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Great Gully Sinners

My brothers are never quiet. They like the loud chaos of an old truck shuttering rusty exhales during summer dusks, those warm haloed nights, the smell of sweat, and baseball leather careening from the back seat. They like the sticky orange sand and slide burn mark cut from the home-base diamond after a win. Baseball was second nature to them. They played with passion and zeal, with stirrup gallops across the third base, and careful eyes locked on a pitcher’s poised flamingo leg. They perfected the crow-hop before they could solve for X. They are small-town kings striding with gold hair across sleazy midnight blacktop globbed with wet tar. 

Summers are their kingdom. Arthurian legends bled their way into corn fields, the rolling hills behind schoolyards, the smell of old coffee, and gasoline replacing incense and body odor. Their charm is endless. A sly wry smile from Dustin is enough to shake even the most steadfast, pure roiling trouble hewn from marble stones dug from a Grecian temple, an Apollo with eyes locked on a song. Lucas is springwater cupped in the palm of a hand, thrown across tired eyelids, a wakeful sprite skittering little laughs like stones across Cayuga Lake. Where Dustin’s rough-cut steel was pulled from ancient coals lit by Nordic blacksmiths in a hole below Yggdrasil, Lucas was the tempered water sizzling with sharp bursts of light and hopping ringlets of steam cooling draconian metal. 

We never found consistency in our activity. There was only the routine, the essence of being in a space together. The knowledge that we could unapologetically be ourselves was a reinforcing clasp holding ourselves together. There was never silence. There were cries at the T.V., hot with kaleidoscopic video-game rendered graphics or hedonistically boiling out badly delivered lines from badly acted characters in a Goosebumps episode. Laughter reinforced the countertops. We were so used to our presence that we shared a room; we each had a bedroom, but it was easier to sleep in the living room–two couches, two kids, one floor one me–because we thrived in space. 

We found a trail once. Not found by discovery, but found by experience. We had never been there, but others had. The maple-leaf strewn ground was littered with Bud Light bottles puckered by high lips and damp hands, and there was a diaper tucked beneath a rock, plugging a snake den’s entrance, sin blocking sin, a bad brown fruit wrapped in poly-whatever-it-is nylon fabric left at Eve’s door. In the Bible, Eve ate the fruit and was blamed for loving the flavor. This is something we all might know. This is something we wish we knew. Sin tastes like Honeycrisp apples after rehearsals. Sin sounds like discordant babbles of laughter of three boys free with summer ticks, drunk on the sound of purring Corolla engines, and the smell of growing corn. 

The trail was called Great Gully. Its entrance was ringed in by thick calf-like stones curled like beef hunks hung in a meat freezer. They blocked the entrance from cars because people would squeeze cars and four-wheelers into the woods and jump off the tailgate into the pool of water exactly 100 yards away. A stream cut through the trail, trickling into Cayuga lake. It dibbled down in a series of waterfalls, each about a half-mile apart, the nearest one 100 yards from the entrance getting the most attention from drunk teenagers pattering kisses on each others neck as the smell of Twisted Tea danced in a sick waltz with some upper-class country boy’s Trump brand chew. The woods seemed to have no end. There was no end to anyone. There was only the beginning, the pool of water 100 yards from the entrance, the slurred conception under the brown waters teeming with trout my science class had released about eight years prior. I did not remember we did that till then. We exist in a space of remembrance. My brother’s bled memory the same way a poet does; with grace and iron indifference. 

We walked past the entrance and the pool of water 100 yards away. The beginning of the trail was uneventful. Flatwater and flat land, open crevice of earth cut to the vein, rushing blood water, a salamander hovel, fire-born wheat stalk corn kernels spilling into Great Lake sludge. Across layers of shale, my brothers skittered laughs like skipping stones across the lake. They liked skipping stones. They took shale from the surrounding walls and cupped them between their fingers like baseballs and tossed them into the stream and watched them snap on impact with the other wall of shale on the other side. This was a hilarious game to them. Entropy comes naturally to us. Chaos given form and light; spectacle with gas-wine fuse dipped struck against a match. A firework of shale splashed in elegant pirouettes.

It was May. The water was too cold to walk in. We had expected to go on a simple drive for coffee, so we wore jeans and blank t-shirts, vivisection of American-youth, the teenage-dream leotard with a French Tuck in the front. Bare arms. It’s important when hiking to have your arms bare. You want to be able to see muscles shimmy and two-time to the swing of a step on the soil. The cuts are a welcome reminder of mortality. Young boys–we were boys then. They are still boys but I am older now by experience alone–like to be reminded of their mortality. That is why Icarus flew too close to the sun. That’s why we threw shale so hard against the surrounding corridor. 

We reached the second waterfall. The second waterfall was a mile from the waterfall 100 yards away from the entrance of the trail that was new not by discovery but by salvation. Two little Gabriels who decided it was more fun to break the horn. I took mine and blew it and these two devils swung in riding on the Messiah. They are the Messiah, gasoline angels struck with fir-cracker smiles and quick hands. They smelt like a freshly mowed baseball field; they limbed a little. They had a game the previous night. They slid and tore the skin on their leg. They liked to see their patchwork. They liked the hot exposed skin to burn their pants. It was anarchy upon the human form. We sing of anarchy like gospel; 

swing low sweet sickle, 

cut the cornstalk growin’, 

swing low sweet sickle, 

catch the old man slowin’

We decided to go beyond the waterfall. This was not a good decision. A good decision is always a bad one. But this one had its charms. It involved scaling a drop-off, a precarious slope of slick shale, and old leaves. It had rained, and the water was running too high and too fast. The waterfall could not be scaled like a rock wall. We had to go around. The easier slope was on the other side, but the water was too cold to swim through. 

Lucas was 10; Dustin 14; Me 18. We asked Lucas. He had wisdom, being the youngest. He has seen less of the world than we had, so he knew what could and could not be done. Mortality was his balancing act because he tests maturity with a flick of his wrist. Magician conjuring decision making. Pure chaos held in one finger, a loud-mouthed screech caught in the back of a throat. Dustin was a sizzling fuse curdling milk on a stovetop; Lucas was the kettle whistling next door. Lucas said we should climb. We climbed.

The slope reached a hot 85-degree angle, I cannot tell you the calculations in radian form because I don’t care enough about math right now to get the calculator from the top of the drawer on my desk. I am not even writing from my desk. I won’t tell you where I write, because I like to leave revelations for my little Gabriels. 

We began to climb. It had rained the night before. The leaves were wet and the mud was slick. We were likely going to fall, and careen in rolling barrel rolls like airplanes. We fly anyway. 

We began to climb. We dig our hands in the earth, felt new leaves give way to old shale, paleontological scales trickling and tumbling into the stream. We got higher and higher. The slope got steeper. We grew more scared but there was a determination in the shaking voices, in the scared trembling hands. Lucas was the most scared so we held him close to the two of us. Dustin and I are used to holding on to the little one. He is the little one by size and by his command of the room. As the little one, he held the gaze of surrounding patrons the most. He has an anchoring force behind his teeth. 

Lucas began to slip and he fell on his rear. My eyes flashed as leaves gave way underfoot, and the immaculate cuffed pants and white t-shirt touched mud. My eyes flashed and I saw cliff-like depths torrenting into an ocean. The stream dissolved. The stream dissolved and gave way to hallucination. Anxiety is a three-eyed witch high off of mugwort and poetry. 

I leaped toward him. I rolled myself. I let my navy jeans and red shirt tear under the grip of maple branches. I leaped toward him because how can the Messiah come without Gabriel’s horn? We were only great blowers of the horn when we were three and two cannot be three so I leaped toward him in order to grab his hand. I grabbed his hand and I pulled him up to the branch we clung to and I shook the mud from him and I told him that he was okay because I had to tell myself it was okay. I knew he was fine and he knew it too. He didn’t really fall he only slipped. He said I was wild, that I was making a big deal but I swear he fell. I swear that the end of that stream would have been the end of this horn-blowing corn sing we welded together from hot steel and chilled spring water. 

I was scared but I said I would not show because although Lucas was the wisest, and Dustin the smartest, I had to pretend to be the most composed because I was supposed to be both of those things because I was older. I was older so I could not let him slip because I had to protect these two tempered steel sin-spewing Gabriels. I swore on a full blood moon, on a fat red crayfish found in the hole of a tree, on the stray cat living in the willow, on the cattails near the waterfall 100 yards away from the entrance of Great Gully that no one would touch these boys. I would do anything for them and I was ready to kill God for them. I have killed God for them because I know some of the things they know. They know God had to die because only humans could love sin. We were sin, steel golden boys, royal kings of cornstalk lily pads, and aluminum baseball bats. We walked on blacktop leaves over old shale, we scaled old hills and tore at wood-bone roots peeling out from old skin. We held the stream in our hands, we held this world in our hands. Fire spitting Dustin, spring water Lucas. I was a pretender but they did not care and I think that is love. Love is growing between the roots, three golden-haired snakes curling with adders from behind Eden, the swimming metropolis of ugly, beautiful chaos. We ate Eden. I fed them Eden. I will always feed them Eden. They made Eden for me. 

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