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Parkie never got a card or a letter from any one of them, never a phone call. Nothing. He never mentioned them after they were gone. That, to me, was notice he knew they would never be back. It was like a date had been kept, a vow paid off. It wasn’t at all like “We’ll meet at Trafalgar Square after the war, or Times Square, or under the clock at The Ritz.” Not at all. The sadness of it hit me solidly, frontally. I’d had some good buddies, guy’s I’d be tickled to death to see again if they walked in just like his pals did, and I knew that I’d never see them again.

Things were like that, cut and dried like adobe, a place and a job in the world and you couldn’t cry about it. Part of the fine-tuned fatalism that grows in your bones, becomes part of you, core deep, gut deep.

The sun’s redness shivered under breeze. Pickerel nosed at the bags. The beer cooled. Parkie sipped at a bottle, his eyes dark and locked on the pond, seeing something I hadn’t seen, I suppose. The long hatchet-like face, the full-blown Indian complexion he owned great allegiance to, made his dark visage darker than it might have been. With parted lips his teeth showed long and off-white or slightly yellowed, real incisors in a deep-red gum line. On a smooth, gray rock he sat with his heels jammed up under his butt, the redness still locked in his eyes, and, like some long-gone Chief, locked in meditation of the spirits.

For a long while he was distant, who knows where, in what guise and in what act, out of touch, which really wasn’t that unusual with him before, and surely wasn’t now, since his return. Actually, it appeared a little eerie, this sudden transport, but a lot of things had become eerie with Parkie around. He didn’t like being indoors for too long a stretch; he craved fresh air and walked a lot and must have worn his own path around the pond. It went through the alders, then through the clump of birch that some nights looked like ghosts at attention, then down along the edge where all the kids went for kibby and sunfish, then over the knoll at the end of the pond where you’d go out of sight for maybe five minutes of a walk, and then down along the near shore and coming up to the Angels’ where we hung out.

Most of the guys said when you couldn’t find Parkie, you knew where to find him. He looked up at me from his crouch, the bottle in his hand catching the sun, his eyes as dark as ever in their deep contrast.

“Remember that Kirby kid, Ellen Kirby, when we pulled her out of the channel on Christmas vacation in her snowsuit and she kept skating around the pond for a couple of hours, afraid to go home. We saved her for nothing, it seems, but for another try at it. I heard she drowned in a lake in Maine January of the year we went away. Like she never learned anything at all.” Parkie hadn’t taken his eyes off the pond, stillness still trying to take hold of him, and he sipped and sipped and finally drank off the bottle and reached into the water for another. The pickerel force moved away as quickly as minnows. Their quickness seemed to make fun of our inertia. If there was a clock handy, I knew its hands would be moving, the ticking going on, but I seriously wouldn’t bet on it. We seemed to be holding our collected breath; the sun froze itself on the water’s face, the slightest breath of wind held it off. There was no ticking, no bells, no alarms, and no sudden disturbances in the air, no more war, and no passage of time. For a moment at least, we hung at breathlessness and eternity.

We were, as Parkie had said on more than one occasion, Down-in deep counting the bones in ourselves, trying to get literate.

“We just got her ready to die another time.” The church key opener in his hand pried at the bottle cap as slow as a crowbar and permitted a slight pop, and he palmed the cap in his hand and shook it like half a dice set and skipped it across the redness. The deliberate things he did came off as code transmissions, and I had spent hours trying to read what kind of messages were being carried along by them. They did not clamor for attention, but if you were only barely alert you knew something was cooking in him.

“You might not believe it,” I said, “but I thought of her when I was in the base hospital in Italy and swore my ass was ice. I remember how she skated around after we pulled her out with that gray-green snowsuit on and the old pilot’s cap on her head and the flaps down over her ears and the goggles against her eyes and the ice like a clear, fine lacquer all over her clothes. I thought she was going to freeze standing upright on the pond.”