Boys Life Chapter Thirty One


PaRT FIVE - Zephyr as It Is

IT HaS BEEN a LONG, COLD WINTER, aND I aM GOING HOME.

South from Birmingham on Interstate 65, that busy highway leading to the state capital. a left turn at Exit 205, and then following the road as it narrows and winds past drowsing towns named Coopers, Rockford, Hissop, and Cottage Grove. No sign spells out the name Zephyr anymore, but I know where it is and I am going home.

I am not going alone, on this beautiful Saturday afternoon at the beginning of spring. My wife, Sandy, is beside me, and our own ’’young'un’’ in the back, curled up wearing a Birmingham Barons baseball cap on backward and baseball cards scattered over the seat. These days there might be a fortune back there, who knowsi The radio-pardon me, the stereo cassette player-is on, with Tears For Fears coming out of the speakers. I think Roland Orzabal is a fantastic singer.

It's 1991. Can you believe iti We're poised on the edge of a new century, for better or worse. I guess we'll all make up our own minds which. The year 1964 seems like ancient history now. The Polaroids taken in that year have turned yellow. No one wears their hair like that anymore, and the clothes have changed. People have changed, too, I think. Not just in the South, but everywhere. For better or worsei You can decide for yourself.

and what we and the world have been through since 1964! Think of it! It's been a faster, more brain-busting ride than ever could be devised by the Brandywine Carnival. We've lived through Vietnam-if we've been fortunate-and the era of Flower Power, Watergate and the fall of Nixon, the ayatollah, Ronnie and Nancy, the cracking of the Wall and the beginning of the end of Communist Russia. We truly are living in the time of whirlwinds and comets. and like rivers that flow to the sea, time must flow into the future. It boggles the mind to think what might be ahead. But, as the Lady once said, you can't know where you're going until you figure out where you've been. Sometimes I think we have a lot of figuring out to do.

’’It's such a lovely day,’’ Sandy says, and she leans back in her seat to watch the countryside glide past. I glance at her and my eyes are blessed. She wears sunlight in her blond hair like a spill of golden flowers. There's some silver in there, too, and I like it though she frets some. Her eyes are pale gray and her gaze is calm and steady. She is a rock when I need strength, and a pillow when I need comfort. We're a good team. Our child has her eyes and her calm, the dark brown of my hair and my curiosity about the world. Our child has my father's sharp-bridged nose and the slim-fingered ’’artist's hands’’ of my mother. I think it's a fine combination.

’’Hey, Dad!’’ The baseball cards have been forgotten for the moment.

’’Yeahi’’

’’are you nervousi’’

’’No,’’ I say. Better be honest, I think. ’’Well... maybe a little bit.’’

’’What's it gonna be likei’’

’’I don't know. It's been... oh... let's see, we left Zephyr in 1966. So it's been... you tell me how many years.’’

a few seconds'pause. ’’Twenty-five.’’

’’Right as rain,’’ I say. Our child gets an aptitude in math strictly from Sandy's side of the family, believe me.

’’How come you never came back herei I mean, if you liked it so muchi’’

’’I started to, more than a few times. I got as far as the turnoff from I-65. But Zephyr's not like it was. I guess I know things can't stay the same, and that's all right but... Zephyr was my home, and it hurts to think it's changed so much.’’

’’So how's it changedi It's still a town, isn't iti’’ I hear the baseball cards being flipped through again, being sorted by team and alphabetized.

’’Not like it was,’’ I say. ’’The air force base near here closed down in 1974, and the paper mill up on the Tecumseh shut down two years later. Union Town grew. It's about four or five times the size it was when I was a boy. But Zephyr... just got smaller.’’

’’Um.’’ The attention is drifting now.

I glance at Sandy, and we smile at each other. Her hand finds mine. They were meant to be clasped together, just like this. Before us, the hills rise around adams Valley. They are covered by trees that blaze with the yellow and purple of new buds. Some green is appearing, too, though april's not here yet. The air outside the car is still cool, but the sun is a glorious promise of summer.

My folks and I indeed did leave Zephyr, in august of 1966. Dad, who had found a job working at Mr. Vandercamp's hardware store, sensed the changing winds and decided to search for greener pastures. He found a job in Birmingham, as the assistant manager on the night shift at the Coca-Cola bottling plant. He was making twice as much money as he'd ever made when he was a milkman. By 1970, he'd moved up to be the night-shift manager, and he thought we were in high cotton. That was the year I started college, at the University of alabama. Dad saw me graduate, with a degree in journalism, before he died of cancer in 1978. It was, thankfully, a quick passing. Mom grieved terribly, and I thought I was going to lose her, too. But in 1983, on a cruise to alaska with a group of friends from her church, Mom met a widowed gentleman who owned a horse breeding farm near Bowling Green, Kentucky. Two years later, she became his wife and she lives on that farm still. He's a great guy and is very good to my mother, but he's not my dad. Life goes on, and the roads always lead to unexpected destinations.

ROUTE TEN, reads a sign pocked with rust-edged bullet holes.

My heart is starting to beat harder. My throat is dry. I expect change, but I'm afraid of it.

I've tried my damnedest not to get old. This in itself is a tough job. I don't mean age old, because that's an honorable thing. I mean attitude old. I've seen guys my age suddenly wake up one morning and forget their fathers forbade them to listen to those demonic Rolling Stones. They've forgotten their fathers demanding that they get out of the house if they're going to wear their hair down on their foreheads. They've forgotten what it meant, to be the bossee instead of the bosser. Of course the world is tougher now, no doubt about it. There are harder choices to be made, with more terrible consequences. Kids need guidance, for sure. I did, and I'm glad I got guided because it helped me miss making a lot of mistakes. But I think parents aren't teachers anymore. Parents-or a whole lot of us, at least-lead by mouth instead of by example. It seems to me that if a child's hero is their mother or father-or even better, both of them in tandem-then the rough road of learning and experience is going to be smoothed some. and every little bit of smoothing helps, in this rough old world that wants children to be miniature adults, devoid of charm and magic and the beauty of innocence.

Well, my last name's neither Lovoy nor Blessett, so I ought to get off my pulpit now.

I've changed somewhat since 1964, of course. I don't have as much hair, and I wear glasses. I've picked up some wrinkles, but I've gained some laugh lines, too. Sandy says she thinks I'm more handsome now than I ever was. This is called love. But as I say, I really have tried to hold off the attitude aging. In this regard, music came to my rescue. I believe music is the language of youth, and the more you can accept as being valid, the younger your attitude gets. I credit the Beach Boys with getting me interested in music to begin with. Now my record collection-excuse me, my CD collection-includes artists like Elvis Costello, U2, Sinead O'Connor, Concrete Blonde, Simple Minds, and Technotronic. I have to say, however, that sometimes I feel the classics pulling at me, like Led Zeppelin and the Lovin'Spoonful. But with all this choice on my platter, I have a feast.

I drive past a weeded-up road that cuts through the woods, and I know what ruin lies at its end fifty yards away. Miss Grace and her bad girls folded their tents right after the Blaylocks went to prison. The house's roof was blown off during a windstorm in July of 1965. I doubt if there's much left at all now. The kudzu vines around here have always been hungry.

Ben started college at the University of alabama the same year I did, majoring in business. He even stayed to go to graduate school, and I would never in a million years have thought that Ben would actually enjoy school. He and I got together from time to time at the university, but gradually he was more and more involved with his business fraternity and I didn't see a whole lot of him. He joined Sigma Chi social fraternity and became vice president of the chapter. He lives now in atlanta, where he's a stockbroker. He and his wife, Jane anne, have a boy and a girl. The guy is rich, he drives a gold-colored BMW, and he's fatter than ever. He called me three years ago, after he read one of my books, and we see each other every few months. Last summer we drove down to a small town near the state line between alabama and Florida to visit the chief of police there. His name is John Wilson.

I always knew Johnny had the blood of a chief in his veins. He runs a tight ship in that town, and he accepts no nonsense. But I understand that he's a fair man, and everybody there seems to like him, because he's in his second term. While we were there, Ben and I met Johnny's wife, Rachel. Rachel is a stunning woman who looks like she could easily be a fashion model. She hangs all over that guy. Though they have no children, Johnny and Rachel are perfectly happy. We all went deep-sea fishing off Destin one weekend, and Johnny caught a marlin, I got my line tangled up under the boat, and Ben got the sunburn of his life. But we sure did do a lot of laughing and catching up.

It is there before I realize it. My stomach tightens.

’’Saxon's Lake,’’ I tell them. They both crane their necks to look.

It hasn't changed at all. The same size, the same dark water, the same mud and reeds, the same red rock cliff. It wouldn't take much effort to imagine Dad's milk truck parked there, and him leaping into the water after a sinking car. It likewise wouldn't take much effort to remember a Buick wallowing there, water flooding through the broken rear windshield, and my father straining to reach me with a glass-slashed hand. Not much effort at all.

Dad, I love you, I think as we leave Saxon's Lake behind.

I remember his face, washed by firelight, as he sat there in the house and explained to me about Dr. Gunther Dahninaderke. It took us both-and Mom, too, and just about everybody in town-a long time to accept the fact that he and his wife had done such evil things. Though he wasn't evil through and through, or else why would he have saved my lifei I don't think anyone is evil beyond saving. Maybe I'm like Dad that way: naive. But better naive, I think, than calloused to the core.

It dawned on me sometime later about Dr. Dahninaderke and his nightly vigils at the shortwave radio. I firmly believe he was listening to the foreign countries for news on who else in the Nazi regime had been captured and brought to justice. I believe that under his cool exterior he lived in perpetual terror, waiting for that knock on the door. He had delivered agonies, and he had suffered them, too. Would he have killed me once he had that green feather in his fist, as he and Kara had tortured and killed Jeff Hannaford over blackmail moneyi I honestly don't know. Do youi

Oh, yes! The Demon!

Ben told me this. The Demon, who had demonstrated later in high school that she was indeed a genius, went to college at Vanderbilt and became a chemist for DuPont. She did very well at that, but her strange nature would not let her alone. The last Ben understood, the Demon has become a performance artist in New York City and is locking horns with Jesse Helms over an art piece she does in which she screams and rants about corporate america while sitting in a baby pool full of... you can guess what.

all I can say is, Jesse Helms better not get on her bad side. If he does, I pity him. He might find himself glued to his desk one fine day.

I follow the same curves that scared the yell out of me when Donny Blaylock flew around them. and then the hills move aside and the road becomes as cleanly straight as a part made by Mr. Dollar and there is the gargoyle bridge.

Missing its gargoyles. The heads of the Confederate generals have been hacked away. Maybe it was vandalism, maybe it was somebody who would get a thousand dollars apiece for them on the art market as examples of Southern primitivism. I don't know, but they are gone. There is the railroad trestle, which is about the same, and there is the shine of the Tecumseh River. I imagine that Old Moses is happier, now that the paper mill has closed. He doesn't get pollution in his teeth when he bites a mouthful of turtle. Of course, he doesn't get his Good Friday feast anymore, either. That ended, Ben told me, when the Lady passed over her own river in 1967 at the grand old age of one hundred and nine. The Moon Man, Ben said, left town soon afterward, heading for New Orleans, and after that the community of Bruton began to dwindle, getting smaller at even a faster rate than Zephyr. The Tecumseh River may be cleaner now, but I wonder if on some nights Old Moses doesn't lift his scaly head to the surface and spout steam and water from the twin furnaces of his nostrils. I wonder if he doesn't listen to the silence beyond the sounds of water sloshing over rocks and think in his own reptilian language ’’Why doesn't anybody ever come to play with me anymorei’’

Maybe he's still here. Maybe he's gone, following the river to the sea.

We cross the gargoyle-less bridge. and there on the other side is my hometown.

’’Here we are,’’ I hear myself say as I slow the car down, but instantly I know I am incorrect. We may be in a particular place in time, but this place is no longer Zephyr.

at least not the Zephyr I knew. The houses are still here, but many of them are tumbling down, the yards forlorn. It's not totally a ghost town, however, because some of the houses-a small, small number, it appears-are still being lived in, and there are a few cars on the streets. But already I feel that a great gathering-a wonderful party and celebration of life-has moved on somewhere else, leaving its physical evidence behind like a garden of dead flowers.

This is going to be a lot tougher than I thought.

Sandy senses it. ’’You all righti’’

’’We'll find out,’’ I tell her, and I manage a feeble smile.

’’There's hardly anybody here, is there, Dadi’’

’’Hardly a soul,’’ I answer.

I turn off Merchants Street before I get to the center of town. I can't take that yet. I drive to the ball field where the Branlins made their savage attack on us that day, and I stop the car on the field's edge.

’’Mind if we sit here for a minute, kidsi’’ I ask.

’’No,’’ Sandy says, and she squeezes my hand.

about the Branlins. Johnny supplied me with this information, being an officer of the law. It seems that the brothers were not of a single nature after all. Gotha started playing football in high school and became the man of the hour when he intercepted a Union Town High School pass right on their goal line and ran it back for a big TD. The acclaim did wonders for him, proving that all the time he only craved the attention his mother and father were too stupid or mean to give him. Gotha, Johnny told me, now lives in Birmingham and sells insurance, and he coaches a peewee football team on the side. Johnny told me Gotha needs no peroxide in his hair anymore, since he has not a strand of it left.

Gordo, on the other hand, continued his descent. I'm sorry to say that in 1980 Gordo was shot to death by the owner of a 7-Eleven in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he'd fallen in with a bad crowd. Gordo died trying to steal less than three hundred dollars from the register and all the Little Debbie cakes he could carry. It seems to me that once upon a time he did have a chance, but he didn't listen to the poison ivy.

’’I'm gonna get out for a minute and stretch my legs,’’ I say.

’’Want us to go with you, Dadi’’

’’No,’’ I answer. ’’Not right now.’’

I get out and walk across the overgrown baseball field. I stand on the pitcher's mound, caressed by cool breeze and warm sun. The bleachers where I first saw Nemo Curliss are sagging. I hold my arm out with my palm toward the sky, and I wait.

What would happen if that ball Nemo Curliss flung to heaven suddenly came down into my hand after all these yearsi

I wait.

But it doesn't happen. Nemo, the boy with a perfect arm who was trapped by all-too-imperfect circumstances, threw that ball beyond the clouds. It never came down and it never will, and only Ben, Johnny, and I remember.

I close my palm, and return my arm to my side.

I can see Poulter Hill from here.

It, too, has been allowed to deteriorate. The weeds are pushing up amid the headstones, and it appears that no new flowers have been put up there for a long time. That's a shame, I think, because there lie Zephyr's faithful ones.

I don't want to walk amid those stones. I had never been back, after my train trip. I had said my good-bye to Davy Ray, and he said his to me. anything else would be a numb-nuts thing to do.

I turn away from Death, and walk back to the living.

’’This was my school,’’ I tell my wife and child as I stop the car beside the playground.

We all get out here, and Sandy walks at my side as my shoes stir the playground's dust. Our ’’young'un’’ begins to run around in wider and wider circles, like a pony set free after a long period of confinement. ’’Be careful!’’ Sandy warns, because she's seen a broken bottle. Worrying, it seems, comes with the job.

I put my arm around Sandy, and her arm goes around my back. The elementary school is empty, some of the windows shattered. There is a crushing silence, where so many young voices whooped and hollered. I see the place near the fence where Johnny and Gotha Branlin squared off. I see the gate where I fled from Gordo on Rocket and led him to Lucifer's judgment. I see-

’’Hey, Dad! Look what I found!’’

Our ’’young'un’’ comes trotting back. ’’I found it over there! Neat, huhi’’

I look into the small, offered palm, and I have to smile.

It is a black arrowhead, smooth and almost perfectly formed. There are hardly any cuts on it at all. It was obviously fashioned by someone who was proud of his labors. a chief, most likely.

’’Can I keep it, Dadi’’ my daughter asks.

Her name is Skye. She turned twelve in January, and she's going through what Sandy calls the ’’tomboy stage.’’ Skye would rather put on a baseball cap backward and run grinning through the dust than play with dolls and dream about the New Kids on the Block. These things will come later, I'm sure. For right now, Skye is fine.

’’I believe you ought to,’’ I tell her, and she eagerly pushes that arrowhead down into the pocket of her jeans like a secret treasure.

You see, it's a girl's life, too.

and now we drive along Merchants Street, into the center of the stilled heart.

Everything is closed. Mr. Dollar's barbershop, the Piggly-Wiggly, the Bright Star Cafe, the hardware store, the Lyric, everything. The windows of the Woolworth's are soaped over. The growth of retail outlets, apartments, and a shopping mall with four theaters in Union Town consumed the spirit of Zephyr, as Big Paul's Pantry finished off the milkman's route. This is a going-forward, but is it progressi

We drive past the courthouse. Silence. Past the public swimming pool and the shell of the Spinnin'Wheel. Silence, silence. We drive past the house of Miss Blue Glass, and the silence where there used to be music is heavy indeed.

Miss Blue Glass. I wish I can say I know what happened to her, but I don't. She would be in her eighties now, if she is still alive. I just don't know. The same is true with so many others, who drifted away from Zephyr in the waning years: Mr. Dollar, Sheriff Marchette, Jazzman Jackson, Mr. and Mrs. Damaronde, Nila Castile and Gavin, Mrs. Velvadine, Mayor Swope. I think they are all alive, in other towns. I think they have kept part of Zephyr with them, and wherever they go they leave Zephyr's seeds in the earth. as I do.

I worked for a newspaper in Birmingham for two years after I finished college. I wrote headlines and edited other people's stories. When I went to my apartment in that big city after work, I sat down at my magic box-not that same one, but a new magic box-and I wrote. and I wrote. The stories went out into the mail and the stories came back. Then, out of desperation, I tried to write a novel. Lo and behold, it found a publisher.

I am a library now. a small one, but I'm growing.

I slow the car as we move past a house set back off the street next to a barn. ’’He lived right there,’’ I tell Sandy.

’’Wow!’’ Skye says. ’’It's creepy! It looks like a haunted house!’’

’’No,’’ I tell her, ’’I think it's just a house now.’’

Like Bo knows football, my daughter knows haunted houses. She knows Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, the films of Hammer, the works of Poe, the chronicles of Mars and the town called 'Salem's Lot. But she knows alice through the looking glass, too, and the Faithful Tin Soldier, the Ugly Duckling, and the journeys of Stuart Little. She knows Oz and the jungles of Tarzan, and though she is too young to fully appreciate anything but the colors, she knows the hands of Van Gogh, Winslow Homer, and Miro. She will listen to Duke Ellington and Count Basie, as well as to the Beach Boys. Just last week she asked me if she could put a picture in a frame on her dresser. She said she thought this particular dude was cool.

His name is Freddy.

’’Skye,’’ I said, ’’I really think havin'that in here is gonna give you night-’’

and then I stopped. Oh-oh, I thought. Oh-oh.

Freddy, meet Skye. Talk to her about the power of make-believe, will youi

I turn the car onto Hilltop Street, and we rise toward my house.

I'm doing all right with my writing. It's a hard job, but I enjoy it. Sandy and I aren't the kind of people who need to own half the world to be happy. I have to say, though, that once I did splurge. I bought an old red convertible that called to me from a used car lot when Sandy and I were taking a vacation in New England. I think they used to refer to such cars as roadsters. I've restored it back to how it must've looked when Zephyr was new. Sometimes, when I'm alone out in that car, speeding along with the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, I forget myself and speak to it. I call it by a certain name.

You know what I call it.

That bicycle went with me when we left Zephyr. We had more adventures, and that golden eye saw a lot of trouble coming and kept me from getting into it on more than several occasions. But eventually it creaked under my weight, and my hands didn't seem to fit on the grips anymore. It was consigned to the basement, under a blue tarp. I imagined it went to sleep like a bird. One weekend I returned from college to find that Mom had had a garage sale, which included the contents of the basement. and here's your money a fella paid for your old bike! she'd said as she handed me a twenty-dollar bill. He bought it for his own boy, isn't that grand, Coryi Coryi Isn't that grandi

It's grand, I'd told my mother. and that night I put my head on my dad's shoulder and cried as if I were twelve again instead of twenty.

My heart stutters.

There it is. Right there.

’’My house,’’ I tell Sandy and Skye.

It has aged, under sun and rain. It needs paint and care. It needs love, but it is empty now. I stop the car at the curb, and I stare at the porch and see my father suddenly emerge smiling from the front door. He looks strong and fit, like he always does when I remember him.

’’Hey, Cory!’’ he says. ’’How ya gettin'alongi’’

Just fine, sir, I answer.

’’I knew you would be. I did all right, didn't Ii’’

Yes sir, you did, I say.

’’Sure do have a pretty wife and a good daughter, Cory. and those books of yours! I knew you were gonna do well, all the time I knew it.’’

Dadi Do you want me to come in and stay awhilei

’’Come in herei’’ He leans against the porch column. ’’Why would you want to do that, Coryi’’

aren't you lonelyi I mean... it's so quiet here.

’’Quieti’’ He laughs heartily. ’’Sometimes I wish it was quiet! It's not a bit of quiet here!’’

But... it's empty. Isn't iti

’’It's full to the brim,’’ my father says. He looks up at the sun, over the hills of spring. ’’You don't have to come here to see them, Cory. Or to see me, either. You really don't. You don't have to leave what is, to visit what was. You've got a good life, Cory. Better than I dreamed. How's your mom doin'i’’

She's happy. I mean, she misses you, but...

’’But life is for the livin',’’ he tells me in his fatherly voice. ’’Now go on and get on with it instead of wantin'to come in an old house with a saggy floor.’’

Yes sir, I say, but I can't leave yet.

He starts to go in, but he pauses, too. ’’Coryi’’ he says.

Yes siri

’’I'll always love you. always. and I'll always love your mother, and I am so very happy for the both of you. Do you understandi’’

I nod.

’’You'll always be my boy,’’ Dad says, and then he returns to the house and the porch is empty.

’’Coryi Coryi’’

I turn my face and look at Sandy.

’’What do you seei’’ she asks me.

’’a shadow,’’ I say.

I want to go one more place before I turn the car around and drive away. I head us up the winding path of Temple Street, toward the Thaxter mansion at its summit.

Here things have really changed.

Some of the big houses have actually been torn down. Where they were is rolling grass. and here is another surprise: the Thaxter mansion has grown, sprouting additions on either side. The property around it is huge. My God! I realize. Vernon must still live there! I drive through a gate and past a big swimming pool. a treehouse has been constructed in the arms of a massive oak. The mansion itself is immaculate, the grounds beautiful, and smaller buildings have been constructed in its style.

I stop the car in front. ’’I can't believe this!’’ I tell Sandy. ’’I've gotta find out if Vernon's still here!’’

I get out and start for the front door, my insides quaking with excitement.

But before I reach it, I hear a bell ring. Ding... ding... ding... ding.

I hear what sounds like a tidal wave, gaining speed and force.

and my breath is well and truly swept away.

Because here they come.

Swarming out of the front door, like wasps from the nest in the church's ceiling on Easter Sunday. Here they come, laughing and hollering and jostling each other. Here they come, in a wonderful riot of noise.

The boys. Dozens of them, dozens. Some white, some black. Their numbers surge around me, as if I am an island in the river. Some of them run for the treehouse, others scamper across the rolling green yard. I am at the center of a young universe, and then I see the brass plaque on the wall next to the door.

It says THE ZEPHYR HOME FOR BOYS.

Vernon's mansion has become an orphanage.

and still they stream out around me, furious in their freedom on this glorious Saturday afternoon. a window opens on the second floor, and a wrinkled face peers out. ’’James Lucius!’’ her voice squawks. ’’Edward and Gregory! Get up here for your piano lessons right this very minute!’’

She wears blue.

Two older women I don't know come out, chasing after the crowd of boys. Good luck to them, I think. and then a younger man emerges, and he stops before me. ’’Can I help youi’’

’’I... used to live here. In Zephyr, I mean.’’ I am so stunned I can hardly talk. ’’When did this become an orphanagei’’

’’In 1985,’’ the man tells me. ’’Mr. Vernon Thaxter left it to us.’’

’’Is Mr. Thaxter still alivei’’

’’He left town. I'm sorry, but I don't know what became of him.’’ This man has a gentle face. He has blond hair, and eyes of cornflower blue. ’’May I ask your namei’’

’’I'm-’’ I stop, because I realize who he must be. ’’Who are youi’’

’’I'm Bubba Willow.’’ He smiles, and I can see Chile in him. ’’Reverend Bubba Willow.’’

’’I'm very pleased to meet you.’’ We shake hands. ’’I met your mother once.’’

’’My momi Reallyi What's your namei’’

’’Cory Mackenson.’’

The name doesn't register. I was a ship, passing through Chile's night. ’’How's your mother doin'i’’

’’Oh, just great. She moved to St. Louis, and she's teachin'sixth grade now.’’

’’I'll bet her students sure feel lucky.’’

’’Parsoni’’ a wizened voice says. ’’Par son Willai’’

an elderly black man in faded overalls has come out. around his skinny waist he wears a tool belt holding hammers, screwdrivers, and arcane-looking wrenches. ’’Parson, I done fixed that slow leak upastairs. Oughta lookat that ol'freezer now.’’ His eyes find me. ’’Oh,’’ he says with a soft slow gasp. ’’I know you.’’

and a smile spreads across his face like day following night.

I hug him, and when he grasps me his tool belt jingle-jangles.

’’Cory Mackenson! My Lord! Is that youi’’

I peer up at the woman in blue. ’’Yes ma'am, it is.’’

’’My Lord, my Lord! Excuse me, Reverend! My Lord, my Lord!’’ Then her attention goes where it ought to: toward the new generation of boys. ’’James Lucius! Don't you get up in that treehouse and break those fingers!’’

’’Would you and your family like to come ini’’ Reverend Willow asks.

’’Please do,’’ Mr. Lightfoot says, smiling. ’’Lots ta talk about.’’

’’Got coffee and doughnuts inside,’’ the reverend tempts me. ’’Mrs. Velvadine runs a grand kitchen.’’

’’Cory, you get on in here!’’ Then: ’’James Luuuuucius!’’

Sandy and Skye have gotten out of the car. Sandy knows me, and she knows I'd like to stay for just a little while. We will not tarry long here, because my hometown is not our home, but an hour would be time well spent.

as they go in, I pause outside the door before I join them.

I look up, into the bright blue air.

I think I see four figures with wings, and their winged dogs, swooping and playing in the rivers of light.

They will always be there, as long as magic lives.

and magic has a strong, strong heart.

The End

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