by Lauren Huckstadt September 15, 2008
The shadows stretched out like the minute hands on the clock, elongating our bodies, spreading them across the hard packed ground like peanut butter. With each passing second, the sun sank lower into its basket, ripening the summer sky to a burnt tangerine. It was like God was spreading on the jelly.
Evan looked at me like I was crazy. I had my head through the wooden planks of our tree-house, watching my feet dangle from the altitude of the big oak in the front yard. We had a tire swing and everything. It swayed gently, catching the warm breeze out of the Southwest that swept across the fields, carrying the slightest aroma of lavender for miles.
We had just discussed our plans. You know, like future plans. The end of high school loomed after the upcoming senior year. We would be graduating, class of ’67, for God’s sake, getting the hell out. Small-town, Missouri was not the place I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I had big plans, huge, world changing plans. They all seemed so real, and I could practically reach out and grab them as I picked leaves off a nearby branch. They fell jaggedly to the ground like butterflies with sticky wings.
Evan and I were twins. Sometimes people called me Evan. Sometimes they called him Jim. We had the same red hair and blue eyes. But I had more freckles. People should have noticed that, but that was the problem around here. People took too much notice of everybody, but they couldn’t tell me apart from my brother.
“Do you know how likely it is that will happen?” Evan asked me. He was shaking his head, his forehead was crinkled into several big lines, branching out into smaller ones, like it does when he thinks real hard.
That was Evan though. The over-analyst. The brain. But also, the timid one. He dropped his head into his hands.
“Man, that’s just… I mean- you seriously have been thinking about that?” he asked. “All this time, and that’s all you’ve come up with?”
Now his brow was gathered in pain.
“Well, yeah. What the hell? I mean, I figure, what have I got to lose?” I said.
“You do realize that its like… point two percent chance that anybody ever gets famous, right?”
“I’m aware,” I said absently picking a blister on my fingertip.
I smiled at him. He looked back at me like he always does. A mixture of confusion and disgust. Its safe to say we never understood each other. He seemed to be the one that tested the waters before he jumped in. I was a fan of the cannon ball, myself.
What can I say? Ambition is not compromisable. It grabs a hold of you, pulls you up by the leg and hangs you upside down until you give in. At least mine did. Evan always had a better handle on his I suppose.
My ambition grabbed me the first time I picked up a guitar. Scratch that- the first time I saw a guitar. It was in the store window of Gladys’ Pawn Shop. I was four. Our older brother had taken us into town to get some stuff from the general store, and there it was. Freshly polished and set out for all to see. Its strings were taught and the grain of the wood ran down like perfectly placed drops of dark summer rain. I remember squeezing Evan’s hand (because I was four and we had to hold hands when we were in town) and I remember the expression of curious longing his face held as he stared at the beautiful instrument before us.
His four year old mind was soon occupied with other things, such as catching crickets next to Dean Thumer’s rickety old barn, and helping Dad, running after the big tractor as it grazed the fields like a mad beast.
But my mind was focused on that guitar. I had to have it. I couldn’t sleep, as a four year old, until I got my grubby, worm handling, ice cream melty, dog hair covered hands on that beautiful polished instrument. I don’t even think I knew what it did or what I was supposed to do with it. However, ask me if I believe in love at first sight, and I will undoubtedly tell you the story of that guitar.
And so it went from there. I played around with it for quite some time, figuring out what sounded good and what didn’t. The melodies I created drifted over me, under the cool shelter of the willow tree by Watson’s pond, I hummed and tapped my foot, allowing the inner workings of my soul to pour out in this incredible form of expression.
“So you’re telling me, you wanna go around riding in some bus like a hippie, playing music with other hippies, for other hippies?” Evan was in one of his interrogating moods again.
“Its not about that,” I said abruptly. “I just want to change something. This world is so messed up and I feel like I’m sitting around here doing nothing.”
“If you think that damn guitar is going to end an entire war, you got another thing coming.” he said.
We sat in distilled silence for a long time. Not even any kind of friendly ripple ran through the air between us, as I continued to thoughtfully strip leaves from the nearby branch. Evan was sitting, staring off into the, now, crimson sky.
“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” I murmured.
Evan continued to stare ahead, not looking at me.
Finally he said, “Is this about the draft, Jim?”
“Hell no it’s not about the draft!”
My face was hot and I knew that Evan was going to find some explanation for why I was being irrational and why I should drop everything and just be some nobody farmer like everybody else.
“Well Jim, how you gonna make this whole thing happen?”
“I-I just have to figure out some way to leave…”
He laughed. “This damn town has got us all by the throat.”
I looked away from him. My nails scratched into the wood planks I was sitting on, as my fingers clenched into fists. Part of me knew he was right.
“I suppose I could hitchhike around, road trip it, like Sal Paradise.”
“Its those damn books you been reading that give you these crazy hippie ideas. Let it go, man,” He looked at me, actually concerned, “You want everyone to think you’re a crazy guy, Jim?”
He didn’t get it. I didn’t care what they thought. He just didn’t get it.
But he had a point. It really didn’t matter to them who I was. I was born here and raised to be farming whatever this land would hold, that’s how people saw me. Whether they knew my passion to play guitar or how many freckles I had, didn’t matter. They would think I was crazy.
My feet still dangled from the side of the tree-house. In front of me lay a vast pallet of purples and blues, mixed with brush stokes of grey cloud wisping across the canvas of sky above us. Our shadows had faded into the dark that covered the ground. That time of dusk had gone so quickly. The sun realizes the beautiful colors it can create and then fades away, leaving nothing but darkness in its path. Stuck in the same routine, day after day, creating beautiful color, and fading into darkness. The crazy sun can never escape.
About the Author:
Lauren Huckstadt recently graduated from Fremd High School and currently attends University of Wisconsin-Madison.
About the Artist:
Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.
Like what you read in SmokeLong? Consider donating to us. $3 helps a writer get paid.