Authors: L. R. Wright
HE EVENING RAIN fell into the thick rhododendron hedge behind the high school, making a crackling noise, like the sound of fire.
People hurried from the parking lot toward the building, their greetings muffled by the rain, identities obscured by umbrellas.
“Stop for a minute, Warren,” said Annabelle to her brother. They had come to see their friend, Bobby Ransome, graduate. “Smell. Spring's in the air.”
“Come on, Annabelle,” said Warren, hunching his shoulders against the rain.
“What a sourpuss you can be,” Annabelle chided. “You act like an old man sometimes, you really do.”
She swept past him, up the steps and into the school, and Warren, squinting upward, saw a billion raindrops falling like silver tracers through the light that flooded from the wide-open doors.
Inside, he hung his jacket on one of the big hooks attached to the corridor wall and ran his hands over his hair, shaking rainwater onto the floor. He looked around him, trying to summon nostalgia; he'd graduated from this school himself only a year ago.
“Yo, Warren.” A former classmate rushed past, hand in hand with a girl Warren didn't recognize.
“Yo, Ken,” Warren called after him heartily.
He saw Old Man McMurtry approaching and felt immediately guilty, as if he were still a student. The principal stuck out his hand. “Good to see you, Warren,” he said as they shook hands. “I hear you're doing well.” He clapped Warren on the shoulder and moved on.
How would he know if I'm doing well? thought Warren resentfully. Then he remembered that it was McMurtry's wife's Ford Escort he'd been working on all week. And that made him feel damn pleased.
Meanwhile, the rain pattered steadily upon the forest that blanketed the steep hillside behind the rhododendrons.
Warren saw Annabelle chattering away to her friend Erna, so he sauntered into the auditoriumâwell it was a gym, really, but it had been set up like an auditorium, with a groundsheet on the floor and a couple of hundred metal chairs, and the red curtains drawn across the front of the stageâand looked around for Bobby. But he couldn't see him.
The rest of the graduating class was there, though, all sitting together, boys with boys, girls with girls; there was a lot of laughing and fooling around going on and Warren could tell every one of them was feeling damn important. Cock-of-the-walk, that's how they all felt. He looked at them affectionately, remembering.
Near the back of the auditorium, Harry and Velma Grayson watched their son as he documented the evening's events with his camera. Determined, concentrated, he flew from group to group, crouching, standing on chairs, apparently oblivious to protests, plaintive or exasperated. Velma was always relieved when somebody smiled into Steven's camera. Since he obviously wasn't going to be in any of his own pictures, Velma had brought her little Instamatic with its built-in flash, and she raised it to her eye now, and snapped.
A tall young man with dark hair and a bony face, wearing a dark suit and a tie that's too long; a camera is slung around his neckâhe's holding it in his right hand; he's caught in mid-stride, heading for the side of the auditorium, looking back over his shoulder at the people spilling in from the back.
Outside, the rain continued. It rattled among the rhododendrons, was absorbed by the forest, and inveigled its way into the small clearing between hedge and forest that was a favorite haunt of students craving a smoke, or a beer, or drugs, or sex, between or after classes.
Bobby Ransome's Aunt Hetty sat in the first row, close to the wall. In her big black purse was a card in which she'd written heartfelt words of commendation. She wished Bobby's parents could have been there, but she didn't mind standing in for them. Widowed years earlier by an automobile accident, she had no children of her own. And her pride in her nephew was particularly welcome now. It was a distraction. Her older sister, Lucy, had just left Sechelt to live in Barbados, and Hetty was by herself in that great big old house. That great big empty old house.
Mr. McMurtry finally dimmed the lights, and the audience hushed.
The red curtains were drawn back, revealing the school choir. Annabelle, sitting next to Erna, smiled to herself at the sight of Bobby Ransome up there. He was not a person you'd expect to find singing in a choir. He'd been a bad boy once, Bobby had. He was a lot older than the rest of the graduating class, because by rights he should have finished four years earlier, at the same time as Annabelle. But he'd gotten into trouble, and dropped out, and Annabelle considered it nothing short of miraculous that he'd eventually gone back.
His fair hair hung long and thick over the collar of his shirt and Annabelle, watching him as the choir began to sing, was filled with tender, private feelings. Oh he'd been trouble, all right. But she had loved his muscular thighs.
She couldn't hear his voice among all the rest. But then there was a song that he sang alone, and Annabelle, watching, listening, was at first surprised, and then enraptured.
“Amid the dark shades,” Bobby sang, “of the lonely ash grove.” He leaned into the music, and Annabelle felt invisible, in the near-darkness, as if she were watching him dream.
“I first met my dear one,” Bobby sang, “the joy of my heart.” Annabelle's eyes were on his face, on the flat planes of his cheeks, the green glinting of his eyes, on the chunk of hair that had fallen across his foreheadâand on his mouth, which moved, as he sang, in a manner somehow foreign. And yet it seemed familiar.
“With sorrow, deep sorrow,” she heard Bobby sing, “in search of my love.” The piano accompaniment wandered in glorious dissonance and Annabelle watched Bobby's mouth and thought: maybe his lips moved like that when they touched my breasts, my body; as if they were singing. She turned to look across the aisle at Wanda, but saw only the flood of Wanda's dark, unruly hair, and the slightness of her body. Then Wanda lifted her hand to smooth her hair away from her cheek and Annabelle saw that her face was flushed. Annabelle nodded, satisfied.
His aunt, hearing him sing, recognized the voice of Bobby's father when he was young.
Warren, hearing him sing, grinned and shook his head admiringly, and thought, people sure do keep a lot of secrets.
And outside the spring rain spattered soft and gray into the clearing, which was for the moment empty.
Later, Annabelle shrugged into her coat, which she had draped over the back of her chair, and told Warren, “I'll get a ride home with Erna.”
Bobby swung down from the stage and went first to his aunt and then to Wanda, who blushed crimson at the sight of him. “Not here, Bobby,” she said, as he leaned toward her.
A broad-shouldered, fair-haired man in his early twenties wearing gray pants and a light tweed sport coat, bending to a young woman with a mass of dark, curly hair, his lips pressed against the curve of her neck; the young woman's face is lifted, her eyes luminous, lips slightly apart.
“Goddamn it,” said Wanda furiously to Steven Grayson and his camera.
Bobby turned so fast that Annabelle blinked.
“Beat it,” said Bobby, and Steven shrugged and laughed and backed away, but not before he'd snapped another photograph.
A face with a wide forehead, high cheekbones, a strong chin; the eyes are narrowed; the man's right fist is raised, and his face is suffused with anger.
“Fuck,” said Bobby, taking a step forward, but Steven had melted into the crowd.
Annabelle said quickly, “I heard you guys are getting married.” She smiled at them. “Congratulations.”
Warren, hearing this, was embarrassed. He felt it wasn't proper for a recently divorced person to be congratulating other people on getting engaged.
“Thanks, Annabelle.” Bobby pulled Wanda close to him and rested his chin on top of her head; his hands held her firmly, almostâbut not quiteâcupping her breasts. Wanda tried to push his hands away.
“I may be getting married again myself,” said Annabelle, “before too long.”
Warren looked at her in amazement; this was the first he'd heard of it. Bobby looked surprised, too. And Wanda looked relieved, which Warren could certainly understand.
Annabelle reached up to pat Bobby's cheek, and then she leaned down and gave Wanda a kiss on the cheek. “Be happy,” she said, and sashayed off toward the door, where Erna was waiting.
“That's quite a woman, your sister,” said Bobby to Warren, watching her.
At the door Annabelle put her arm around Erna's shoulder. “Ready?”
“Sure. Let's go,” said Erna.
On the way out to the parking lot Annabelle said, “Guess what, Erna. I'm pregnant.”
A woman laughing in the rain, her head flung back; thick, tawny hair spills across her shoulders, her hands are jammed into the pockets of her raincoat; she's illuminated by the light from a lamppost on the edge of the parking lot.
Warren left the school with Bobby and Wanda and Bobby's aunt, and he and Wanda waited awkwardly in the rain while Bobby saw his aunt to her car. They watched, at a distance, as she fumbled in her big black purse and handed something to him. A card, it looked like. Bobby read it, and gave her a hug.
A small, lanky woman with gray hair pinned on top of her head peers around a young man's broad back; her expression is cautiousâcurious. The shot is taken from behind some shrubbery. She is looking directly into the camera.