husband was a colonel in the army, and they were the only ones able to afford, and who happened to own, a radio.  Each night she would step inside and within seconds you would hear it squeal to life.  Even on the hottest days she would bring a small afghan lap-blanket back with her and perched herself in her rocking chair beside her front porch window.  The mothers would gather around, sitting on the swing or railing that wound its way around the front of her house.


            Old Lady Prewett was what we kids called her.  During the day you might see her more than ample rump gyrating about as she bent over and tended to her flowers.  Looking at her then, you would have thought of her as someone’s sweet grandmother.  Come nightfall, the shadows gave her a sinister glow and our minds twisted her into the monster we all feared. 


During these precious moments of night as they sat by the window, she watched.  Of course we kids continued to play, but it was at a distance.  It was said that she could turn you to stone if you got to close, and even I had been stopped in my tracks by one of her looks.  One stray noise, too close to their location, and her eyes seemed to search you out and burn a hole through your being. 


While my father was away, a spark erupted in me that I didn’t understand.  In health class we learned it was hormones.  I was becoming a man.  I discovered my first ‘man’ hair and showed it to my friends on a regular basis.  I was proud of what I was becoming.  That tiny tuft of darkened hair, which even I had to make sure wasn’t some lint cast remnant of the daily wash, had escalated me into adulthood and the upper echelon amongst my friends.


I was 9 years old and an early bloomer.  It was the summer of 5 cent Coca Cola, 15 cent gas, Casablanca, and when I met my first true best friend Bobby.  It’s easier to love someone who isn’t family and who you don’t have to fight nightly for your fair share of the covers.


He was new to town, an outsider, but he and I hit it off instantly.  We spent every waking hour together and then begged our mothers to spend the nights at each other’s house.  Our fathers were off to war, and I think our mothers enjoyed the time they had away from us as much as we did. Bobby was the brother I wanted and didn’t have, and the person I wanted to be, but wasn’t.


Of course, as we grew into our adolescence, we did a little experimenting.  It was nothing quite so risqué as you might read about today, but we diddled a bit.  Back then ‘diddling’ was just a helping hand for your friend, never anything more.


There were very few older boys in town.  Those that were around would barely acknowledge our existence, so sex was something we learned about more by accident than anything else.


Bobby and I signed up with the army the same day we graduated high school.  Like our fathers, we were to go off to war, though for us it was Korea.  Six months later on December 25th, 1952, at T-Bone hill, I watched as a mortar tore Bobby’s legs from his body and took away his life as though it were only a casual thought.  I held him in my arms as he stared up at me panting his last breaths.  Flashes of light lit his face like you might see at a 4th of July fireworks display.  I leaned over him, clutching what was left of his mangled body, and pressed my lips against his.  I loved him, and he loved me.  We never needed to speak the words, we knew.  While bombs exploded in the distance, and a collage of screams filled the air, I watched my true love leave this world.


There was no place for my kind back then, and I never seemed to fit in.  It was as though time had played some joke on me with each passing year.  Even in the 60’s with the mindset of free love, I seemed too old to participate. 


Shrapnel, that nearly claimed my right leg, excused me from the Vietnam ‘Conflict’ and I found a job as custodian at the local High School.  The years swept past me and I watched as each generation changed the world in their way.  Women, Blacks, and finally homosexuals each strived for their slice of the American pie.  The wars of bloodshed had ended, but not the constant conflict, or the will to fight.


I had my 75th birthday last month, though no one knows me well enough to share that information.  I’ve been trapped and tormented by time for so long I figure there must be some reason to it all, though I still wonder if I have the mind to grasp it.  I remember when minutes felt like days and an hour was an eternity.  Now, a passing hour is only a moment ago, and yesterday is so far gone I can barely recall it.


You would think that after all these years I would have some great wealth of wisdom to share, but I don’t.  Life has been as much a mystery to me as yours is to you now.  It’s time to rest, and join my sweet Bobby.  I’ve heard his voice and his cries in my mind like some growing echo until it was so loud lately, that it pulls me from my sleep at night.  Maybe… I’ve finally found my place in time. 


I guess I’ll leave you with this.  Find your time and thrive.” 


I glanced up from the letter and searched Old man Kelley’s gaze.  He seemed to be peering into the empty fire place in front of him.  Atop the mantle was a box of matches and on the floor was an untouched stack of firewood.


Posted: 12/24/07