Thursday, April 15, 2021

Johnny by Steven Evans

It rained today. Just like it rained most days this summer. Teacher says that’s called pathetic fallacy. Smile on his face, trying to defuse the situation. Drag us back to the books. Make us forget.
Well, I say, I don’t know how pathetic it all is, but I know it’s as true as can be. Ain’t no fallacy.
The rain, that is, and what happened to Johnny.

Being the rational type, I’m inclined to think it was just coincidence.
I mean, the rain ain’t no trouble. It has no evil mind.
It just rains and that’s that, it rains.

But, if we’re honest, it can’t have helped. I mean, it did help. Made it easier. A lot easier.
What I mean is, without the rain, that thing Johnny went and done? It would never have happened.
Not like that anyways. He’d have found it mighty difficult. Difficult as hell.

***
Johnny was a good kid. My desk buddy since forever. But that’s all.
He never said much to nobody. Always kept himself to himself. A good kid.
Johnny liked the quiet, or at least that’s how it seemed. I mean, you never can tell for sure, can you?
I remember he’d sit by that big oak tree, a bag of roasted almonds in his hand, and watch the cattle grazing in the fields.
Or else you’d nearly always find him swimming in the river in the late afternoon. Down where Old Lady Styles used to teach him how to dive as a young’un.
He learned fast. Was a good swimmer.

This one night last autumn, just as it was getting dark, Johnny came to fetch me. Out of the blue.
Said the moon was to be big and bright that night. That the light would turn the river into a pool of liquid silver.
And he was right. I still don’t know how, but he was right.

We walked down the wooded track, half a mile long and twisted as a hog’s tail, until we reached the river.
It only took us ten minutes but by then it was pitch black.
At least, it would’ve been, if not for that giant moon. I’d never seen one so big. Nor since. It was like magic.
And I remember the river. So calm then, so delicate.

Johnny took my right hand and opened it up, flat.
He stared at the lines reflecting the moonlight. Maybe trying to read my fate, maybe just liking the way the moonbeams bounced off my sweaty pink palm.
I didn’t ask. It didn’t matter.
Dragonflies shimmered, blue and sparkling green, about our heads. Then skimmed over the water, feeding on helpless gnats.
The beauty of that night etched into my brain.

Johnny went for a swim while I watched. Oil slick patches, blue-black, stained his perfect skin.
Maybe this is what Old Lady Styles would do, I thought. Maybe he saw something of her in me.
When Johnny got out he lay down next to me. Arms behind his head, staring at the sky.
He smiled but didn’t make a sound. He didn’t need to. He was glistening.
As Johnny dried off, I smiled too, and thought about the moon, about dragonflies and about why good things must come to an end.

***

The call came through yesterday. It was the news everyone had feared. A body found, downriver, about three miles. Drowned.
That’s some journey, even for an expert swimmer like Johnny.
The river must have been moving fast.

Abe had seen him heading down to the black bridge that night the storm was due. The one nobody uses anymore. The one we stay clear of.
Abe tried to stop him but it was no use. Johnny was too far gone, and the rain was too thick. Too heavy.
Something had taken Johnny. Grabbed hold of him real tight. Dragged him away.

That was nearly two weeks ago and now, this call. I mean, we knew, but still, this call.
Abe will go today. Identify the body. And there’ll be no more swimming in the river.
A formality, the woman said. Like it was always meant to be.

***

Last night I cried in bed and thought about Johnny.
The moon was big and it was pink, and my palms were sweaty.


© Steven Evans

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