The Luke of All Ages
Hills blocked his view. They were everywhere: some full of old houses stacked like wooden blocks, others full of trees so green in summer he felt they were choking him. Hills marked every step of his, every ride in the car with his mother. He walked up and down hills to get to school, felt his throat drop as they drove down long hills to places where little creeks ran and branches lay in messy piles during the gray winter. To get anywhere, he had to see it in his head before they’d arrived. You could never see things approaching, because everything was hidden behind hills. And, if what he saw after he’d arrived was a little different than what he’d imagined in his head, the picture in his head was what stayed, what mattered.
It had to do with the hills.
Often they would go visiting. Sometimes they would take the noisy streetcar, and sometimes they would ride in the little blue car. The little blue car took them to more mysterious places, places that had nothing to do with his memory, or what he saw in his head. Those were the most interesting places to visit.
He did not know it at the time, but some of these places he would visit only once, once in his life. Then they would vanish, just as if he had never been there, or as if he had only been there in his head. As he grew older he had trouble separating the things he had seen just once from the things he had seen only in his head. He could never be sure, for how could he have imagined anything, were it not for what he actually saw?
There was once a trip to visit a woman his mother knew, a woman she didn’t see very often, if ever. They drove through and around the hills. They left the city with its red and orange brick roads, its bumps and breath-taking spills when the roads dipped. It was a breezy day. His sister was at school—another mysterious place that held some kid of magic, a magic adults spoke of with reverence. After turning another bend, his mind lost in the tops of trees, they drove up a small hill that was a parking lot. On either side, connected buildings fell down the hill like big steps. They had brown roofs that sloped down onto the buildings like upside-down, open boxes.
Inside there lived a woman with a clear voice and short, dark hair. She and his mother hugged and kissed, and told him the woman was a friend of his aunt who had died, his mother’s sister. Then they did the usual visiting thing: sat down at the kitchen table to drink coffee and talk.
The mention of his dead aunt’s name—Celine—made his face go blank. Luke, his mother said. Luke. Here, Dolly has something for you. A toy. A dented metal, swirling top. He pumped the handle up and down and the top swirled, its yellows, reds, and blues all coming together into a swirling cloud as he thought of his Aunt Celine.
He was still in love with her. He saw her coming down the stairs in a dark dress that moved when she walked. She was excited, smiling, holding something she wanted to give him. Her smile made her black eyes light up: her wavy dark hair shining against her shadowy skin. She handed him the gift.
She handed him the gift.
She handed him the gift.
He ripped open the paper and she helped him open the white box. Inside it were pajamas that looked like alligator skin. For him! He looked at her stooping beside him with her smile, her smiling black eyes. He was in love with her. Then she was gone.
He had no sense of how or why she had left. All that remained of her was the box with the alligator pajamas.
Now she was back. She had a friend, a woman with short dark hair and a loud voice who had mentioned her name. Where do the people you love go? Do they always stay inside your head, so that you see them over and over?