READ FOR FREE
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE
GARY BOWERS played Roger Perkins in Scarlett’s play. He was David’s long-time friend and was suffering the loss of this dearest buddy more than anyone realized. They had been the very best of companions for the whole of their lifetimes, from when they had first played in sandboxes together. And, as everyone within miles of Liverpool knew, they did everything together, even dare-devil stunts like jumping from the old rail bridge into the river, except that Gary never did make the jump because of his fear of heights. They had, on more than one occasion, nearly been swept out to sea on the tiny raft that they had once made. And everyone knew that David was the better fisherman of the two.
At the age of seven, when they had joined the local Boy Scouts, was when they were first introduced to pledges, secret pacts and fancy handshakes. But the pact that they had made much later in their lives, at twelve years old, was in no way associated with the Scouts. It was a promise that boys commonly made, to bind them together for a lifetime of commitment. That had been twenty years before and Gary could recall every detail as if it was yesterday….
It was a hot, muggy and rainy summer day when Gary slammed the screen door and said, “Mom, see ya later. David and I are sleeping out at the tree-house tonight.”
They had slept out there on a regular basis and since no harm had ever come from it, their parents did not have any cause for concern as to what they were up to. Besides they were not very far from the house, just down at the end of Gary’s parents’ property. Should there be an emergency they were within calling distance from the house.
Their fathers had helped them build the tree-house more than six years before. It was hidden amid the evergreen forest with little more than a narrow gap of green that, on a clear day, revealed the white sand beach that connected with the dark, sapphire blue Atlantic. The mélange of colours and the unique characteristics of Nova Scotia’s South Shore were in their blood. Neither ever wanted to leave there.
When the tree-house was first built, his parents had slept only fitfully. They now simply slept with their bedroom window open on the off chance that they would be called upon. Each and every spring the boys had made a ritual of hauling their sleeping bags and pillows out to the tree-house, stuffed them into a big plastic bag and stowed them under the bench, ever ready for when they might stay over. Then every autumn they would drag them back home for their mothers to wash them up for the following spring.
In the winter they would climb the ladder to spend the day, bundled up in coats, toques and scarves, to watch the often blue-black sea restlessly stirring, and to count the waves, knowing that the seventh would be the biggest. They would sit munching on snacks and telling tales before they would race back home in the dark.
On that summer afternoon David and Gary met in the woods, on the narrow path that led to their tree house. David had a back-pack strapped on, filled with sandwiches and snacks and the various other things that they would need for their camp-out…and the planned ritual. Gary also wore a similar pack and in it was the knife that his Grandfather had given to him for his tenth birthday. It was safely stowed in its sheath to prevent injury. On the day of his birthday, with the gift came a full hour of safety lessons about the dos and don’ts that went with knife ownership.
Even though it was drizzling with rain they laughed as they scrambled up the makeshift ladder, tossed their packs on the floor and sat on the railing of the tree-house. They looked at the heavy grey sky and hoped that the weather forecast was correct. It was supposed to clear by the late afternoon and they were relying on that, for they needed to see the setting sun in order to perform the ceremony.
The tree-house was their favorite place to be, and because of that they had arrived hours before the sun had set. With the rain pattering on the wooden roof, they laid out their tools for the upcoming procedure. That collection included the remains of a ribbon that they had marked the hazelnut tree with on their way to the tree-house, a knife, a candle and a book of matches to light it with. They had a little pot of black ink, a bottle of peroxide, a partial roll of paper toweling, two band-aids and a scrap of paper with their own design drawn on it. They each counted the items to be sure that all were there and nodded to each other in approval. After opening their sodas they straddled the wall, sat well protected from the rain under the eaves looking at the scenery and passing a bag of cookies back and forth. It was the same position they had assumed on so many occasions, even when the weather was bleak and squally, for they simply enjoyed being in each other’s company. Most often they hardly spoke, giving cause for strangers to wonder if there was something between them that caused their silence, not knowing that they simply liked the nearness of the other and the comfort that that offered. Adults never could understand such bonds.
David swung his leg back and forth, brushing against the heavy spruce boughs. “Mom has registered me for swimming lessons again this summer. Are you going?” he asked.
“Sure am. Not that we need all that, we go swimming whenever we want to anyway,” Gary said, offhandedly.
“Yea, but you know we’re not supposed to, Mom says it’s the rip-tides that we’ve got to know about. We should cover that this year.”
“I got my new Scouts uniform and Mom is transferring all my badges over to it,” Gary said. “That starts again in the fall.”
“Yea I got mine too. I’m kind of getting bored with all that. I think this’ll be my last year.”
“Then what’ll we do?”
“Baseball, I hope. If we can make the team. It would have been so great to be able to have played when Liverpool were the baseball champs of the East Coast,” David said, miming a swinging of the bat and almost losing his balance. They laughed.
Gary thought about that. “I’m not sure if I’m good enough,” he said, worriedly.
“Then we choose something else. If we’re not doin’ it together then I’m not doin’ it either.”
“We could go tree-planting on that reforestation that the government has set up. And we could make some money too.”
“We’ve got to be sixteen for that. I already checked into it,” David said, grasping a spruce branch in his hand and bringing the scent to his face. “But no worries. We’ll come up with something.”
They strained their eyes to see through the mist, trying to get a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean where it so gently lapped the shore. But because it was still raining they saw little more than a blur of green, grey and blue.
“They have that new drama class that Mr. Briggs is running. It’s a summer program, maybe we can get into doing some plays at the theatre,” Gary suggested.
“Hey, that’s a really cool idea. I’d like that. Maybe we can start this summer and do it as well as the swimming lessons.”
Having decided about their future, they leaned back against the support posts of the tree-house and thought in silence. The rain suddenly stopped and the sky cleared as if it was another day. The air was warm and muggy. They marveled at the accuracy of the weather forecast knowing that they would be able to see the sunset that was needed to perform their ceremony.
“My Grandma’s dying, you know,” David said, sadly.
“I know. That sucks.”
“She’s been sick for two years and she doesn’t even know me anymore.”
“Yes, but nobody should have to die like that…confused one day, in pain the next and just plain sick. I wouldn’t want to.”
“Neither would I,” Gary agreed.
“You’d never let me suffer…would you?” David asked, seriously.
After that they fell silent watching the western sky turn to a blazing red. As if pre-timed they jumped off the wall. Gary grabbed the knife and they scampered down the ladder. They would cut the wild hazelnut tree at precisely the second that the sun slipped away.
They stood side by side, the knife scabbard in Gary’s pocket, each with a hand on the tree and the other on the knife handle.
“Okay, are you ready?” Gary asked, nervously, looking into the setting sun.
“Ready…okay…cut,” they said in harmony, like everything else that they had done through their childhood.
Each holding an end of the twig they raced for the tree-house, never fearing a miss-step for they knew the trail blindfolded.
There was not a sound coming from the forest when they lit the candle. Even the frogs had gone silent for the event. Gary had placed the candle inside a shallow tin can and the light bounced from the golden interior flashing a patina of rainbow colours as it flickered. They sat cross-legged, knees to knees with the light between them. David picked up the scrap of ribbon and tied it around the tin that held the candle. Gary laid the knife beside the candle and next to it the pot of black ink. In the dim light they could clearly see the design, on the scrap of paper, resembling a small letter d that curled and backed onto a large letter G: David’s and Gary’s initials. This was the symbol that would bond their friendship and seal their promises to each other.
Gary held the tip of the knife over the flame, as he had seen them do it in the movies, in preparation for the first cut. Neither hesitated, questioned or doubted the lifetime bond that they were going to create. They had been friends forever and would be friends for life. Neither had any desire to leave Liverpool. To them life was richer if one lived where their family and friends were, where it was safe to walk the streets regardless of the time of the day and where neighbours were kind to one another.
Gary winced in pain when David made the first mark on his left thigh. Barely breaking the surface of his skin he cut the full design, a backwards letter C with a curved tail and a forward letter C with the same tail, each backing onto the other. He then wiped the blood away with the toweling before applying the ink with the end of the hazelnut twig. He worked quickly, anxious to get the task done and disliking that he was causing pain to his friend. Even in the subdued light the job looked neat and was clearly discernible. Their eyes met knowing that they had just completed the first half of what had to be performed. The cool evening air reduced the pain.
Gary held the knife over the candle again and followed the same procedure to make the identical permanent marks on David’s thigh. When he was done David used the end of the hazelnut twig to blend their blood. Before applying the peroxide and band-aids they sat across from each other and vowed always to protect each other, regardless of the risks. Their vows were spoken so softly that even the owl which sat on the branch above them was not disturbed and did not move. The moon was now fully over the horizon, creating long shadows. A hush settled over the forest. The flame on the candle flickered and then grew long again when they said their vows, ending with the words, “I promise.” They felt as if they were in a dream as they faced the years ahead. Together, they held the stick over the candle. It made a sizzling and spattering noise in the flame, sealing their pact.
END OF CHAPTER THIRTY ONE