Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Uncles/Aunts (04/17/08)
TITLE: Before Breakfast
By Loren T. Lowery
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Jason, my mother’s brother, three years my senior, is being the father I never had. It is early morning and we’re walking the rails, going fishing to our secret cove on Silver Lake.
Our outlines are but dark silhouettes in the rising orange mist of the sun. The sound of gravel crunches beneath our feet; and, as the morning warms, the earthy smell of oil from the timbers tethering the rails, tickles the air.
To our left a flock of geese honk and slip effortlessly into the lake. To our right, swallows dart and swoosh, turning invisible corners, following unseen paths.
“Think we’ll catch him this time?” I ask, thinking of Whiskers, the legendry ten-pound catfish of Silver Lake.
“I guess it’s sorta like Lewis Carroll once said.”
“You’re weird, but what?”
“‘Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’” His laugh in the morning light is infectious.
He is right of course; no one has been able to catch Whiskers for over ten years. It is an impossible thing to believe. But what is not impossible was the time we were about to spend together at our secret cove.
Here, we would dangle our lines in the still waters and be teased by the bobbing corks. Here we would talk about baiting hooks with grubs; and, how girls are incredibly different from guys.
Here, on the quiet banks, we’d discuss the latest cars from Detroit, which baseball team would make the play offs and watch smoke from the chimneys of the nearby paper mill.
The second volley of shots resounded, but it failed to pull my thoughts from the railroad tracks on that early June morning.
“Are you afraid?” I finally ask.
“You know, going into service. You might die.” I dare not look at him to see how he’d taken my question. Instead, there is a brief pause and I push him. “How come you signed up? Mom said you could have got a deferment or something.”
“What goes on in a man’s head, not always easy to understand, Jimmy.” He points to the right, to the darting swallows above the berm. “See those birds over there? See how they’re changing direction ever which way. Seems to be no rhyme or reason to it but to them; chasing things no one else is able to see.”
“So, that’s sorta like me. Going after something a lot of people can’t see. Some people chase after things everybody can see and feel in their hands, but for me, it’s different.”
“But you might be killed – you don’t know.”
This time there is no pause. “You know what I like about walking the rails?” He doesn’t wait for a response. “It’s the way they seem to come to a point just ahead of you, but they don’t and if you just keep walking you find they keep opening up.
“That’s the way life is, you don’t know how it’s going to end, but you just keep walking. I don’t want to die, but running from it doesn’t change it, maybe even makes it worse, because when you look back, the rails are always closed.
“There’s a war going on, Jimmy, and a lot of folk are not only running from it, but don’t even see why it’s being fought. I don’t want to live or die that way.”
At sixteen, my mind is not able to wrap itself around such esoteric concepts - the intangible qualities he sees so clearly. Nobility, integrity, freedom, even death itself are too distant, too irrelevant. These are weights I’ve never had to test my strength against.
“I’ll write,” I said not knowing what else to say.
“When you do, tell me about catching Whiskers, memories to keep us close and a reason to keep me walking to hurry home.”
The third and final volley of shots fire, pulling me out of my reverie. I look up, a uniformed officer is handing my grandmother a triangular flag.
At his open grave, I drop a photograph. It is of me, smiling broadly with Whiskers held high in my right hand. It is taken on the tracks. On my chest, a sign: BEFORE BREAKFAST.
“Keep walking,” I whisper. “I’m up to only three impossible things.”
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