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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction



The Clandestine Summer

We held onto each otherís hands tightly, attempting to forestall our inevitable parting for as long as we possibly could. Eventually however, we did part ways that night as much as we didnít want to. It seemed like we had only just started skating, though we had been there for hours. I removed my skates and put on my normal sneakers, reluctantly walking off the ice and watching as she slipped away into the night, not saying as word as she left. I knew that we would meet again, but I didnít want to wait to see her again. For the moment, it was if she had vanished into thin air. Only the faint traces of our intertwined paths on the ice offered evidence of our presence. Even these were rapidly erased within minutes, disappearing quickly as the ice froze over them until they were almost invisible. I walked alone back into the night for a short distance, holding only my own hands together for some sense of warmth. My steps felt heavy as I walked away from our spot, but there was also something I hadnít noticed before. While I was sad that she was gone, I also had a new sense of confidence in myself. As we skated together, she had me follow her initially. Slowly, I began to become acclimated to her steps, and then, after I built her trust, she allowed me to take the lead. I realized that I could learn from her if I allowed her to teach me a few secrets. Once I did this, the possibilities she embodied opened up to me. All I needed was a little patience and understanding. It was a magical moment that we shared but one that seemed to end much too soon.

These conflicting emotions seemed to parallel each of my steps, right and left, left and right as I walked back down the pathways, slipping through the gates and heading back towards the sidewalk below. For a moment, I became a little frightened and looked over my shoulder, worried that someone might be following me. I started to run a little bit and the sudden fear propelled me forward quicker. Gradually, it subsided, my paced slowed and I allowed myself to slow down for a while. I walked with more patience and caution until I reached the gate near the bottom of the hill where the outside world would inevitably divide us once more. The streetlights burned down onto the ground removing shadows as they illuminated the small mounds of snow, ice and dirt. I walked back over the hard surfaces of the concrete streets, past the beach and towards the docks once again. I saw the rows of boats standing idly in the winter cold. Their sails were drawn and folded down into the cabins, hiding under thick white tarps that buried them underneath. They were all wrapped up, curled and huddled together as if they were sleeping or hibernating for the winter. It was an oddly melancholy sight. I walked closer, trying to walk quietly over the uneven boards, not wanting to unsettle their silent slumber, and went through the gates, and set foot onto the docks. I wondered what awaited me.

There was a sharp sea breeze as I stood on the waterís edge. It was cold and the night wasnít releasing its grip. It was difficult to navigate with the larger tall boats casting shadows on the ground. They were closer the ground and didnít seem to be as inviting as they had in the summer. A cutting draft began to form between them and when I walked on the narrow boards, I definitely felt a chill penetrate my layers of winter clothing. As I walked closer towards the ocean, the boards were covered with a slippery icy, salty slush. It felt like there was quicksand beneath my feet, making it difficult to keep my balance. Water began to soak through my shoes so I had to walk faster so I wouldnít sink into the ground. It was a bit dangerous to be there all alone and I felt like a secret agent as I walked under them, dodging their hulls and anchors. I was looking at something secret and hidden that I wasnít supposed to see. She had given me some new skills to use and I was surprised at how useful they were in this situation. I remembered how I was able to skate and I thought of this as I walked. Using my right foot to balance, the left propelled me. I continued slowly walking down the boards until I was able to move faster. I hadnít been there in many few months. It felt forbidden to find myself walking there in the middle of winter. As I walked closer, I sensed that the boats hadnít been touched or possibly looked at in months, They stood stoically, monuments to mostly-forgotten dreams of a summer that felt vanishingly, impossibly distant. Squinting a little, in some ways the rows of boats looked small against the sky, vulnerable and unprotected. I turned and walked towards the spot where I had seen our little raft the previous year and walked down the same dock once again. I looked around and there was nothing there, as I knew there wouldnít be. No invitation awaited me, only the quietly shifting currents like a dream sitting idly, silently awaiting someone to claim it.

As I reached the connection between the two paths, a strong wind began to pick up. Winter had begun early that year and the cold seemed to have blown right through my body, and my clothing offered little in the way of defense. The water wasnít completely frozen and I could sense the tide coming onto shore, lifting the boats gently over their icy resting places. Few people probably went down there, but I still wondered what had pointed me there and why I was there all alone walking among the seasonally abandoned ships. It probably had only been an hour since Iíd seen her, but it felt like forever. Even though I knew that I was there by myself, I once again reflexively looked around the deserted docks to see if anyone was watching me. I didnít want anyone to find out where I was going or who I was with. Despite all our encounters over those past few months, I still hadnít told anyone about them. I didnít know how anyone would react, and what we shared was something that only we understood, there was no reason to talk about it. I walked through the forest alone under the dimming moon, watching the clouds begin to roll in. It would be a long winter ahead without her, and there were points when the relentless snow and biting cold felt like it wouldnít relent. I persisted and when I reached the end of the docks and looked out over the sea, I knew it had been worth it. It seemed quiet and I scanned to the horizons where I could see the nearby islands. I looked over them for any signs of life but didnít see anything. I knew approximately how far away they were from me at this point and they seemed impossible to reach, seemingly forever in their distance.

I stood there on the edge of the ocean, exposed to the wind and it blew right through me, the boats behind me offering little shelter from their strong gusts and biting grip. I steeled myself, moving my arms and legs closer to my body and stood there allowing the winds and waves to overcome me. I closed my eyes and took myself back to the previous summer. I thought of all the things we had experienced together then in our initial meetings and wondered what the coming summer would bring. I felt an unexpected sensation on my back, which was reassuring but also slightly unsettling. I stood there silently, not knowing what to think. I was still for a moment, I listened for something, but the shore remained quiet. I turned back to anticipating the months ahead. I was already counting the days, going backwards then forward. Relaxing once again, I felt myself slipping into a daydream. I returned to the previous summer, and I was filled with heat and promise. For a moment, everything was restored temporarily; the bright and the warmth surrounded me, protecting my body from the harsh elements. Without realizing it, I was able to steal a piece of summer from winterís icy grasp. As quickly as the moment occurred, it vanished but I was able to hold onto it in my mind for much longer. I heard something in the distance and it was heading towards me.

I opened my eyes and saw a distant set of lights heading towards my direction. I looked back and saw a truck coming over the road. At first I couldnít tell what it was, but as it grew closer, I sensed it was a security truck making the rounds. I ducked behind one of the boats that was nearby and stood against it. I felt my heart sink to my feet, this was unexpected. As it drew closer, I hoped the truck wouldnít come onto the docks and would drive by. I waited for it to pass and it did, gliding by onto the main beach. I was relieved as I watched it go in the other direction and began to walk back towards the edge of the water. Its lights receded through the road until I couldnít see it anymore. I watched and waited until I was sure it was gone. I was relieved. I didnít want anyone to know, and it would be hard to explain what a little kid like me was doing out here alone so late. I didnít know how Iíd be able to tell anyone what was really happening and any excuse Iíd make wouldnít make much sense. I was grateful for the respite, but I knew Iíd have to be more careful if it returned. I walked closer to the boats, bending down towards the ground to avoid detection. I heard something in the distance and knew it was coming back in my direction. I looked around and tried to find a way out. I couldnít see anywhere where I could hide without making myself vulnerable. I would for sure be spotted if I ran out into the street. I walked back between the boats, carefully positioning myself in the shadows, hoping that no one would see me. I saw that truck drive up to the gates and held my breath, It stopped and a guard come out of the truck. My heart sank, I knew this could be trouble. I watched him pull open the gates and he drove into the dock area, his lights searching for something. I decided I only needed to stay still in the darkness, and my plan seemed to work at first.

The truck slowly drove around the docks, probably not expecting to see anything out of the ordinary. I thought it was a routine patrol that would quickly pass. I just needed to be patient and wait him out for a few minutes. I watched it from a distance, slowly moving through the boatyard, silently scanning and lighting a narrow path in front of itself. Suddenly, the truck stopped and so did my heart. I looked and realized in a moment what had happened. When I walked inside the dock, my shoes had left heavy foot-steps in the icy ground. I didnít think anyone else would follow me, but I had left a trail. The guard got out of the truck and looked at ground his flashlight traced their path, leading right towards my location. This was unnerving and my first instinct was to run. However, I knew a sudden motion would alert him to my presence so I stayed as still as I could. I hid behind a boat and quietly slipped underneath one of the tarps. I looked out nervously. I saw him moving closer towards me, walking nervously and awkwardly stepping on the creaky planks. He was retracing some of the same steps I had made only a few minutes before. He seemed to be examining everything, looking at the ground, pointing his flashlight around looking for something.  I couldnít move and knew I would have to stay well-hidden to avoid detection. I watched him closely, measuring his steps and pace, slowly moving myself under the tarps, carefully walking in the opposite direction.

My heart was beating and I was getting nervous. The boats seemed to be closing in on me, their hulls hanging over me. He took a turn and moved in the other direction for a moment heading away from me, I took the opportunity and quickly skated towards the opposing side of the docks, nearly out of range. Not wanting to make a sound, I measured my steps and carefully looked below my feet, avoiding the loose boards that might creak, I watched him move away from my position. The guard was still far away and I had some room to maneuver but not enough to feel safe. He yelled for someone to answer him but I remained quiet, trying hard not to breathe loudly, in order to avoid detection. He moved down to the far side of the dock and onto the walkway directly water. There were no more footprints down there, since they had washed away under the slush. I caught another break. The trail was cold and he head no where to look. He waved his flashlight around in a few circles but he still didnít see me. At this point, I was hidden underneath one of the boatsí sails, peeking out only a little. I could barely see his outline as he moved back towards his truck. He seemed to be losing interest and after looking around for a few minutes, he finally decided to give up the pursuit. I heard him walk back down the rows of boats and heard him as he got back into his truck and slammed the door loudly in apparent frustration. Once I heard the engine fire up, I knew that I was safe. I had escaped detection. I wasnít complacent however, and knew he might come back, later on hoping to catch something. I decided that I would need to be more careful the next time, but I had evaded his prying eyes. I waited there for quite some time until I was sure that he was out of range. After awhile, my mind eased a little as I realized that our secret was safe. Even here, I needed to be on constant guard in order to keep from being found out. As the truck faded from view, things became quiet and lonely once again.

Night was falling into deeper slumber, as the relentless cold resumed its icy hold on the boats, the beach and, the world. Tightly knotted ice formed over the paths I walked, covering my tracks in the hours that followed. The boats seemed to fall back to sleep in some way, kneeling down and crouching under each other, keeping their summer memories frozen in time, safely out of sight. I walked out from under there protective layers and stood out in the open. There were things I hadnít anticipated and I needed to know how to counter them in order to keep things safe. My mind wandered back on my previous encounters with her and how she was able to slip in and out of the world so easily. I remembered how elegant and care-free she seemed when we were skating, and also how quickly she was able to shift back into the darkness without leaving a trace. This was a mystifying part of her that I couldnít figure out, but as I thought about things, it all began to make sense. As we walked and sat together those times, she told me things that didnít make sense until I was able to put them together later on. Without me realizing it, she was teaching me how to disappear.


- Story & Illustration by Michael Palisano

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