The solemn silhouette sits crouched against the back wall of a world worn cabin watching as the sun begins its final descent into blackness of night. Rubbing his head with no comfort of another he sighs at the fading sun and whispers to himself if the long held truth will ever climb its way back into his mouth. The truth can be ruff for people who hold on to their secrets for too long, and this truth is way overdue. He slides through the memory that never leaves his side, be it day or night. Someday he knows that this torturing vision will have to escape and find its way unto the world. How will he know when the time is right? Will he have the courage? Will he pay with the very thing he took away? He rubs his forehead and stands to the sound of popping bones. There isn’t much time left; he thinks to himself. Whatever the outcome it will never be enough to erase the years of regret. Years spent toiling over if what had happened was meant to be as some would say is the reason everything happens. The lonely figure stands and begins to walk back towards his one place of comfort.
Back on Briggs Street I adjust my new weight and keep a careful ear open for the cling of glass on glass. Too much cling could be a bad thing, the loss of a wanting disdain and what some might even call happiness.
With one foot followed by the other, I start my trip back home. As Briggs slowly narrows back into the nameless horse trail that expands back into Briggs Street coming into town I glance upward to the sky, which is my little ritual when beginning a walk of any good distance. I do this for no other reason than to remind myself that no matter what situation I may wander upon, the outcome, be it bad or good, is in the long run as meaningless as a dying tree to the forest it resides in. Simply, everyone and everything is playing such a small role on such an enormous stage that we should harbor no fears for what may come. It’s not that our small roles are pointless, because they’re not, but without the stage those roles wouldn’t exist at all, and that is a calming thought. A thought that holds my attention for just long enough to begin to doubt it, after all the only reality in life that changes is our thoughts about reality itself.
“Headn’ home Tooley?”
Before even turning I know that it’s Orville saying hello without so much as a hi. “Missed you on my way in earlier Orville, you not feeling well?”
“Nah I’m good, just felt like a good day for an afternoon nap. So tell me Tooley did you stop by the grave and give her a kiss?” He asked knowing that I did because I always do; the one good thing in my life that brings a true smile to my lips and a tear to my eyes.
Now you may be wondering why Orville calls me Tooley instead of Joseph. I used to wonder the same thing myself until finally one day I asked why and his reply was: “Well that’s your name isn’t it?” Can’t argue with that logic and win.
“Of course I kissed her Orville,” I answer. “Cemetery’s looking better than ever,” I tell him and he just nods with a smile and rubs the top of his head fixing his thinning hair.
“Well, I’ll see you the next time around Tooley, you be safe out there.” He gives another nod and I to him, and he heads through the iron archway to keep Eden a perfect garden. Somehow the archway seems to close in on Orville as he passes through it as if the world is doing its best to protect him from any unwanted trouble, any unsolicited fever that may encroach upon his paradise.
“Not sure when that will be,” I tell him. “Being safe is merely an illusion Orville. You should know that better than anyone.”
Further, down the trail the thought of not seeing William, Walters’s older brother, in the tavern crosses my mind. If every town has its drunk, then William is Hapsburg’s. William’s a good guy in his peculiar way. He’s one of the few others around these parts that are drawn to the mysteries that whiskey has to offer. Like me, he has an open mind but he lacks the willing soul, so the outcome is very different very different indeed, a difference that breaks a man and his desires. I believe that stems from a childhood of less than favorable circumstances. You see, William and Walters’s father once carried the title of the town drunk before William took it over. I’ve lost the memory of their fathers name at the moment but I do know that he used to strong hand his sons when he would get a little too lost in his drinking and William was always there to deflect most of the abuse from his little brother Walter. William could always deflect the wild side of their father onto himself. A gift that never seems to give much in the way a gift should. It must be an amazing thing to have a brother or sister, a living breathing extension of you and your thoughts, a moving funhouse mirror to reflect common experiences, but I’m sure most lone children feel that way. That feeling of loneliness, self-entertainment, and hard-headedness crawl into the lonely child’s brain at an early age and swiftly grow deep strong roots that never die.
Steadying by my pack yet again, I come across my mark. It’s nothing too noticeable, a small groove in the middle of the trail that I’ve worn into the darkish dirt with the outside of my boot over my separate travels back and forth from town. I don’t aggravate it on every trip, just when I think it’s becoming a little too hidden for my eyes. It always seems that it’s the imperceptible little things that if noticed can lead to unseen treasures. If that’s just dime store philosophy or if it’s reality I can’t say, but I can say it’s true. And isn’t that enough? After all the lies that circle around us on a daily basis the truths seem like beacons in the fog. However, if the truths and the lies ever become entangled and blurred, one can settle in for a life of despair and hopelessness. A fear creeps into the mind and takes over every waking moment. Unfortunately, the fear never leaves.
Coming from town I know this little groove means I’ve got another thirty yards before I veer to the right, leaving the nameless horse path and into the forest where I’ll pick-up on my trail that’ll take me to my porch and my isolated home. The thirty yards reached I turn off and push my way through the underbrush and eventually hit my trail. With just a few steps taken I stop and notice—nothing, nothing at all. Just the way I like it to be. No sounds from the dogs; this is quite unusual as they are almost always waiting for my return. I stand a listen with that intensity that makes one think that it is actually improving one’s sense of hearing and not even the quietest of noises can escape beyond the unnoticeable. Sometimes I catch myself in these trivial poses and can’t help but laugh at how silly I must appear to the better-adapted creatures of the forest watching me from some hidden angle. I look up to see a squirrel looking down upon me with curiosity and what can only be laughter in its eyes. This forest resident knows more about its home than most of us will ever hope to grasp.
Maybe the dogs are on the trail of some fox or coyote that came too close to the packs collective tolerance. Maybe they’re just out exploring. I do that quite often myself.
Why should dogs be any different?
Reaching the final turn on my trail that’s just before the downed maple tree where I plan to take another rest and try some of Walter’s fresh Local 88 I lift my eyes to see something I’ve only seen twice in all my time living out here in Jacobs Pass and never as close as it is to me right now.
Standing no more than twenty-five yards in front of me and frozen as stiff as I have quickly become is a pitch black timber wolf. A full grown male, he must stand just over three feet tall at the shoulders and weigh close to one hundred pounds. I’m not aware of another word in the English language that can best describe both utter terror and infinite beauty simultaneously other than simply awe. I was trapped by this awe. A complex labyrinth that I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to find my way out of, not quite yet anyway. Turning through the mazes winding path, I find myself being lured and pulled faster around each turn.: not hoping to find my way out and overcame with a stillness that can only be known by one looking for something they don’t intend to find. Without consciously doing so my right hand slowly reached inside my left coat panel, and my fingers brushed against the cold wooden handle of my revolver.
Opposite me, as my hand was moving, the wolf’s head lowered a little as if to reply his moves were quicker than any that I may have; a dare from him to take my best shot. There we are, both of us still frozen in the middle of the path, it no longer felt like just my path at this moment, I lowered my hand and just stared at the animal reflection before me. As my hand came out of my jacket empty the wolf’s head rose once again. Knowing I wasn’t going to turn around and head the other way I decided to slip to my right a good four feet or so off the trail and lean against a small poplar tree while keeping my eyes locked on the beauty and potential beast that still remained motionless on the trail with his eyes burning, not with fear, not with anger, but with a strange cunning that comes only from knowing more than your opponent. The eyes are pouring out confidence and calm. So unlike mine, I’m sure mine appear to be at least the confidence part.
Two or three minutes had passed when, just my luck, the sound of those damn dogs came into my ears from a distance that was still a good way away and beyond the distance to my cabin. Still the black beauty never moved. Finally, I decided that now was as good time as ever to take my first taste of Walters’s new batch. Not that I ever felt that my life was in danger but how often will I get a chance to drink with a creature as magnificent as a wolf, a black beauty that seemed to be soaked with confidence and serenity. I quietly slid my bag off my shoulder and pulled one jug from it. Removing the cork with expert silence, I pulled the opening of the jug to my mouth and felt the gentle sting of the warm substance on my lips and the slow warmth it left as it traveled down. With warm confidence flowing through my veins and my mind asking for more I take another pull from the bottle. With the jug back in my lap and a feeling of comfort washing over me the wolf suddenly took a few steps forward, remaining on the trail, and stopped again.
Another sip from my jug and a few more steps forward.
One more sip and this fantastic creature was only four feet from me; me against my tree and it on the trail. The blackness of its coat was the blackness of seclusion and comfort that I often feel when the night has regained its rule over the land.
I wondered at that very moment if that was what this wolf felt constantly, solitude and comfort, forever embodied in its blackness and forever satisfied with its lot in life.
The wolf stopped after a few more steps, and I will swear to any man that it sniffed the air between us and nodded its head as if to say I understand.
An open mind and a willing soul, maybe the wolf had them as well. Maybe he could see a mirrored image before him, a glass portal that few of us get to witness. The world stood still if only for a moment; a moment etched in time so deep that it would never be erased.
After that, he trotted off with a relaxed gallop and all I could do was stand there and watch him as he disappeared around the bend in the trail and out of sight. Pulling another swig from the jug and corking it I placed it back into my sack and stepped onto, what will from now on be called our trail, and headed for home never once looking back and never once thinking the wolf did either.
With the gaze of an eagle, he watched as Joseph and the magnificent creature departed ways. He had almost wished the wolf would have sprung onto its neighbor and finished the whole plan right then and there. But, what fun would there lay in that? He felt it was his duty, his purpose in life to strike the final blow. How could he relinquish that task to any other living creature? The time was coming closer and closer. A few more night falls, and all would come to completion. Let Joseph have his limited days of wondering, his few more days of loneliness.