alone can sometimes be as dangerous as falling in love. Young men who have stood on the street corners silently watching the night skies blossom with rare and radiant flowers have been known to reel and spin, unsure that the ground beneath them was steady. Hugh was no different, and on July 4th, he foolishly stood on the corner of Parker and Mississippi watching the sky above the city grow bright and bloom with exquisite
fires of emerald, scarlet
Hugh had always loved the delicate and ephemeral, so it was no mystery that he had fallen for Isaac. He sighed softly, but so mournfully that had anyone else been on that streetcorner, they would have heard the sound above all the whistles and bangs and screeches of the fireworks and looked up startled to see a young man grown lovely with sorrow watching the heavens with his hands in his pockets. With the innocence that only those ignorant of their beauty and small children have, Hugh stared up at the sky, his face illuminated by splashes of light and color, and thought about Isaac once more.
The evening they met there were thunderstorm warnings. Hugh was sitting in a grove full of aspen and fir trees, staring up at stretches of the sky through the branches that arched overhead. The sky looked tense and pulled taut and the little hairs on the back of Hugh's neck were standing on end, when he noticed that he was not alone in the grove. The light was fading, but Hugh could still make out the coral of the other boy's lips, though the paleness of his hair looked silver in the gloom. Furtively, cautiously, Hugh made his way over to the stranger, a boy of about sixteen whose pale skin was slicked with sweat, and whose lips were slack. He was beautiful in a fragile way, like an expensive porcelain doll, Hugh thought, but it was then that he noticed the eyes. The boy had dark, compelling eyes, eyes as tense as the sky, eyes that looked ready to spark with lightning at any moment. Under that gaze, Hugh felt naked and unsteady, and began to sway. The boy, as if anticipating this, reached forward and grabbed Hugh in arms that were surprisingly strong despite their delicate appearance. Their lips met, and there were no sounds until the falling of rain and the crash of thunder.
Isaac, Hugh later learned, was not sixteen, but instead twenty-three, five years older than Hugh. His delicate appearance came from a long history of illness, and on the night they had met, he was recovering from an asthma attack and had barely been able to breathe. Despite his physical frailty, or perhaps because of it, Isaac had a fierce determination that Hugh had never encountered in anyone before. Their courtship was passionate and dizzying and with the strange lunacy of those falling in love for the first time, Hugh found himself moving in with Isaac after a few months. Their arguments were few, but usually revolved around a basic conflict in character, Hugh was easy-going and genial fellow who zealously started projects and abandoned them when something new sparked his interest. Isaac had a compulsion to finish anything he started, and sometimes became furious when he found a half-done jigsaw puzzle or a partially painted canvas gathering dust while Hugh was learning how to batik or write in iambic pentameter. Isaac's pale face placid while his dark eyes blazed with wild fury, Isaac would sometimes grab Hugh and ask, "Why can't you finish anything you've started?". Then, noticing the bewilderment and hurt in Hugh's eyes, his voice would soften and he would gently kiss Hugh, and their bodies would press against each other in the act of conciliatory lovemaking.
But even ardor and devotion have their limits, and Hugh's sometimes careless habits enfuriated Isaac more and more often, while Hugh became confused by Isaac's brooding and moodiness. There were moments when depression would overtake Isaac and he would become sharptongued and embittered, driving Hugh to tears with insults and cutting criticism. It was on a sweltering summer afternoon, so hot and humid that any shirt that Isaac put on became plastered to his body and translucent with sweat that he realized how deeply he loved Hugh and how far apart they were growing. Both of them had been plagued by mosquitoes who had buzzed in thick clouds around the creek behind their house. Hugh had removed his shirt and Isaac admired the way his skin rippled gold and brown in the light, sleek and smooth except were it was raised in inflamed dots by the bite of a hungry mosquito, he admired every line and curve, Hugh's long graceful neck, the hollow under his chin, when he met his eyes and noticed the hurt that was there, the hurt that was not there before they met. At that moment Isaac decided to try to repair things with Hugh and came up with the idea of the boat trip.
The idea was simple, they would spend the week of Independence Day together on a houseboat. Isaac knew how much Hugh loved the water, he spent at least an hour swimming every afternoon, and thought that it would be a good chance for them to rediscover what was wonderful about each other. At first it went well, they held hands, and walked along the rocky shore, lulled by the gentle lapping of water. Bright-eyed and eager as a child, Hugh plucked up a piece of sandstone and examined it in the red-golden evening light, it had been caressed by the water until it resembled nothing so much as a kneeling dancer, her back arched, breasts pointing to the sky. After showing his treasure to Isaac, who despite his world-weariness, was delighted, Hugh pocketed his souvenir. That night, they made fierce passionate love while being rocked by the lake's water and held each other until morning.
The next morning was the fourth, and they spent the day splashing and swimming, kissing and talking, and feeding each other fruit. When the day stretched into night, they held each other and watched fireworks over the lake. All was well, until Isaac revealed his surprise to Hugh. Clearing his throat and stretching, he looked at Hugh and smiled thinly before saying, "I want us to stay together, but to keep growing. And most of all, I want you to be able to grow. So, I've paid for you to go to college, so you can finish and get your degree."
The look of shock, mingled with horror and confusion is not what Isaac was expecting, and his lips involuntarily tightened as Hugh responded, "Isaac.. this is.. uh wonderful.. but I wish you'd talked to me about this. I'm not sure if I want to return to school."
Furious, Isaac snapped, "You don't want to go back to school? So what are you going to do for the rest of your life, be a file clerk? For chrissakes, you're better than that!"
Hugh blinked back tears and lowered his gaze, "I don't know what I want to do, but I don't think I'll find it in a University."
Isaac clenched his fists and hissed, "So, you're just going to live in some fairyland until whatever it is you decide your good at appears? How marvelously Quixotic of you." Isaac knew full-well that the former Literature Major would pick up on the backhanded compliment and waited for the full impact of his words to register before snarling, "I should have known you would do this. You never finish anything you start."
Forcefully, Isaac turned away, and thrown off-balance by a sudden sway of the boat, knocked over a table. There was a splash, and Hugh's exclamation, "the dancer". And Isaac stopped, faced with the pain in Hugh's face, he realized that he had no choice, as love offers us few options, and without thinking dove into the cool, black waters of the lake. There was a space of about thirty seconds, where Hugh sat down on the smooth, wooden planks of the boat in shock. Thirty seconds before Hugh realized with growing horror that Isaac didn't swim well, that Isaac was frail and the lake water was very cold. Hugh plunged into the water after his lover. It was colder than he had expected, but he did not hesitate, only dove down into the murky depths in search of Isaac. The scant illumination from the boat and the wan light of the moon soon lost their power to penetrate to lake's darkness, but Hugh contined downwards, possessed. His lungs began to burn with the need for air, and relunctantly, he forced himself back to the surface to gasp for air. Drawing breath enough for another dive, Hugh, once more swam through the murk of the lake's water. For over an hour he repeated this pattern of diving and quickly gasping for breath until finally, exhausted, he hauled himself over the side of the boat and collapsed on the wooden deck, vomiting water that tasted like iron.
There was a search party organized, and the lake was diligently dragged, but there was never any sign of Isaac found. Resigned, and wounded, Hugh returned home alone, hating himself and feeling somehow complicitous with death for Isaac's drowning. As some sort of penance, he returned to school that fall and graduated with a degree in English Literature. Hugh taught junior high literature classes to students who had not yet grown jaded and could still marvel at the written word. He was a good teacher, who was patient and innovative and his students loved him, and his life was, for the most part, good. But he did not forget Isaac. And although five years had passed since that night on the lake, he had not fallen in love again, and his relationships were fleeting and shallow.
Five years to the day after Isaac's disappearance, Hugh stood on the corner of Parker and Mississippi watching the last of the fireworks. After the fading of the last display, Hugh turned to go home, reeling. After watching fireworks alone, every ordinary light seemed shimmering and ephemeral; streetlamps threatened to bloom into elaborate green and gold roses. Dizzily, he walked home and climbed the stairs to his small apartment, and opened the door. The apartment was in its usual disarray; a box of uneaten pizza sat on a kitchen counter, the cooling cheese and sauce congealing into something resembling bad modern art. On the radio Beck tinnily intoned, "soy un perdedor" before being unceremoniously silenced by a tired flick of Hugh's wrist. He flopped down onto his unmade twin bed and lay motionless, while the room seemed to spin and wheel around him. Hugh shut his eyes and fell asleep as strange afterimages danced behind his eyelids.
So deep asleep was Hugh that he did not see the strange figure, more shadow than substance, that hovered above him late in the night. He did not feel the faintest caress of his cheek by a phantom hand. And the next morning he was unable to explain the strange perfume of lake water that permeated the apartment or the still-wet footprints that led away from his bed. But somehow without knowing, Hugh understood the enduring nature of love and forgiveness because heavy in his palm lay a small piece of sandstone that resembled nothing more than a kneeling dancer, her backed arched, breasts to the sky.