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Summer, Part Two
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
Michael Monroe squatted on the riverbank, back against the mossy bark of a twisted oak. In one hand he held a hook, bright and new against the swiftly rising sun. In the other he held a worm as thick as his little finger, moving in its insensate dance against his rough fingers - blind, brainless, caked in thick mud. He watched it closely, bringing it red and wriggling before his cool grey eyes, wondering at the chance that had brought him so far above this little, meaningless life.
He shook his head. "Docs would have a field day with that," he muttered, and speared the nightcrawler on his line.
He'd missed fishing more than anything, those hot and dusty years away. Boating was good, with a slow buzz on and in the company of friends; and on a hot day it was hard to beat a swim. It was the silence and stillness of fishing in the river, though, that really calmed his heart.
The only thing, really. His father had learned that early, taking him out for dawn expeditions across the chain of lakes that made up the Fox Valley on weekends when he'd avoided fights at school, or the park, or wherever - a reward for keeping his cool. When he'd returned home from the war, the VA doctors had asked if he wanted access to any post-traumatic care. He'd shrugged and asked if it covered a new rod and reel. It hadn't, of course.
Not for the first time, he wondered if it would help Vicky as much. She'd had no interest when she was little, hating everything about the trip - the mud on her shoes, the smell of the river muck - never mind the effort it took to get her to even look at the bait bucket. The morning had degenerated into a screaming match, like too many mornings in the past, shattering the peace he felt standing along the river. He'd never bothered to try again, but as she got older she was showing more interest in the water. Captain of the swim team, asking to go out on the lake with her school friends whose parents kept boats on the riverfront.
Hell, anything would be worth a try at this point. He hadn't expected the gap between them to heal when he went away, leaving her in her grandmother's care, but he'd hoped that coming home would have made some difference. It had taken less than a week for them to start butting heads again, to the point where he joked with his friends at the Bridgeview that at least Afghanistan had been quieter.
Here was quiet, though, along the Fox beneath the dawn. He cast his line, watched the ripples of the water, and let his shoulders and mind begin to sink into gentle relaxation.
"Sergeant Monroe?" The question floated down from above.
Mike's hands tightened around the rod as he willed himself to stillness. "I don't like being surprised."
"Sorry about that … it wasn't intentional."
He turned at that, looking Corbin up and down. Taking in the artful mess of hair, the slight rumple in the clothes, the too-careful presentation of a man who wanted to appear careless. Frowning, he shook his head. "I figured. Just best to let people know."
"Good. I'm Monroe."
"I thought so. My name's Corbin Byrne, Sergeant. Sorry to intrude on your morning, but I'm here on behalf of the Mayor's office."
"On a Sunday?"
"Well, I'd planned to come by your house tomorrow," he waved toward the trail, "but I was out for a morning walk. When I spotted you down here I figured I'd just keep it informal."
"What's Long want with me?"
"Nothing he wants. He's just sending along his personal welcome home. We've got a plaque made up, too; but after talking to a few of your friends it seemed like you'd prefer to keep your homecoming low-key."
"Huh. Well, they're right."
"Like I said, I'd planned to stop by with the plaque tomorrow, but if you'd prefer I can just send it in the mail. If you'd like, we can also arrange for an invitation to the next mixer at his house."
Mike nodded. "Appreciate it, I guess. He knows I didn't vote for him?"
"We don't track how people vote," he said with a smile, "but we kind of figured as much. The invitation would stand anyway. We're happy to see our soldiers come home safely, and if you don't want to give him the photo op I think he'll be okay with it."
"Yeah." Mike nodded. "Well, mail the plaque, and you might as well send the invite. See where I'm at when the time comes."
"Sounds good. Thanks again." He turned to go, then snapped his fingers - another affectation, one that simply added to Mike's instinctive dislike. "Oh, there's one more thing ..."
"Spit it out."
Corbin smiled. "Sorry. Your daughter would be invited, too. We weren't sure if you wanted a separate one to go to her, or one for the both of you."
"One." The two men stood a moment, weighing one another with their eyes.
"Fair enough. I'll leave you be." He turned and started back up the gentle slope toward the bike trail, feeling those cool eyes against his back and repressing a shudder. Walking through the shade for a few minutes, he shook his head.
"That one's going to be a bigger problem for me than for Long," he said, casting his eyes to the great ash tree which lay ahead, and the brass plaque at its base. A woodpecker was hard at work along the branches, sending staccato music through the forest as he broke his fast against the line of oaks. "Remind me of that next time, huh?"
The rattle of beak on bark rang through the shaded lane as the world's only answer.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2009