Or perhaps it was where he came from, that really mattered. Or that he had somehow forged his combat in the wrong arenas: the job that took him far away from his real self, the relationship, the same; the scant attempt to bring in a paycheck - and then later, the thoughtlessness with which he viewed them all. It was again here, again fall, again solitary, again grey. Rasping the banks with pebbles. The edge of the creek where he and Bryce once walked their dog as kids. The dog gone and Bryce now too. And then returning here, to the creek edge wandering, alone twenty years later. He and Bryce then saw every rustle of the leaves as the threat of Indians. And how they’d run for cover when there was never any to be had. Dogs barking someplace, secret stories. And a myth that one day they’d return as men with an army behind them, slowly building, as they progressed along the shore. Time taken to build upon what they knew as brothers relaxed in each other’s arms and company as they did so from boys to men. Holding each other within all the absences of their adult lives. Maintaining the slow clutch on each other’s heart when apart.
If he could, he’d imagine Bryce a man. Together walking along the path. With no fear of the invisible observers and no fear of the end of the creek where they will have to take their separate paths into the future. Photographs of the spaces between the creek and the mountains. Breaking bones and holding hands behind them as they take in the horizons of newer lands, far away beyond the creek. The house with its back to the railway and the front yard perimeter where anything was possible, and everything needed protecting. The Ash tree, the rope marks worn into the bough, and the broken promises that life held about brothers becoming men and holding each other, still. A breeze from the trees, to the creek, to the rope swing, then to the scattering of birds. Bryce still always ahead, always testing the water. His protective, fearlessness stamping on the ground to rid the place of imaginary snakes for his brother not far behind. Then later, when Bryce might have different choices, but still walking ahead as the protector. Thinking that nobody might realize. And it was only when manhood crept up on them both that he alone knew that there would be no protector. That the way beyond lay broken and solitary. That a new way had to be forged through the forest.
Even by day the creek glowed against them. Transparent fish that could only be seen by using a fishing net and pulling them up. A flourescent pink net that somehow the fish liked and swam toward. The mason jar and the string. The pool they created in the front yard under the swing where they would empty their catch. The dragonflies flying above. The flies the fish would reach to the surface to grab. Then the fatness of their growing catch. And the fall and winter that would eventually take them all away again. Until next spring. The pond dead yet reflecting the moon. The creek now bereft of migrating cranes and mudlarks and otter and deer. Farmers then moving their cattle down the valley as the snow slowly fades in. Cow bells becoming fainter. Leaving only he an Bryce, snow-chilled and bracing the darkness of another season. Together. Losing their feet with every footfall. Wading up to their middle within a snowdrift. The surface flat, without the beads of light from the creek in the summer where it reflected future stars to dance in the sky on a late afternoon. Where the edges collected the debris of the trees and the bushes and laid it out as a canopy for everything that lived below. Then for everything that slept, below. For everything that was saved for next year. If they might still be here. If perhaps their fortitude remains strong and they can once again, return. To the edge of the creek.
Autumn came slowly that final year of Bryce. But he still did the walk anyway. Without looking down this time. Without holding a hand ahead. And without hearing the footsteps. Focusing on the Godless horizon and the canopy of russet browns and goldens. Gliding his eyes in the direction of the farm. Imagining a dog or a brother alongside him. It might be time to say goodbye after all, he heard himself say. It could be the time to be the brave soldier I never became. For, against the dwindling twilight, against a backdrop of what he now knew as love, lay the light years of distance from home and sits a once happy and feckless childhood, stands still somewhere a protector. Yet all now gone, drifting slowly back into his distant memory. And when he closes his eyes he sees that rope swing, then the marks in the bough where it wore away the bark across many summers. Then the single newer mark that then held Bryce and Bryce only. That final, ripened Bryce that only he was meant to discover. His immaculate uniform of a now defunct and far away regiment. Swinging alone on another battlefield, his first. Under the same sun and moon. Under the same mackerel sky where they once swung together, laughing…
That adventure landscape eventually became a place of pilgrimage. A place where, as the family scattered far and wide across the country to reason with their truths about Bryce and of how he went away, they came to the sacred shore. To the water line where only two brothers once glided alongside each other. Two lines of footprints becoming a field of sorrowful beats and indents upon the sand. No virgin sand ahead anymore as he walked and because of this he felt somehow violated. The lines now lead to the tree, to the bough, to the wall which Bryce stood upon - the last firm ground he would feel his feet upon. Now lay a shrine of burnt out novenas and votives. Regimental ribbons, pizza boxes, teddy bears, flowers wilted and dead. And space. And over the years there were no more tears, just a stubborn sense of duty and a fading sadness. An acceptance through time. Mourners, now elderly, wading through the sand. Eventually waving from a cliff when they could no longer take the beach to the shrine of Bryce. Tacit journeys meaning less as time raced forward. People gone and going, brushing the shore as they wander towards end of an existence. Toward the end of their own lives. Toward a sense of acceptance in the world.
The sadness of abandoned camp fires the following day reminded him of times back at high school when they might have brought a girl to their sacred space. Bryce always keener than he was. The elder and first to feel such things. To stir in that way. He felt the sacred playtime to be lost to them for good if that happened. The land was only theirs. And then it was lost to their history when a girl, the first one, Louisa, had tagged along with Bryce on several occasions. Five grew quickly to twelve. And Bryce did not stop her. She was always there. Including the first Saturday before the summer break. A time only shared by two brothers. A broken covenant. An unsaid agreement. The day he came down and caught Bryce and Louisa alone. And Bryce chased and caught up with him and told him to make sure he checked with him before he came down. This was never the agreement. We need to do ALL of our stuff down here, he said. Another broken rule. Bryce had pinned him to the ground as he had before. But now there was an urgency in his eyes. Now there was a need other than fun. Bryce’s body weight now effortlessly forcing him into the dirt. And when Bryce stood he looked down for a moment before he left. And in that moment, there was an unspoken farewell.
He began the wander back that would take him the next twenty years to complete. Along the bank. Bryce’s footsteps heading back in another direction. Alongside them another smaller set of feet. Smaller than his own. He heard Bryce laugh from somewhere. Then she, Louisa, laughed too. Then they fell silent. And he stopped once more and looked at the reflection of the season in the creek. On the other side this time. On a hill. Across the glass of a creek in a forest. He turned towards the silence along the edge of the creek and placed a foot into one of Bryce’s imprints. He was almost there now. A half size to go. Still smaller than Bryce. But bigger than Louisa. He heard her laugh now and he turned back on his path home. Skimming the creek and breaking the view. Shouting nothing at the top of his voice, so he knew they would hear. Shouting out the unfairness. Shouting out something alien to him in his ever-growing life, his new loneliness. As a man, he now stopped and considered that first recognition of solitude, and how it had played out across time to where he was now. And the distance from Bryce. Their mother’s bulletins as to where Bryce was stationed. What he was doing. The discharge burn on his arm, that time in the desert. The healing and returning. The bear hugs at Christmas with him pulling Bryce closer to him than ever.
Mayer mountain never changed. It defied every season. When all around it slowly dropped from brown to gold to gone, it remained always the same. Every season on the shore. Bryce said it was full of Apache. That he’d discovered scalps hanging from trees there. It was in the paper, in the reporter. Hundreds of them they found, some still bleedin’ and drippin’ into the soil… I never questioned him. Mayer always seemed to hold her secrets tightly. Mayer was a place not to go. But now, as a man, it looked smaller and less forbidding. It held no fear the way it once did. No Apache hiding in the striations anymore. Just Mayer mountain. Somebody’s vessel touched the water from the shore. A canoe school who had built their own boat house just like that. Right along the back road where the brothers walked back sometimes. Now school kids’ shouts could sometimes be heard. Screaming. Laughing at the future. And then birdsong rising above even that to push it all forward in the summer. Before the migrations to South America, to towns and mesa. Leaving only the Fall again. And the lines of the trees, russet and sketched softly against their sky.
Or perhaps it was where he came back from, that really began to matter. From the city where he went as a young idealist. To the country again with a girl. Then back to the city when that was over. While Bryce married his life to his adventure. Endlessly looking out for the rustling in the trees. Forging his life through combat in all the wrong arenas. His expectant call from his mother or an uncle or a neighbor to tell him the bad news. Expected every day, except the day it arrived cold. Just field phone crackle messages wishing him happy birthday as he held down a miserable job, the same; the scant attempt to bring in a paycheck - and now, the thoughtlessness with which he viewed it all. It was again here, again fall, still solitary, the sky above the creek, again grey. Returning here, to the creek edge, wandering, alone, twenty years later. With nowhere new to run for cover because there was never any to be had. A child is called by an adult up ahead. The myth that one day they’d both return to this shore as men with the weight of a life of stories behind them to talk well into the faithful night, slowly building, their wandering now gone. But alone now he walks. No hand ahead of him. The same. Every rock is on the shore. That tree that Bryce and Louisa once hid behind. Thinking he couldn’t see them. When he turned and left that final time.
The log the same. Just bearing more shoots and leaves and parasites. A carving of letters of B and K, then L and B in a bad heart. He lay down where Bryce would have laid and didn’t see Louisa but Bryce’s face staring back. A sun behind his head as he tickled him, laughing more at the reaction that he was a victim. Then wrestling across the sand. The switch and he was on top pinning Bryce down. Submitting and loosening his grip. Then the snap to the groin and Bryce was gone down the creek edge laughing at him doubling up by the fallen log. The water rose as it did after a thaw and they sat again on the log talking lowly about concerns. Of parents. And undergarments and friends from lower school and where they are now. Bryce wanted to be the first astronaut from Mount Vernon. It’s possible, we had an airline pilot once. Mr. Frol used to teach him. He’d be cut off by a distant plane and lay, still, on his back in silence. As if he were listening to some future mantra, or something he knew he would again have to follow. He’d break the conversation and jump up when he’d had enough. The conversation over, no replies or additions. Like he was already moving away, beginning to grasp the future man he was always becoming, next to the creek.
Yet he still wondered about the third that always walked amongst them. When the beach was empty after him and Bryce. Then Louisa. Then Bryce and Louisa. Then him alone. People moving back from the big cities to have their kids in the mountains of their childhood. Back when there was more land to go around. Back when two brothers could easily be alone. Gliding into each other’s thoughts. Him now heading towards Bryce’s shrine alone. And the new kids screaming somewhere outside his vision. And someone cutting him off, quickly moving towards Bryce’s shrine. A shape that he knew. The gesture of a return now that Bryce could return no more. A determination in the footfall. And yet he knows the shape. The hair is not right, but he knows the shape. His arm reaches out involuntarily. And he stutters. Then clears his throat and paces up quicker until he is right behind her. Framed by Mayer mountain she stops as if by instinct. And he catches up panting. His voice now a rasp. Louisa. He says because he just knows. And Louisa looks down. Then turns slowly around. Her head along the skyline. Her smile still the same.
And as they talk she looks behind to someone else. As she talks she smiles into his eyes and sees in there the eyes of her first love. And he remains silent for a while. Forgiving her for taking Bryce away all those years ago. He never knew why she left. And then she smiled and looked back over his shoulder and a tear leaked quickly and ran down her cheek. There were our reasons. We all had reasons. She wiped her cheek with her sleeve and smiled that same old smile again. The one that got Bryce all those years ago at this same creek. At the same beach. In that same summer. He told her that his reason was always Bryce. And she said the same. But then she went off again, day dreaming over his shoulder. He remembered her. He remembered that look. She walked behind him, and he turned and followed. A teenager took photographs of the spaces between the creek edge and Mayer mountain. Louisa stopped at the girl. Then embraced her, and then he saw Louisa whisper something, a clue perhaps. But when the girl looked back, he somehow saw him again. At the edge of the creek again. Smiling back at him. Together again.
In September 2017 the writer requested a series of 12 square format photographic images from the artist. Certain restrictions applied: they were to be in photographic order, on one 12 exposure film reel, even if some were not exposed during the assignment and that the series was to follow a narrative constructed by the artist but not relayed to the writer. The writer received the images in October 2017. It then became the writers task to find a narrative meaning within the images - seeing each image fresh, then writing unedited. Without realising, the artist and writer both differed and agreed on several key points on two separate narratives, both meshing and pulling away at the same time. Writer - Carl Oprey Artist - Alex Wolkowicz
Images © Alex Wolkowicz, 2017. Words © Carl Oprey, 2017. Typography Jon Barraclough