He threw it. He wasn’t thinking when he did it, he just reached back and let it go.
Even when he started packing the snowball he both knew and didn’t know what would happen next. In his life there had always been times like these -- times when he was of his body and not in this world, when consciousness itself would somehow give way to the seduction of dumb movement, when his life was somehow articulated only by sinew and muscle, by call and response, by quickly firing synapses and almost no reflection whatsoever. His mother would ask him where he’d been, why he was covered in mud, why his clothes were torn, why he smelled like fire, where the day had gone, where he was going next. Through a tight smile, through glassy eyes, she pled for anything that would let her in and he’d only shrug, whisper, “Don’t know,” then march upstairs and pass out fully clothed across the quilt his grandmother made for him before The Fire.
There was a long silence as the snowball cut a line across the evening sky, he could feel himself admiring its searing velocity, its gray winter parabola, and then it loudly struck -- and shattered -- Farmer Johnson’s second floor window.
“Shit”, Aaron thought.
He wasn’t a rule-breaker per se, he didn’t hate Farmer Johnson as such. He was just young, strange, uncertain, not particularly careful, not particularly wise. He heard a voice, an angry voice, Farmer Johnson’s voice, and Aaron took off down toward the meadow. He slipped the fence, cut down across the Wendell’s, heard — ignored — that damn Rottweiler Luna, hopped over and scraped his knee on the half brick wall behind the Thompsons. Back then Aaron was all elbows and bones, he chugged hard, he wore wooden shoes to fix his strange feet and his one longer leg, he tripped over the rotten stump in the Thompson’s back yard and lost his backpack and came to a skidding halt at Brandon’s feet.
“Is that blood?”
The winter night split in half by the sound of the shotgun. For half a heartbeat the boys looked each other in the eye -- their mouths tiny black O’s -- then they took off. They ran as fast as they ever had — over Locust, then Heritage, then Ruby Lane. They turned onto Ember, they doubled-over, slid through a basement window into Mike’s family root cellar. They coughed until they nearly threw up, they clapped each other on the back, behind a loose cinder block Brandon found a pack of stale Lucky’s, he lit one and offered Aaron one and -- as he always did -- Aaron waved him away wordlessly.
To the light of a naked, snapping 30 watt light bulb they looked at the boxes -- “basement”, and “third floor”, and ‘kitchen”, and “storage”. Mike had already left for the new neighborhood, the walkie-talkies couldn’t reach him wherever he’d gone, all that was left was this corrugated monument to an empire they had already lost. He didn’t want to say it, but he did. “Aaron,” Brandon whispered.
“Do you miss him?”
They’d never talked about it. And now there was no way not to. Aaron breathed loudly -- his friends always called him a mouth breather -- and then he said, “I was thinking about him last week.”
“I keep….I have this feeling.”
Brandon inhaled, exhaled. There was something like tears welling up in his eyes and so he looked away, turned his head the way that he’d seen men do. “Please,” he whispered. “Don’t.”
“I...I have this feeling.”
Instead of saying it, Aaron turned toward the small basement window and thought. About the lunatic trail of destruction he’d already created in this difficult world, about his terrified mother and his disappointed father, about the fact that he was so lonely and he was twelve and all he could imagine was a long future of more cold nights and more perplexing loneliness, a future interrupted only occasionally by nights spent brewing over-priced craft beer. A future of buzzing neon signs and the death-rattle of naked trees, a Pennsylvania lifetime spent growing the quiet whisper of a moustache across his upper lip, spent lighting piles of anything on fire, spent rising before dawn and wondering how one is meant to pass the terrible thousand or so minutes before night time, before one might lay down and sleep off all of that pain.
Also, it's the penultimate Thursday of the month so there’s a pick-up tonight. At Tellus 360. From 6:30 - 8:30pm.