It wasn’t until I woke up to the sound of my cellphone ringing that I understood how much last night’s events had bothered Sam. Dully, the senses in my mind came into focus as sight focused on the white popcorn ceiling of the bedroom where I slept. I blinked, as light from my window temporary blinded my vision and felt a yawn come on as I reached out to at the nightstand. There, my phone buzzed with a name on the screen.
“Hello?” my voice sounded hoarse and drowsy. I rubbed my eyes with a fisted hand.
“Hey – are you just now getting up?” I heard Sam’s cheerful voice on the other end turn to mocking as he realized he had awoken me.
“I’m thinking of hanging up and going back to sleep, yeah.” I knew absentmindedly that I was acting rude, but that part of my brain hadn’t caught up to my speech yet. Thankfully, I heard laughter on the other end.
“It’s already ten o’clock! Don’t you and your dad go to church on Sunday mornings?”
I sighed. As far as I knew, my father and I weren’t Christian, or that was to say we had never gone to church. Uneducated as to what Sam’s religious beliefs were, I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. Sitting up, warmth escaped from under my covers that irritatingly I knew would take time to recover.
“We own a Bible, I think, but I’ve never read it,” I muttered, trying to carry two lines of thought at once. “Wait, why are you calling me!?” my next question rang loudly.
On the other line, I felt Sam sober up and his voice replied in a soft tone.
“I wanted to talk to you, and apologize again for last night.”
I pulled my cellphone away from my ear and checked the time. 10:12 AM. He had called me this early, knowing he would see me at school Monday and from our conversation the night before that I wasn’t overly concerned. It left me with a single conclusion.
Sam was anxious to talk about something that ran deeper than a simple scolding from his dad.
My own father was a little upset that I hadn’t put much effort into fortifying my stand in the whole ‘is a jigsaw puzzle worth solving’ argument. Today however, was again Sunday morning. It was a day of refreshing or so some said, and that was how I had planned to spend my day. With nothing else to do, and my father pressuring me to accomplish something, I tackled the puzzle by staring at it.
So far, the outer frame was finished but as to what it completed I had no idea. Once more, I got to work on arranging the pieces into their colors. There were a lot of bright orange, yellow and gray colors, but mostly blue. A sea, perhaps? That was my guess, but with all the other colors there was no true way to be sure. It was tedious, and annoying. But then, if I knew what I was putting together, what would be the point of building this thing? So still, determined to prove my father wrong over something unimportant, I trudged on.
After thirty minutes, I had managed to find a few clusters that fit together nicely, unaware of where they fit in the large scheme of things. While doing so, Sam’s explanation replayed itself with as much detail as I could remember.
“I just wanted to say, it’s stupid to be calling you – this is none of your business after all. I just needed you to know that my dad wasn’t mad at you, my friend. He was angry with me, and it was my fault. I shouldn’t have had you over.”
It was the way he sheepishly laughed it off, that I found peculiar. As though he was telling me a funny story, and that I wouldn’t believe the punch line. But then what he said, still in that tone, wasn’t all the humorous at all.
“See, this all started way back, a couple years ago actually. My grandfather passed away. No, no need to apologize. And if you’re going to, you should put a little more earnestness into it. I’m kidding I’m kidding! Anyway, being serious. Basically, my dad goes to visit my grandfather once or twice a week, usually on Saturdays. And, he wants me to come with him. Where?”
I picked up a puzzle piece that had a distinct red in it, and placed it with another like it.
A perfect fit.
“Crestlawn Cemetery. You know, the one we walk by on the way to school? Yeah, he’s buried out there. Anyway, my dad goes to give him flowers. I would go with him often. But, lately, I just can’t. I mean, I just feel – well I feel like I need to move on. Do you understand what I mean?”
Truly, I didn’t. No one had ever died in my family that I knew of well. On my father’s side, both my grandparents were alive, and the distant cousins I never knew. On my mother’s side, well, I guess I wasn’t sure how they were doing. But my grandparents on my mother’s side were alive regardless.
Besides that, letting go had always been easy.
“Cool, you see what I mean then. My dad, he keeps going. And I’ve had a hard time telling him. Or, I tried to, but I don’t think he understands. Yesterday I told him that I couldn’t go because I had homework, and instead I had you over. So, I needed to apologize, man. I didn’t mean to get you mixed up in that. Boy my father was mad!”
The musings of Sam didn’t last too long, and after that we exchanged some small talk. What feelings Niles must go though, losing his father? Perhaps, he thought about the future and when his time would come. Did he want Sam to visit him the same way? Or would he want him to remember him in heart? Did he believe going to a gravesite meant more?
My father had never instilled any beliefs of an afterlife. I wasn’t sure of the whole concept of heaven, or reincarnation or being a ghost. Niles must have been a religious man, taking respect for the dead seriously.
With me though… I figured dead is dead. Even living people sometimes go away and never come back.
That’s why I told Sam, if he felt strongly about letting his grandfather go, he should do it.
“Yeah? Yeah…” And it was the only time where Sam didn’t seem cheerful. Underneath he was struggling to come up with an answer. “Thank you, Austin. I think so too, and that means a lot. Uh huh, I know I’m ruining your precious Sunday, I’ll leave you to your napping. Later!”
Before me, various pieces and clusters of the puzzle lay incomplete. For that moment, it felt overwhelming. Highly doubtful, that it would ever come together.
Monday lunches were a hit or miss. Surely the lunch staff’s quality of school food depended on how the quality of their weekend. If their days off went poorly, the food suffered. Staring at the glob of green and brown on my plate – green and brown beans with a stale piece of pork – it could only be assumed that it had been a bad couple days off.
Laughter and shouting erupted in the cafeteria, making noise. The sounds bounced off one another and grew as more teenagers entered in the large room with white floors and stone walls. My table was occupied by a group of three more classmates who had gotten into a deep discussion about their friend’s relationship.
Poking at my food, I gulped it down while ignoring the taste and their conversation. Sam was nowhere to be seen. That wasn’t a bad thing. Sometimes I enjoyed a lunch without talking. The pork had no juices whatsoever.
Two girls laughed as they walked by the table occupied – one with long blond hair and the other with short brown. They were attractive, catching my eye for a brief moment as they passed until it landed straight ahead at the next table.
Pulse quickening without consent, I felt embarrassment wash over me like hot water. She was talking with a friend, wide eyed and smiling, wearing a white and red striped shirt. Light laughter escaped her expression though too quiet to be heard among the uproar and she turned slightly to regain control of herself. She looked away and rested her eyes in my direction.
I watched a look of surprise catch her, and she sobered up instantly.
A moment went by, and I could not make a move, only stare.
Then, as though it was the most natural gesture in the world, she gave a small wave and an awkward smile. I nodded back, unsure of whether I had smiled during the exchange. She returned to her friend and I returned to my food, the loud noises pulling us back, separated in a sea of people.
Unconsciously the grip on my fork tightened. I hadn’t smiled back.
Being lockermates, I saw Sam often enough between periods. Though we made no plans to associate throughout the week, it was usually assumed we would at some point, as that was where our relationship stood. A friend you spent time with when you had nothing better to do. In Vero Beach, Florida, there was a lot of time to waste, so I suppose it could be considered odd we didn’t hang out more.
However, Sam wasn’t present too often this week, and before I knew it, Thursday was upon us and the fresh weekend approached.
At this point in October, a slight chill accompanied the season’s breeze. My light gray jacket kept me from getting cold as I walked back toward home. The sky was open and blue and the grass was a brownish green in color. The day was nice and the weather was clear.
During the past week, I had been unable to finish and or lost interest in the puzzle. Not that I had given up on it entirely… just put it off until the weekend. On Sunday my father had seemed to forget about the discussion we had as well, and silently we both agreed to end the late night debate.
A bus load of kids drove by, with their laughter and talk going with them. With my dad’s permission, I generally walked home. My sneakers pressed against the sidewalk I was on with every step, and I passed the small store outlet. Ahead, I spot the Crestlawn Cemetery approaching en route.
It wasn’t that I had never thought of the cemetery before. I had certainly noticed it on the walks home from school, with its large amount of tombstones of various sizes. The grass, in contrast to most yards during this time of year, was still a bright green and fresh looking. Flowers bloomed near every stone and large trees were stationed systematically, providing shade. Separating life and death was a large black iron fence that covered the length of the sidewalk I stood on. There was a public entrance that didn’t seem threatening when I came upon it. Still. I didn’t walk inside.
I wondered, what happened once a graveyard was filled? Was the area expanded or did it remain stagnant and left alone? How long, if I was buried in the ground, would my spot be used for? How long would it take for my body to decay and for the next to fall into my place?
Sometimes I’d ask those questions, but never had I felt any emotion behind them nor had any need to discover the answers. I had never known anyone in the graveyard, until now. But Sam’s grandfather was buried out there somewhere. The graves left my view as I came upon the next intersection in town, closer to my neighborhood. Shaking my head, I cleared away the unsettling thoughts of dying.
Like Sam, I wondered if I could really make a habit of visiting
the dead. I imagined standing there in the center of the graves, all the names and dates crying out in silence.
I felt sick thinking about it.
I wasn’t expecting to see Sam.
But that was who I spotted in the middle of someone’s yard, standing next to a young boy by a tree. Both of them had their heads tilted up, gazes on something that had their attention.
Part of me just wanted to keep walking. Too late, Sam caught sight of me.
“Hey Austin!” he called, waving me over. The younger boy watched me without saying a word as I stepped into his front yard. A large SUV filled the driveway of the two story home of dark brown vinyl. The tree had a tire swing and obviously had a lot of years on it, as its size rose above the home and its branches spread and covered half the yard.
“What’s going on?”
“My cat is stuck up in the tree,” the boy said quietly. He was a young, probably about ten or eleven. He had a look of uncertainty on his face as he glanced at me. Perhaps being in the company of two teenagers he didn’t know was intimidating.
“I can go up there and get him if you like,” Sam said, smiling kindly. With his long arms and legs – Sam being a good four inches taller than myself – he seemed like the type to climb trees. Myself? Well, I could, I guess. I wasn’t afraid of heights.
The little boy nodded.
“This is Conner by the way,” Sam mentioned and slipped off his backpack to place it near the tree. I glanced up and tried to focus where the sudden cry of a kitten could be heard. Sure enough, near the very end of one of the branches sat a small cat, grey and white, meowing. It seemed it had climbed so far out that it couldn’t figure out how to get down.
Didn’t this only happen in children books or superhero shows where the good looking guy in a cape came to save the animal?
Sam reached out to the nearest branch and pulled himself up into the tree, saying, “Never fear, Sam is here!”
Like I said.
Curious, I asked the young boy how the kitten had gotten up there. The boy was distracted, staring at the windows of his house, before looking back at me.
“Um, a dog owner walked by and scared him up the tree.”
I took that to mean someone who was walking their dog lost control of the pet for a moment.
Turning to the window of the house, I could only vaguely see what resembled a kitchen with no one inside. Suddenly, a young girl ran out the front door and rushed over to myself and Conner.
“Did he get her?” she asked, barely glancing my way. The girl was a little younger than Conner, and I assumed she was his sister.
“It’s a boy…” he mumbled before answering. “Not yet.” “Mom’s still asleep.”
Conner had a look of relief on his face. Above us, we could hear a rustling as leaves fell softly to the ground. Sam had climbed out on the same branch as the kitten, and was slowly crawling toward it. One hand on another slimmer branch to balance himself, his tennis shoes inched closer. The kitten stared at him wide eyed, unsure of whether to risk jumping or allow this large boy to grab him. While the idea and description seemed intense – especially as the two younger kids were watching intently, their breaths held, it actually wasn’t dangerous. Sam was about five feet up from the ground and wouldn’t fall.
He’d grab the cat soon enough. I glanced down at the bag he was carrying and found his camera placed carefully next to it. His prized possession wasn’t incased even on his way home, so he must have been taking pictures. Photography. Something about that art just seemed to capture Sam, that he couldn’t put it away.
With no one paying me mind, I reached for the camera and quickly found the trigger. Carefully aiming, I peeked through the lens pressed down on the button with a solid click.
Before Sam had grabbed the cat, his expression was so determined with a slight grin, focused. The moment he heard that familiar sound though, he quickly searched to the source of who had his camera. Seeing me, his face relaxed and he shook his head, ignoring my curiosity.
Part of my mind explained that perhaps if I gave photography a chance, I would understand the significance behind it. Take a picture, I was urged, and hear the calling as Sam has.
I felt nothing.
No awakening, or sense of thrill, or any door that suddenly opened with life changing purpose on the other side. Oh well.
The photograph ejected out of the camera, still white and developing. Slipping it into my back pocket for later, Sam dropped down and hung in midair, one hand on the branch above and the other pulled close to his chest with the cat curled in a scared ball. Suspended, he was now only a few inches off the ground as he dropped.
To the young kids, he might as well have flown off the tree and landed softly, cape flowing in the wind.
(An Orchestrated Story)
Memento 6 (Coming Soon)