The Book of the Three


We were just the three of us out at The Mounds sipping pilfered, elicit beers. We did not say much. We made a small fire. We heard a rustling in the woods. We scrambled to hide the beer but it turned out Junie was the rustling sound. You scared us, we said. Sorry, he said. Hand me a beer, he said. He popped it and drank it fast and then another one. You trying to catch up, we said. Yeah, he said. Years’ worth. We all got tipsy. Finally we said, Show us your webshooters. What the hell are you talking about? he laughed. Brother Paul, we said. He said you had superhuman powers. We figured it was webshooters. And/or ray vision. Shoot, said Junie. That son of a bitch said that to you? We laughed at this new Junie. He spat in the fire. No sir, he said. I don’t have no superhuman powers. I can throw a baseball. That’s it. Something felt good about this. If Brother Paul was right and Junie did have a decision to make, it seemed like he might have made it. Right then and there. He grabbed another beer and popped it. He got to his feet and slapped the dirt off his ass. Boys, he said, thank you for the hospitality. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go ask a girl who wears pretty pink panties if she’ll go with me to the Senior Promenade. We cheered and whooped and hollered until it might have woke the Spirits. She said yes. What else? But there was a minor catch. Somebody else had asked her first. She would not say who. She had not said yes to him but she had not yet said no. She wanted to set it straight with the other guy. On her own and in private. That is just how she was. We had our theories. Who it may or may not be. Gary Lester held no candles. A long time had passed. Plus now he went with long, tall Simone Shaw. Simone Shaw was plenty for him or any boy. Talk was they had a motel room for after. So it was not him. There was a strange boy called Prince. His God-given name. People made fun of him for it. And he wore eyeglasses. Also he was good in science. He left Maria notes in her locker. But it was not him because his parents did not believe in dancing and he was not allowed to leave the house after school. Ricky Ball, Brett Stone, Walt Wells, Jimmy Hughes, Butch Thompson, Randy Snow, Charlie Musselman, the Lundstrom twins, Patrick Rivers, Paul Carrol, Mike Lloyd, Timmy Gallagher, Nick Woods, David Glass, Hamilton Lewis, Mason Kreger. All of them and then some had alibis. Girlfriends. Court dates. Lack of funds. It was just the three of us out on the lake one Sunday. We had space and quiet to think. That is when we hit on it. Maybe it was one of us. Maybe even it was one of us on that very boat. We rowed ashore in sober silence. Most of us did not have dates. The District final was the next night. We had the excuse of coach not wanting us to wear ourselves out if we could help it. But any of us would have stretched ourselves for Maria Espinosa. The question was this. Which one of us was willing to show up at the Prom with her on our arm? Knowing what we all knew about her and our Junie? Knowing how people would talk about it until they ran out of breath? Knowing our status as one whole solid unit would fall apart right then and there? Knowing we would be a We no longer? It was reckless. Plain and simple. We wanted to believe it was not true. The more we thought, the truer it seemed. We went to Brother Paul on the sly. He was out digging up weeds in his little garden. His face was streaked with dirt. He was shirtless. Boys, he said. He did not even stop what he was doing. He did not even look at us. Boys, he said, you are getting a valuable lesson. Mankind has got to where he is today by a certain peculiar thing that goes by too many names to count. It has something to do with wanting what he wants when he wants it. And here’s the thing, the more he’s gotten what he wants over time, the fruit he’s after gets further and further up the tree. The higher he has to climb. The longer he has to wait in between. The more wobbly and precarious his position gets. That’s called civilization. Waiting for what you want up in that wobbly tree. Now he feels a certain sense of accomplishment from the climbing, and the getting, followed by more climbing. He munches on a piece of fruit and he stares down below and says look how far I’ve come. But man never forgets the primary thing that’s gotten him where he is. He never forgets that very first want he had when he was down on the ground and staring up at all that fruit. All that possibility. And so sometimes he just shimmies down from the high reaches he’s climbed to and shakes hell out of that tree. Says to hell with any more of this. To hell with this waiting. It’s all climbing and waiting and no getting. I’ll be stuck up in this old tree, swaying with the breeze and staring at that one last piece of sweet fruit till the stars fall. Civilizations come and go, boys. That want never leaves. This was no help to us. Maria Espinosa was a real live person. People do not grow on trees. Most people quit climbing trees early in life. Brother Paul was just crazy. That is all that was. We just had to ride it out. We just had to hope nobody ever found out who it was that risked it all for a chance at Maria Espinosa’s hand. Is there ever such luck as that?