Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Big Yellow Pick-Up

The Big Yellow Pick-Up

         For so many working people, the dream job is one that they can leave behind them when they go home at the end of the day. Isn’t odd then, that so many people identify themselves at the workplace with elements of their personal lives?
The staff at TC Insurance was full of avid proponents of just such behavior.
Doris Eaves, the office manager, belonged to a very formidable bowling team. Her office was jammed with trophies. Her ever working on a Saturday was out of the question, and she used up her vacation days on various Fridays and Mondays throughout the year, traveling to tournaments around the country. Among the sales staff, Don Branch’s office was a barrage of colors and textures furnished by his own crocheted afghans, throw pillows, and wall hangings. He claimed that they increased his sales, and his client list would actually bear that out. Bobby Conley’s office was peppered with golfing regalia. Every winter, he took the same two weeks off to fly down to Palm Springs to play. He always returned with at least a couple hefty policies.
        Kevin Darling’s thing was movies. He had a big, original poster of the silent film, “Wings,” hanging behind his desk, as well as some framed lobby cards of Hollywood classics and black-and-white 8x10s of stars and character actors. He had bought a few of them with autographs, and like Don’s crochet decor, the memorabilia was often a conversation starter, which would turn a potential client into a solid sale.
       For six years, Kevin had been married to Lisa, a young woman of a cinematically like-mind, and she was no pretender. Between the husband and wife, there were challenges of knowledge of film. Who directed “The Bride of Frankenstein”? Who was the author of the play, which became the movie, “Key Largo”?
        Thursday nights were their dinner-in-with-movie nights.
    This Thursday, Kevin hurried out of the stolid, squat office building, past Harmon, their pivoting secretary, to his car. Thursday nights were not only movie rental nights; they were also nights of Chinese take-out and a bottle of... how many even know where to find a bottle of plum wine below the Mason-Dixon Line? It was a special stop. In fact, so were all three.
Kevin got his plum wine, Szechuan chicken, double sauteed pork, shrimp fried rice, wonton soup, “Kentucky Fried Movie,” and “Ruggles of Red Gap.” His day, and sharing the rest of it with his wife, would be complete. The Chinese food steamed on the passenger seat. He had tossed the movies into the back, just in case some of the wonton soup spilled. He’d put the plum wine bottle down by the spare tire, for the highly unlikely event that he’d get pulled over, and then, as he pulled out onto the Interstate for the couple miles to his exit, came the friggin’ jerk in the canary yellow pick-up truck.
The truck blasted past, its Glass-Pak mufflers muffling nothing in the evening, homecoming traffic. Kevin saw the driver’s head and shoulders. The man in the yellow pick-up was a balding man of bright red, showing through pale, milky, freckled skin.
Kevin put his foot on the gas.
“Jackass,” he thought.
Kevin was accustomed to the Interstate traffic of a Thursday evening. It would be backed up about three hundred yards before his exit, everybody pulling up to get off. The dick in the yellow pick-up was alongside Kevin’s car, and Kevin made damned sure that the guy in the truck couldn’t squeeze into the exit lane, as he surely wanted to do. The man in the truck was in a useless hurry, and Kevin would give no quarter. He jockeyed his car so that there was no room between him and the other cars, fast approaching the stalled line of traffic at the exit. The man in the yellow pick-up truck made defensive eye contact with Kevin, shot his glance down the forward few hundred yards, and sped off to the next exit, loudly, angrily.
Kevin had succeeded in not letting him in.
And then there was “movie night,” and plum wine and Chinese food, and a soft, comfy wife on the couch.
And then there was the television news.
A man had been killed on the Interstate. The video news presented footage of his overturned, canary yellow, souped-up truck. The other man in the Freightliner semi was shaken but uninjured, sober. The yellow pick-up had whipped in ahead of the semi on the Interstate, one exit past Kevin’s, and had clipped its rear bumper with the laden Freightliner’s front end. The big yellow pick-up had flipped over at least four times, landing on its crushed roof.
Through the pleasure of languid rest beside his wife’s warm, dozing body, “movie night,” Chinese food, and plum wine, Kevin jolted awake.
He knew, “I sent that man down that road.”
Starting to shake, he muttered, “Twice a dick.”
Kevin did not wake Lisa as he gaped in awe at the short, television news clip, then he moved Lisa and himself to the bedroom, and was only able to sleep several hours later, privately, fitfully.
At 7am, as usual, he awoke; he pretended to awaken. He jostled his wife’s shoulder, and together they did their morning routine. Kevin got into the car he had driven the night before and drove to the insurance office, conscientiously pushing the movies through the “return” slot at the rental place on his way there. Somehow, he thought it would add an element of secure normalcy to his morning and prepare him to face the last people he had seen before his new, morbid secret.
As it was each day, there were three copies of the local paper on Harmon’s desk. Everyone in the office wanted either yesterday’s sports or stock market quotes, today’s crossword and comics, or tomorrow’s weather.
Of course, in plain black and white, there was a four-inch by four-inch photo of an overturned pick-up truck on the front page. The headline read: “Larry Bell, High School Basketball Coach, in Highway Death.”
As Kevin’s mouth opened, lifting a copy of the paper, and his eyes widened, Harmon looked up at him, and pleaded, “Isn’t it just horrible? He’s in my congregation. He was going to be Billy’s coach next year... my Billy.”
 Kevin averted his eyes from Harmon. He averted his eyes from the newspaper, dropping it to his side.
“Any calls?” he asked.
“Not yet.”
“Mind if I take this with me to my office?”
“That’s why we get three, so everybody can see it.”
Harmon’s eyes met Kevin’s. He was perspiring. It might have been last night’s plum wine.
“Mr. Darling?” she asked, “I don’t really know how to put this.”
How could she know?
“Would you please put one of these in the men’s room? I usually get here a little earlier... and Mr. Branch usually gets here at about five-after, and he... likes to...”
“Well, of course I can.”
Kevin quickly opened the men’s room door, and carelessly tossed the other copy of the paper into the john, while still reading the story of the man killed in the canary yellow pick-up. Entering his office, he had to turn to page 9, not only to continue the saga of the Interstate, but to read another article specifically of Larry Bell’s civic achievements. At the end of that piece, there was a referral to page twenty-three, where was Larry Bell’s third photo of the same edition of that Friday’s paper (four, if you count the one of the belly-up truck), accompanied by his proper obituary.
Kevin tried to take in so much information.
Of the life of a man.
Larry was the father to three children. They were two daughters, ages fifteen and seventeen, and a son, age ten. All were the children of the same mother, the only wife of Larry’s forty-three years. Larry’s own mother and father had distinguished themselves through anonymous hard work, and Larry was their only child. He had attended a community college, and there, met his wife, Marianna. He had studied physical education; she got a degree in “Home Economics.” Upon graduation, they married in and remained in their hometown.
Larry was hired as the basketball coach at the third-ranking high school in his hometown. There were but three high schools, and Larry had brought his team up to Number 2. Larry had also taught United States history and spent a few hours a week as a guidance councilor. His wife practiced her “home economics” at home with their three children.
“And with all that going for him,” thought Kevin, “what made him such a hot head?”
There was soft a knock on Kevin’s door, and Bobby Conley, the golfer, peeked in.
“Hey Kev, I was wondering if you got that response from Lassiter.”
He glanced at Kevin’s desk toward the newspaper and let himself all the way in.
“Gosh, y’know, I knew that guy. What a shame, huh?”
Kevin caught his composure enough to pretend not to have been absorbed with the photo and headline.
“Oh, this guy. Really? You knew him?”
“Yeah,” sighed Bobby, “Kinda. PTA and a couple rounds on the links. It’s a shame. He had a family... students, his team.”
Kevin pulled one out of his hat to seem detached, “Did we cover him?”
Bobby perked up, “You know, I don’t know. I’ll ask Harmon.” He thought again, “Oh, yeah, that Lassiter thing...”
Kevin relaxed. “Uh-huh. He called yesterday and had that kid fax it over. We sign by Monday, max.”
Bobby threw back his shoulders and grinned.
“Well, maybe I’ll get those new Pings by Easter. Coffee?”
“Sure, Harmon has it done?” Kevin said, thinking of tossing that God-damned newspaper back on her desk.

“Mmmm,” he said, over his coffee mug, as he did.

Kevin was eaten up for the rest of the day, but he closed three auto policies, one large and one small term-life, and he had an estate settlement with a greedy daughter and her attorney to resolve, so that all eased his guilty consumption. He’d had no stomach for lunch with the guys. At the end of the day, he left the offices and got into his car. He drove, he thought, like an old lady, down the Interstate to his jammed-up, Friday rush-hour exit ramp.
At home, Lisa had brought Caprese salad and spaghetti and meatballs from their favorite Italian place, along with a bottle of inexpensive California Chianti. Who wants to cook on a Friday? There were a couple of movies on TV during dinner, and Kevin was considerably more clingy with Lisa than usual. The television news had more to report, this evening, more of a sympathetic memorial piece, about Larry Bell, beloved local basketball coach, now somewhere, to Kevin, about five times more a dick than the anonymous one who had ripped past him on the road. Larry Bell had gone from a temporary resentment to a haunting.
“Let’s go to bed.”
Lisa blinked, “Okay. It’s a little a little early. Is everything alright?”
Lisa cocked her head and searched.

Saturday morning was warm and clear. Kevin put on a pot of coffee, as Lisa got dressed for her long jog. After she left, Kevin quickly dressed and drove out to buy the newspaper. On an impulse, he picked up a bottle of Christian Brothers brandy.
Once home, he poured some brandy into a cup of coffee, reread Larry Bell’s obituary, all that was left in the paper as a record of the man’s death. There would be a wake on Monday and Tuesday. Kevin began to ruminate. It was not a police matter; Kevin’s role was simply an incident. The fatal accident itself had happened almost three miles from where the two had encountered each other. It hadn’t even been road rage; it had been more like road irritation. If anyone had been enraged, it was Larry Bell, speeding off down the highway and angrily, Kevin speculated, swerving in front of the Freightliner. A light went on in Kevin’s mind, as he thought, “And ruining the truck driver’s life too!”
He poured himself another coffee and brandy.
How much of that is on me, he wondered? He had been prejudiced from the start, the loud flashy truck, the aggressive driving style, the red, impatient face to which he had taken an instant dislike. What if it had been some old man in a Mercury, or further, some attractive young woman in the same yellow pick-up truck, driving just as aggressively? Honestly, Kevin allowed that he would have let either one into the exit lane ahead of him. He frowned into his coffee cup and waded waist-deep into a pool of guilt. He was, he thought, partly responsible for the death of Larry Bell and for screwing up the lives of Larry’s family, students and team, as well as that of the trucker. Not to mention his own. The math was unimpeachable; if he took himself out of the equation, none of this would have happened.
Lisa bumped through the side door into the kitchen, puffing, smiling, and Kevin snapped from his reverie. She saw the bottle on the table and said, “You’re starting early, huh?”
Before Kevin could respond, she kissed him on the lips and muttered, “Yum,” at the sweet taste of brandy. She pulled the sweatband off through her hair her as she walked toward the bedroom. “I’m going to take a shower. Fix me one of those, will you?”
Kevin began to compile a short list of diversions that might help him through the rest of the weekend, aside from getting drunk. Although that was high up on the list, it was not his style, and it was not an answer. Movies would have to be chosen carefully – light fare, nothing about guilt – some home-cooked meals (Kevin was a very good cook.), maybe some yard work, make love to Lisa a few times... That should distract him until he could immerse himself in work on Monday.
Still, as Kevin brought Lisa’s spiked coffee into the bedroom and nuzzled her naked shoulder, she breathed in a low tone, “Are you sure you’re alright, honey?”
“Yeah, I guess I’m a little tense. It’s just work stuff.”
Trouper that she was, Lisa let the matter go, and they enjoyed their weekend of pleasant distractions. Late Sunday afternoon, as Lisa sank back into the pillows, smiling, glowing, she turned to Kevin and sighed through half-lidded eyes, “You seem a little far away.”
Kevin gently pulled her closer and whispered into her neck, “That lasagna has to come out in about ten minutes,” and that was that.

On Monday morning, as Kevin passed reception, he noticed that Harmon was not in her usual “office casual” attire. She was wearing a conservative white blouse with a blue silk scarf, which matched a knee-length skirt and black panty hose. Her hair was done up in a bun, and her make-up suggested that she could be on her way out on a date to a good restaurant.
Kevin feigned impressed surprise. “Well, well, Ms. Harmon, shall I ask who is the young man?”
Harmon had been divorced for about three years, and, because of her son, Billy, didn’t get out too often.
She lowered her eyes and blushed and said, “No, Mr. Darling, after work tonight I’m going to the wake for Larry Bell, you know, the man who died last Thursday.”
“Oh, that’s right. You said he was in your congregation. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by what I said about you having a date.”
“Oh no, I’m flattered that you noticed,” she said, and as Kevin turned to leave, “Mr. Darling?”
She held out a newspaper, and Kevin nearly winced.
“Could you put this in the men’s room, please?”
In his office, Kevin made a few phone calls and got his laptop and some literature and blank policies together for a meeting with a pharmacist about theft insurance. The woman had three stores, and with the escalating robberies and burglaries of Oxycontin and other man-made opiates, this would mean a juicy commission. She was already a client, so her signature was a shoo-in. Also, she was only about a half-mile away, so Kevin figured he’d walk.
On his way, he turned over in his mind the wisdom versus the folly of maybe accompanying Harmon to the wake that evening. Was it a dumb idea? He was very curious to see the wife, Marianna, and her children, to see the friends and associates of Larry Bell, to assess, to access somehow, the dead man’s life. Or was it a vain attempt to absolve himself of the guilt that he felt? Or was it a morbid desire to throw himself into Larry Bell’s familiar circle as some sort of penance?
He made his sale, and, walking back to the office, stopped at the diner and picked up a cheeseburger, a BLT, and a couple of iced teas. At the office, he gave the BLT and an iced tea to Harmon, who was just putting her things away, getting ready for lunch.
She looked in the paper bag and beamed, “Wow, thank you Mr. Darling! What are you, a mind reader? This is exactly what I was going to get.”
If Harmon did not pack her own lunch, that is exactly what she always got.
“Don’t worry about it." He turned toward his office, and pretended something had just occurred to him and turned back. “Hey, I was wondering, if you’re going to Larry Bell’s wake by yourself, maybe you’d like me to go along with you.”
Harmon looked perplexed. “I didn’t think you knew him.”
“Well, I didn’t, but the whole thing has got me, I don’t know, intrigued. All the people he knew, what he meant to the community, and I was thinking about going, but I didn’t want to seem like a gawker. I think I’d feel more comfortable if I was there with someone who knew him, and I thought maybe you’d feel better not having to go there alone.”
It struck Kevin how lame that last part sounded, but Harmon came to his rescue.
“Well, I’ll know plenty of people there, Mr. Darling, but sure, why don’t you come along as a... as a sympathetic member of the community. How’s that? I’m sure Larry knew lots of people that everybody else didn’t really know about.”
“Thanks Harmon. What time?”
“I’m going right after work.”
Kevin called Lisa and told her he’d be a little late. He kept a blazer and tie in his office for occasions after work that might suddenly arise, and he put them on and was ready to leave at 5:30 sharp. He followed Harmon in his car through some of the prettier streets in town, and in about fifteen minutes, they arrived at Rutherford Funeral Home. The parking lot was full, and they had to park a few hundred yards away, for all the overflow that lined both sides of the street in either direction. As the two walked toward the funeral home, they passed knots of people loitering on the sidewalk, and Harmon said “hello” to a few of them. There were many people gathered in the parking lot, politely waiting to enter the crowded anteroom. Harmon walked up to a small group and introduced Kevin around. They were part of her church. Being only two and not wanting to stay for too long, Harmon and Kevin went on ahead into the vestibule, where Harmon signed the register. They made their way into the viewing room.
Inside, it was like most wakes. People spoke in whispers at about the same volume as the piped-in, moribund organ music. Many people sat in the pews, and those standing, stood in groups, and it was quite easy to speculate which were family and which were friends. In the front pew were Marianna, Larry’s widow, and her three children. Marianna, stoic, fit, and attractive, was friendly to the mourners who approached her for an embrace and to offer their condolences. She smiled a sad smile, and her eyes were red from on-and-off weeping. Her daughters were in a constant state of tears. The young boy tried to stand tall and every so often wiped his eyes on the forearm of his suit coat, in between firm pats on the shoulder by solemn men.
Kevin accompanied Harmon about halfway down the aisle, as she walked down to kneel at the open casket to say a prayer. Kevin looked at the corpse’s face. The mortician had muted its natural redness, and even from where Kevin stood, he could see a galaxy of freckles on Larry’s forehead. There was no more anger in repose, and that peacefulness made Kevin uncomfortable, as he had had, up to that moment, only the one image of Larry Bell. Harmon stood up and walked back toward him, not a moment too soon. She whispered, “Let’s go.”
She said “good night” to a few people still waiting in the parking lot, and Kevin walked her to her car, where he thanked her and saw her off. Kevin drove home, lost in thought.
When he got home, Lisa was just pulling a dinner of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and string beans out of the oven. She had bought the meal from the hot bar at the supermarket on her way home from work, and the food looked pretty good. He kissed her, and she stood back and looked at his torso, the blazer and tie.
“Aren’t we sharp,” she remarked. “Meeting after work?”
It flashed across Kevin’s mind to simply agree that that’s what it had been, but he felt instantly how ridiculous that notion was. On principle, he never lied to her unless it was for a surprise for her. Also, she was a tax attorney, and although she was not a prosecutor by trade, she still had the lawyer instinct, and in the eight years that they had known each other, he had seen her snake out the truth from many a would-be deceiver.
“No, actually I went with Harmon to a wake after work for that high school coach who died in the car crash last week. She knew him from church, and I went along to give her some moral support.”
“Well, Sir Gallahad, aren’t you sweet,” she said, meaning it. “Okay, I bought, so you set the table, and open up a bottle of that Bordeaux.”
They ate dinner, and Lisa, mercifully, did most of the talking. They watched TV until bedtime and turned in.

The next day at work passed fairly uneventfully, and Kevin was able to put Larry Bell and family out of his mind for at least twenty percent of the time. Near the end of the day, Bobby Conley rapped on the doorframe to Kevin’s glass office and came in.
“Hey, Harmon and I are going to Larry Bell’s funeral tomorrow, and she said I ought to ask you if you wanted to come along. I didn’t think you knew him.”
Kevin tried to look intent and sincere. “I didn’t, but I went with her to the wake last night, just because I was kind of interested, and she was going there by herself. I think I might like to go with you guys tomorrow though. What time are you going?”
“It’s at 10:30, so we’re going to leave here at ten. Then there’s a reception at the Rotary Club afterwards with food and an open bar, so we’ll take the rest of the day off. I figured I’d just check my messages and make some calls in the morning, before we go. I already told Doris that Harmon and I were going, and maybe you, and she said it was fine, so are you in?”
“Yeah, I think I will go.”
“Alright, see you tomorrow.”
At home that night, knowing that in the morning, he would have to explain to Lisa why he was putting on a suit and tie, Kevin decided to tell her of his plans. He tried to sound casual, but his voice was tight and high pitched.
“What’s your preoccupation with this guy?” she wanted to know. “I’ll grant you, a funeral would be a good place to pick up a couple life insurance policies, but I know you better than that. That would just be unscrupulous and ghoulish.”
“I’m not preoccupied with him. It’s just that... Well, maybe I am... I...”
Kevin couldn’t hold it in any longer. He had to tell someone, and who better than the person with whom he shared everything, his constant voice of loving female reason, for better or for worse? So he told Lisa the story of the big yellow pick-up truck and of his feelings of guilt and anxiety as to his role in the death of a devoted family man and community figurehead.
When he was through, Lisa absorbed what she had just heard, with her attorney’s mind, less than with the mind of a wife.
“Honey, I think you’re worrying yourself needlessly. You aren’t guilty of anything except what you’re putting on yourself. We’re all involved in the interrelation of events at some time or another that have consequences that we’re never even aware of.”
She took a long pause and then continued, “Suppose you bought one of your buddies a circular saw for Christmas, and a couple months later, he had a few beers while he was doing a project with it, and he cut one of his fingers off. Would you feel responsible for his reckless behavior?”
“No, but in this case, I acted aggressively and selfishly and with prejudice, and that elevated the situation into what resulted in a man’s death,” Kevin argued.
“Exactly,” Lisa countered, “You only elevated a situation which already existed. This guy, as you said, pushed you, and you responded by pushing back, and ultimately, he paid for his own aggression. Really, I know you’re all worked up over this, but you’ve got to work through it in your mind and start to forgive yourself. Try using softer reason, and if that doesn’t work, why not say a prayer? If you know that God forgives you, then maybe you can start to forgive yourself.”
It was times like these that his love for Lisa re-grew and pierced his heart. He felt a lump in his throat, and he was unashamed. She was right, and yet the nagging inside was not going away.
“Mmm,” he said, in half-hearted agreement.
“Let’s go get a big fat pizza and some Italian red and eat in the living room,” she said.
They left hand-in-hand to go get it, and she drove.

In the morning, after a long, hot, pensive shower, Kevin put on his best suit and shoes, and he sadly fantasized that he was instead taking Lisa out to the fancy French restaurant on the plaza and was going to give her a sapphire necklace. She had made a pot of coffee and was sitting at the kitchen table in her pajamas, looking over some paperwork. He poured a cup of coffee, and they sat in comfortable silence. Kevin finished his coffee and stood to leave. Lisa looked up from her work.
“You look very handsome,” she said with conviction, as though he were her son on his way to the prom.
She stood and gave him an all-encompassing embrace. She kissed him long and tenderly, held him back by the shoulders and locked eyes with his.
“Now don’t you worry, kid. If it brings you too far down, just imagine that I’m there with you.”
She leaned in and kissed him again on one tiptoe, her other leg kicked back. My God, he thought, how she does me.
Harmon and Bobby and Kevin went to the funeral mass and then to the cemetery, and it was all very solemn and all very artless and friendly, with many brave faces and much open weeping. There were loads of high school students, who had been given the day off for the services. Most were just learning how to grieve, and Kevin tried to imagine what various ones would grow up to be like, based upon their behavior that morning.
Harmon and Bobby had ridden together in Harmon’s car, so that, Kevin guessed, Bobby could drink freely at the reception. The three left the cemetery and met up again at the Rotary Hall. It was the time of every funeral when the hard part is over, there is a metaphorical sigh of a job done, the voices are no longer hushed, and myriad emotions slosh forth. Kevin and Bobby headed straight for the crowded bar, and Harmon made the rounds of the many members of her congregation.
Kevin and Bobby stayed near the bar and had a few rounds, as Bobby introduced Kevin to what must have been a Who’s Who of his golfing buddies and other country club luminaries, and, while it was at least diverting, and often quite entertaining, a notion began to fester in Kevin’s mind.
He immediately dismissed the notion as ludicrous, but it stuck to his psyche like a burr. He had another drink, and then another, and the notion didn’t seem any saner, but it presented itself as much more likely -- that Kevin should go and introduce himself to Marianna Bell and offer his condolences.
But why? It was the same sort of feeling he had had about going to the wake. Was he masochistically daring himself to be placed directly in front of the wrong he had caused? Would it prove to him some sort of bravery? Was there some intangible that he might discover that would make things all right? He got a fresh drink and excused himself to Bobby, who was in a conversation with an obviously wealthy, drunken couple and who, Kevin figured, must have thought he was headed to the men’s room.
He took about five steps in Marianna’s direction, when Thierry Levesque, one of Kevin’s customers, smilingly blocked his path. He wanted to schedule an appointment for putting his twin son and daughter on his car insurance policy, and he was thinking about buying a Jet Ski, and how was Lisa? He may need a tax attorney, but it’s nothing really serious, you know?
Kevin was politely trying to extricate himself from this encounter, looking over Thierry’s shoulder, when a woman with a dour expression walked boldly up to Marianna. Marianna’s face clouded, and the dour woman leaned into her with a mean expression. The two started to have words, and then more animatedly and then more loudly. Those nearest the two women stopped talking and stared. The dour woman began yelling, and more people stopped talking and turned in their direction. Although the dour woman was yelling quite loudly now, Kevin could only make out the words, “love him,” repeated about three times in the diatribe. Two men, one an usher from the funeral, hurried over, got between the two women, and began escorting the dour woman toward the exit, as she continued shouting and pointing a rigid finger back at Marianna.
“Wow, I wonder what that was all about,” Thierry said. “So, Friday lunchtime?”
Kevin said “okay,” and went to find Bobby.
“Did you see that?” Kevin asked, over what he wanted to be his last drink. “Do you know who she is?”
“Hell if I know, but it sure got ugly.”
Much of the crowd took the argument and ejection as their cue to begin filing out. There were several people gathered around Marianna, gesturing, and her children were speaking to her with frightened, imploring expressions.
Kevin called Lisa and asked her to please take a taxi to the Rotary Hall, so she could drive him home. She said she had figured on that one and had had the foresight to take the bus to work instead of her car. While they were driving home, Kevin told her about the scene at the reception, neglecting to mention that he had been on his way to speak to the widow at the time. They speculated that it must have been a relative on Larry Bell’s side of the family who had never approved of the marriage, got drunk, and crossed the lines of tact and decency.
In spite of being tipsy, Kevin felt no fatigue, so they stayed up late and watched “Holiday,” with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn for about the seventh time, and it soothed him.

When Kevin arrived at work the next morning, Bobby Conley was sitting on the edge of Harmon’s desk, and they were embroiled in wide-eyed conversation. They both looked up when Kevin came in, and Bobby asked excitedly, “Have you heard?”
“Heard what?”
“Right, of course you wouldn’t have. You remember that big to-do yesterday at the reception?”
“How could I not? I guess you found something out.”
“You bet we did,” Bobby said, glancing at Harmon. “It turns out that that woman was Sarah Greeley. She was married to Don Greeley, who owned the Beaver Dam Sawmill and about five thousand acres of prime timberland up in the mountains.”
“He died a few years back, right?”
“Yup, and she got everything. Now, for about the last ten years, she’s been running a charity for poor kids, and she helped a bunch of them get into high school, and more than a few made it onto Larry Bell’s basketball team. A couple of them were some of his biggest stars. This kid DaVonn Roberts is the starting center for Louisville. Maybe you’ve heard of him.”
“Yeah, I have, so what’s the rest?”
“So come to find out, Sarah and Larry have been having an affair for the last five years. She gets drunk and spills the beans about the affair yesterday and says that Larry was going to leave Marianna for her, and that he was on his way home from her house to tell Marianna, when he got into the accident.”
“Oh wow,” Kevin replied. If they only knew.
“Of course, Marianna and the kids are devastated, and by now, everybody who was there yesterday, and half the town knows all about it.”
“I’ll bet.”
“It’s such a tragedy,” Harmon added. “Such a shame. He was such a good man.”
Kevin looked at the floor, shook his head and said nothing as he walked slowly to his office.
“Oh, Mr. Darling,” Harmon called after him. “Mr. Levesque called and asked if tomorrow, 12:30 would be okay.”
“Yeah, sure,” he droned, and shut his office door behind him.
He sank down at his desk and held his head in his hands. What else, he wondered? How much more unrevealed damage had he caused in one selfish, egotistical moment? Now, all of Larry’s friends and relatives had learned of his infidelity. He was stripped of his good name. Instead of the honor that would have come from having lived an exemplary life, he would be disgraced for his deceit. All because Kevin hadn’t liked his looks and his attitude. Kevin spread some papers on his desk and pretended to work, in case anyone walked past his office door, but he could focus on nothing but his guilt. His thought process was moving through mud. He envisioned a huge auditorium filled with all the people he had harmed. The crowd sat mutely; men, women, adolescents, children. They all looked through him.
At lunchtime, he told Harmon that he had some stuff to do outside the office, and that he wouldn’t be back. Technically, it wasn’t a lie, but she was listless and didn’t seem to even notice. She said she’d see him tomorrow.
Once in his car, Kevin decided he'd go visit Larry Bell’s grave. Maybe he had already decided that was what he was going to do. He drove to the cemetery and walked to the fresh plot. There was loose soil strewn over the newly laid sod. There was a temporary marker awaiting a permanent headstone. It was the day after the interment, and Kevin was the only person anywhere to be seen. As he stared down at the grave, he thought of all the irrevocable events that Larry Bell had missed over the past few days, the turmoil versus the repose. The thought confused and saddened Kevin. He made a brief, silent prayer for peace of mind and forgiveness and ambled back to his car. So much for “movie night.”
At home, he lit a candle and put it on the kitchen table, poured himself some of the remaining Christian Brothers and sat down. He was on his second glass, when Lisa got home from work. He poured her out the rest and told her what he had found out that morning. Lisa was a bit more sympathetic than when Kevin had told her the first part of the story, but she was steadfast in her conviction that all of this was not Kevin’s fault, and that he should find some way to ease his own guilt. Also, she said, she would do anything she could to help him. He was not on his own.
“Let’s go bowling and have cheeseburgers and beer,” she surmised, and they did. It was lively, loud and divertingly destructive. They laughed often. When they got home, they made passionate love for a long time, and, drifting off to sleep, Kevin felt truly grateful for what he had in life.

Friday morning, Kevin did what he could to keep busy until his meeting with Thierry Levesque. He called a few clients, did some research on upcoming changes in medical coverage, and studied a little for an online test to get points toward keeping his license current. He also made some lengthy small talk with Harmon, as it seemed their relationship had deepened somewhat through the past days’ events. He noted that that was at least one positive thing to come out of this whole affair. He bought two books of Billy’s raffle tickets for a trip to a Biloxi casino.
Thierry arrived on time, in a jovial mood, with a bottle of expensive bourbon for Kevin. They settled quickly, and Kevin gave him a rate which he would usually have reserved for family members. It was partly in secret appreciation for Thierry’s upbeat mood, and partly because of Kevin’s underlying defeatist malaise. On his way out, Thierry did make mention of the extramarital affair which had caused the scene that they had both witnessed, and he asked if Kevin knew about the memorial basketball game at the high school, scheduled for Saturday night. Larry Bell was to be honored with a plaque. Kevin said he might try to go, and they bid each other good afternoon.
As soon as Thierry left, Kevin called Lisa at work.
“Hey, you know we missed ‘movie night’ last night,” he cooed. “Let’s just make it a postponement to tonight.”
“I don’t think I have any plans. The usual time and place?” He could hear the smile in her voice.
“Chinese?” he offered.
“Surprise me.”
He next dialed Chez Etienne, the restaurant on the plaza, and made reservations for 9pm, Saturday.
After the latter part of an underproductive afternoon, Kevin left for the weekend, got their plum wine, spare ribs, Happy Family, scallion pancakes, “Mother Jugs and Speed,” and “Car Wash.” At home, he and Lisa made out on the couch for about ten minutes, something they did fairly often, to keep a youthful enthusiasm in their romance.
Later, as Kevin put in the disk for the second movie, he said matter-of-factly over his shoulder, “They’re having a memorial basketball game tomorrow night at the high school for Larry Bell. I was thinking we could go, and then head over to Chez Etienne for a treat. It’s been a while.”
Only then did he turn to see her reaction.
Her head was slightly tilted, and she wore a lawyerly, bemused look that made her eyes sparkle.
“Get over here and sit down.”
He did, and she took his hands.
She patiently, earnestly continued, “Don’t you think you’re taking this a little bit too far, getting more involved than you need to be? I would think the more you distance yourself from the whole thing, the less responsibility you’re going to feel for it. And don’t try to tell me you don’t still feel guilty, because the basketball game comes with a bribe.
“What if I said no to the game, honey? Would you cancel dinner?”
“No, of course not. I just thought this might offer some closure, and the dinner, I thought, would be a nice distraction afterwards.”
He could hear the shallowness in his voice, and he knew she could hear it too. Was he trying to convince himself that he meant it? Why not try? Why not at least grab at some straws?
Maybe Lisa shared his sentiment, because she said, “Listen, we’ll go to the game together. There’s just one thing.”
“What’s that?”
“What am I going to wear that’s appropriate for a basketball game and a three hundred dollar dinner? Put on the movie, will you?”
She kissed his hands and released them.

When Kevin awoke Saturday morning, Lisa was already on her long jog. She had made coffee, and he had some as he got dressed. He went out and got a baguette and ingredients for a big pot of his famous butter bean soup to occupy his afternoon. Back at home, Lisa had already showered and was on her way out to get her hair done and be otherwise pampered.
Kevin drifted through the early afternoon, going through the motions of making his soup. To begin, it took him fifteen minutes to find the ham hock he had just bought, and he cut his index finger chopping celery. While the soup was finally simmering, he had a beer and watched Warner Bros. cartoons, and afterwards could not recall a single one. When Lisa arrived, they had their soup and got ready to go. Lisa had solved her wardrobe issue. She wore a black cocktail dress with Kevin’s too-big wool college jacket over it. With her hair done up, she looked hopelessly sexy. She sure knew how to create a diversion.
“I can’t wait to get you in the back seat after the game, Susie,” he rasped.
“Nuh-uh. You promised me dinner... then we’ll see. And not too late, you know my dad.”
She smelled delectable.
Entering the gym they – or she – turned many heads, adolescent and adult alike. It wasn’t hard to find a spot in the bleachers, as the gym was only about half full. Kevin looked around and did not see Marianna and the Bell family. Before tip-off, two of Larry Bell’s players wheeled a table, draped in the school’s colors, out to center court. There was what was obviously the plaque, covered with maroon velour in the middle of the table. A well-dressed teenage girl followed with a microphone and introduced herself as Karen-something, senior class president.
She announced that, as we all knew, this game was being held to honor the life and achievements of Mr. Larry Bell. A bunch of kids sitting together in athletic jackets and some students around the gym stood up and hooted and clapped. There was a smattering of polite applause from the rest of the attendees.
Karen went on to say that it was unfortunate that the Bell family was unable to attend, so the basketball team’s co-captains would accept this honor, and she unveiled the plaque, commemorating Mr. Larry Bell’s years of unselfish devotion to the school and its students. The audience response repeated itself from the first time, and the table was wheeled away.
Kevin and Lisa left at halftime, the home team up by nine points.
“That was harsh,” she remarked, and that was all that was said of the event.
Too early for their dinner reservation, they dropped the college jacket in the car and strolled around Monument Square and the tree-lined plaza, laughing heartily, while recalling every private detail of their awkward first date.

Sunday morning, Kevin suggested that Lisa wear his college jacket, and nothing else, back to bed. He was earnestly trying to put himself “in the moment” and alleviate at least the surface of his lingering guilt. The rest of the day, they lounged around the house, without bothering to get dressed. Their conversation was sparse and shallow, but it might have been that way on any other Sunday. Ever the knowledgeable activity coordinator, Lisa herded him to a diner for cheeseburgers and malts, still wearing his college jacket. They then went to the art movie house downtown and saw “Bread and Chocolate.” They sat in the back row and didn’t see much of the movie. Although he felt inside that Lisa was working toward an end, one of the many qualities that Kevin admired about her was that she was effortless in almost all her endeavors. She worked with soul. She made everything look and feel easy, and it was infectious. When he was with her, it was foolish, almost embarrassing, to struggle with anything.
The problem was that she could not be with him all day, every day, to transmit that ease.

When he got to work, Kevin said “good morning” to Harmon, who had already made coffee. He poured himself a cup and lingered, mentioning that he and Lisa hadn’t seen her at the basketball game Saturday night. Had they missed her, or didn’t she go? She said she had been at a banquet for Billy’s civic group. She had, however, seen Marianna and the kids at church on Sunday. They had been all dressed up, and Marianna had worn a very distant and prideful air, had sat way up by the front of the church, and had avoided any real conversation with the few congregants who had tenuously approached her in the shame that she obviously felt.
“That was the real shame,” Harmon said. “We’re supposed to be Christians, and everybody was either so nervous or standoffish or haughty, and it just made me really sad.”
“Maybe they’re so distant and fearful, because it reminds them of their own faults,” said Kevin, surprising himself.
Harmon’s eyes widened with discovery, and she said nothing as he took his coffee into his office.
All the rest of the workday and on Tuesday and Wednesday, Kevin stumbled along, imagining Marianna’s pain and shame and loneliness and self-imposed alienation, and her indignation at it all. He compared himself to the churchgoers, vainly trying to mask his own feelings of guilt. Nights, he let himself fall under Lisa’s care and yet continued to foolishly struggle, in spite of himself.
As soon as he had spoken to Harmon on Monday morning, he had an itch and suppressed it. He knew what it was. Within a half hour, that itch became, again, “the burr.” Would he confront Marianna Bell and confess?
Yes, no, yes, no.
For three days, he did not even trouble himself with the logic or illogic, the absolution or the damage. It was blindly yes or no. He was unaware of what he would do or say if he did, and his own emotional future was a blank if he didn’t. Either consequence didn’t matter at all. Simply, would he, or wouldn’t he?
He found the Bells’ address in the White Pages... just in case.

He dully entered the reception area on Thursday morning and greeted Harmon as he passed.
“Oh, Mr. Darling,” she called.
He turned, and she held out a Post-It sheet with some numbers on it.
“What’s this?”
“It’s the winning raffle numbers from last weekend. I keep forgetting to give them to you. You should check your tickets, because no one’s won the grand prize yet.”
“Oh yeah, thanks,” and he absentmindedly stuck the paper in his pocket.
Yes, no, yes, no, all morning. At lunchtime, he got in his car to get a chicken Caesar salad from the Italian place and honestly had no recollection of how he ended up in front of Marianna Bell’s house. Nor of going up the walk and the front steps, until his thumb was on the doorbell.
He heard a vacuum cleaner turn off, and the widow opened the front door. She was trim and athletic in jeans and a white blouse. She wore a guarded, inquisitive expression and said nothing.
“Hello, Mrs. Bell, my name is Kevin Darling.”
Her eyes narrowed, “Yes?”
Kevin used his best sales voice; this was like a cold call, “I have something important that I want to talk to you about. Do you mind if I come in?”
She looked him up and down, fully opened the door, and walked a few steps ahead of him into the hallway, where she stopped and turned to face him, coldly.
“What do you want?”
“Mrs. Bell, I’ve been wanting to speak with you for quite a while. I think maybe we ought to sit down.”
“I don’t. What is it that you want?”
“Mrs. Bell,” he began, “The night your husband died, I was driving home from work on the Interstate, and your husband pulled up next to me and wanted to get into the exit lane. He was driving very aggressively, and I boxed him out of the lane, so he had to go up to the next exit. If I hadn’t done that, he never would have gotten into the accident. He’d still be alive.”
Marianna’s eyes got large and mean.
“Is that it?” she demanded incredulously. “How dare you come here and butt into my life!”
She paused to collect her anger.
“How could you be so selfish? How dare you enter my house with your petty, guilty conscience! What do you want me to do, forgive you?
“My husband was a lout, a cheating, abusive lout, and I knew it, and I had to live with it for the last seven years. And you come here with your whiny, picayune story about some insignificant macho contest on the highway. Well, for your information, I hated that truck, his toy.
“Larry used to scare the hell out of me and the kids whenever we got in the car with him, and I had to live with that too, and shut up about it for years and years. Do you think my children didn’t suffer all that shit?
“Why don’t you open your eyes for five friggin’ seconds and think about what I’M going through? What I’ve BEEN through!”
She punched him hard in the chest.
“Now get out of my house, you weakling! You...  egotist!”
She pushed him out of the house and slammed the door. He backed uncertainly down the front steps, and slowly emerged from a daze, and realized where he was, waking from a dream. He got into the car and caught his breath, still rising up into a new clarity. His eyesight grew keener, his mind sharper. He drove back to work.
That afternoon, he returned six calls for term life and homeowners’ policies, all from members of Harmon’s congregation. He set the six appointments for Friday, Monday, and Tuesday, and they were all going to be sure things. He ordered flowers for Harmon, to be delivered in the morning. And it was “movie night.”
On his way to the Chinese restaurant, Kevin passed the cemetery where Larry Bell was buried, but in his mind, it was nothing but a nondescript, empty place, which held no spirits. It had no life of its own, like an empty ballpark would, or an empty campground would. The only spirits he had in mind were two bottles of plum wine.
He got snow peas with oyster sauce, spicy string beans, roast pork mai fun, and rented “Grand Hotel” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” two all-star casts in movies about weird relationships between strangers. He wondered if Lisa would get the connection.
She was not home when he arrived, so he emptied his pockets on the kitchen table and got into a hot shower. Lisa was home when he got out. He wrapped himself in a towel and met her in the kitchen. He gave her a long kiss, and she could sense the newfound relaxation in his core. She stepped back and looked at him, and he knew that she knew.
She held up the rumpled Post-It sheet.
“Are these the numbers for Billy’s raffle?” she wanted to know.
“Yeah, nobody’s won the grand prize yet.”

“Well,” she smiled, “It looks like we’re going to Biloxi.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013



By Michael Chandler

       I was about fifteen and a-half, when my mom and I had just begun really talking. Up until then, I had not been allowed to share in adult opinions. I was to obey, and that was that. Now that I was in high school, I stayed up long after my younger brothers and sister were put to bed. My dad was often working quite late, and, my homework done, my mom would iron clothes while she and I watched television, and I would spout my fledgling views of the world. Whether or not she agreed with me, she always listened and contributed, and I was happy that we were developing an adult rapport. There was no more yelling and hitting.
      There was a lull in just such a conversation one night, when my mom mentioned, “Mrs. Courier says she saw ‘the Faunus’ today.”
          “Oh, really.”
“ That’s what she told Ginny Candiotti,” she shrugged.
“Of course, Mrs. Courier is, like, eighty-five years old and has to squint through her glasses to see her front door. Besides, I thought they caught that guy.”
“I don’t know. That’s just what I heard.”
My mom chuckled and went back to her ironing.

“The Faunus” was a mythical figure in our neighborhood, kind of a cross between a centaur and the Loch Ness monster – like a wood nymph, but if you believed the sightings, a boy.
Behind the houses on our street were several acres of woods, separated by a large field, so when people claimed to have seen “the Faunus’s” naked body by the edge of the woods or in the tall grass and milkweed of the field, their views were fleeting and from afar.
“The Faunus” was usually seen by only one person at a time, so there was seldom corroboration. Some witnesses were reasonably credible. Some folks were obviously spinning yarns. There were no grainy photos, no jumpy videotapes. Some claimed that the boy was an abandoned orphan, and some even insisted that “the Faunus” was a ghost. Over the years, his legend grew.
“The Faunus” got his name from Dr. Whittaker, the retired head of the Latin department at Colby College, who lived in a big old house on the other side of the street from us, even further from the woods than the people on our side. He had been up in his widow’s watch one afternoon, bird watching, with a pair of what he called “spyglasses,” when he caught a glimpse of the naked boy. He ran downstairs and across the street, shouting for the neighborhood men within earshot to follow him into the woods. By the time the gaggle of men got there, neither the apparition, nor any trace of him was to be found. He then referred to the Puck-like creature as “the Faunus,” and the name stuck.
Sightings were sporadically reported over the years, “the Faunus” purportedly seen both days and evenings, during all four seasons. The closest anyone ever came to affirming “the Faunus’s” true existence was Bobby DiPietro’s discovery of bare footprints in the snow, late one March. They led nowhere. For the most part though, “the Faunus” was merely a harmless, comfortable Maine folk legend who belonged only to our neighborhood. He was warmly regarded.

I am very qualified to give you the real low down on the legend, because I was “the Faunus.”
It started when I was in the second grade. I was six years old, and my mom had arranged for one of the eighth graders who lived in our neighborhood to walk me home from school each day. It was just about a mile. Over time, the older kid stopped walking me home. It must have been embarrassing for him to have a yakkety six year-old tagging along with him, and it was clear that I was okay on my own. Neither one of us told our parents of our non-arrangement, and none of them ever mentioned anything.
The route home consisted of a long stretch of tree-lined avenue from the front of the school, then a five-cornered, large diagonal intersection, known as Payson Corner, where I had to cross two of the main thoroughfares, and then go about four hundred yards down my street, home. I have found in life, that if you set an unusual precedent, it is often not questioned as time goes on, so, as it often took me about an hour and a half to walk the mile or so to my house, my mom never asked me what took me so long. Also, my siblings were still babies back then, and I was a hyperactive, disruptive element in the house. If I had been any earlier, she would have just made me go outside anyhow.
From what I know today, many boys, around six years of age, become curious about and attentive to their penis. About halfway down the tree-lined avenue leading from my school, there was a stretch of very old houses, whose low windows were mostly obscured by shrub and bushes, vines and trees, and whose occupants were mostly elderly folks who had raised their families there. There was very little foot traffic. I took to brazenly walking down that stretch with my penis hanging out of my fly. It was easy to mask it with my hand or my book bag from oncoming traffic, and I was learning early on that if you do something outrageous in plain view, most people are oblivious to it, because it is not something that they expect. If you act all sneaky, it raises flags. I would tuck it back in and zip up before I got to the busy and open Payson Corner.
After a few weeks of doing that, off and on, I got bolder. Across the avenue near Payson Corner, the opposite direction of my route home, there was a road that led to a cement factory and sand pit and dead-ended there. It was lightly used. At its entrance, there was an abandoned house with a fenced yard that abutted the rear of a few businesses on that part of the corners. I would take off my shoes and socks and pants and underwear in the yard, hop the fence, and sneak around in the alley behind the businesses, mere yards from the heavily trafficked corners. What a thrill! I would leave my shirt and jacket on, in case somebody walked or drove by, so I could cover my naked lower half behind a garbage can or a stack of wooden pallets and pretend I was loitering. Also, it would take me far less time to quickly jump back over the fence and throw my pants back on. It would be much easier to explain being barefoot than naked from the waist down. After a few close calls, with people parking their cars, a police cruiser, and an aggressive stray dog, I again changed my tack.
About a hundred feet off Payson Corner, running diagonally off my street, and splitting the woods that were behind my house, was a dirt road that went on for miles and really led nowhere. The only cars that ever traveled it were those of teenagers going out drinking, and that was mostly at night, or before high school football games on Saturdays. A marsh ran along the side of the road, and then the woods, the large field, and the backs of the houses along my street. Coming off my street at a right angle, was Woodside Road, its houses’ backyards cutting through the woods about a quarter mile from Payson corner, so I had a triangular section of some three acres of forest, most of the time, all to myself. I practiced nudism pretty much whenever I felt like it.
In good weather, I’d strip off my clothes by the side of the dirt road, stick them in my book bag, and splash through the marsh into the woods, where I’d sneak about, climb trees, and run along the many footpaths. “Like an Indian,” I thought, and I learned how to be silent and invisible, in case there were other neighborhood kids playing out there after school, but there never were. When I was finished romping around, I’d dress, retrace my steps, through the marsh, back down the dirt road, and head home down my street, so nobody would see me coming out of the woods... just in case.
In the wintertime, I’d cross the frozen marsh, into the woods, and take off everything but my pack boots. What a feeling to be knee-deep in snow and naked. I’d traipse around like Admiral Byrd, surveying a brand new landscape.
During the summer and autumn, leading into my third grade year, when I was seven, I indulged in my nudism fairly often, about once every week or two. In the summer, it was mostly, but not limited to, twilight. Getting caught was hardly an issue in the fading light. In the autumn, it was after school. Getting bit by the mosquitoes from the marsh was indeed an issue, but I noted that I didn’t get bitten any more than usual, just not always in the conventional places. It was a good thing that I was at the age of bathing myself, because I would often end up with pine tar on my scrotum or my butt. When school was out, since I was not carrying a book bag, I at first wouldn’t stray too far from where I left my clothes. Then I began to dare myself to roam farther and farther from where they were. Soon, I was scampering around the woods in the buff, unfettered. There was never even a close call.
The closer I could get to the edge of the woods, sometimes crawling into the tall grass and brambles of the field, the closer to getting caught, the bigger the thrill. Sometimes I would climb the trees near the forest’s edge, mostly hidden by a few trees remaining between me and the houses, and perch there for fifteen minutes or so. I was a secret observer and felt a lordly inner laughter at how I was getting away with this, right under peoples’ noses. It was that summer that was heard the neighbors’ first gossip of the mysterious naked boy in the woods. Just before the school year was to begin, on a daytime sojourn, that same apparition became known as “the Faunus.” After Dr. Whittaker’s doddering charge into the woods, by which time I was long gone, I laid off for a few weeks. When I thought it safe to resume, I hung further back in the woods, but it wasn’t long before I got back to my usual bold pattern.
This went on through third and fourth grade. I would exercise my freedom a couple times a month during the school year, more frequently during the summer, and the legend of “the Faunus” grew.
Sometime in July, between my fourth and fifth grade year, I was sitting in the kitchen having a peanut butter sandwich, and my uncle Joey walked through the door. Nobody in our large, extended family ever bothered to knock. He was the husband of my aunt Mary, one of my mom’s many sisters. He was a city cop, and he was in uniform. It was the first time I’d known him to stop by while on duty. My mom offered him an iced tea, and he sat down at the kitchen table and plopped his hat down, wiping his forehead.
“What do you know about this character they call, ‘the Faunus,’ that people say is running around out here?” he asked.
My mom gave him a doubtful frown and shrug.
“I don’t know. A couple people have said they’ve seen a naked kid out in the woods, but I’ve never seen him.”
“So it’s a boy then,” he surmised, jotting it down in a little black notebook.
“That’s what they say,” and she smirked, “I guess they could tell the difference.”
“Uh huh. What time of day have they seen this kid?”
“I don’t know; it’s just what I’ve heard. You should talk to Dr. Whittaker, across the street, and to the Whitmans, the negro family in the green house, her name is Louise, and I think Mrs. Douglas says she saw him too. She’s right next door. In the gray Cape.”
“Anything else you can think of about this ‘Faunus’?”
My mom thought for a second. “One of the stories is that he’s an abandoned orphan, but I don’t know where they get that.”
“That’s what I’ve heard too,” Uncle Joey answered. “We’re gonna have some patrol cars out over the next few weeks, and if he is some kind of abandoned kid, we’d like to get him into Child Services, so if you see some cruisers parked around here, don’t get nervous. I’m gonna go talk to these neighbors you gave me.”
There’s nothing like inside information. It’s one of the advantages of having a big family, spread throughout the city. After Uncle Joey left, I walked out on the back porch. He had left his cop car in our driveway. As I looked at it, I imagined being in the back seat with handcuffs on, naked, and I sure didn’t want that. What would my parents say? Plus, everybody in the whole huge family would know, and I knew that if that happened, I’d carry it with me for the rest of my life, so “the Faunus” would have to make himself even scarcer for a while.
The first thing the cops did was to scour the woods for signs of some imagined wild boy’s habitation: litter, any type of shelter, remnants of fires, human excrement, squirrel bones, any type of evidence. Apparently, they found none, and it was a big story throughout the neighborhood, straight up through the end of Woodside Road. Now, categorically everybody knew about “the Faunus.” There was even a story in the evening paper about the naked wildboy. The only photo they could come up with was a nondescript picture of the outside of the woods. The article spurred a search for the mystery parents who might have abandoned such a child in our suburban wilderness. I swelled with pride and vibrated with excitement. This was almost as fun as the secret exhibitionism itself.
I kept a close eye on the patrol cars parked on our street, as well as Woodside Road, and the old dirt road. It was easy to do, because they were, excluding the dirt road, places that we kids regularly played. Once in a while, the cops would ask us if we had seen anything, and of course, nobody had. After a few weeks, interest petered out, and I guess the department figured that they had spent enough money on something that might not have existed in the first place, so they sent the cops back out to chase real criminals and to find children who were truly abandoned, in the poorer parts of town.
In late August, I resurrected “the Faunus,” and continued my nudist romps in all weather, throughout the fifth grade. Fifth grade mercifully ended in late May, coinciding with my tenth birthday.
In midsummer, I climbed, of a pre-noon, stark naked, high up into a fir tree in a small clearing at the forest’s diagonal, close to both the field and the marsh, where I could observe the homes of the potential, semi-believing observers of “the Faunus.” Pine trees in Maine are fluffy and tall. They have many footholds and are inviting to climb, scrotum-seeking pine tar aside. For an ascending nudist, they offer much cover. Upon the high limbs, I had in mind my lordly dominion, my “Faunusdom,” and I lingered there for many minutes. My clothes were at the base of the empirical, sticky, needle-laden tree.
Fallen pine needles are one of the best mufflers of intruders’ footsteps, so I heard nothing, yet I felt a presence below. With confidence, I thought it could not be. Still, there was that feeling, and I looked about twenty feet down.
It was Angela Candiotti, a girl my age, a neighbor, a playmate, staring up at me.
I was unashamed. I had to be. I had learned very young, when caught in the act, exude total normalcy. Let the observer come up with the explanation.
“Hi,” she said, “Can I come up?”
Her voice and manner were innocent, but my ten year-old mind considered the dark consequences of letting a girl in on a discovered secret. I had no choice but to trust her. She could easily and probably run off with my clothes and tell her parents.
“C’mon up.”
She didn’t even look at my clothes, but took off all of her own, and scampered up the tree. I gave her a hand to pull her up the last stretch, to my branch, where she plonked down sidesaddle, her face flushing, I’m sure, from the climbing. She faced me, unsteadily balancing herself.
“This is pretty fun,” she panted, “Do you do this a lot?”
I had to look at her whole body. She was more looking down at where our clothes were, and then farther, several yards off, unafraid, but surveying our height.
“Kind of,” I answered. “Just when I feel like it.”
“I’ve seen you out here a few times. Have you heard about ‘the Faunus’?”
“Yeah. I guess I’m trying to be like him,” I lied.
She giggled. “No. You’re him. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”
I made it a point to show that I noticed her nudity.
“I won’t tell on you either,” I chided, tapping her on her shoulder, which made her almost lose her balance. I caught her firmly by her arm, and she smiled at me.
We were quiet for a few minutes, as we looked out over our vista. It was clear to me that she was finding a mutual appreciation for what I had found. I could see it in the set of her shoulders, her jaw, her faraway look, how there was no self-consciousness of our sitting so high up, naked, in a tree, together. Hers was a view both inward and outward. She glanced back at me to assure that we were seeing the same thing and smiled again at the answer she saw.
I pulled a pine cone and bounced it off the top of her head.
“Come on. Let’s get down. I’ll show you some more cool stuff that I like to do,” I said.
On the way down, I figured I’d have to help her, but she was adept and limber, unafraid of scrapes from the trunk or barefooted stabs from the branches, unaware of errant streaks of pine tar sticking to the parts of her body to which pine tar did not normally come into contact.
This girl was turning out to be someone with whom I could share my secret. That is, more than she already knew. She hadn’t told on me yet, and she was giving up her half of the nakedness, so couldn’t we possibly be... partners? The idea was enticing and exciting. What fun is a secret if you have to keep it all to yourself?
At the base of the tree, we picked up our clothes, and I ran ahead of her, down through the paths, deeper into the woods. I had her drop her clothes where I threw mine down, and I took her to a rock bluff, where there was a very old, fat rope swing. I helped her on, and pushed her out over the edge. She squealed with newfound fright and delight, and I had to shush her. After what I judged to be too long, I had to pull her off the damned thing. She would have stayed on it until she was late for dinner and got us both caught.
We played tag, and we hid ourselves behind the lilac bushes, the large boulders, the junipers, the huge oak trees, and the sumac. I took her to a wild strawberry patch that I knew, right on the edge of the field, and we hid among the weeds and the strawberry thorns, ate the fruit, and laughed at the oblivious world and at ourselves. I grabbed her by the hand, and we ran back to our clothes and got dressed.
I thought about making some kind of a pact with her, but it seemed unnecessary. We were both bright red and beaming.
“Come with me,” I said, and led her by the hand, through a dry part of the marsh to the dirt road, which we followed to Payson Corner. “This is so we don’t get caught.”
At the end of the dirt road, on our street, was the L’il Peach convenience store. I had fifteen cents on me, which was enough for Angela and I to split a can of Pepsi.
As we drank it behind the store, she gasped, “When can we do it again?”
I felt like The Professor. I got serious.
“Angie, we gotta be careful. No nothing to anyone, and always pretend like you just don’t know, like everything’s normal. We can’t just do it all the time.” She handed me the can, and, in my fantastic role as an army captain, I chose my next strategy. “If I think it’s safe, come over to my back yard, and I’ll hang a sock out my bedroom window.”
Angela squinted her eyes and locked them curiously onto mine.
“How will I know which one is your window?"
My shoulders drooped. Really, she was a bright girl, but I had lost a bit of trust.
“If there’s no sock, there’s no sock. If there is one, it’s my window.”
Her face lit up.
“Now, Angie, you can never, ever tell, no matter what happens.”
She broke out a completely artless, toothy, ten year-old smile, which I have never seen duplicated in any Hollywood film, or any real, adult life circumstance, and said, “Never, ever. I promise.”
I have never, ever been so convinced, so smitten.
I gave her the rest of the Pepsi, and we walked down our street, to our families’ homes, as if nothing had ever happened.

Certainly, in the weeks after joining up with Angela Candiotti, I hung socks out of my window, far outpacing “the Faunus’s” usual frequency. I got to be the lookout, the strategist, the one responsible for two, and I reveled in the responsibility, in our mutual secrecy, in our mutuality, in our shared, secret laughter.
 Angie and I were too young for a sexual interest, and we transcended even a bodily exploratory curiosity. We sought the same freedom. We were both far out in the open, yet hidden from those around us. I remember our eye contact and her smile and, really, her elbows, wrists and shoulder blades, how her hair flowed in rhythm, as she ran ahead of me, not her naked body, but her naked being. We – had – it – together. Tag, tickle, hide-and-seek, we had to make each other be quiet so often that I took to having us play “Indian.” We crawled, through the field, as close to the houses as we could, in twilight hours, daring each other to sneak up through the lawns and tag a garage or a back porch, accompanied by a quick, disrespectful ass-wiggle. We would steal through the back yards of the small houses on Woodside Road and tip over a lawnmower, or loop a dog chain through a screen door.
Oh, ha-ha, what under-creative pranks, you may say. Yet, what if you found out that those pranks were perpetrated by a boy and a girl from your neighborhood who had been running around your back yard totally naked? What if you heard a noise outside, came out to investigate, and we two nudist sprites were unseen, hiding under your back porch, inches below your feet? Ha-ha, indeed.
Angela and I had our nudism in the woods, in the trees and paths and the rocks and the marsh, in the sun and the rain, and in the days and evenings, but we went to different schools, so when sixth grade began, our connection waned. Our families were friends and certainly neighbors, and we two were at most regarded as innocent playmates. At holiday neighborhood get-togethers, and when we would play together with the other children, we shared knowing smirks. Angela and I, as “the Fauni,” had a few winter outings, and I introduced her to snowbound nudism. Those times were brief, because I lent her my pack boots and her short boots were too small for me, so my feet got too cold too fast, even during the frenetic, stinging snowball fights. We made tentative plans to ice skate naked on the frozen marsh, but that never worked out.
In the springtime, near the end our sixth grade, I was out in the woods for a naked sneak, and I spied Angela, already there. I looked around and found her clothes and her book bag. I left her book bag and stole her clothes. I shinnied up into an ancient oak tree with them. The first huge limb was about eight feet off the ground. I watched her frolic around from up there, unseen. She danced, and then pretended to be an airplane and crashed sliding into a pile of last year’s slimy leaves, and then she danced some more. She went back to where she had left her clothes. She looked around, half warily, half in panic, for a person or people who must have seen her, were still watching her, holding her clothes. She picked up her book bag and covered her front, still scanning the area, figuring she had been caught. Then, panic subsiding, she looked at the ground, at the footprints in the mostly melted, late-April snow, and followed them with her eyes to the oak tree.
I waved, and she shot me a playfully aggravated look. She dashed to the foot of the tree, threw down her book bag, and scrambled up the eight feet of oaken trunk like an olympian. I could barely believe her prowess, her determination. She deftly threw herself around the trunk to straddle the limb and face me, no sidesaddle.
“You pig!” she shouted in a scorning, jocular way, that only real friends can get away with, and she shoved me to one side. I was entirely off balance and ready to fall, but she snatched me firmly by the shoulders. I grabbed her shoulders, I believed, for balance. Our eyes penetrated one another’s. She hitched forward and kissed me long on the mouth. She leaned back and with sparkling, challenging eyes, grinned at me, at herself, at her boldness. For both of us, it was our first kiss – naked, in a tree.
I tossed her clothes down to the ground, and she flipped around and leaned her back into my chest. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I wrapped them trepidatiously around her belly. She wrapped her fingers through mine, and we held each other’s warmth for a long time.
I was just learning how to exercise wit, and I felt that the long silence required a punch line.
“You should hang a sock out your window next time,” I said flatly, like in the movies.
She didn’t answer, but nestled her long hair further into my shoulder. I became aroused for the first time ever by a girl who was not an image, and I do not believe that any mattress I have ever shared with a woman has felt as comfortably secure as that tree limb which was jammed up between our dangling legs.
After much more silent time in this new, small world of ours, I helped Angela down from our tree. We got dressed, had one more tender, smiling peck on the lips, walked down the dirt road, and went to our respective homes, carrying our books and one more secret.

As a result of Angela’s and my many naked sojourns over the following summer, autumn, winter and spring, there had been a few more sightings of “the Faunus,” and, knowing what I knew, just one of them could have conceivably been verified. The others were mostly drunken, boastful musings. In one of the latter, “the Faunus” had been a translucent Christmas caroler.
Come summertime leading into our eighth grade year, there were, roughly semi-weekly, socks hanging from my window. I had chided Angela about her naked dancing, which I had observed from our kissing tree, and she decided to teach me how. We concentrated much on dancing, fast and slow, without accompaniment, dropped our games of tag, and played Indian-style, quiet, invisible hide-and-seek, when the dancing would run its course. It was good remedial practice for not getting caught in our nudism, and, hell, it was fun.
There was no more kissing. We did not yet know of adult or even adolescent intimacy. We were a little too young for it to be as thrilling, stimulating as exhibitionism itself. The kiss had been, however, an unforgettable experiment that, at that point in our lives, was still a few notches below, stark naked, climbing trees, scrambling over the rock bluffs, leaping off the rope swing into the scratchy brambles, splashing through the marsh, or dangerously taunting the folks on Woodside Road. In addition, we regularly played with our other pals from the neighborhood, and who wanted to be pegged as having a boyfriend or a girlfriend at age twelve? Whenever Angela and I found ourselves in the same circle of friends, we had, instead, the underlying excitement of what we were putting over on everyone else. Boyfriend and girlfriend, indeed! You should see us when we’re “sittin’ in a tree.”
That, our twelfth, summer, things were about to get mighty crowded.

I woke up one midweek day and hung out the sock. An hour or so later, I forded the marsh, peeled off my clothes and darted around to a couple of what were our common meeting spots in the woods. I found Angela, and she still had her clothes on, which was not unusual. We grinned hello, but I could tell that she had something to say, something to reveal. I tilted my head. From behind a lilac stand, emerged a girl, probably a year younger than us, her fingers nervously fidgeting behind her back. She looked quickly at my face, torso, and more, and then at the ground, blushing profusely. She too, was fully clothed for a fine summer day.
“This is my friend, Francine, from school. I told her about what we do, and she said she wanted to try it too.”
I looked at Francine, who was unable to make eye contact with me, and I wondered what Angela had done. I did trust Angie. Certainly, I had to trust her, yet there was an overwhelming thought that she had made an error that would cost us our entire, private game. I was bound to find out the verity of her decision. I approached Francine, who was still staring at her shoes, and I playfully shoved her shoulder.
“You guys get ready,” I said, “And let’s go climb on the rocks.
“Francine, you wanna go on the rope swing?” encouraged Angela.
Angela quickly stripped down, and Francine dutifully, shyly took off her clothes and shoes, as we watched. Within ten minutes, we were all in gales of laughter. We climbed and swang and ran and romped. The game of “tag” was far more fun with three. We hid and sought. We tackled and rolled, and, in spite of my youth, I could see that a burden had been lifted from Francine. She was one of us. I gathered up our clothes, all mixed in together, and we found a hidden clearing among the sumac. We laid down on our backs, side by side, in the soft, undergrown hay, and looked up into the clear, warm, noon sky, having three separate dreams of the present and of our youthful futures.
Those dreams would have been, for most youngsters, impeded by thoughts of constrictive, surrounding adults, but we were exercising a freedom, a creativity, that those outsiders, our pillars, could never imagine, could never imagine we could be capable of.
Francine had merged into Angela’s and my partnership, and I trusted Angela all the more. We all held hands, eyes comfortably closed, in the breezy sunshine. We got up and got dressed and played basketball in Angela’s driveway until dinnertime, when Francine’s mom picked her up and drove her back to their home, a few miles away. As I, gentlemanly, shut the car door for Francine, she winked. I turned back toward Angela, who jammed her fists into her hips and gave me the “told ya” head tilt.
Francine would return occasionally for our naked romps, and once or twice hoodwinked her mom, Angela being away somewhere, and just we two had innocent, naked fun together. She loved the raggedy, old rope swing.
Of an evening, sometime near the Fourth of July, deep in the woods, Angela and I were having a ticklefest. As we rolled in the ferns, our familial world was far away. We sensed something, and looked up, in tandem.
It was Jimmy Wycault, a kid who lived up the street, near Payson Corner. It was clear that he had not been looking for us, but had just been taking a walk in the woods.
He looked like he had been stuck with a hat pin, and rather than being embarrassed, or “found out,” Angela and I laughed out loud at his discovery and his being taken so far aback.
“Well?” Angela dared.
Because the command came from a girl, Jimmy Wycault removed his clothes, as he silently, hypnotically stared at the spot between Angela’s legs. He was a year older than us, a big deal at that age. He was known as a bully, but Angie and I were a firm unit, and we had some element that put Jimmy Wycault off balance. Maybe it was that Angela and I were lithe, and Jimmy Wycault was pudgy. Maybe it was that we were the naked ones and yet felt more comfortable than he did. We gave him no reason to be self-conscious.
I jumped up and tagged him hard in the chest.
“You’re it! Come get us!” and Angela and “the Faunus” bolted further into the woods, Jimmy Wycault in whooping pursuit.
I stopped short on the slippery leaves from last autumn and brought him down by the ankles.
“Shhhhh!” I warned. “We gotta be quiet out here.”
I laughed and let him to his feet. He looked at me.
“Let’s go find her,” I jabbed him, “She’s pretty good,” and we sprinted off in Angela’s pursuit.
She was more than pretty good. It took us twenty minutes, scouring her prospective hiding places, climbing trees for sniping views, to find her in the crevice of a couple boulders. She hadn’t put one over on us; she had let herself be found. She had wanted to learn the same thing that I had been suspicious of when I had met Francine. Was Jimmy Wycault for real? He had gotten himself much of the way there, but he could not take his eyes off Angela’s naked girlhhood.
From what I had seen on TV up to that point, it crossed my mind to slap him across the face, into our reality, even though he was quite a bit bigger and fatter than me. He just looked so smitten and wordlessly dopey, that I was certain that to slap him would have been a bad, cheap idea.
I looked, earnestly, into Angela’s knowledgeable brown eyes.
She stuck her fists into her hips.
“Fun, right?” she demanded.
Jimmy nodded obediently.
“You gonna tell anyone? ‘Cause now we can tell on you.”
Jimmy stood like a statue. He was under Angela’s spell.
Mrs. Wycault was the only divorced person on our street, and on the seldom times that Jimmy and his mom went to church together, fatherless, usually on Christmas and Easter, people would look down, frown, and shake their heads.
He was loved by his mom, but no wonder he was mean, protective.
Burbling up in my chest, for her being so damn perceptive, I wanted to kiss Angela again, and poor, abusive Jimmy Wycault didn’t know what the hell he wanted to do. Angie gave him a hard, sideswipe kick in his naked ass and yelled, “Hide-and-seek! I’m It! Go!”
“Five- ten- fifteen- twenty- twenty-five- thirty-...,” and we two boys bolted away, up until a hundred, by fives. Why we didn’t just count to twenty, I have never been able to understand.
My hide-and-seek style is to get behind and stalk the seeker, so I rarely get caught. Jimmy, I’m quite sure, wanted to be found by Angela, and just before she was going to surprise him, I jumped out from behind her and slapped her on the butt, startling a squeal out of her, and we all had a big laugh.
We dressed and showed Jimmy our way home via the dirt road, circumventing adult suspicion. He seemed somewhat disoriented by two trusting, new, highly unusual acquaintances, but we all could sense that he had liked what we had done. Probably, we were what he had needed all along. At his front porch, he ducked into the kitchen and brought us out a few cans of supermarket brand soda. His mom came out and was happy, with an air of apprehensive hope, to greet Jimmy’s two new friends and that everybody was smiling. Jimmy visibly relaxed against a post. Angie nudged my shoulder and nodded toward the bully, who was gazing off into a new somewhere. Her lips were purple, from the cheapo grape soda. We had changed over another kid.
We said good-night to Mrs. Wycault and walked back toward our houses, giggling, and not knowing why. She shoved me on the shoulder, and I shoved her back and called her “purple lips.”
We got Jimmy in on the sock-in-the-window signal, and often had Francine among us in our frolics. Jimmy, being just that bit older than the rest of us, was considerably more tactile and direct toward the two girls, and they instinctively, precociously would push him away, when his intentions became too clear. He eventually got the message, and ours was unadulterated, free fun.
One afternoon, it was stormy and raining. My mom was upset about who-knows-what, and the babies and toddlers were fussy. The walls were closing in, and nothing was on television. Books and the radio held no charm. I had to get out of the house. My mom thought I was crazy to want to go outside, but she let me put on my raincoat and run along, relieved to have one less brat underfoot. I said I might go over to the Candiottis’, but I didn’t. I got outside and felt that I had to have that unfettered mindset.
I ran up to Payson Corner, turned down the dirt road and into the woods. It was raining steadily, and I peeled off my clothes, stuck them under a pine tree, and shot through the woods, leaving claustrophobia far behind. I ran hundreds of yards, squishing the dead leaves through my toes, swinging up and down among the low tree branches. I got to where I could see the backs of the houses on Woodside Road, slowed down, and went into a crouch. I could see a woman and a man drinking coffee in a lit kitchen. I crawled several yards to one side and spotted Tommy and April Burnett, through the sliding glass doors of their back porch, tugging and fighting over a beanbag chair. They went to my school, and I thought April was pretty.
If she could only see me now.
I sidled further back into the woods. I turned to dash back towards the deeper part, and my gaze ran smack into a bearded man, probably in his thirties. His arms were folded, and he was staring directly at me. I recognized him from his house on the other side of Woodside Road, where he lived with his wife. According to the side of his truck, he worked at a tree nursery.
The ferns and baby maples did not even reach my shins, and there was no place to hide. I stood stock still, my eyes wide with fear. His immovable leer showed no emotion.
“So... ‘the Faunus,’” he said.
I wanted to rebut that there was no such thing as “the Faunus,” and that I was just a kid running around naked in the woods on a rainy afternoon, but I could not speak. Where the hell was Angela? God, would he call the cops?
“What if your parents knew what you’re doing?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll bet you do,” he answered. “And I’ll bet you’d find out soon enough, if I went and told them.”
“Please don’t,” I begged, melting inside.
“I think I just might.”
His expression had never changed. There was a twinkle in the corners of his eyes, and he wore a half grin, which could have meant anything. It was a very unsettling trait of Mainers.
“Now, you get out of here, and don’t you let me catch you around here again.”
Any cue would have been as good as that one. I sprinted for my life back to my clothes, never looking back. I dressed faster than a fireman and ran down the dirt road to my street, and all the way to Angela’s house, where I banged on the door.
Proof that there is a God of Heaven and Earth, it was Angela herself who answered.
Out of breath, I rasped, “Come on,” and pulled her down the cellar stairs. It was her father’s finished workshop, with a bar and a pool table, and I yanked her over to a padded bench, where I told her about what had just happened. I was sick with fear that this guy would tell my parents.
Angela mulled this over.
“Remember, you told me to just act like nothing ever happened. I know you can do it.” She took and smothered one of my hands in both of hers and emphasized, “I know you can do it.”
We got up, and I went home. For the next three days, I was petrified, a thousand miles away, in a gulag that my family could never fathom.
Children are foolishly resilient. After about a week of sitting together on Angela’s front porch, playing fish and rummy, Monopoly, and jacks, one evening, she pulled a pink and white sock out of a pocket of her shorts, and placed it on my knee. We walked up past the L’il Peach, down the dirt road, and into the woods, where we took ‘em all off. We danced, giddily, ballet-style, and she took off running in the direction of Woodside Road. I chased after her in an effort to make her stop, and she did, a few hundred yards from the backs of the houses, far from their view.
I caught up to her and grabbed her arm.
“Angela, what are you doing?”
“Come on,” she taunted, “What are you, afraid?”
“Of course I am. What are you, stupid?”
“Yup. Catch me,” she teased, and ran away in the direction of the houses.
I caught her arm several steps forward, and we pulled each other back and forth, like a tug of war. We both slipped and fell, and she suddenly craned her neck in the direction of the top of Woodside Road, past its dead end, and shushed us both, firmly. We didn’t move or breathe. Lying flat, in the fading sunset, we were hidden now by the ferns that had given me no cover when I had needed them most. I looked in the direction that her chin indicated.
I saw what she saw. Angela looked back at me with the same shocked expression that I wore, and hers turned to awed bemusement.
There in the woods, about fifty yards away, was the bearded man, holding hands with his pregnant wife, both utterly naked, strolling through the trees and ferns, holding hands, sharing a laugh together. Angela and I were rapt. It was the first time I had ever seen a woman’s developed breast, and bushy pubic hair on real, live people. They were unaware of us, and we stared in amazement, hitting each other on our shoulders, silently giggling. They turned and walked further away from our hiding place, and we waited until they got far enough away for us to run back to our clothes.
“Holy crap!” I whispered, loudly.
“I guess you don’t have to worry about that guy telling your mom and dad,” she said.
That night, in bed, I imagined Angela Candiotti with breasts and pubic hair, but not pregnant. I couldn’t tell whether it was a pleasant thought or not. She and I had both been slow to physically develop. Maybe she would grow up and never be that way. I felt my penis under the covers and wondered how it could ever grow as large and hairy as that man’s.

One mosquito-laden evening, as Angela, Jimmy Wycault and I made our safari closer to the Woodside Road area, we stopped, dropped, and nearly had a unified cardiac arrest. Deep down past the end of the road, were the bearded man and his pregnant wife, naked, of course, standing in a rough circle with four other nature lovers, swilling beer and cocktails, laughing and joking. I recognized one pretty young woman as a bank teller from the branch that my folks used. Angela was fascinated and disgusted by the sight of her hairy-backed math teacher, who, last semester, had nearly flunked her. There was a skinny guy that nobody recognized, but there, laughing loudest, shining like the ruby in the crown of the Red Queen was... Francine’s mother!!
We three were transfixed. What had we begun? What had I begun? How many other people were doing what “the Faunus” had so innocently started so many years ago? Did grown men walk down the street with their penises hanging out? What other deviant behavior was being indulged in, and by how many others, which we could not even fathom? What if we told both Francine and her mom that they unwittingly shared an enjoyment of nudism? Would it be something they could talk about together? Could Francine show her mom her favorite rocks and trees to climb? Could she push her mom on the rope swing? Could they lie on their backs and hold hands together in the warm, noon grass, thinking only of the present?
If we three crashed the adult group, could Angela get her Math grade bumped up to a B?
I really wanted to get a closer look at Miss Devane, the bank teller. She was the type of woman I could one day marry.
There was simply too much risk in the potential commingling of our exhibitionism. The adults had us in both age and numbers.
The three of us snuck back to our clothes pile to regroup. What had happened back there, we wanted to know, in furtive conspiracy? Our private fun which had separated us from our oppressors, had now been usurped by the very same! Should we call the cops on them? They surely knew where I lived and could turn me in too. Angela and I verbalized the idea of going and joining them, but there was the very large problem of Francine’s mom. As it was, we decided to sleep on it for a few days, comparing notes from time to time, and having made any progress, meeting, when we felt like we were getting somewhere. Bottom line was, we didn’t want to be defeated. This was our freedom, and like all others, we didn’t want the adults to take it away.
One thing was sure from the outset; we weren’t going to tell Francine.
What we ultimately decided was that there was plenty of forest for everyone. We youngsters would keep to the triangular patch that went from the marsh and the dirt road, down to the field. That section included the rock bluffs, most of the footpaths, the rope swing, and a lot of the best trees and sunning clearings, and the adults could have the big share of dark woods abutting Woodland Road and past. We would, if we felt like it, send a scout over there, and if there were no adults – especially no Francine’s mom – we could taunt, if we pleased, the folks on Woodside Road. That’s how it went, the rest of the summer, spritelike, “Fauni” dancing, climbing, playing in the woods, lying in the clearings.
Until Labor Day Weekend.
About seventy-percent of all the people in the neighborhood had gone away somewhere, for the three-day weekend. Among the few who remained, there were backyard cookouts and coolers of soda and beer, as could be expected anywhere in the USA. Late Saturday morning, I hung out a sock, took the dirt road to the marsh, stripped down, and sauntered over to a rock bluff. I sat down and thought about whatever it is that naked twelve year-olds think about on spectacular, waning summer days. After about a half-hour, Angela sat down wordlessly beside me, and I guess she saw what I saw, because she laid her head on my shoulder. After a time, Jimmy Wycault showed up using a Moses-style walking staff, hopped up onto a low, sturdy oak limb, rested his head on his knee, and impassively surveyed our horizon. On cue, Francine emerged from a footpath, a daisy in her hair, and took in the moment that belonged to the four of us alone. No one moved or spoke for fifteen minutes.
“Somebody’s gotta be giving away hamburgers around here,” proclaimed Jimmy, “Let’s go get some free food.”
We all broke out in grins. Each one of us instinctively climbed a couple of our high but hidden trees, and looked around the neighborhood for barbeque smoke. We found three candidates whom we knew would be glad to see us. We ran as far as we dared to the dirt road before getting dressed, and went on our hamburger-chips-and-soda raid. There was plenty of watermelon to be had, as well. After thanking each picnicking party for the food and soda, we’d stash it in some bags under a porch and hit up the next place, and so on, until we had all we could carry back to the woods for a naked feast. Jimmy had also stolen two beers.
We ate and ate and laughed and joked and rolled around in the leaves and grass and dirt. We had a brief potato chip fight. Eventually, we climbed up onto various perches to scope out whatever there was to be seen. It was late afternoon now, still plenty of light, and Jimmy saw it first.
Over by Woodside Road, a few adult torsos were visible through a slender break in the trees. We held to our distant, high limbs, all of us watching, as the group of adults grew; now eight, now a dozen. We all climbed down and reconnoitered a few hundred yards closer to the group, lower to the ground, but with a better vantage point. Jimmy had brought the two beers. He opened one, and we passed it all around, each of us admitting that it was our first one ever. The adult nudist crowd continued to swell. Now there were twenty, twenty-four grown-ups. Somebody had brought a radio, and there was dancing and drinking. We passed around our other beer.
Now, there were about thirty naked revelers laughing and dancing around the radio. The four of us looked at each other, and nobody had to make the suggestion. We were going to join the party.
Plenty of light spilled through the trees in our direction, and we were spotted by several of the partiers from about fifty yards off. Some stopped what they were doing, and many broke out in loopy grins and nodded their heads in exaggerated, hippy affirmation. I felt smug that they thought we were joining them, when actually I had been hopping around that very same spot in the buff for years. They welcomed us into their circle and gave us soft drinks.
Francine noticed her mother before her mother saw her, so that gave Francine the upper hand. She put on a big smile, walked defiantly to her still-oblivious mom, and gave her a full embrace around her waist. She then handed her mom the daisy from her potato chip-flecked hair. Her mom had had a few drinks, and she flushed even more; she looked at her daughter and then around at her friends, bewildered. She was met with nothing but approving smiles, deep, understanding nods, and even some light applause.
Our entrance complete, the dancing and revelry resumed, and I even got to see the pretty bank teller up close, but, over time, the novelty wore off for us four. The grown-ups were getting a little too boisterous, drinking and smoking pot. There was also another no-no underway. A few of these guys were getting together wood and stones to start a campfire. We looked around at each other and made a stealthy exit, with no parting words. We left virtually unnoticed.
It is important to note that, outside of not getting caught, we four had very few rules, stated or otherwise, associated with our nudism. They were along these lines: neither Jimmy nor I touched the girls without their permission; only pre-approved invitees (a ludicrous rule, because only Francine had ever been invited, and it was only ever we four); no pooping unless in a complete emergency – and then, it must be buried; absolutely no littering; no stripping of saplings or destructive breaking of branches; no articles of clothing EVER left behind, and, above all, NO FIRES. The reason is simple. People can see them from a mile away, and if you have to run off to find your clothes, or if you don’t hear footsteps for the sound of the fire, even if your clothes are nearby, nothing but disaster can ensue.
We returned to the area near the bluff where we had left the rest of the food. We took it to where we could see the adults from several hundred yards off, and we continued our nudist repast, while watching them build their fire. We ate cold burgers and hot dogs and drank warm soda until we’d had enough. It was twilight now, and I suggested that Jimmy and Francine go collect up our clothes, while Angela and I cleaned up our food mess. We got dressed, got the food waste bags ready to roll, and we all climbed high up into a big fir tree, to watch the antics below.
We weren’t up there for a half hour before a dozen crisscrossed flashlight beams penetrated the woods over at the end of Woodside Road. There was a hubbub of confused and angry voices. Some people tried to run, but were laughingly subdued. Back down Woodside Road, in the fronts of the houses, red and blue police lights whirled from the cruisers and the paddy wagons. Even the fire department was there to put out the campfire. We all walked down past the L’il Peach and threw our garbage in their dumpster, denied to Mrs. Wycault any insight into the nature of the goings-on down on Woodside Road, and decided that Francine had better stay overnight at Angela’s house, as Francine’s mom would probably not be available until the following morning. The three of us sat on Angela’s front porch until I had to report home, none of us saying much, not basking in the glory of how much smarter we were than the grown-ups, but something more like... comfortably ruminating upon the completion of a long campaign, ended in victory.
Of course, they had to stop the presses to get this thing on the front page of the Sunday paper: “Thirty-One Arrested in Nudist Romp,” it read, atop a very large photo, mystifyingly creatively shot so as to include nary a breast, buttock, or private part of the seventeen or so handcuffed subjects pictured.
Fortunately, there were among the arrested, no city councilmen or Presbyterian ministers, but there was a local weatherman (who ended up keeping his job), two town librarians (who didn’t), three car salesmen (surprise), seven college professors and four of their wives (surprise), a junior high school math teacher (hmmm...), and the owner of the local Dairy Queen.
The story went on to tell that the trouble started at 8:15 p.m., when a very intoxicated, naked woman began pounding on the door of 429 Woodside Road, demanding to use the bathroom. The startled elderly residents then called the police. To avoid further embarrassment to her family, I will not use Francine’s mom’s last name.
The newspaper then did itself and me one better. Some bright copy editor remembered the story from some years back, about a character known as “the Faunus,” and that now, this mystery had finally been cracked.
To my surprise, as much as I had thoroughly enjoyed our nudism throughout the years, as much as I had thrilled to being the mysterious and unidentified “Faunus,” what a burden I felt had been lifted from all my years of subterfuge. It was as though I had been given a full pardon. It was as though I had never walked down that tree-lined stretch of avenue leading to Payson Corner, with my six year-old penis indiscreetly flapping about, never lorded over my neighbors wearing only what God had given me, high in a fir tree on a windy day in March, never held Angela in such a way that would have caused the abusive Vincent Candiotti to have mashed me to a pulp with one of his pipe-fitting tools.
Maybe I should have been sad that the ruse was finished or felt jealous that I hadn’t been properly credited, but it felt more like I had shed a role into which I’d been too-long typecast. I didn’t have to live up to anything. I was just a kid who liked to take off his clothes outdoors.
The thought was as freeing as the exhibitionism itself had been.
I walked straight through the field to a grassy clearing, took off my clothes, and lay down in the sun. I reread the “Faunus” article, read the Sunday funnies and Parade Magazine, and Angela showed up. Looking back, it was as though we were twins. We naturally understood so many shared and complex thoughts that we did not need to verbalize. She too knew of the burden lifted, the game so well played. She grabbed the funnies and read them for a while.
“Did you hear anything from Jimmy?” I asked.
“His mom said she doesn’t want him playing in the woods anymore.”
“What about Francine? Where’s she”
“Her mom came and picked her up at about six o’clock this morning,” she said, not really raising her eyes from Prince Valiant, “She just said ‘thanks’ to my mom for watching Francine, and they left, but then Francine called a little while ago and said that her mom is making them move into her grandma’s house up in Livermore Falls.”
“Gross. It wasn’t her fault.”
We talked about school and what a drag the end of summer was. We expressed hopes for teachers we might get and whom we’d like to sit next to in class. Angela wanted to make the girls’ basketball team, and I knew she would. I was getting the neighborhood paper route in about two weeks – ha-ha - all the way down our street and Woodside Road. “Let ‘the Faunus’ into your home.” We both had a big laugh about that. It would also mean that there would be just about no time ever for after school naked shenanigans.
I guess that twin-like, unspoken accord was showing us that things were changing, and we held hands and ambled about, silently, until the sun was almost down. I had plenty of time to study her body with my eyes that afternoon, in a way that I hadn’t bothered to before. She knew it, and she let me. I think that she had already done the same to me, without my knowing it, sometime in the past. Through our open assessments we each had come to the conclusion that we were just not for one another, while at the same time, there was a unique, undeniable comfort between us that no other could fulfill.
That thought and the color of the twilight made for a bittersweet lovesickness that, after we dressed to go home, that little, sad, resigned peck on the lips only made deeper and sadly, better defined.

A few years went by, as high school began, and although I’d have my occasional romps in the sun and the snow and the rain, they were held partnerless and were only fun for a short time each. I was involved in all kinds of activities in and out of school, got really good grades, and I had a job at the hospital (I got in some very risky rooftop exhibitionism up there, as well as some downright crazy late night running around right downtown.).
Angela had a string of not-too-bright boyfriends with muscle cars, which were in various stages of restoration through vocational school. We were three houses apart, but we lived miles away.
I believe that a big wedge between us having a continuing social relationship was that we were now physically developed enough for a sexual relationship, and we had ruled such a thing out at an earlier age. I think we both knew that the temptation would probably be great enough to follow through with our urges and spoil our inner connection.
That’s not to say that I did not hang a sock out once in a while, unanswered.

I had turned eighteen at the beginning of the summer of 1979, and come the end of August, it was only a couple weeks before I left for college. My school started late for some reason, so most of my school chums had already left for their various institutions. Nobody was at home in my house, and the neighborhood was very quiet. I took a few beers up to the stone bluff with the now ratty and dangerous rope swing. I stripped down, opened a beer and rested my head on my knees. She was trying to be quiet, but I sensed her.
“Hey, college boy, what’s your name?”
She sat down next to me, chin on her knees, like me.
“They call me ‘the Faunus.’ Mind if I buy a townie girl a beer?”
She wrapped an arm around my shoulder and shook me lightly. As she did, her breasts jiggled, and I saw the thin line of pubic hair that reached just about up to her navel from the bushy part below, and I remembered when we saw the man with the beard and his pregnant wife and how I tried to picture Angela with a developed body, and if she ever had one, if I would like it.
The answer now was obvious. She was just as she should be. I made a quarter turn to her to hand her a beer and to see more of the face that meant so much to me, and I saw her take a quick peek down to see how I had grown, and I remembered wondering how my tiny thing could ever end up looking like that bearded man’s.
She smirked a little and hurried the beer to her lips, so that I wouldn’t catch her, but there was hardly anything we could ever do without the other one knowing. So we talked a little about stuff. Jimmy Wycault had opened up a garage in Livermore Falls to be near and to impress Francine, who wasn’t sure yet. Francine’s mom opened up a bar there that was doing great, what with her reputation as a “free spirit.” Angela was going to nursing school, and I was leaving them all behind to go to the Big City, because, Angela teased, they weren’t good enough for me.
At any other time, I would have laughed along with her ever-permissible familiarity. This time, it cut.
“Oh bullshit, Angela!”
I pushed the heel of my hand into her shoulder, and there was that jiggle. She met my eyes, and hers softened perceptibly.
“The problem with us is,” and I had to choose my words quickly and carefully, “and always has been, that we’re both too good for each other. We’re too much of a good thing to be together; we’re wasted on each other. We both know that we’ve gotta to share ourselves with somebody who needs us more, and we’re damn lucky to have found that out as young as we did, before we burned each other out. Before we locked out the whole world. There’s nobody in the world that I’d want for my partner in life more than you, but you know as well as I do that it just doesn’t add up -- you, who gets D’s in Math. You knew it before I did.
“So don’t even joke about me leaving you behind, because it tears me up inside. Now put on your clothes and come with me, and I’ll show you in five minutes, exactly how we fit into each others’ lives... whether I like the way it is or not.”
We put on our clothes, picked up the beers, and walked through the field to my house. I stood her in the middle of the living room.
“Stay right there. You taught me how to dance. I’m going to show you what I’ve learned.”
I went to the record player and pulled out an LP, and put it on.
Fully clothed, I wrapped myself around her and held her such that we were the only two living beings in a place with no boundaries.
And the music began:
“There was a boy,
A very strange enchanted boy.
They say he traveled very far,
Very far,
Over land and sea.
A little shy
And sad of eye,
But very wise was he.

“And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way,
And though we spoke of many things,
Fools and kings,
This he said to me,
‘The greatest thing
You’ll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved
In return.’”

I enveloped her body with mine, during the sublime instrumental part, Time and Place not even being theories, until was repeated:
“The greatest thing
You’ll ever learn
Is just to love,
And be loved in return.”

The song ended, and I kissed Angela Candiotti on the lips for as long as it took to wring out every bit of tortuous love and frustration of unattainable romance, of every drop of regret and of shared triumph, of every unfulfillable dream of sexual, emotional passion with nobody else but her... and she let me, and she shared every drop with me. We were true partners in our own release. She had taught me how to dance, an activity of both reliance and freedom. We had, in our years of nakedness and trust, taught each other both reliance and freedom.
I walked her home, hand in hand, and at her door, we released one another.

Several years later, my dad was selling the house, and I figured I ought to take a trip back up there, just to have a last look around. I asked about Angela Candiotti, now Angela O’Brien, with three children and a husband who owns a sporting goods store up in Skowhegan.
I pulled a beer out of the fridge, and I took a long, clothed walk in the woods, not only to reminisce, but to reconnect to long-shelved tenets and long-held notions, some dormant, some augmented by new wisdom or undermined by false sophistication. Maybe I would bumble onto a new, worthwhile way of looking at things.
Far overhead, a squirrel jumped from oak to oak several yards ahead of me, could not quite grab his object branch, and tumbled down into the ferns, splashing up a cloud of last year’s dry leaves. Panicked, he darted off, and in the flurry of kicked-up leaves, in the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of the naked haunch and elbow of a little boy disappearing behind a rough, gray boulder and some maple saplings.
Or was it a little girl?
Or was I just imagining things?