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July 31, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 12 (p. 217-224)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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Chapter 2

"Hey you! Open the door, it's freezing out here," she said, knocking on the window. He sat up and unlocked the door. She threw her bag in the back seat and flopped down into the seat next to his. Looking at her now, he was struck, as he always was, by the incredable beauty of this girl. Her hair flowed in golden waves past her shoulders, where it fell as if it had a life of it's own. Her eyes were the color of a warm cloudless August evening, and her lips were like the horizon where the sun had decided to set for its evening rest. Her skin was light, yet it wasn't pale. He remembered going to a ballet that she had a part in, and how she was set apart from the rest of the dancers by the glow of her skin as compared to the drab white of thiers. He understood why she haunted his dreams so often, but he did not know why she took so many forms: once being a lovely sprite, and once being a demon enveloped in thick black smoke. She was wearing tight blue jeans, and a short sleeved shirt which fell on her shoulders in such a way as to not darken the earth by removing the view of her soft skin.

"Are we going to sit here all day?" she interrupted.

"Sorry," he always made sure to aknowledge her when she spoke, because he feared that if he didn't, she would be bored and deprive him of her conversation. He turned the key, and the car rasped at it's awakening and then roared to life. He checked his mirrors. He locked his seat belt into place, and heard a chuckle from next to him. Putting on his blinker, he looked over his left shoulder, and pulled out onto the road. The red sports car pulled out in front of him, then stopped at the end of a long line which ended where the crossing guard was directing traffic. He thought the crossing guard must have felt very self-important, because there were no children crossing the street, yet she continued to keep the traffic from flowing its natural way.

"I didn't see you in History today," said Sybil as if she didn't know where he had gone, "where did you go?"

"Nowhere," he said as his mind struggled between its own longing to be free and its need to tell her everything, "just for a walk." Just for a dance in the fields, he thought.

When she had appeared on stage, she was so amazing that she could have just stood there and eliminated the need for dancing or other dancers. For that moment, it was just her, surrounded by a circle of light, taunting him as she floated away. Then the male dancer came, and he was surprised not only that it wasn't him, but because it couldn't be. It was for that reason that he so frequently told her he loved her, and was hurt by her response, stopped talking to her to try and save himself, and then he called her again because he couldn't take the distance from her.

She shifted in her seat, and he looked up to see the crossing guard waving him onward. He turned left.

"Do you want to do something tonight?" he asked tentatively.

"I've already got plans to go to Lisa's house and hang out with some guys she knows," she said. He wondered how long these guys would last. She was always finding a guy she thought was cute, and imagining how perfect it would be to go out with him. After a week or so, she discovered that the guy was not who she thought he was. There was always him to go back to anyway. Good old dedicated him, who was every bit what she knew him to be. Or was he? He had often wondered if Sybil truly knew him. Did she understand the many sides of his mind, the thick black smoke that seemed to cover his light at will. He knew her completely. She had once told him that if she started to like him as more than a friend, he would be the first to know. He didn't believe this. He thought it was him that had to tell her. After all, hadn't he had a running relationship of some kind or other with her for three or four years? What could it be that kept them together if not mutual attraction?

He turned left onto what was the most traveled road in his town. The road started in the town south of his and continued up to New York State. During the hour long trip (with traffic), a person driving up the road would see its name change several times, but it was always the same road. No matter what the size and condition of the homes beyond its curbs, it was always the same road that started one town south of the town in which he lived.

The sky turned cloudy. It was still bright out, and the sun was still shining down, but except for the hole through which the sun shone, it was cloudy. Sitting in a heated car, he almost thought he could roll down the window and it would be late August. Maybe in August he would have convinced Sybil that she loved him.

She said something about ballet. She said that the cute guy who had danced the lead two years ago was coming back. He had heard her telling a friend that she wouldn't mind if he saw her changing costumes. He hated him, whoever he was. He wished he could dance, almost as much as he wished she could love.

D. laughed at this last line. It seemed almost too easy and almost too perfect: exactly what she would expect from a bright but young writer. She also found it humorous that the young Nathaniel had been so concerned with the layout of a scribbled story in a black and white flecked notebook as to scrunch the lines together to end Chapter 1 on a right-hand page then over-space the letters toward the end of Chapter 2, as distantly as sense could cohere, to force "almost as much as he wished she could love" onto a page of its own to enhance the effect of a draft that nobody would ever see as if it were the final product.

D. wondered if anybody else had ever read this story. She shuffled through the pages looking for the red marks of a teacher or the unconcerned wrinkles of a watching-over friend. Nothing. Perhaps this was the final product.

She stood, partly to stretch her legs and partly because a strange, unattributable feeling akin to giddiness had come over her: perhaps she had finally absorbed some of the seasonal excitement that had been loitering about the house for the past day. So she stood, in part, to clear her mind and fell back into the chair lightheaded. She giggled. Standing more slowly, she walked into the entrance hall for a change of perspective and squinted. The sun was just breaking into the large circle of the stained glass window and glittered into her eyes. She was surprised that it was so late in the afternoon, even going on evening. She had thought it was... she stopped to finish the thought... "three o'clock," she spoke softly and giggled again. Suddenly the sound of a saxophone spilled out of the dining room and kitchen doors with uneven echoes. "Dismissed," she said and laughed more loudly than she had expected herself to, the sound coming to her ears as if somebody had snuck up behind her to make it.

Feeling the need to rise, D. climbed the sweeping stairs to the top and peeked down into the courtyard. She saw John skulking toward the northern door to the ballroom. He passed Alex, who had finally appeared before everybody to play a clear but moody piece on the piano. A sound from below urged her to lean over, and she saw Huck squatting to wipe his hands on his overalls. Jim slid between his legs playfully, and Huck shouted with glee and chased after him. The tap of Martin's typewriter tapped on monotonously as if stuck on the same letter, over and over. Above Martin's room, Nick stood on the southern tower with his back toward her, looking to the west. In the opposite tower, Jake watched her turn her head toward him and waved. Holden sat on the fresh grass with his legs crossed and his knuckles pressed under his chin, looking down at the endangered black king of his chess battalion. Steinbeck sat across from him smiling over his untouched brigade. A blast from Sal's saxophone jerked D.'s eyes through the willow tree. He stood in the far left corner, appearing, through the slender hanging branches and his thick sunglasses, to be smiling at Alex. The music intertwined as if it had been intended to be played in this way. A phone rang perfectly at a cadence point, and Othello stuck his head through his door and looked around guiltily. He saw that D. was the only one who appeared to have noticed and pulled back into his room, smiling at her for the promise of keeping a secret, though they both knew that it could not be one to which only they two, alone, were privy.

"It all seems so contrived," D. whispered to herself and chuckled. "But it's right."

She fled down the stairs before the moment had a chance to dissolve. The sun had already fallen a good way toward the hole at the stain glass window's center. Perhaps the two circles would consummate this evening. Well they would have to, D. thought.

She returned to the fiction in Nathaniel's notebook quickly, either to erase the surreality around her or to explain it.

Chapter 3

The tape reversed itself in the tape player, but he didn't notice. When he dropped off Sybil, he had expected, as he did every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, a good-bye kiss. He always expected her to stay seated in the passenger seat as he leaned over and kissed her. But instead, there was always that intermenable awkward moment when they both felt like they should say something, but didn't know what. Then she would flick her hair back and, in one fluid motion, grab her bag off the back seat, open the car door, and be gone. He had sat there for a moment not knowing what to do, and then pulled away.

He threw a stone at the river. It fell and fell, and he couldn't see it's splash. He might have missed. The sky was dimming around him but he couldn't tell because the lights of the city were coming on. The bridge lit up like a chain of slow burning firecrackers. He slapped his arm at a musquito. Turning off his portable tape player he looked through his eyes down at his feet then past them to the beaten up wooden boards far down below that once had been a dock. His eyes swam across the water to the rippling city that seemed to be under it. The buildings all blended together in the water like they were just one big church, with the steeple of the Empire State Building jutting out at him. A car honked on the bridge.

He liked this spot. Some girl had shown it to him, but he had only wanted to neck with his eyes open so that he could look at the big lonely island behind her. So many people, he had thought, Maybe she's in there somewhere crying to get out. He had come back often since that night when the girl, whatever her name was, had gotten mad and made him drive her home. It was his dad's car that night, he thought. His had been in the shop.

But he hadn't wanted it to be that way. He wanted it to be here, he knew that, but not her. But he would never get Sybil here, not until she realized what they were. Maybe they could get married out here. Nobody would come, but that was alright. They would throw a rope over a tree that had one thick branch hanging over the edge and make the priest swing out on it like a frightened angel.

He knocked his radio off the edge and laughed at himself for doing it. He listened to it squawk all the way down and then crash and die. But it wasn't true. It wasn't company. He stood and leaned to look strait down the rocks. Sometimes he thought he would get some kind of pick and hammer to chip them away, and everytime a peice fell, he would recite she loves me she loves me not. And if the last rock of the cliff fell off to she loves me he would use them all to build a bridge across the stinking river and begin knocking down the buildings piece by piece until he found her.

He shouted loud and nobody heard him. It didn't even echo.

"Sybil! Sybil!"

D. turned the page for more, but the rest of the notebook was blank except for a poem on the inside of the back cover that she didn't manage to read because the house shook as everybody ran in a great push to the eastern door. "He's here," she heard somebody say, and she thought that it had been in a reverent tone.

Nine men stood in an imperfect circle, with a boy and a woman being drawn cautiously toward it, around the door as if they hoped to preserve a picture of his entrance. Or maybe we're a little afraid to find out who'll walk through the door, D. thought and didn't know why or what she meant.

The door squealed sublimely open, and D. scurried to an opening in the circle to catch a glimpse. But just as the man stepped through into the house, the sun crowned the clear circle in the middle of the window and pooled for the blink of an eye before it burst through like a single beam of light through a cloudy sky and engulfed the man at the opening across the hall. D. blinked as if she expected the sight to burn the shape of the figure on her eyes forever.

"Hello," a melodious voice called out from the center of the beam. The crowd of men rushed forward with only slight variations in enthusiasm and grasped for the two outreached hands. D. and Alex lingered slightly behind. "So we're all here," said the voice. The figure's glowing eyes seemed to take in the entire room at once, and the voice said, "And two new guests, as well."

He stepped out of the light — it can't still be shining, thought D. — and looked at Alex, who smiled as if for the first time, for it was an awkward and nearly sickening smile. "Would you be Alex?" Alex nodded.

"And who have we here?" Nathaniel asked, turning toward D. "A pleasure to meet you. I'm Nathaniel."

D. stepped forward, surprised that she was almost amazed to not be overwhelmed beyond speech. "Sybil," she said. "You can call me Sybil."


The wind gusts with renewed fervor through the trees and the mountains and laps at whatever water there is to be found. A new chorus breaks out among the bugs and the birds, and even the deer seem to utter a phrase under their breaths. So should we raise our voices. Call out! It is Spring, and the world has awakened once again, and so must we awaken fully now for it is Spring, and the world will rain down tales of its absent adventures, and the leaves will whisper of birth and rebirth. And all of it converges now in a fresh first call of the evening as the sun dips down for the final time on the lingering Winter. Call out! Nathaniel has come!

Posted by Justin Katz at July 31, 2005 4:12 PM
A Whispering Through the Branches