Somewhere on the hike that summits the lava field, just to give lie to what she just said, I say with a deep lungful, “As it so happens,—” because it is true—
“Your problem,” ’s what she just said, “you don’t respect the past.”
“—by chance, I have with me,” I go on, before a lull, before reaching into the pocket of my cargo shorts as if for a magician’s silk handkerchief, before pulling out—
“Hmm, looks like a Yorkshire,” she says of the envelope I wave before her humorously puckered reddish-brown eyes, like a magician’s assurance of nothing up his sleeve, though, in fact, I’m wearing one of those “Work Sucks—I’m Going Hiking” T-shirts. It’s green and white, same color as her “Take a Hike.”
“—a friend from the past,” I go on, “with whom”—then double down on “whom”— “with whom I’ve had no contact in decades—”
“This friend?” she breaks in, stretching well-defined arms along bare legs. “Yes. Scott. ” “With two t’s, no doubt?” “As it happens. How d’ja know?”
Her breath fails her for a moment as she arches her back, then says on the exhale, “And what of this Fitzgerald-like Scott?”
Of this twice t’d Scott, I tell her, he writes me,—“A letter?” she breaks in again, this time with a slow saucy smile. I nod and she laughs a breath away before continuing. “Do people still write letters?” “Some do.”
Then, holding her widely-placed eyes, that she’s screwed up to shade the bright sunshine, I tell her about how like a thunderbolt— “Ah!” she goes, now with goggle eyes, “how apropos.” “How so?” “Well,” hip hinging as if doweled, “think about it—cinder cones . . . volcanic bombs . . . lava tubes.” Then, again upright, an arm extended, “A lightning bolt-like letter!” her words aloft on wings of breathless laughter.
“Wowie zowie!” passes my lips—the interjection that we decided back in the Valley of Fire, whose sandstone formations really do appear ablaze when catching the sun’s rays, Zelda and Scott might have invented, we decided—agreed, that is, on the Fitzgeralds’ goodly coinage, back in the Valley.
“Albeit,” she says, then,“this Scott, this-this bolt from—was he a—?” “Right,” I get out, “a childhood friend.” “Ah, the best kind.” “Yes.” “So, so what’s—?” “He writes that —” “Scott does?” “Yes, Scott writes that—” “Yes?” “—a mutual friend —” “From childhood?” “Yes, a mutual friend from—” “Childhood. Scott’s and—?” “Mine.” “Yours. . . . How sad.” “W-why?” “Because, of course, he’s dead.”. . .
“But-but, how did—?” “Well, isn’t it obvious? . . . I mean a letter from the beyond about a mutual friend—?” Her soft voice fades off.
We both draw a long breath and glimpse the summit.
“‘Dear—,’” I begin to read, but she brushes away Scott’s salutation with a cloud of hair out of her quiveringly alert eyes.
“‘It has been,’” I continue, breath rescuing mind, “‘a long time since I wrote to you and I have had you on my “to do” list to get a letter off to you. Unfortunately,—’”
“Hold on, hold on right there,” she breaks in, now with eyes flashing. “What?” “Did this-this Scott with-two-t’s actually say ‘to do list’?” I nod. “Why?” “Oh, nothing. . . . ’S just that, well—do people still say things like that? . . . Do they even write letters?” “You said that,” I say, “and I said—” “‘Some do.’”
She then snatches the letter from me and pores over it as if a find from an archeological dig, her breath clouding were it glass. Then back to me it comes, the letter, stamped with an “Amazing!” from her. “Archaic?” “Well certainly anachro—” her summer breath rushing out, “—nistic.”. . .
Here a wide pause.
Then, from me at last, “And by the way, what’s respect got to do with it?” “The past?” “It simply dogs you.” “The dear past?” “Like your shadow.” “The dear spectral past?” “Closer than pages in a book.” “Than ripples in a brook?” . . .
I scoop up some ashes, whose tops cradle a crater, and scatter them over the coal-black field of loose pyroclastic fragments.
Agreed—have we?— we proceed, breathing hard, up the ash cone staircase along the Great Rift of cracks in the world, to the top, where, our breaths short, she shows, with their long reach, sedate and untroubled eyes.
There, perched as if atop the troublesome bubble of life, I whisper, close upon her ear, “The day’s twice the day since you breathed it with me,” and wish were it from me, the silver mountain stud earring.
Then she throws her arms triumphant above the backward jerk of her head, and I just know her eyes are not showing me her heart, but shaping some hard-grained question, like, “So, what to make of the dim mists of the long-unvisited past?” Like that.
And I feel, I know not why, in my suddenly misgiving pain threaded heart, heartbreak heavier than death.
After retiring from a career teaching philosophy, Vincent Barry returned to his first love, fiction. His stories have appeared in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad, including: The Saint Ann’s Review, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, The Broken City, Abstract: Contemporary Expressions, Kairos, Caveat Lector,Terror House, The Fem, BlogNostics, The Writing Disorder, and whimperbang. Barry lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Barbara, California.