A Short Story by Katie Hartzog & Daniel Lowry
© 2011 All Rights Reserved
It seemed rather early for a boy his age to be out and about, but then perhaps he was one of those rare lads who preferred the quiet company of morning to the late night jostling of his mates. Or, as is perhaps more likely, he had just left the stable after the morning milking, deciding to take a stroll down the creek and up the lane, hoping to elude the remembrance of his mother when the schoolbells rang.
Whatever the case, the boy had come along quite unexpectedly through the mist; so much so that Phil found it necessary to stop in his tracks, one hand folded across his chest with his pipe-holding hand propped upon it, and simply watch the boy walk by. Expecting to meet the lad’s eye at some point, he readied the normal paternal pleasantries, not quite able to decide whether to simply tip his pipe to his cap, or say “‘Ello boy” out of the non-pipe-holding corner of his mouth. However, the mental quandary was brief, and moot, as the boy sauntered past without so much as a nod, apparently fixated on some ponderous thought which broke in amidst the melody of his whistling to make the notes disjointed as he considered a particularly interesting bit of whatever it was.
The boy passed. Phil’s thoughts again turned inward, his eyes again glazed over, sightless to the swirling fog, the lonely gravel road and rolling hills – the eerie beauty of a morning undisturbed by any movement other than his own. As he wended his way over another hillock, on closer to a small wood, his slow, wandering footsteps seemed lost in the silence, eaten up by the world which still slept, unawakened by the morning’s prolonged dawn. The crunch of gravel fell upon no ears other than his own and his own were as deaf to this world as were his eyes sightless. He was thinking, not as urgently as before, but still thinking. He had needed the fresh air, the open spaces.
The long night had passed slowly in the small room he’d occupied for these few months; sleep had never come to him. She had forgotten him as she silently passed him by in her nightly visitations. So his vigil had been long and burdened. When the clock struck four, and his candle had begun to sputter, he’d arisen from his small bed, dressed, lit his pipe and begun to walk, allowing his feet and thoughts to take him where they willed. And so he walked.
Another long draw on his pipe. Then the first birdsong – a distant, sleepy, sweet sounding tune from over the next hill to be sure. He lifted his head, awakened from his reverie.
Looking about, it seemed as though the bright chords of the warbling melody, so unaffected by the almost tangible fatigue hanging from every inch of his body, were warming the very air itself and dissipating the fog.
Suddenly gripped by that uncommon sort of decision which is made and acted upon before one even realizes the full presence of the thought which begat it, he turned his feet off the gravel path and pressed towards the hill adjacent. Reaching the bottom of the hill nearly at a run, he began almost frantically scrambling towards the top, once or twice slipping on the dewy grass.
Pipe clenched firmly between his teeth, he reached the hilltop – puffing like a train, knickers and sweater disheveled, hat askance, a flick or two of grass stuck to his person. His fists clenched and unclenched at random intervals to his raspy breaths as he stood stock-still with a strained look upon his countenance.
The bird warbled again.
Somewhere in the trees below a branch shook. A dog back towards town barked.
“Quiet, damn you. Quiet!” he muttered slowly under his breath. “I WILL see the sun rise this morning.”
His chest heaved with the exertion and excitement of the moment, heart pounding in his ears as he regained his balance and turned toward the horizon. He straightened as he took notice of the Earth, still breathing quickly and deeply. The fog was melting. A breeze played about his face, licking, whispering, caressing, cool and moist. The intensity had not left his face as he surveyed the landscape, every tree, every contour of the land, so familiar. The gravel road wound its way out of sight, dipping and bending ever downward toward the small village, past his own little one room cottage on into town. The town was barely visible through the dissipating fog, ever more so with each passing moment. Nestled deep within itself, a church spire, a score of gables over darkened windows, the belltower of St Mary’s, there it lay. Spotted with clumps of dark tree shapes its edges were slowly diffused by yards which grew larger until they were farms and these farms crawled slowly up the grey hills on the far side. He couldn’t see the distinctive tree lines and stone walls in the dimness of the day but he knew they were there nonetheless. Many a day had he stood in this very spot, memorizing the land, learning its ups and its downs; many a well known soul lay beneath those many gabled roofs, yet unaware of the new day awaiting them.
It was beyond those hills that his eyes were fastened – those rolling hills which formed his skyline. It was there the intensity of his gaze was directed, it was there he seemed to focus his whole energy, as though what lay beyond those hills was life itself.
The sky there was already turning faintly purple….
The only barely perceptible brightening of the sky seemed to increase with each of his deep breaths, as if by pulling air into his lungs he was sucking each successive shade of grey, purple, and red out of the sky, only to be replaced again by the limitless stores of light effervescing off the sun’s yet hidden presence. This continued until that indefinable moment when he could almost feel the weight of the giant orb pressing against the horizon, knowing that at any moment the world would be infused with gold.
His breath caught in His throat.
And then the sun came.
The burning presence of the sun’s strong arm, like the ruthless, bright arm of Apollo reaching from under the world, was bared above the edge of the world and ignited not only the horizon and the sky surrounding, but seemed to ignite Phil as well. His pulse surged and carried fiery adrenaline to the back of his neck, and his fingertips, and the top of his scalp, and he stood. He stood because he was unable to do anything else, unable to even breathe, his entire body constricted with joy and hurt and desire.
All in a moment, the rapture of the moment overcame his rigor gloria, and a cry escaped his chest – a sound which echoed the crushing moment of a man’s unbridled passions being rendered pitiable by his utter helplessness. And yet…this seemed to be the most free and glorified moment Phil had known in ever so long.
As he stood on the hill, his darkness of mind was burned away even as the fog and mist dissipated at the sun’s heat.
And he wept; wept with the sun as it fell on the rooftops and gables below like tears falling on the grass.