Two Pictures + A Story; Memories
The air was fresher, up there on the rooftop and the clangorous, grimy old city below was almost beautiful; dipped in sunset orange and hung about with smoky shadows. I swept over the familiar silhouette of spires and chimneys to a profile even more well-known, but infinitely more interesting. I studied the way the highlights fell across her decisive nose and rounded her chin and the delicate fan of her downturned lashes, remembering the fairy child of the irrecoverably distant past. She had been a slight, wise-eyed wisp of a thing surrounded by a cloud of wind-tangled yellow hair.
I smiled, noting that the hair, at least, had stayed the same.
She opened her eyes and, seeing the remains of the smile lingering on my face, answered it with one of her own.
"What're you thinking about?" She asked.
I shrugged my shoulders against the sun-warmed brick of the wall.
"The olden days, I guess."
Her smile widened, pushing aside the tiredness in her face. "We're youngsters yet! Don't you go aging me before my time with this talk of 'olden days'...you sound like Great-Aunt Eustasia."
"Don't you miss those good times, though?" I persisted. "And don't they seem long ago? Almost another lifetime, seems to me."
"Of course I miss them. Especially during the good days like this, when they seem almost in my reach again." She stretched out her strong, lean hands, calloused like any man's might be, and frowned at the city through the gaps between her fingertips. "I wonder what Great-Aunt Eustasia would say if she saw me now? She used to lecture so about being a lady. Keeping my hair tidy and my hands white and...oh well, it doesn't matter now." She lifted her eyes to the gold-rimmed cloud wrack above us. "I lift up my eyes to the hills." She quoted, softly, "from whence comes my help...do you know, whenever I think about that verse, I think about the big cypress tree down by the swimming hole, and how you pulled me up into it that time to protect me from the 'gator?"
"I'll never forget." I shivered at the memory. "I was sure we'd both be eaten if we came down."
"We'd have stayed up there all night if I hadn't managed to convince you that it was, in fact, a log."
"I still have my doubts."
She tore off a hunk of bread crust and threw it at me. "Ridiculous fellow! Mountains out of molehills and 'gators out of tree trunks. You should go in for writing. Let that imagination do you some good for a change."
I idly gnawed the crust, looking out over the gathering shadows."Mayhap I will." I said. "Mayhap I'll write a story about a boy and a girl and long, long summers and a swimming hole with tall, shady trees. Mayhap I'll write them a great-aunt with a sacred front parlor and the most horrific horse-hair sofas you can imagine. I'll be certain to include some thrilling adventures, too. Pirate boats on the bayou and savages in the shrubbery, and sneaking cookies from under the cook's nose."
"Cook would scold so." There was a tell-tale catching in her voice. I looked 'round and caught the glimmer of a tear before she dashed it away.
"I'm sorry." I said. "I didn't mean to..."
"It's all right." She replied. "Really. I would hate myself a little if I didn't cry."
"Oh." Her reasoning had always baffled me, so I let the statement lie and blundered on in hopes of lightening the mood. "I could do something about a harum-scarum blonde girl. Always getting into scrapes and dragging her poor, unsuspecting cousin into them, too."
"Liar!" She sniffled, laughed, and hurled another bread crust. "I was the good child, remember?"
"Only because Aunty never found out who actually set fire to the hall carpet."
"Well, you have me there." She subsided, turning her attention back to the low-swinging sun.
We sat quietly for a moment. Vivid fragments of memory drifted through my mind's eye. The fire in the hall carpet...me doubting, and her reassuring that 'it'd be fine.' The ensuing chaos and smoke in our eyes, and her making me cross my heart and hope to die should I ever divulge to Aunty whose idea it had been. The ensuing lecture, with Aunty's forbidding, ring-encrusted forefinger waggling in our faces. "Whatever will I do with you? You're goin' to give me heart failure..."
Her voice broke in with an abrupt question. "Do you remember how safe we all felt?"
I shifted, blinked. "What, with you trying to burn the house down?"
"Not that, of course. But just those days. They were like our swimming hole...secret and surrounded and safe. Just safe. Even if there had been a 'gator there, he couldn't have hurt us. Not really."
I nodded, not entirely comprehending but wishing her to continue.
"We'll always be all right, you and I, because we have the memories. Something to build on...you know? Something wholesome and solid...something tying us together."
The sun dipped behind the bulk of a taller building, and our rooftop grew suddenly dim and cold. She stood, brushing crumbs from her jacket.
"I should be getting home." She said.
I felt a familiar plunge of disappointment as I also got to my feet. "Come on." I offered my arm. "I'll go with you."
She quirked an eyebrow at me. "It's the next street over. I doubt I'll get lost."
Of course she wouldn't. She had the homing instinct of a messenger pigeon. But she would carry the closeness and warmth of our memories away with her, and I dreaded being left alone in the dark.
"There might be 'gators in the canals." I said. "You never know."
It was a feeble joke, but she laughed, anyway. "In that case, we're better off together, I suppose." She said, and put her arm through mine. We fell easily into step and descended the narrow stairs.
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