You’re pretty sure nothing got left behind this time. It’s never fun using someone else’s towel. There was that one night at the reservoir, you and James felt every drop sliding down each other’s skin, calling out into the night until you couldn’t feel your lungs anymore. Friends laughed from the water, trying to top every howl. You felt safe making assumptions, even though no one expected much, and usually walked away surprised.
There were a lot more of them then, every bag sloppily stuffed into the back only to tumble into the grass upon arrival. Now your luggage slides around too much, rattling down the highway despite the music. You’re not sure how to handle these old songs. If Laurie had tagged along, she’d know which ones to skip. Walter would cause a fuss, but she’d only silence him with a smile in the rearview. They should’ve planned ahead for this, called off, and let the road make up their minds. Even if this is only the start, there’s still something dazzling about Hootenanny in the Hills.
The evergreens swarm, nerves pulsating with every dip in the dirt. Last year, James skidded down the path like a maniac; you barely had time to snap memories. His laugh still echoes from the glovebox as you file in behind the other arrivals. The same bearded buff takes your weekend admission, delicately clasping the pink wristband. Petiole lingers on his fingertips, your head swelling from the drive. Three hours to feel a little warmer, every passing beanie and long-flowing pattern acting counterproductively until you’re parked and centered with the rest.
You want someone to remember you, to help with the tent, cooler, and subsequent baggage. It’s unsettling waiting on the kindness of strangers; images surfacing of pioneer women rounding up the children before shooting dinner. If only James had died of dysentery, then you’d know how to feel. You don’t want this weekend to be about him. He often cut the scenery down to size, but could pitch a tent without flinching. Your joints ache with every pole slid and fastened, each spike hammered into the ground. Shouldn’t have skipped yoga this week; they’ll act like your whereabouts are their business next Wednesday.
Catching your breath, you curse out loud. Fuck. The pot’s still in the center console. It’s maybe four hundred yards of brush and doe-eyed stares back down the trail, some of the boys wondering where your man is. You want the music to start already, the lights and synthetic fog to blind and break any semblance of thought. Your head needs to detach, maybe get kicked around a bit, bounce in electronic circles on your spinal cord.
“Hey girl, is that you?” You wouldn’t recognize her if it weren’t for Facebook. Krysten transitioned to dreads about a month ago. They barely suit her, new regrets shining in each dirt blonde strand. She introduces you to Burt, a new recruit for the immediate future. He’s cute for a space cadet, misanthropic and well-groomed. You invite them back to your tent, letting smoke carry a few opinions into the wind. They feel bad you’re alone, soon offering their companionship along with the free tab.
You don’t feel safe, although it’d be wrong to shun their hospitality. A few quick nibbles from the cooler as the sun declines. Krysten catches you up on the past twelve months, a barrage of introspective free-for-alls both indoor and out. You only know half the bands she mentions; James’ opinions creeping in with every word. He’d make Krysten feel small, and you’d laugh for his benefit. It’s unhealthy longing for such negativity again, especially when the sky distorts.
Relief comes with the first roar of amplifiers down the hill. You follow weary patrons towards a contagious swell, Burt grinning as the masses stretch at odd intervals. The Lone Traitors slop a few chords together, tiny symphonies blooming in-between riffs. Heads bob along, some dresses kicking up dirt; smoke clouds dispersing in time with their cultivators. It’s difficult focusing on faces, Krysten’s locks spiraling out of control before she checks her cell phone. You should’ve left yours in the tent – the purse strap is taking its toll on your left shoulder.
Lost by the second song, you finally let the bag drop to the grass, bouncing for a measure, then removing your sandals. Krysten and Burt’s hips guide them farther away. You can’t follow, crafting a comfort zone in-between drum fills. It’s traces of self-conscious ticks, disillusionments from high school meandering in one ear and back out. You danced better than the other white girls. They could only be trusted to imitate televised trends, never developing their own thing.
As it all kicks in, every movement distracts you. James was better at it, holding you close, making the air lighter as he boogied out of step. You take the festivities more seriously now that he’s gone. It doesn’t have to, but should mean everything; the pulse of wonderment, strings of gravity; each enlightened frustration on the decline. You’re so busy thinking of ways not to think about him that Brian almost slips through your fingers. He’s at most of these things, sometimes with a crew, often mining the breeze for introspective contaminants.
You develop an understanding, whirling in unison, nodding with his comments. He pulls you out of the crowd, down the trail past new arrivals, towards the quarry. Not a single question about James, as if it’s understood. You’re weary of swimming considering the temperature, a few transplants dipping their toes in, letting ripples form around them. “So it’s pretty crazy, you being here all by yourself,” he suggests.
“Don’t you usually fly solo to these things?”
“Well yeah, but I know I’ll run into a lot of familiar faces.”
“Does that make it more fun for you?”
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”
“What about tonight?”
“I’d say definitely yes,” Brian smiles.
You match his expression, but don’t know what to say, his fingers grazing your arm then cheek. The kiss almost feels right, like in the beginning before the movie mixes you up. You see a summer of long drives and scattered plans before a shriek stirs your lips apart. It sounds likes it’s a joke, another girl desperate for attention, but the moonlight’s convincing. You and Brian stare out into the water at four limbs floating; little movement until two bleeding hearts swim out then quickly back to shore. “C’mon, we don’t need to see this,” Brian says, but you can’t look away.
Past scrambling procedures and eventual flashing lights, you can only stare at mortality, listening to every whisper spread back up the mountain. You came alone to feel alive, but often times, desired effects have a unique way of disappointing you.
Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music collective based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (www.myideaoffun.org) . Christopher’s work has recently been published in the Madison Review, Red Rock Review, Quail Bell Magazine, Commonline Journal, Mobius, Gesture, Crack the Spine, Foliate Oak, and Eclectica among others. He is also a contributor to Entropy.