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 footstep