It was Fall, the leaves everywhere changing; bright bursts of red and yellow and orange dashing through the established green of the trees. And lately the temperature had really started to dip. Snow had even tried to visit two days ago, with rich gray clouds streaming in from the West and North and the color bands of the weather map becoming mellow and dipping deep into the heartlands. It made him almost wish he lived in some strange and exotic land near the Equator filled with jungles sounds and smells and frost was inconceivable, and he wouldn't have to stack firewood beside his house just in order to maintain some semblance of comfort or romanticism in the coming months.
It was his birthday.
He was laying on his back next to his dad's truck, an old red Chevy 4x4. It made some racket while accelerating; but, thanks to regular work-ups by dad in the garage, it still ran pretty well. Too bad it was all he was allowed to drive. He really wanted to get his hands on mom's Volvo, but she was a little too up-tight for that.
The wind rolled up the low rise he was on and whispered over him and back down the other side. Even in his coat, with the hood up, and his gloves on he could feel it - cold, Winter coming.
But, it was beautiful outside; hardly a cloud in the sky today which was so frighteningly blue and clear and crisp that he doubted everything they taught him in school about meteorology, and he wanted to believe in magic.
It was his birthday.
What the hell did that mean? What did it mean last year? What would it mean next year?
For that matter, where would he be next year? Not here, certainly, because there was no way he was going stay in this backwater community once high school was over. Not a chance. He wasn't going to keep helping dad with all his little part-time, handy-man jobs: mechanic, wood-cutter, plumber, snow plower, or whatever else anybody needed. Already, everyone would ask him questions when they had a simple problem, something broken or needed done, as if he were his father, like he was just supposed to know, as if it were in his blood or something. Well, it wasn't. Why couldn't they ask him about medical things and expect him to know that? Mom was a doctor, why didn't they figure he'd follow in her footsteps?
Stupid hick-town. Why did mom have to come set up practice in such a worthless town, that was so small that her fix-it-husband could instantly feel right at home, because they didn't have anybody to manage their trappings of civilization if they had problems? Guess before dad they had to call somebody in from the city, half an hour away. Damn shame, that.
It was his birthday.
And he didn't know what he was going to do about it, or about anything.
College was out of the question. Didn't have the grades. Didn't that just make mom beam with joy? Harder and harder to get her attention. Which left him more and more with dad, running errands and handling jobs he didn't have time for. "Fix-It-Man and Son." What a life.
The crooning breeze rippled over him again, but this time it wasn't so cold; in fact, it was almost comfortable. Cozy, like sitting at home under a quilt and reading a book, not warm like that, but right like that. Proper. He belonged here at this moment, laying on this hill staring at this sky and listening to the leaves of the tree rustle in the soothing breeze.
He knew what he'd see if he stood up, he was on the only high ground for miles and even that was just a few feet above the plain, hardly noticeable, unless you'd suffered your entire life without a proper hill. Jameson's Hill, it was called. Once a pioneer had settled here and placed his house on this hill, and maybe even planted the lonely tree that stood just a dozen or so feet away with its leaves a contrast of bright yellows and oranges and rich greens, Oscar Jameson. But his house was gone now, and he all but forgotten.
And Jack Beldan, who owned all this land and whose house and barn were away North across the recently plowed and harvested fields, wanted this tree removed so he could plan to plant here next year, had to expand the acreage. So, he had called dad, Want To Come Cut Down My Tree For Me - Free Firewood.
And now here he was, on his birthday, even more in the middle of it all then he was normally, out doing this chore for dad so he could go fix Mrs. Harrelson's leaky drainpipe.
But, just now, before the tree came down and the landscape became even more monotonous and crushing in its simplicity, he was going to lay here and think about his birthday.
He sifted through it all absently, with a loose focus that seemed to bring it all right up in front of his nose with a shimmering pseudo-clarity that punctuated its detail and lied about the smudged edges and uncertainty. It was one of those rare and precious moments that made him feel alive, energetic with the force of approaching death.
He could feel it, could feel that he was dying the slow death of the painfully mortal; but, for the moment he was only feeling it, he wasn't living or dying it. Feeling, but not experiencing.
And it was just these sorts of moments, rare and breathtaking like a golden sunset over a desperately rocky mountain seen from a wide open prairie, that seemed to draw in all the aspects of his environment and outline them with a thick black splotchy line, a black crayon drawn in fierce circles again and again to make sure the water colors kept to their proper areas, to stop the bleeding. A distant near moment of focal energy that extended his life, and left him just a bit closer to nothingness in a forgotten kind of way.
It happened so rarely. This sort of Epiphany. This moment of ecstatic lonely insight. This wonder. This thing that swept down and lifted him up and into the deified stratosphere at the same time that it dragged him down through the stratified crowds of beggars and scoundrels.
As a result, he reached an understanding. He knew his place in the order of life and death, he knew his place in the order of logic and forgetfulness. He knew where that tree over there should have really grown, if Jameson hadn't played with nature, and when its existence would be put to an end. He knew exactly.
He didn't have a word for it. Didn't know what it was called, but it had to be something like meditation. A Nirvana-approaching state of focused mental energies, bound and released at the same time. And the beautiful thing was that he didn't have to sit, legs painfully crossed, and mumble and chant and smell foul incense for hours on end until such a state entered his soul. No, he just sort of smiled and relaxed and stared at the world and listened, and then it all sort of snapped into place and then he saw and knew the fates.
He climbed to his feet, picked up his chainsaw, and walked over to cut the damn tree down.
It was his birthday.
He didn't know what that meant exactly, but he did know that it meant that he wouldn't be here when the next one rolled around on the calender. He didn't know where he'd be, but it would be somewhere. Maybe somewhere warm.
The roar of the saw smacked into his ears and its angry vibrations coursed along his arms, and he smiled as he leaned to place the saw into the trunk. But, another gust of wind blew around him and sang with the saw, a wind from the West this time not the North. He paused.
It was his birthday and he knew that no matter where he was when the next one came, no matter how warm it was, only a brisk fall day like this one would ever feel like home, would feel right, because that was his kind of day.
It was his birthday, and it was Fall.