By M. Devoe Talley
I saw you then in the summer from the promenade of that county fair as you lay on your back in the near grass and I wandered with girlfriends I barely knew. The late low sun dazzled your tangle of blond hair, and a mustache made you look older, closer to twenty-eight—which was good. Demigods of a lesser mythology, callow and vain, ignorant and cruel. Aware of our powers, but not mindful of how fast they might fade, with the sunset, with the summer.
You seemed a prince in exile, yet the center of attention, and I felt something, perhaps not love, but a desire or demand. I wanted one of you. I’d thrown away yesterday’s university boys and wanted tomorrow’s man. I was of the moment, at my zenith, and therefore entitled to have you. Our beach tans cast us in bronze, the photo-aging of the sun’s revenge decades away. And I reeled you in, as I could do, for the initial catch is easy; it’s only the keeping that requires a sustained spell beyond pheromonal witchcraft—an anguished concentration.
You might have made eye contact and advanced toward me even had I been another, more conventional, less exotic.
“Hey, babe. What’s happening? Never seen you before.”
You deserted your coterie of male friends and the random women lingering nearby trying not to look hungry. I wore light blue eye shadow, knock-me-down pumps, and a halter top. Together we were fashioned of mirror sunglasses, pastel colors, and faded jeans, carrying Salem menthols and looking for beers, and somebody had a joint so no reason to hassle about all that. Be patient, bliss will arrive.
My girlfriends retreated in whispers, beach grass in the wind. While your sports car guys were still sprawled languorously on the green, waiting for the electricity of night to animate them. Aware of the magic, our magic, they nodded their heads, almost bobbing in a rhythm of agreeance. Spellbound. The whole scene playing out as if predestined, the magnetic pull of moon and tides bringing us together as shadows extended and a slight breeze kissed our hair. The wind couldn’t chill the long day’s warmth baked into the ground.
Then we walked, laughing about things that may not have been funny but were because we chose them to be. “That Ferris wheel looks crazy.”
“Yeah, I know. So many lights.”
Smiling when words failed. Baring teeth in an ancient mating ritual.
The sunlight came in slivers and shards, a sky still pale blue, and only the children had confusion worrying their faces. Where’s mom and dad? When do we eat? And perhaps dinner could be improvised, somewhere down the road. At IHOP or Friendly’s or Howard Johnson, ordered off embossed menus while parental restrictions wavered from the exhaustion of an eternal day that stretched right past eight at night. As ice cream and milk shakes melted over young mouths then spilled over their clothes in messy nocturnal joy, and at the very nature of being alive. Because of summer: not much of anything to do or not do, nowhere to get to in a hurry or stay at for any given time. Deadlines and curfews, the restraints that harness the world most of the year, becoming vague, almost intangible near the solstice.
The cotton candy and popcorn we gathered were discarded along our trajectory through makeshift avenues created by rows of carnival game booths and food stands.
“Check out all this stuff.” You spoke using simple phrases, and during those beginnings we imagine more interesting people hidden in the shy silences.
The fairway grass lay flat, trampled beneath our feet, a faint tang of manure wafting from distant pony rides, and carny voices hawking for our attention but receiving none. I brought you in close and nuzzled your neck, and pressed my breasts against you casual-like when it’s never casual-like, after we shared a forgotten Schaefer beer plucked from melted ice water in a cooler. We fell into one another when the sun came down to greet us, glowing orange like live coals nestled in the high branches behind a wall of trees to the west. The whole slender long island of Long Island stretched out before us: potato fields and manicured gardens, orchards and tangles of brush. Mountains impossible, the flat topography mapped by houses and lanes, by the open meadow just beyond us with a lone horse whinnying in a paddock.
In the finality of night, we searched for a bar or club on a jetty, the slap of bay waves against dock pilings, where a band might play a favorite summer song, or we could find a jukebox that never quieted. Only the urge to be orphaned from our families a constant. Indifferent to politics and churning foreign wars that could barely grip us, the greater world remained a rumor we chose to ignore.
And later we undressed, if not that evening, then soon after and time again. No details linger, but it doesn’t matter if it was fantastic, or drunken, or fumbling and apologetic, or wild and animalistic. We looked good together, and when we walked nestled in a symbiotic form, people watched us, not so much in jealousy, but in understanding that such was the way of the world, and to hate this thing, to hate us, would only expose their thorny, embittered souls. For that was the reason to live while young. Applaud it as it passes by, pay respect and then seek it for yourself, or go cradle a memory of when it once burned inside, relentless.
We were bonded forever and ever, and our forever lasted through August. I came from the city; you were a local. “Bonackers” they called you. You skippered boats, day fishing trips where you reeled-in the big one for clients. In the lazy recumbent hours you confided, “I want to sail the coast with you, clear down to South America and then across Cape Horn.”
We would somehow end up eventually, miraculously in the Mediterranean—beyond our struggles, and relaxed in a facsimile of love that had traveled stormy and arrived intact. It would all occur the following June after my senior year ended and you made more money, and it was as good a plan as any hatched in youthful passion. And might have even happened. But graduation took me to Europe and I never returned to Long Island and you never wrote or called me. Perhaps someone else joined you on our delirious, insane voyage.
I woke up throbbing with this memory, a fever dream that submerges the sleeper then throws them back onto land startled and uncertain in a reality that appears strange after being so deeply immersed. To navigate a marriage not sparked by electricity, but comforted by the sameness, the lasting quality of longtime possessions when so much that is transient falls away in life. We choose the things of worth that ground us, to remind us who we are, not who we were. It’s a selection process, and the autumn of life brings different choices than during those prolonged sunsets of our brazen youth.
Max DeVoe Talley was born in New York City and lives in Southern California. His fiction and essays have appeared in Fiction Southeast, Gravel, Santa Fe Literary Review, Entropy, Hofstra University – Windmill, Bridge Eight, and Litro. Talley’s novel, Yesterday We Forget Tomorrow, was published in 2014, and he is an associate editor for Santa Barbara Literary Journal.
Water Color Illustration: © lcrms / Adobe Stock