Wednesday, 26 October 2011

53) Strange Romance

25 Oct 1968, Middle America
    Autumn wind blows crisp and dry and the colors in the trees burn coldly, Halloween is just around the corner. Something is in the air, something heavy and electric. This is where they first meet, on a street like everywhere else in the suburb, a street like every street in every suburb, on a night like no other.
    But not just yet. Morning comes and goes, kids go to school, adults to work, and this is the simple truth: discipline is the simple act of doing the same thing over and over again. And they’re all perfectly disciplined little consumers, but tonight will be different, it will mark two of them for the rest of their lives.
    Kids come home from school in the afternoon, latchkeys all around. Adults come home in the evening, flick on their televisions and start making dinner. They eat, watch more TV, then brush their teeth and go to bed.
    Then, around 2am, when some of the night owls are still up, clandestinely reading their science fiction magazines or fiddling with their ham radios, it begins. First there’s a thud on someone’s roof, then another just down the street. Then a downpour of heavy sound like thunder or gun fire over every surface in a one block radius around the intersection of Derby Street and Gerald Avenue. For a whole forty five seconds the onslaught continues, deafening and surreal.
    The adventurous children are up and out of their beds first, grabbing flashlights and pulling blankets over their shoulders like super hero capes to keep warm. Most of them are stopped by their parents who are just as awake, but far more frightened. Could this be the Russians, they think, maybe the Chinese? They dare not come out in case it’s a strange attack.
    Two children finally make it outside, a boy and a girl, twelve and thirteen respectively. The two of them stand outside in front of the huge pile of fish in the middle of the street. They stare at the pile for a moment. The boy’s the one with a flashlight. The girl, tall and lanky, walks over to him and deftly takes it from his hands.
    “Hey, what’re you doing? That’s mine!” He protests.
    “Shh,” she says, “I’m taller.”
    “Oh.” he says, conceding to her superior logic.
    She grabs his hand, remembering her father long passed away, and more reassuring herself than him.
    Emboldened by her touch he walks them both forward.
    The pile is iridescent fins and tails and scales gleaming in the light of the flashlight. She says, “Do you think they’re dead?”
    He reaches forward and bravely pokes one of them with his bare foot. Nothing happens.
    “Yeah, dead.” He says.
    “Where the heck did they come from?” She says. “There’s so many. I think they’re all salt water fish, maybe. Like, that one’s a tuna, I’m sure.”
    The boy turns to the girl and says, “Hi, my name’s Mike. You’re Kate, right?”
    “Catherine, but close enough.” She says and smiles. He squeezes her hand and she squeezes back.
    They share that rare moment we all want to have and rarely do. That moment of perfect shared understanding.
    At that point Catherine’s mom comes bolting out of their house in her bathrobe and curlers, yelling for her daughter. The two kids quickly let go of each others hands and the essential magic of the night is broken.
    It’s still a grand mystery, it lives on in newspaper articles and urban legends, and the hearts of two children.
    And those children grow into adults. They move out and move on, making their own way into the world, that moment mostly forgotten.

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