The Book of Creation: A Novel (continued)

It was a painful spring day, the early kind, the kind where midday sun filters through air just damp suffusing the surround with glow. The kind of day where air slightly cool floats the sadly sweet scent of memory, the scent of hope. The kind of day where all this gently melds and slams your gut with a harsh fleeting explosion of anxiety. It was those days I liked best. And the last days of fall. Skeleton trees with bits of decaying leaves dripping from their limbs, the detritus that had been life piled up beneath their feet. The kind of day where air slightly warm floats the sickly sweet scent of memory, the scent of longing. Days of sky just gray enough to hide the light but not so gray as yet to gloom you into dark that comes too soon yet thrills you with the wonder warm of streets and lights that yellow windows all seeming so much brighter now. The kind of day where all this gently melds and slams your gut with a harsh fleeting explosion of anxiety. It was those days I liked best too. You knew you lived. It was one of those days. Spring, not fall. Lewis and I had leapt our way over fluvial gutters detritus deposited in sewer grate moraines eroded brown lunch bags flat blue and gray Greek coffee cups rehydrated dog shit cigarette cellophane wrinkled dully glistened and once or twice a mourning mitten all infused with street grit and congealed exhaust. We had been searching for frogs at the southeastern lake edge in Prospect Park with no luck for hours. Light sweetly fading. I was sitting on a rock, hoping beyond hope that my saturated corduroys would dry before she saw them. Lewis was on his knees at the shore, hatless. How did he do it? I would never have gotten past the kitchen without a hat. He had refastened the brown leather-clad buttons of his red and blue checked wool coat that he had opened as we ran to the park that now rode up his back drawing along his sweater exposing a crescent of pale white flesh oddly scored by a deep red dent that traced along his belt line. I pulled my eyes beyond the shore because, after all, what nine year old boy wants another nine year old boy staring at his butt? Leaf-spotted mud gave way to mud-spotted leaves as the shore trailed up to lawn and then to a gray grove of trees beyond. As I drew my eyes from lake to Lewis to lawn, I noticed a small notebook, the kind with stiff marbled black and white covers and the fixed binding that caused you unintentionally to wrinkle and then randomly rip any page you might have happened to try to tear out in a manner that made it entirely dysfunctional for any purpose other than writing in, which is a lesson I learned the hard way. It was resting gently atop a low pancake of leaves. Without a frog in sight I had become just a bit restless and, anyway, who could avoid an attraction like an abandoned notebook? So I bumped down the rock and ran over to pick it up. It was surprisingly dry. I wiped a few mud crumbs off the back, returned to my perch, took off my mittens which I tossed onto the rock next to me, and pulled it open. Toward the middle. Because my mitten-sweaty hands clumped a few early pages to the cover. Pencil marks formed blocks that receded to poems. Whether they were three short ones or three stanzas in a longer poem I couldn’t tell. And I didn’t have the chance to read them, because abruptly I startled up. “Hey!” Lewis had seen me, turned, and ran toward me. I involuntarily held the notebook tight as I turned to see him almost leaping up the back of the rock. It tugged my hand as he swiped it away and I let go, watching his abrupt recoil. He plopped down breathless next to me. “What are you doing with that?!?” Flushing. “What?” “I found it on the ground.” “What?” . . . . “On the ground?” My eyes were filling tighter against my restraint. Lewis reached his free hand behind his back, rubbing. “Oh.” . . . . “Sorry.” “It must have fallen out. It never does that.” My body always betrayed me. “It’s ok, David. “ “No big deal, really.” “It’s just that . . . . “ “You didn’t read anything?” “Did you?” . . . . “No.” Trembling lips. Sigh. His. “It’s ok.” “Really.” Touching my arm. “I’m not mad at you.” “ It’s just that . . . .” Very deep inhale. Mine. “I don’t want anybody to know.” “The other boys would. . . .” Exhaled slowly. “Know what?” . . . . “Poems.” . . . . “Poems?” “Poems.” . . . . “I write them.” . . . . “You write poems?” “Don’t tell anybody!” “I won’t.” “I promise.” “You write poems?” “David, you can’t tell anybody.” “I won’t. Don’t worry.” “I think it’s really neat.” “You do?” “Yeah. Sure. I mean, what kind of poems?” . . . . “Just stuff.” “Thoughts I don’t want to tell anybody.” “That somehow I have to get out.” “Like going to the bathroom.” I smiled. “I’d kill myself if anybody saw them. “ . . . . “But it’s like I don’t control it.” “They just come out.” . . . . “I think I get it.” “I feel like that a lot.” “You do?” “Yeah.” “But I just go to the bathroom.” Laugh. “I never met anybody who writes poems.” “You can’t tell anybody.” “Lewis.” “Relax.” “I promise.” “Nobody.” “Ever.” . . . . . . . . “Can I see them?” . . . . “No.” . . . . “Not yet.” “Maybe some day.” . . . . “Like maybe when I’m twenty-five.” . . . . “When I get good.” . . . . He slid down the rock. Stuffed the notebook down the back of his pants. Returned to frogs. I watched him. Not quite the same. He was back on his knees in the muck, his hands probing sucking mud beneath the unswept autumn leaves, his pant legs seeping dark. I was staring at the linear rise where it was pushing up his shirt. He yelped. “Got one.” I slid off the rock right into the lake. Cuffs would dry. Frogs don’t wait. Lewis uncapped his hands ever so just so I could see. Small. Wet. Green as dark as the street. “We better get this home and take care of it.” “Will your mother really let you keep it?” “Maybe.” . . . . “Maybe I can sneak it in before she sees.” “You’re lucky if you can. He sees everything.” Moment. “How’s your mom?” “Don’t know. I hardly ever see her. She barely looks at me.” “My dad says she’ll be ok.” Lewis’s dad was a teacher. A high school teacher. “Well, let’s get home.” “Yup.” The most painful light of all. Glow before the black. We cut through the zoo. The main building looked like a mosque, it’s dome and minarets presiding over the seal pool. The pool had been drained for winter. Dead leafy puddles spotted the bottom. Lewis stopped. “She won’t let me.” “So now what?” “Back in the lake?” “Too late. We’ll never get home by dark if we go back.” “It’s ok, David. It’s my frog. And I’ll be ok if I get home late. I’ll put it back.” “No!” I wasn’t leaving Lewis there in the dark even if he slammed me when I got home. “Thanks David.” Relieved smile. It was silent at the seal pool. The woosh of distant traffic like a breeze among the trees. Nobody was there except a couple passing by the mosque. Lewis giggled. And dropped the frog into the seal pond. I shrieked. The couple turned to stare. We ran. And didn’t stop until the first light at Flatbush and Midwood. I was doubled over laughingly gulping air. Lewis was winded, too, and rested his hand on my bent back. Words hang in air.