The End of a Season

JJ just watched his nephews lose a soccer game.  The end of a season.  “They expected to win,” his sister said and JJ heard a voice in his head.  It was a guy named Doc the Painter from an AA meeting in Sacramento who said, “Serenity is inversely related to your expectations.”  Man, that recovery shit never leaves the brain.

A couple kids on the team cried, at least those kids with the congenital drive to win and step on the necks of kids from other towns.  Most kids seemed relieved and wore rueful smiles.  Lollipops had appeared from somewhere and JJ thought, “That was me.  I would smile and cry later, alone.  Then resent the whole thing for the rest of my life.”

His sister came over and put her arm around him, drawing him into the family.  “Well that’s over,” she said.  People were milling, saying farewell and have a good winter.  November was here, hibernation coming soon, and JJ could feel it.  The sun was warm but the breeze came from somewhere with real cold.  Like Canada.

“Aren’t you sad,” JJ asked.

“Nah,” she said.  The kids approached, sheepish but not defeated.  “It’s all in good fun.  Sports are fun.”

Not for me, JJ thought.  Never for me.  I like Wiffle Ball in the yard and football on Thanksgiving with the cousins.  I like watching on TV.  Or seeing the lights of a night game from the highway, a world illuminated as he passed in the dark, there and then gone, not too close.

“Hi, Uncle Jason.”  Nephew One said.

“Thanks for coming.”  Nephew Two said.

They came to JJ together and gave sideways hugs, one on either side, pressing their heads briefly against his ribs.  “You guys are fantastic,” JJ said.

“Coach said we’ll get ‘em next year,” Nephew One said.

“Let’s get something to eat,” Nephew Two said.

JJ bought hot dogs and sodas for his nephews as his sister talked with some other parents.  Nephew One said, “Can we come to the farm for Thanksgiving?”

Nephew Two said, “I want to play football in that side yard.  We were talking about that.  Can we do that?”

“Yes.”

“And don’t you have a turkey on your farm we could eat?”

JJ thought of his hot tub and basketball court in the barn.  He thought of the native forest he was planting in the old fields.  He thought of his lottery money and how he hadn’t thought of his lottery money during the whole game.  It was time to button up for the winter and get closer to these family people.  Thanksgiving would be a good start.

“It’s not that kind of farm.  I don’t have any animals,” JJ said.  “But we’ll definitely get a turkey.”

Moondance Part 3, The Graveyard

They reached the back of the cemetery which was surrounded by an iron fence to keep the wilderness away from the dead.  Or vice versa.  The fence was about seven feet tall with arrow points at the tops of vertical iron bars.  It looked medieval and brutal in the moonlight.  JJ and Lila paused to take it in.

“There’s an opening to the right,” JJ whispered.  He took Lila’s hand and they moved along the fence.  A fetid sweet odor rose as they neared the opening.  The grounds crew dumped the grass trimmings and grave flowers here and the moist smell of rot hung as the mound steamed in the moonlight.  They paused again.  “Have you gotten any signs yet,” he asked and squeezed Lila’s hand.

“I’m trying to ignore them,” she said.  It was colder down here and she pushed closer to JJ.  “Wow, look at that!”

JJ looked where she pointed and saw three deer in the clearing beyond the compost mound, along the fence, outside the cemetery.  They were totally still and looking at JJ and Lila, some chastisement in their tense but placid gaze.  They looked like constellations in the moonlight, eyes and white tails shining.

“Let’s get closer,” JJ said.

“No,” Lila whispered.  “Don’t move.  Give them space.”

“C’mon, let’s at least go in the gate.”  He started moving to the opening and the deer started, twitched.

“You’re scaring them, they feel trapped.”

“C’mon,” JJ said and pulled Lila toward the gate.  The deer all spun in place, looking for a way out of their graveyard cul-de-sac.  Tangled undergrowth behind, dense and impenetrable.  Iron fence on one side.  Two people approaching in the middle of the escape route.  “Stop,” Lila said and yanked JJ to a halt.

The first deer sprung nimbly over the fence into the cemetery and bolted out among the gravestones, followed by the second.  The third deer, smaller, sprung to follow and his front legs cleared the tips of the iron rungs.  But his belly came down on top of the fence and he was kicking his hind legs, panicked now and frantic.  He screeched, the sound like the air released from a pinched balloon nozzle.  He bucked and kicked, his head and fore legs tipping lower toward the ground on the cemetery side until gravity took over and he summersaulted into the cemetery and ran to follow the others.  One of the iron points glistened wet in the moonlight.

They stood gaping in the sudden silence, stunned.  “Why couldn’t you wait,” Lila moaned and moved away from JJ.

JJ stared at the spot where the deer had been stuck on the fence.  It was cold and clammy here now, the mystery gone, the shadows ominous, the anticipation of being together turned to dread.  This is how a cemetery becomes a graveyard, JJ thought.  A graveyard for possibilities.

“Walk me back,” Lila said.  The signs were not good.

Moondance Part 2, A Walk to the Graveyard

As the farm-warming party wound down, Pierre strummed and sang, “Je ne peux pas avoir juste une danse avec toi mon amour?”  Lila looked over to the fire and felt the chill of the cold shoulder from the guys over there. “They hate this,” she said to Carl’s wife, Anne.

“Yeah well, it’s good for them to see.  And it’s good for us.”  They watched JJ and Carl in the circle of firelight.  Carl reached down for a rock, showed it to JJ, and said something that made JJ smile.  Anne said, “They probably want to kill Pierre with that rock.”

Lila laughed and Anne turned back to Pierre.  But Lila kept watching JJ and Carl in the firelight.  The cold moping over there had passed and JJ was more at ease.  These days, he was able to pull out of the dark moods and be loose and funny, like he used to be.  Was it the money, the ridiculous lottery winnings?  This stupid farm that he bought?  Maturity?  What a horrible word, Lila thought.  Horrible goddamn maturity.

Then JJ and Carl were coming over and Lila thought they really were going to bludgeon this French guy and crush his little Euro guitar.  “Hey,” JJ said.  “We just came over to kick mon ami’s ass.”

“Funny,” Lila said.  “Are you having fun?”

“Yeah.  But we’re going for a walk in the woods. Do you all want to come?”

Lila hesitated and looked at Anne but Anne ignored them. Lila said, “Where did you get this French guy?”

“I thought he came with you,” said JJ.

“Are you kidding?  I’m only listening to him to piss you off.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means, let’s take that walk and leave these bums behind.”

Carl said, “I’m standing right here.”  But then he sighed, walked over to Anne and put his arm around her leaving JJ and Lila alone on the fringe.

They walked away and the night surrounded them.  The fire and the music seemed far away as they headed down the hill.  It was another dimension out here, all shimmery silver light and shadows of shadows.  People need to walk in the moonlight, JJ thought.  It’s the world in negative, a bizarro world where things can happen and time and distance are warped and stretched like Dali clocks.  JJ felt furtive and alive.

They reached the tree line and JJ said, “The back of the South Street cemetery is down this trail.  Let’s go look at it in the moonlight.”

The woods closed in and they soon reached a small clearing where they stopped and turned to each other.  Their hands joined and they stood in the moonlight, still themselves with all their history, but also new to each other, cast in this strange light.  Nature’s masquerade.

“Well,” JJ said.  “What are we going to do?”

“I’m waiting for a sign,” Lila said.

“So let’s walk to the graveyard and see what happens.”

“Ok.  I really don’t know what we’re doing.”

“We never did,” JJ said.  And they continued down the path toward the cemetery.

It’s a Marvelous Night for a Moondance

“Remember that time Benny was on crutches and had to hide in the bushes from the cops.  He couldn’t run.  He just kind of toppled himself into these shrubs…”

JJ, Carl, and their old friend Stevie D sat by the fire on JJ’s farm.  The farm-warming party was winding down.  The full moon was up and it was a big ol’ autumn moon to behold.  Some Euro hipster (Pierre?  Sven?) was playing guitar for a few of the ladies and Lila was eating it up, of course.  Carl’s wife was over there, too.  Their group sat apart, away from the fire because, according to Lila, the fire spoiled the moonlight.  The Euro started singing a familiar melody in French, “it’s a marvelous night for a moondance”.  All the girls laughed.  JJ wanted to find a rock that fit his palm and just club this guy, with his wispy beard and European ease, just club him into the ground.

Carl said, “And then we circle back and that sorry bastard is crutching down the road at two in the morning.  He was so pissed off!”  Carl and Stevie D laughed.  JJ managed a thin smile.

When JJ thought back to the old hijnks he didn’t feel the hilarity anymore.  He felt like he was entering a swamp, a wet sucking at his feet making it hard to move and releasing a reek of regret.  The capers, the pranks.  It was all fun, of course.  But it was tangled with the old feelings of being doomed and baffled.  Drunken escapades into the suburbs to drive on lawns and party on golf courses and beaches.  The cops came and you fled to another spot.  Always another spot and more cat and mouse.  JJ felt like he played cat and mouse his whole life with sadness and regret.  He would plug the hole for awhile with a girlfriend or city, then it would start oozing again.  He looked at Lila.  A surge of … warmth?  Longing for sure.  Caring, yes.  Then came the ooze of sadness and regret, the old resentments.

Carl leaned over and said into JJ’s ear, “Stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“Wallowing.”

“Whadaya mean?”

“Move forward.  Fuck the past.”

“I’m just…I think it’s time for bed.”

“Stay with me, man.  Right here, right now.”

Stevie D shambled off to find something to drink and JJ and Carl sat looking into the fire.  They listened to the singing and the laughing but JJ did not look over.  The Euro sang, “Je ne peux pas avoir juste une danse avec toi mon amour?”

“I seriously want to crush that guy’s skull,” Carl said.  He reached down and picked up a rock that fit his palm.  “This look about right?”

“Yeah,” JJ said.  “Perfect.”  He smiled, a real smile.  “I’ll get the shovel.”

“It’s not that kind of farm.”

“There were a whole bunch of US Government cars at that house down the street yesterday.  They were having a picnic,” JJ said. 

            “I’d be worried,” Carl said.  “You move in and the Feds are here in force?  There are no coincidences with the Feds.”

            “Seriously, they were playing horseshoes and Wiffle Ball.”

            “Some kind of team building thing.  Probably telling Canada jokes.”

            “Do you know any Canada jokes?”

            Carl put a finger to his temple.  “I only know the one where Canada is known as America’s Hat.”

            “So what does that make Mexico,”  JJ asked.  “America’s underwear?”

            “You know we can’t talk bad about the Mexicans.  Canadians are fair game.”

            They sat on chairs on JJ’s farm.  The barn was almost converted into an indoor basketball court.  JJ had wanted to add a hot tub courtside but the town wouldn’t allow it for some reason.  So there was a gazebo outside the house where the hot tub would go.  That was fine.  Everything would be ready by winter.

            “The farming life is not as hard as I’ve heard,” Carl said.  “When is the farm warming party?”

            “Next week.  Labor Day.”  JJ could see across the valley to the ridge on the other side, trees standing out all along the ridgeline, marching up the slope.  It was a cool evening after a hot day.  Late August in New England.  The best.

            “Who’s coming?”
            “Everyone.  Family, too.”

            “Lila?”

            JJ shrugged.  He pictured Lila walking down the hill to where they sat near the barn.  Then he saw her stalking away last spring, snow still on the ground, on the day he bought this place.  JJ had been busy since then.  He was helping grad students plant native trees.  He shopped for gym flooring and talked to contractors about eco-friendly materials.  He had friends over at night to cook sausages on the fire and look out over the valley.

            “Is Lila coming,” Carl asked.

            “We’ll see,” JJ said.

            “She’ll come.  Out of curiosity.  She wants to be around to see if you train wreck.”

            “Yeah, or to gloat,” JJ said.  “To say I told you so.”

            “Or,” said Carl.  “More likely, to pick up the pieces.  And put you back together.”

            JJ sighed, “She’s done it before, I guess.  But hey, let’s play horseshoes before you go.  I made a pit for the party.”

            “You got horses on this farm?”

            “I told you,” JJ said.  “It’s not that kind of farm.”