Strewn on the earth were rocks in shades of brown and red. Tim picked one up and chucked it hard. It bounced off the wall of the house where no one lived. He said, “Let’s go in. We can throw rocks out!” It was a day of rest; no one would come by. So we filled our pants and climbed the steps.
The sun shone through the grime on the glass. We aimed the rocks at the light, watched it smash and fill the room. We laughed and laughed, smashed more, laughed more and soon the whole house, up and down, was an ark of light and we were in it, the two of us as one. We knew no one would see us on this day, it was so bright, so warm and new and bright, in the light we had made.
The light let us see the dust that hung in the air in shop class. It shone through to glint like fire on the saw blade. Tim put the wood in place, held two sides and pushed. As he cut, slow then fast, the wood whined. Chips flew to the floor and up to his face. A shard hit him in the eye. He jerked a hand, sliced his thumb just past the nail and his cry cut through the air, through me. I saw the change in his face, how he could not stop the blood. It pooled at his feet, mixed with the dust. No one could stop the blood.
It rained from the sky, formed streams on the hill by the school. We built a dam made of stones, clay, mud. Tim said, “Let’s make it big and wide.” And the streams flowed like snakes to fill the pool we called our sea.
Holes in the dam leaked new streams. Down the hill, two more boys made their own dam, their own sea. Tim said, “The streams are ours. Let’s take out the big rock.” I pulled it from the mud, and the flood rushed to fill their sea, break their wall. Stones, chunks of clay rolled and slid down to the field where no one played. The boys cried and ran to smash with their boots what was left of our dam. Soon, I knew, the seas would rise.
In the woods, the creek swelled. Tim lit a match. We rolled the day’s news and touched one end to make a torch. The trees glowed a new green. The flame rose to singe a low branch. I looked back at the school for the eyes that would soon be on us. A bird flew to the sky. Tim said, “They’ll see its wings before they see our fire.”
The torch long snuffed out, the woods were deep and dark as the creek, the green now grey, the eyes gone. I thought of how they’d caught us, seen our flame, the slap of the strap on my palm, how it stung still. Home was far, so we lit the news once more. In a bare sky, the old moon shone full. We crossed the creek in flood, tried not to slip, sink, drown. I held the torch high. It was hard to get back to where we came from.
Through the flame of the torch I saw Tim float in the sky, in the tree in his yard, in his new house of wood and nails. An ark of light in space. And I heard him build, pound, heard rage and pride in each blow. One floor done, he’d start the next.
And there, his old room shone down black like a new moon. He lived in it once, lived in pain as no kid should. He said, “I don’t have to go in ’til the folks see I’m gone.”
“When would that be?” I asked, but could not laugh. It was a day of work; no one would come.
“Hey, Al, join me in the sky. Let’s be a pair, two as one, move with the stars. It’s tight, cool, but a dry fit. If I can risk the loss of dark light and cold heat, so can you.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll climb. And I’ll build, too, in my time.”
Yet still I wait, down on the earth, where my hands stay numb, and the waves, thick and red, lap at my feet.