by Ralph Greco Jr.
“You know, I think about the houses here as much as, or even more so, than I ever do the people we grew up with.”
“Understandable, given the circumstances, no?”
It was more than just that, but I wasn’t sure I’d get James to understand what I was referring. Still, what harm was there in wasting our time gabbing, seeing as we both were trying to submerge our terror over what we were witnessing.
“No, I mean, all the time,” I continued and crossed the clear plastic window to look down at the eastern edge of what was once the tree-lined suburban track we had grown up in.
“When I think about our youth—and yeah, I live in the past, I know—but I remember more Crissy Cantino’s musty basement with all those make-shift partitions her father tried putting up to make his office, the Ullman’s back upstairs porch that listed in its far-right corner, what the Beasle’s house looked like before all that ivy crept across their front lawn.
I remember the people of course, the kids we grew up with, but my mind wanders mostly over how many teenagers made-out down that little hidden sidewalk round the Grady’s side yard or the smell of that musty summer breeze the year Benny Anderson and his cousin Brian removed that pile of bricks from their driveway.”
“If walls could talk.”
Yea, James wasn’t getting it, but I smiled at his cleft chin and dancing blue eyes.
He had been a handsome kid, he was a handsome man and had I been so inclined, he would have been my first big crush. I wasn’t so inclined, and still, he had been kind of my first big crush; a platonic teen love I coddled close when we had been pretty much inseparable. Back when he and I, Tom and Jake Kennely and Mike Bennet had found that spaceship in my back yard, in the summer of 1974 and swore never to talk about it.
It seemed an impotent oath now, standing as James and I were on the promontory of all those soil movers, white unmarked vans and the razing of our homes sprawled below us. But we had promised that bright slightly cool Saturday afternoon decades ago, squatting on the edge of the tomato plants my mom had given up for dead, that we’d never reveal our surprise, horror and thrill at seeing that pea soup-green vapor fissure out of that ribbed blue shell just before it had imploded in on itself and then quieted dead all together, a sparkling trickle of what looked like green mercury bleeding under it and into the backyard earth.
Yes, my friends and I had been pretty much gobsmacked into silence as we buried the thing as deep as we could, kicking it into the hole, then covering it up as fast as we probably had ever managed anything in our lives.
We didn’t say, but I knew we all felt with acute 14-year-old logic and what we knew from the sci-fi tropes we had grown up with, that if the space thing we had found that day gone, dead and buried, our worry was over. After a time, we spoke about it as if it had been a game we made up; given even more time, we didn’t ever seem to speak about what was undoubtedly the most fantastic thing that had ever happened to us.
Life is like that.
Surely nearly five decades seems a long time for something to gestate, but when the backyards here began to fall in to steaming pits and a green vapor started to piss up through cracks in the driveways, James and I knew damn well what it had to be what we were reading about across the net even if the scientists didn’t have a clue. We had come here to help as best we could, fashioning our story (with email testimony from the other guys) about what we had kept secret all our days. James’ connections in town (he still lived here and owned a bunch if property) helped us to get to the right people, had seen us exclusively helicoptered in and had us here in the makeshift tent-waffling command center waiting on yet another round of questions we had already pretty much answered.
And still, there it was, my childhood home and the surrounding five block dead- end streets being ripped, prodded, and falling in on themselves from something that had just that morning spread to begin sizzling up under the next five block square area we had always considered ‘the other’ blocks.
Do the sins of the father necessarily fall to the son? Could a near half-century old secret come to ruin us all? Did James and I subconsciously know some small kernel of fact about the ship we couldn’t recall unless hypnotized (something that had been suggested). Why couldn’t we find the thing when my parents’ backyard had been the first to be razed by the scientists?
I had no idea really but standing there with my oldest and eldest friend at my side I began to grieve as much for little boys as I was for houses.