“John, you doing all right down there?”
“Yeah,” he yelled back upstairs. He really was, even though they were getting ready for his brother’s funeral. He flipped open the comic book he’d been looking at, “Turok Son of Stone # 4, The Bridge To Freedom.” The one with Turok on the cover, spear in hand, his brother Andar beside him, holding a club, getting ready to face a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex. “Just thinking about Andy.”
Maggie scurried down the steps and in a moment was standing next to him, hand resting compassionately on his shoulder, “You’re going to miss him, aren’t you?”
John set his comic book aside. Over the years he’d collected all sixteen of the early editions of “Turok Son of Stone.” They were published between 1955 and 1960 and told of the adventures of two young Native American Indian brothers trapped by an earthquake in a canyon in the rugged southwest desert, a treacherous land populated with huge flesh eating dinosaurs. He kept each issue in a plastic sleeve in a dark green three ring binder; the binder that now lay open on his desk. He caressed it lightly before closing it. “Yeah, Maggie, I really am.”
His wife of forty-one years pulled up a chair, sat next to him and put her hand on his arm, “We can wait a few minutes to leave if you want.”
“No, we should get going.” He sighed and was quiet for a moment.
“I was just thinking about one time up at the lake.”
“Yeah, my aunt and uncle’s place on Big Sandy.”
“Their summer place, right?” He nodded, yes. “What were you thinking about?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Just stupid kids stuff.”
Maggie knew how close John and his brother had been. Andy had died the previous week after a mercifully short struggle in aftermath of a massive stroke. He’d been sixty-two. John, two years older had been by his side. Like he always had been, it seemed to Maggie. She’d never known two people as close as the brothers were. Never. Now John would have to figure out how to move on and live life without Andy.
“What were you thinking about?”
“You know how I told you we used to spend a month in the summer up at the lake with Auntie Harriet and Uncle Dave?”
Maggie gently began to rub her husband’s shoulder. She’d heard his stories many times but knew he needed to talk. She prompted him, “You always loved it up there, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I did. Both of us.” He sighed and fought back a tear.
John had hundreds of stories about “Being at the lake,” as he called those times. Today, this one stood out and went something like this:
It was early August in the afternoon. White caps were marching across the big lake, waves crashing on the shore. The wind was blowing hard off the water cooling the two brothers as they played in the shade of a huge cottonwood tree in the front yard. Auntie Harriet had let them use an old quilt and they’d spread it on the lawn.
‘This will be our raft,’ John had said.
‘We’ll be on the ocean,’ Andy added, beginning to embellish the imaginary game they were creating at just that very moment.
‘I’ll be Turok and…
‘I’ll be Andar,’ Andy added.
In the comics, Turok was the older brother and Andar the younger one, a relationship that worked perfectly for both boys.
John shaded his eyes with his hand, peering out in front of them, ‘Let try to paddle across to the other side. See if we can find some food. We can hunt for some Pterodactyl eggs or something.’
‘Oh, boy, Turok, these waves are huge. Do you think we can make it?’ Andy said, bouncing up and down on his knees.
‘Yeah, we can,’ John said, simulating paddling with a pretend paddle, ‘We just have to watch out for sea monsters.’
For a minute the brothers were silent, each bouncing on their knees as they paddled across their make believe ocean, both of them lost in their own world.
Suddenly Andy yelled, ‘Turok, watch out.’ He lunged for his brother and pulled him down on the raft, covering him with his body, protecting him, ‘That big water dinosaur almost got you.’
‘Oh, boy, that was close,” John said, wiping his brow, ” Thanks, Andar, I’m safe now.’
The two brothers grinned at each other and began paddling again.
The scene played out in John’s mind as he told the tale to his wife, missing nothing. The memory as fresh as the day it happened, over fifty years ago.
When he was finished John became silent. Maggie, who had been rubbing his shoulder the entire time, squeezed it and stood up. “I should probably finish getting ready.” She looked at the clock on the wall. “The service starts in just over an hour.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll be ready. We can leave in ten minutes.”
“Okay. See you upstairs?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there.”
John watched Maggie walk up the steps, then sat for a minute, thinking of his brother and how missing him would never begin to describe what he was going through. They had been so close. There were so many good memories.
After they had reached adulthood, John became a high school science teacher while Andy worked in construction, framing homes for a local contractor. They’d stayed close. Their wives became friends, and their kids even got along. Their lives had been rich and fulfilling even though they’d each battled their own personal demons, John with alcohol, Andy with pain killers. They’d continued to stay close and in touch, even during those difficult years. In many ways, they were more than brothers, they were best friends; soul mates.
And that’s why it was frustrating, sometimes, to try to explain how much Andy’s loss meant. In John’s mind’s eye he saw Andy back at Big Sandy lake on their raft, battling the waves, fighting the good fight against water monsters and dinosaurs; he saw his brother’s skin, tanned chestnut brown from weeks in the sun. (Sure it must have rained back then, but not in his memory.) They only wore cutoff jeans those summers, no shirts or shoes. In his memory, the air smelled of lake, a perfume of rotting seaweed and dead fish only eleven and nine year old boys could appreciate, even love; the sky was always a deep blue, with white, puffy clouds drifting by, purple martins calling in the background drowned out by the squawking of the gulls forever flying overhead; in the early evening they fished from the dock, casting their lines, the lake turning still as the sun went down, the water smoothing to glass as a yellow moon rose above the trees to the east; a while later the milky way would then magically appear, stars covering the domed sky in whitewash of cosmic beauty.
Even now, at the time of Andy’s death, John sober for fifteen years, Andy drug free for fourteen, the memory of those long ago days was as fresh and clear as it had been back then, the pure, unencumbered days of their youth.
John sat quietly for a moment, the memories flooding over him. He knew he should get going; knew he should move on and take the next step to laying his brother to rest. But he wasn’t ready. Instead, he reached for his binder. It opened arbitrarily to “Turok and Andar # 16, Secret Of The Giants,” the first of the comics he’d ever purchased when he’d started collecting them. It had the two brothers on the cover, bow and arrows in their hands, facing a Stegosaurus, ready to fight to the death.
John smiled and opened the comic to the first page and began to read. The service could wait. His brother was still with him. He wasn’t ready to say good-bye just yet.