"No more let Life divide what Death can join together." Percy Shelley
| Puck kneeled beside the casket, eyes closed as he placed his right palm against the tight-aged grain of stained oak. They watched, all of them; he was known for things such as these. Few were the days that passed without the definition of his words: a quote of some kind, lines written by some Romantic that never had a place in the world until Puck had so decided.
Tears rolled unchecked along cheeks flushed red, his breath coming in quiet gasps broken by sharp sniffles and the strain of keeping his voice in check. He was known for things such as these; he knew it just as well as any of them.
“The last scud of day holds back for me,” he began, quiet at first. “It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadowed wilds.”
He rubbed his nose hard and continued.
“It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk,” he said. “I depart as air, and shake my white locks at the runaway sun…”
Richie was kneeling beside him then, his right palm against the coffin, his left resting soft against one of Puck’s hanging shoulders. He closed his eyes, recalling lines he’d rolled over without a second glance or single care. But he knew them then, better than any.
“I give myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I loved,” he remembered, though his throat tried its damnedest to close. “If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.”
He smiled, quiet, at the Christ-like quotation.
“Failing to fetch me at first,” Carly followed. “Keep encouraged.”
He’d known those lines as well, given them more glances than he could remember. He’d read them over and again, written them to himself in a dozen different places. And yet now he wished he never had.
“Missing me one place, search another.”
It had become another exercise in stubbornness and simple human inability. To search and never find and still, despite the understanding of insanity – to do the same but always to expect something different – to forever fail and somehow carry on encouraged. Life, they say, is suffering. Suffering is caused by ignorance and want.
Suffering is caused by silence, kept secret by lies. But life begins in ignorance, and we are everything we are by way of what we wanted. Man must be ignorant to learn. We must want, at the very least, to overcome. But we say it, or we suffer.
He looked down at his own hands. In one, he clenched an over handled rose, bruised brown by the constant worrying of his fingers. The other clenched nothing but a fist, save perhaps some sweat and a little air. I stop somewhere waiting for you, said a small voice in his head. Somewhere, for you, I stop waiting. Somewhere I stop waiting for you. Even Whitman could see it coming.
“Who wishes to walk with me?” Carly asked of the small congregation.
“Will you speak before I am gone?” he said, with one last glance at the casket. “Or will you prove yourself already too late?”
He looked down again to the white, worried rose now held soft between his fingers, letting it fall upon the cut, tamped grass at his feet.
“No more let Life divide what Death can join together…”
"I have been so incredibly blind to everything. I'm so sorry."
"Not blind. You aren't that lucky. Just always looking in different directions."
"But I've been such a fool."
"Our common ground, then, at last."
"We're so far from where we started, or where we wanted to go."
"Life seen behind a veil of subtle revelations."
"But it's never seen in time, is it? That's the big lesson."
"Life was never about time, Richie; time just got swept up along the way."
"I know the feeling..."
"Don't we all, though? And we'll never have the chance to understand why."
"Are we just not meant to, Carly? Is it that unfair?"
"It's better, and worse, than that. We just aren't capable; we never were."
"Will it always be like this?"
"I think so, sometimes. But I don't know. It's too big for me."
"I'm glad you stayed. It makes it easier, just having you here."
They drifted together in moonlight, listening to the trees weaving slowly in the breeze just past the deck's railing. The sunlit warmth of the day had passed, and they were left with a night very similar to the one that had brought them together years before. Carly was sitting on the railing, his back to the sway of the trees and the ground some thirty feet below. It was part of why Richie often called him fearless. Maybe he was with some things.
“Did you talk to Puck before he left?”
“Is he ok?”
“He will be, I think.”
Carly nodded, and a long quiet moment came between them. The night bugs came out soon after. He found himself scanning the night sky for clouds, wishing more than anything for it to rain.
“I love you, Carly.”
At some point, Richie had leaned against him, putting his arms around him. It was odd, he thought, to be looking down at Richie. It had always been reversed, due to his height and the strange and varied roles of their friendship. But there was a certain beauty to Richie's eyes, looking upward at him. He rested his arms on Richie's shoulders, leaned down and put their foreheads together. It was always so much easier, saying the right thing, with his mind so close to another's.
They ended up passing out on the couch, snug together beneath a light blanket, watching a movie Carly couldn't quite remember the next morning. But he remembered thinking that they would never be able to keep a distance between them. Left unbound, they would forever come crashing together. It seemed the two had made quite an impression in the fabric of their lives. The necessity each held for the other was a lot like gravity, just not so damned predictable.
Puck stood alone, a sorrowful sketch of sadness and self-doubt, staring at the unmoving conveyors that horseshoed throughout his designated baggage claim at LAX. He wished that he'd had at least a moment's time to speak with Carly. Carly was their Heirophant, their otherworldly sage. Just as Puck had spent his adolescence immersed in the living words of long-dead Romantics, Carly had spent his formative years studying the people he loved and lived with. He was lonely – Hell, they were both lonely – but Puck had found his path, as far from home as possible. He had since filled the depths of his loneliness with Purpose.
Carly seemed to still be wandering the wilderness with dusk close behind and nothing but that eerie, melancholy wisdom to guide him. For now, though, Puck was relieved that Carly had remained home, even rekindled the bond that he'd shared with Richie since the two had spent their days swatting at each other with plastic shovels – at four and five years old, the two had no emotional gravity between them; in fact, within the thin borders of a long-since dismantled sandbox, the two were mortal enemies. Over time they grew closer than brothers; over time, they found love – at least until Puck had arrived, wrench-in-hand for their meticulously oiled gears.
Other passengers from his red-eye flight had begun to filter into the baggage claim, their faces drawn with fatigue and that proprietary brand of airline-induced frustration. None among them sought eye-contact with others; it was well understood that they all looked and felt like hammered hell. They maintained their unspoken contract, pilfered without purpose through their carry-on, stared at their FAA-recommended footwear, glancing occasionally toward the conveyors with the hopes of manifesting its movement with sheer desperation alone. The Airborne Dead continued to crowd forward; Puck took half a dozen steps back, having been whopped – twice, to be exact – by an overly enthusiastic passenger's aluminum-framed, wheely-roller suitcase...the kind only executives and astronauts could afford.
He joined the other tentative onlookers, each of them hammering away at their BlackBerries or iPhones, pulling his own modest cell from his carry-on – the bookbag he'd used throughout High School. He'd missed two calls from Richie – the first no doubt to check on him, the second to apprise him of Carly's well-being. He'd also missed a call from his agent, who had sent him several texts in lieu of voicemail. The tickering death of language as we know it, as Carly referred to texting. The thought was nostalgically cheerful, so much in fact that he even considered giving him and Richie a call, despite the difference in time. Then he remembered Carly's words, “...will you prove yourself already too late?”
Again he felt the cool solidity of the casket – David's casket – Carly's David, the fourth member of their unbreakable quartet...David, with whom Puck had never made the slightest effort. From the day that David and Carly became official, he couldn't recall a single word between them that didn't trail a comet's tail of accusations, or a single question that, itself, didn't ask a dozen more questions by its nature alone. They argued without ever letting on just how jealous the two of them truly were. As Puck decided that it would perhaps be best to call first thing the next morning, an alarm began to blat in time with yellow strobes placed along the baggage claim walls.
Squeezing past several dozen passengers, Puck was pleased to see his duffel bag – mashed like aged zucchini – come fumbling through the twists and turns, and he hefted it over one shoulder, bashing the first gridlocking executive he came across as he headed toward the exit, and the multitude of traffic and carparks outside. Three cigarettes later he hailed a cab, its taillights burning a sickly shade of ochre as it made its way into the smog surrounding the city.
He fell asleep that night thinking of Richie – Richie who'd cried for the first time since Puck had known him upon Puck's management deal in Los Angeles. In the eight months since, Puck had managed to flash a three-second smile in a forty-five second Aquafresh commercial. Richie still had it on TeVO, dragged it out like a photo-album every time Puck came home to visit. Richie with the Abercrombie body and the Robert Redford eyes, coasting through Yale business in preparation to inherit “the Empire” at 25. Puck missed him; he missed all of them, vowed again to call first thing in the morning. He awoke to birds outside his window, ten minutes late for a call-back...something more prominent than toothpaste, at least, something essential, like nicotine gum or Dego's Frozen Pizzas (look for them in the freezer aisle, hyperbole-induced smile).
He was wrong, actually – it was Clearasil's new micro-abrasion torture device. He played “the amazed prom date” to a 20-something, clear-skinned “High School student” who emerged from wardrobe in a white chiffon cloud of knee-length ruffles.
“I need more amazement this take, Boyfriend!” he heard roughly twenty-eight times. “She's glowing; her goddam skin is glowing and it's amazing, got it? Go again, please...and, background...”
When he finished he dug through his duffel bag for his phone - Richie was relieved he'd made it home safe but was so buried in catch-up reading he could only speak in grunts. Puck tried Carly, straight to voicemail, emailed just in case, filched a quart of Beefeater from the set and spent the rest of the night tasting Christmas more than gin, rather drunk, waiting for Carly to call. He dreamed, sometime before dawn, that a chiffon swan had friended him on Facebook, and it was just so goddam amazing, all of it...except the Beefeater hangover that settled like iron embers behind his eyes.
At his desk, Carly sat and watched a little black and white moth trying valiantly, vainly, to climb a speckled, dirty window. Behind it a quiet pasture dozed in peaceful ease beneath the damp chill of an early spring morning. These were the mornings of childhood and memory; he knew every touch and smell and sound. Had he walked barefoot through the beaten grass he would’ve felt the coolness of the dew that caught that first red light of dawn, would’ve felt each sharp report of the dry, yellow stalks of cut hay against his skin. Spiders’ webs stretched between tufts and summits like silver dishes – bright beneath a ghost of mist that retreated upward as if disturbed by the waking of the world.
Soon, as the season brought its warmth, he could perch upon the flat, massive stone that hung out and over the very creek that had carved that valley, inch by patient inch, and listen to those garbling waters - just set out from the mountain spring a stone’s throw above. He could lie there and wait for the cicadas, for their song that would forever remind him of rain, looking up through the squinted leaves of the locust trees as they brushed, touched, reached and released in the air above him. As morning eased into midday he could slip his toes into the water, suddenly a child again, and feel the nipping curiosity of the minnows that made their darting home among the slow and sandy depths of the river bend.
The moth seemed to remember it had wings and fluttered upward, only to alight somewhere higher on the glass. Unable to catch hold, it sank back to the dingy sill. He could’ve put his hand beneath it, patient as the carving water at the bottom of the pasture below, lifting gently, setting it high and right. Although, watching the errant effort, he wasn’t certain it could appreciate its elevation, little black and white moth that it was. He could’ve cupped it in his hands and turned it loose, but he wasn’t certain it could recognize its freedom, alone in the wilds outside. Had it been gray, dusty, and boring, he probably would’ve just killed it. Although, regardless of its coloring, he was fairly confident it wouldn’t know the difference if it were dead...
“To have gone through so much,” said a sad, sudden voice within him. “To have given so much love in the face of such sadness, having seen what you have seen, with all of your accomplishments and your friends...only to wish them all away in a breath of unhappiness. Do you finally see it now - that all our little wishful pennies still sit, and will forever, there at the dark bottom of our great Well of Empty Wishes. Do you see now?
“The truth of our entire lives is seen, as it has always been, in subtle revelations such as these. Yet for the first time in your existence you can see this one in time, before that wishful penny falls to lie still forever. See it for yourself; see it for any you have ever loved. See it now and never forget, because the whole world for all its sadness will reap the rewards of your wisdom. But you must share it, not hide it away in your pocket - left to jingle against a countless handful of other such revelations that you may never see in time.
“For if you can share it with enough of them, perhaps at least some of their tears will not have been in vain. Your task is great, and there is so very little time. But time is not the only thing we’ve swept up along the way. It's just the easiest thing to blame for a lifetime of moments we may live but never truly have. Yet if you succeed, you can have them now, each and every one of them, from this moment on.
“But you must leave these empty wishes,” said the voice within, gaining a climatic timbre. “Leave them with those days you never had. For if you keep them, you will always compare what little you truly have to a thousand wonders’ worth of what you cannot – even now, while you live this life that neither science nor faith can fully explain, all the while surrounded by a thousand screaming miracles, with each of them, forever, calling out your name...
“Leave these wishes-for-better-things. For then, and only then, will you ever have the chance to live free.”