This is a story of life. This is a story about times, passages and lost.
For its late afternoon.
Some of you understand it
From your separate vantage points
And if you read this story and then read it again
You can feel life from Mark’s standpoint, see the world through his eyes
For its late afternoon. 9/17/05
OF MEMORIES AND OF LONGING
The old pot belly stove stood underneath an old oak tree. Someone had taken the time to pull it out of the destroyed cottage, drag it to the edge of the bluff and roll it off to the river bed below where it had smashed against the tree.
“Must have hit it many years ago,” Mark thought. He could see how the tree had been deformed by the impact and had grown at a funny angle as a result. “This is the place Andy, I remember the bend in the river.” However, Mark could not believe this was the same cottage he had climbed up to on a lark many years ago. He slowly walked around its remains. The cottage had only been recently abandoned when he and Terri had hiked up here many years before. There had even been a few cups in the cupboard and an old tatty chair in the living room. He remembered that he thought it must be quite nice to live up here. A nice place to drink a beer on a sunny day.
Looking around, he thought, “the old place musta been vandalized many times for it to look like this.” The roof had fallen in on one side and the wan light of the early spring morning sun shone through and lit the smashed flooring. He could see part of the basement dimly lit below. Getting on his knees and peering down, he could see pockets of snow in the shadows. Even though the ruin stood high in a meadow overlooking the Mahoning Valley, winter had been hard in this part of West Virginia and had given up its grip reluctantly. Both he and his brother had been surprised to find such large patches of winter’s coat on the hike up.
Mark could see that the basement was a haphazard jumble of broken timbers, beer cans and the like. “I wonder what else is down there?” he thought. “ I have to find a way down.”
“Hey Andy, willya look at this?”
Andy turned to his older brother, dropping the broken cup he had been examining. There had been a gaily painted pattern on it at one time. He had been thinking that it must have been a young child’s cup.
“Mark, why did we come up here? All this old junk. One of us could get hurt.” He looked around. “Hardly seems worth it.” His knee hurt from the short climb up the steep path.
Mark cut him off. “Look, you didn’t have to come. I just thought it would be fun, that’s all. I certainly didn’t expect to find this,” waving his hands. He resumed his search for a way down into the basement. “Come over here and help me,” he paused and added, “Do you remember Terri Campbell?”
Andy carefully picked his way over to his brother. “ I hadn’t heard that name in quite awhile. How could I forget? You came home from camp and it was ‘Terri’ this and ‘Terri’ that.” Of course I do. Wasn’t the camp around here some place? What was it, maybe forty years ago?” He finally made it to the spot where his brother stared down into the ruined basement. “It was a shame that she died so young.” With an effort, he got down on his knees and looked down into the basement too. “Its a mess down there.”
Mark looked over at his younger brother. “Yeah, that’s about right. It was forty four years ago.” Looking at his brother, Mark thought that it was nice to spend some time with Andy. They only lived two hours apart, but life had a way of keeping them apart. They only saw each other once or twice a year, usually at their sister Jean’s house in Scranton. Then, with grand kids running around and all their catching up, he hardly had time to spend alone with his only brother. Their other sister Ann lived in Phoenix. But now that Carol had died…
Mark looked around. Suddenly he was exhausted. He was exhausted by the climb and exhausted by the heat of the day. The sun was almost overhead. Standing up, he stood stock-still and stared at the ruins of the cottage, a lump in his throat. He was so tired.
“Yeah, Terri and I hiked up here once. We were both so young, both in high school.” Mark was a fit 62 years old. Life had worn on him well, as it had Andy. Tall and angular, Mark shared a love for the outdoors with his wife, Carol. They both had tried to stay in shape, though Carol was more of a fitness buff then he had a chance to be. Mark had planned to change that though. Through careful planning and a little scrimping, they both had planned to take early retirement and fully enjoy life. He had planned to leave work next January and Carol was going to retire the following June, after school ended. He was so proud of her. His wife, the principal. The first thing they had planned was month-long trip to Europe, their first. But Carol had fallen ill suddenly last fall and had died within a week. Mark teared up as he thought, “Life was so short.”
Andy knew what was on Mark’s mind. He had only seen his brother twice since the funeral. The last time was just a few hours at Christmas over Carol’s house. Even Ann had flown in. Andy had hoped that having the whole family together would lift his brother’s spirits, but the gaiety had seemed forced. Mark had left early, saying he had to get back to help with inventory the next day. Andy was glad Mark had called him out of the blue a few days ago and asked him to take a short trip with him.
“Yeah, I’m okay”, Mark answered gruffly. “I was just thinking.”
“Yeah. I gotta break out of this funk Andy. I know, I know you didn’t really get along with Carol but she..”
“She was okay Mark.” Andy felt he never really knew Carol. She tended to be a little aloof. Taller than Mark, with light skin and sharp features, she never seemed comfortable around the family. His wife Michelle didn’t like her at all, but Jean and Ann said they understood her. Mark’s kids had turned out nice though.
Andy stood up too. It had turned out to be a nice day, one of those spring days that were a little warm for the season. He had gotten to Mark’s house late last night after work. When they pulled out this morning for the hour drive up here, it had looked to be a dreary day. Andy opened his jacket.
“You okay?” He asked again. “You never told me why we come up here.”
“I just wanted to come up here and look for something, that’s all. I had met Terri in camp early in the week and we ‘clicked.’ We were both counselors. You know how it is.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“She was something else Andy. She could just light up a room with her smile. Somehow she saw something she liked in me. She was going to go to school out west, to UCLA. She wanted to break into TV, be a newscaster or something. She would have made it, too.” Mark looked out across the valley. It was a beautiful afternoon. “Anyway, we sneaked away from camp and ended up here. One thing led to another and .. well. Anyway we ended up wedging her locket between some bricks in the basement wall. We made a pact to come back and get it the following summer.”
Mark turned back to Andy. “I just thought I’d like to have it. That’s all. We were going to come back next year to get it, but she died and we never made it. Its down in that mess.” Mark said, pointing to the basement.
They both stood silently. Andy looked over at his brother; Mark was looking across the valley into the distance. He had pulled out a tissue and was trying to dry his eyes.
“Want me to help?”
“Yeah, I’d appreciate it. Its over in that wall.” The wall was brightly lit in the afternoon sun. The sheen of oil reflected off of the black water on the floor. “I think if I can get around this beam, I can drop down onto that step over there and work my way to it. Mark took off his jacket, “If you can hold onto one end of my jacket, we can use it for a rope.”
“Be careful, its slippery,” Mark said has he grabbed one end of the jacket and braced himself by holding onto a tree root with his other hand.
Mark headed down. He made it to the step and let go of the jacket. Soon he had picked his way to the wall.
Andy yelled down. “How you comin’? You think its still there?”
“Hope so, we blocked it in with a piece of loose mortar. It should be right about here,” Mark looked around for something to stand on. He found a broken chair and lugged it over. “Hey I’m in luck, here it is Andy!” Mark pulled out a tiny locket on a thin gold chain.
Soon, he had worked his way back to his brother. Mark was crying openly now.
Andy said, “Grab the jacket, I’ll pull you up.”
“She had called me and told me she thought she was pregnant. It was my baby, Andy. I was going to get down to her the next week, but that truck rear-ended her and she was killed.” Mark cried, “I loved her Andy, she was so young,” he said, thinking of Carol.
It had gotten cooler again. Andy buttoned his jacket and stuck his hands in his pockets. “I know, I know, he said. “Come on, let’s get back down to the car.”
It was late afternoon.
Gregory Love 6/08