When we were nine, we spied sharks across the street from your bedroom window. Maryanne, those were the days.
The sharks inhabited the low lying fog that was like a soft leaden sea flowing over the car lot; their bright dorsal fins were colored metal –iridescent, glittering, greens; high blues like polished aluminum; deep, bold, scarlets like reddening platinum; vibrant violets with silver trim.
They were the fins and shapes of classic cars, of course – Chevys and Fords from the 50’s and 60’s. They were “Carl’s Classics,” as the ostentatious yet faded red lettering of the lot’s sign proclaimed.
But to you and me, they were sharks in the fog sea. The angular metal shapes of their bodies, mostly concealed by the daily morning mists of that West Virginia mountain town, made them great dangerous fish. We told stories about them – bright, hard predators in distant warm seas, where pirates and buccaneers were forced to do battle with them. Your stories were always better. I can still so easily picture you on your daisy bedspread, one small knee drawn up and hugged to your chest, your dirty blonde hair draped around your ears, gazing at that lot across the street. You had a way with words that vastly outshined my own. I still remember your tales of tall ships, and the deep sea monsters that troubled them.
Beyond the car lot, the West Virginia Mountains vaulted to the sky like immense, irregular, angular titans. They were so vast that they swallowed and almost monopolized all that the eye could see. The morning fogs and the dawn half-light made them ethereal, as well. Their thousand shades of gray were laced with the deepening violets and rich dark blues that dawn somehow brought to them.
Our sleepovers were frequent. We were next-door neighbors in the town of Peril’s Path, and our families were the best of friends. You were enough of a tomboy that I felt more at home with you than with most of the other boys in the neighborhood. And we were both storytellers, of course. Your specialty was your unique nautical adventures. Mine was ghost stories.
We were so close, and we spent so much time together, that we might as well have been brother and sister. There were so many sleepovers at your house that I’d often almost felt that it was mine as well. (My family’s humble little house was so tiny that my room was hardly larger than a walk-in closet, so our time together was spent at your home.) The smell of your mother’s blueberry pancakes blesses my memory to this very day. And of course I remember your mangy brown mutt, Jordan, who’d once lightly bitten me after I’d volunteered to change his water dish out back.
Most of all, though, Maryanne, I remember you perched on your bed and telling your stories, so early in the morning, long before your mother rose to make her famous pancakes. As the daily fog made that car lot turn ethereal, you told me of captive princesses and noble pirates. You told me about the iridescent green sharks that tried to ram their tall, black-sailed ships.
“Listen closely, Sean,” you would always begin. Your bright blue eyes danced as you spoke, and your tales were filled with vivid imagery. As your gaze trailed off, it seemed that you actually saw the sea battles that you were describing for me – not to mention the brightly colored monsters whose tentacles wrapped around the hulls of unfortunate vessels. I envied you that. As a boy, I had a pretty good grasp of the basic elements of a story – conflict, tension, climax, resolution. But I simply could not …. see the way that you did. Your tales seemed rather like Technicolor films that played freely in your mind. My tales were more … scripted – necessary elements connected logically together. Here we had a requisite young couple, and a necessary car breakdown, an obligatory graveyard beside the immobilized car. And of course there was a ghost – my best invention was a shrouded woman who moved briskly from grave to grave, seeking the cemetery’s entrance for unfortunate passersby who might be stranded near there.