Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm back, baby!

This one's for you, JK. I made you this in hopes of you making me a mixtape like you said you would.

It's called . . .

Golden Hour

She must’ve caught something on the wind; raising her head suddenly from sniffing the earth, then bolting straight up the hill through pines and bare deciduous trees. Jake whistled and shouted after her. “Hey Babe! Get back here!” But she was gone, burned away in the bright glare of the setting sun. Following her lead - the dirt and dead leaves kicked up by her sprint in the orange and brownish patches of the forest floor where the sun lay, the dashed prints in the snow beneath the towering elder pines where the light couldn’t reach – Jake walked on, abandoning the established trail for the crow’s-flight path to the summit. All around him the forest yawned and faintly stretched, drowsy still from the crippling winter past. Solid boughs bent beneath a vanished weight. Nerves wrung from the shock of any icy pain; worse yet, its sudden departure. From his pocket, Jake pulled the teaberries he’d picked on the bank of the road and popped a few into his mouth, spat out a piece of lint.

Probably he’d find the dog sniffing around the base of some moss-covered snag, looking up at him with cocked head; or maybe half-under some briar patch, ass in the air, pawing furiously at the ground. Something imperceptible to him, but madly tantalizing to the her – a piquant scent weaved into the wind, a phantom stick snap. Before a birch tree, he paused and with his pocketknife cut off a little twig and put it behind his ear. An icy breeze sidled past him and with a shudder he recalled the last time she’d run off. Just hope I don’t end up pinning her down by the neck again; took all night to get all those quills out, he thought.

Atop the hill was a succinct clearing Jake had almost forgotten about where a dozen or so whitewashed gravestones squatted slant and scattered about the clearing, their engravings long ago eroded to anonymity. Here at the crest Jake had half-expected to find Babe sitting and waiting for him, but she wasn’t. Neither was her trail. The ground in the clearing was muddy and undone from the thawing of the permafrost. Every mark in the earth that resembled one of her paw prints could’ve been where a chunk of ice had sat just that morning but had since melted, leaving a paw-sized crater in the soupy ground. She must’ve gone straight through and down the other side of the hill. Jake called her a few more times to no avail. Having left his watch at his parents’ house on their coffee table, he looked down at the shadow of an obelisk: it was getting on towards suppertime.

Don’t be gone too long, he recalled his mother telling him as he left; makin’ my vegetable soup for supper – punctuated by the clap of the old screen door.

Jake stood in the near-center of the clearing, arms akimbo, indecisive. A cardinal, all the more red against the indigo sky, flashed overhead then alighted on the branch of a tree that stood amongst the opposing wood line. Seemed as good a sign as any to go in that direction to find the dog. He had about an hour left of daylight, though, so he sat on a limestone effigy of an open Bible to smoke a cigarette. See if the dog wouldn’t just find him first.

Winter was about through, he could feel it, could see it dripping off the branches with their sprouting little green buds. As he smoked, he closed his eyes and listened to the silence of the still forest. Common birds chirped and sang their common songs. In the far off mountains clamored the dynamite blasts of the small town’s heartbeat – a din he’d only noticed after he quit the hamlet for the busy city life. But of the dog, there was not a sound. How far off could she have gotten by now?

The ersatz satori achieved by the occasional cigarette never came; he was weary with hunger and getting cold as the day’s warmth left with the sun. Briefly he considered leaving the dog behind; she knew her way back home. But then the tinny sound of her distant bark drew his attention to the opposing wood line where the cardinal still danced from branch to branch. Then she came running out of the woods a few feet still twenty or twenty-five yards from him barked twice and took off back into the forest. Jake stood up, flicked his cigarette into a mound of muddy snow. “Alright, Babe, I’ll play along.”

It had been a while since Jake had been this deep in the other side of the woods. Not since he’d went hunting with his dad, before Babe was even born, and her mother, Baby Cakes, was the family’s dog. On this side of the hill the trees stood closer together so the sunlight was sparser and the air was colder and the ground was carpeted with small beads of icy snow. He walked briskly and kept his eyes fixed ahead of him, looking out for her copper flashes, his breathing set to the cadence of the crunch underfoot. Though he’d once again lost sight of the dog, he knew where he was going. At the bottom he’d reach the reservoir where as a child he’d spent his summers swimming and his winters playing hockey. Remembering the birch twig behind his ear, he put it in his mouth and chewed on the waxy bark. Just ahead beyond the trees he could see where the field opened once again. Commenced in golden sharpness, he might’ve recalled aloud.
It was then as he quit the forest that Jake saw the dog again. She was manic running laps around the green chainlink fence surrounding the reservoir’s pool.

“Hey Babe, c’mere girl!” Jake shouted. He put his thumb and index finger to his lower lip and whistled, and the dog turned and looked, but did not come. Standing on her hind legs with her front paws through the holes in the fence, she let out a loud, urgent bay - a sound Jake had never heard her make before, an arresting sound that for a moment stilled his heart. He ran to the fence and the dog jumped back on all fours to join him.

The birch tree twig fell from his mouth. Beside him the dog barked and jumped at the fence. Jake recognized him at once: it was Ryan Dull, the boy who lived down the street from Jake’s parents’, blueskinned and struggling lethargically in a hole broken through the fissured ice. Without a moment’s hesitation, Jake pulled off his boots, mounted the fence and – a habit his father had never been able to break him of – pinched his nose and jumped into reservoir. A pain like electrocution shot straight to his bones as he broke through the ice and into the water, leaving Babe barking on the other side.

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