Day 7 - Reunion

By Hyperion

They gathered there in that place, the same place they always did. The same day. The same time. Slaves to a tradition even they didn’t quite understand. There’d been talk about not doing it this year. Just skip over it. No one would tell. No one would know. But we crave what is familiar to us, even if it is painful. Especially if it’s painful. And so they gathered there in that place. For all the brave talk, the angry words, the determination that this time it would be different. In the end it didn’t matter.

There were nine of them now. During the year they didn’t run into each other much, so at first it was always a bit of a reunion. Small talk about jobs, wives, kids, the company softball team.  Whose new car was that in the parking lot. Somebody was going bald.

There used to be 16 of them. After wallets were passed around to look at three year olds on tricycles, they spent some time toasting and remembering those who had left. Stories that started “Remember when….” were common, and they’d all be laughing before the anecdote could come to some hilarious conclusion: “so the cop looks over, and Mikey’s asleep on the ground!”

There were always the same stories. They didn’t hang anymore, and you have to be present to create new memories. But the stories worked, and they laughed all the same. It might have been a little forced, but they needed the laughter. They needed to forget why they were here.

After a time they stories petered out and the laughter trailed off. Awkward glances. Finally one of them, in a voice thick with emotion, said, “Let’s do this thing.” No one said anything, but the cowardice of the mob took over, and by silent complicit assent they all agreed.

One of them brought over the bucket, while another started opening gallon jugs of water to fill it with. Three cans of tennis balls were opened, the freshness-seal top ripped off, emitting that ffft sound. A sharpie pen passed around, each tennis ball initialed. Someone made a weak joke and then the balls were dropped in the bucket of water.

They stood there then, nervous, not looking at each other. There were still time to back out, to not to this. All it would take is for one of them to speak. But no one did.

The first man stepped up. Blindfold on, Jake plunged his head into the water. The first year they’d all cheered this process, a remnant of a thousand pep rallies and football games. Now they were grimly silent.

When Jake emerged, tennis ball in his mouth, the blindfold came off and they all held their breath. The ball turned 120 degrees to read A.M. and they all looked at him, jealous. Andy walked up and gave Jake a hug, as if he’d found that ball on purpose.

Then it was Andy’s turn. Fresh blindfold, and he was down in the water himself. Andy came up with a dangling piece of yellow-green fuzz attached to the ball clenched in his teeth, but that was enough. D.L. Dave popped over, a big relieved grin on his face.

And so it went. The fourth man came up with J.M., and Jake was only too happy to go again. The faces of those left got tighter and tighter. A distance opened up, both physical and metaphorical, between those whose tennis balls had been pulled and those still waiting.

Finally Chase had his head in the bucket. There were only two left with dry hair; Steve and Wayne. It seemed like Chase was down there forever, but he finally emerged, dripping wet, tennis ball in mouth, looking like the family dog. A tense silence as Chase removed the ball from his mouth and turned it counter-clockwise in his hand. Chase rotated his hand for the rest to see:  S.B.

Wayne sighed, but took it like a man. He shook some hands, hugged a few. All too quickly that was done. The rest of them filed out of the room, leaving the gun on the table. 8 of them now huddled outside, hands in pockets, shuffling around. The gunshot came a few moments later, and they all filed back in.

“It’s time to build the pyre.” One of them said. “Do we have to?” Complained another. A chorus of answers. “Yes.” “We agreed.” “It’s our way.” “Would you dishonor Wayne’s memory so?”

They built the pyre. They put Wayne on, and added the ceremonial oils and ritual ingredients.  They stood there in silence, overawed by the moment. Finally one of them found courage to speak. 

“I’m tired of shoulder. This year I want a leg.”

["Reunion" © 2005 All Rights Reserved]

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