The journey to my people’s house is about three hours if you stay on the black roof and about 10 minutes more if you go to the back road. So it’s not a shortcut, really. But I always go backwards because it seems to me like I get home faster. Turning off the black ceiling is as subtle as I once drove by, but now that I see the barn with the empty roof and aspen growing around it, I know to slow down and turn left onto the gravel of the McCabe street washboard. It is raised and on a rise, and once the alder swamp appears, I can only see the wood rooster that seemed to have appeared overnight.
My friend Jo, who was living right on the street at the time, had woken up at dawn and spotted the dark shapes jumping over the tops of the alders and swimming down an ancient slope in the mess. When we got to the lid, the rooster crowed everywhere – the little sloping aliens climbing through the branches. They hung in the sky like helicopters. We had never seen a real woodpecker flight before, with alders buzzing suddenly from the birds. It was as if a new window had opened on a world we thought we knew every inch of it. Neither Jo nor I could hit one to save our lives, but we lost for the best reasons: we were so fascinated by this to do anything else.
Take the right onto Bills Road, where a stream flows at one end of a canal and flows from the other, forming a wide pool. I still half wait to see my grandfather’s car there. The thought makes me laugh, but also brings a nuance of regret.
Grandpa had lightened his red Dodge Omni and thrown it in the park. He strongly believed in the idea that old age gave him the right to do whatever he wanted, and when his feet would no longer support him along the creek side paths, he had started to park his car right on the road above the canal. and fishing from the passenger seat.
While he was laying a plaster, I tried downstream, catching a bunch of fish and holding two small stream trout to eat. When I returned, Grandpa inspected my fish. “That’s it, is it?” he said. “Yes,” I lied, and he erected three larger streams paved on an alder branch. “What do you think of them?” The look on his face said: The old man still has it, but his hands were shaking from the cold and I felt bad that I left him. On the way home, I promised we would be back, but we never did. The day Grandpa died, he said, “Come on, David, we’re going fishing,” but he just got to the bathroom.
Turning right on Sperry Road, I can not help but think of Clem, or “Good Old Clem,” as we called it.
My brother Greg and I were going home from fishing when we raised our eyes and out of nowhere, there stood Clem Kadiddlehopper. No one knew Clem’s real name, only that he wandered the back streets by day and, we imagined, went down to town at night to kidnap people’s pets, or if you were not careful.
Now he appeared right in front of us. Because, as far as we could see, there was only a long string of black caps and endless rows of corn standing on either side. We were as good as dead, I thought. But then Greg, always the bravest, reached for his mushroom, produced some whitewashed trout, and handed it to Clement, whose mouth, which had formed a tightly closed circle, widened into an open smile. He took the fish and gave each of us a pat on the shoulder and some kind of hard hug.
It was a relief and a revelation at the same time. Clem was not a bugyman. He was a friendly old man who for reasons we did not understand lived in the woods. And although it was never a real possibility, the fact that he did not leave us dead on a road between two cornfields seemed very good to him at the time. From that day on, we called it the “Good Old Clement.”
From there it’s a direct hit on my people’s town, and as I get closer, memories come very quickly to mention them, except for one I always try to get away with as I pass my grandparents’s house.
I had broken a window with a baseball and Dad cut himself fixing it. I was in my room getting upset when I heard her scream in a way I had never heard before. I went outside and saw blood on the sidewalk and then followed the dark red spots along the way and up the stairs to my grandparents ’house. When I opened the door, I saw my grandmother, a nurse, leaning on my dad, who was lying motionless on the floor, dead.
Worse thinking, I started running until I reached the forest, where I cried until I finally realized I would have to go back and find out if I had really killed my father. When I got there, Dad and Mom were on the porch with the front door open, Dad with bandages on his wrists, both waving me to the place where I am always welcome, no matter what.
And here they are now, as I retreat inside. They always see my car from the living room window, and the moment I get back on the street, they are there, with the door open.