Just as I had decided, it was a while before I crossed out anything else on the bucket list. I thought about it a lot, though, and after a few weeks of consideration, something dawned on me. Whenever I thought about an objective I had yet to finish, Macon was always present in my mind. It was a force of habit, and it made sense. When I scanned through the numbers, reflecting on each one that had a line through it, I found that Macon had been there for all of them.
Though I’d been the one to write it, I felt as though the bucket list was just as much his as it was mine. Even though I’d just met him, I couldn’t seem to separate the two ideas. From then on, I made sure he’d be present, rather than just assuming it would end up that way.
The first time he took a train out to Long Island was in mid August of that summer. It was a week after I’d contracted laryngitis, and though the infection was no longer contagious and I didn’t feel all that sick anymore, my voice was shot to hell. I’d texted Macon on a Friday night, and we decided that he’d be here the next day for objective number fourteen.
I’d always wanted to go an entire day without talking. I think every kid has tried, but fifteen minutes after your friend dares you to keep your mouth shut, your third grade teacher asks you the capital of Tennessee or some other crap. No one’s ever got the balls to just stare at her point blank.
For twenty-four hours, I was allowed no means of communication whatsoever. No writing, no pointing, no shaking of the head; the only way I could get anything across, I reasoned, was facial expression. That’s involuntary anyway, I think.
I picked Macon up at the train station at ten the next morning. As much as I would’ve liked to sleep in on a Saturday, the earlier we started, the more bearable it would be. Time always seemed to pass by more quickly in the morning hours.
Macon was leaning nonchalantly against an ad board when I reached the top of the train platform. He stared down at his feet with his shoulders hunched toward the concrete. Unable to say anything, I just stood in front of him until he noticed.
He caught sight of my destroyed high-tops, and then he broke out of his daze. “Hey Andy,” Macon said, and the intensity of his eyebrows lessened as he looked up at me.
I stopped myself from acknowledging him. I couldn’t ask him how his ride in was, but I wanted to, and he sensed that by the way my eyes followed the train as it pulled away.
“Long,” he said blatantly. “Where are we going?”
I idly swung my keys around my finger as we walked across the parking lot. The keyless entry to my 1995 Ford Taurus had long since stopped working, so I unlocked the driver-side door, got into the old maroon car, and reached over the seat to let Macon in.
I’d only been parked for about ten minutes, but without the AC going, the car had already soaked up a stifling amount of heat. I rolled down the windows and let the air flow through before we started moving.
Macon and I went back to my house, which was only about a four or five mile drive from the train station. I didn’t particularly know what we could do that didn’t require talking, but I figured we’d think of something once we got inside. As we pulled up, the wheels made a crunching noise over the gravel in my driveway.
“So this is your house, huh?” he asked, looking up at the suburban split-level. His eyes dragged to me as if he expected a response, and when I didn’t provide one, he said, “Right, yeah. I keep forgetting.”
My mother’s car was gone, as was my brother’s. An empty driveway meant an empty house, and I was more than content with that. My mom always asked her fair share of unnecessary questions, and being unable to say anything, I was pretty much throwing Macon to the sharks there.
After tossing my bag to the side of the door, I turned on the old air conditioning unit in the wall and collapsed on the couch. Macon, however, stood in the center of the room and looked around. “Your family likes green, I guess.”
He was right. My mom had gone on a redecorating rampage around the same time that my dad had moved out; she bought a bunch of Feng Shui books and decided that her positive qi color was green.
Everything in the room, from the drapes to the carpet, was a dark jade. The beige walls and accents did little to dilute the color, and through the railings on the second level, the dining room and living room were nearly the same shades. Actually, my room had been the only section of the house that wasn’t prominently green, up until ninth grade when I’d decided to repaint it with a blue-and-seafoam color scheme.
Macon then wandered over to the fireplace mantle, and he scanned over the picture frames situated there. He was getting closer and closer to the photo album that was propped up by its hard binding, and I figured I’d better do something before he found the cruise pictures where my mother had put me in sailor dress. I went to the cabinet below the TV, hooked up the Nintendo 64, and switched it on. Macon heard the proverbial music and he whirled around. “Sick! Goldeneye!”
How effortless it is to manipulate the minds of boys with video games.
He and I sat cross-legged on the green carpet and scrolled through the opening menus. We were about halfway through the third round before I realized that this probably hadn’t been the best idea. I knew I had a slight issue with cursing at video games, but I never realized how quickly my temper rose at those son-of-a-bitch hostages (and their inability to avoid bullets) until I wasn’t able to yell obscenities at the television.
Macon didn’t seem fazed when, in the middle of a mission, I smacked the off button on the N64. He shrugged, wrapped up the controller, and went to go sit on the couch. For roughly an hour and a half, we watched TV quietly. Every once in a while, Macon would offer a comment, but I think he was starting to get used to the imbalance in the conversation.
Sometime around noon, I stood up, stretched my hands over my head, and grabbed my keys from the coffee table. Macon asked again, “Where are we going?” but he followed regardless. I sort of liked the change in roles. It had sort of sucked, always being the clueless one.
As we neared the end of the street, I saw that the chain-link fence was open, but I already knew it would be. The gate remained unlocked every day from sunrise to dusk throughout June, July, August, and September. Although there was a little one-window building between the entrance and exit roads, no one was ever manning it. I’m not even sure why it was there, to be honest.
When I turned my blinker on to pull into the parking lot, Macon’s eyes followed the ticking to the arrow on my dashboard. “Technically,” he said, “you just screwed up. Signaling is a form of communication. Now start over.”
I had the overwhelming urge to shoot Macon the middle finger, but I figured that was communication, too. Instead, I pulled into a parking spot with unnecessary abruptness and he was jolted against his seatbelt.
“Bitch,” he murmured underneath his breath.
I twisted the keys out of the ignition and made a grab for my phone. Then, after realizing that I couldn’t answer it even if it did ring, I left it on the central arm rest. Instead I picked up my Ipod, switched it to random, and put the earphones in as I got out of the car.
With the music on, I felt calmer. My constraint was more bearable, and Macon seemed to get the hint that I didn’t enjoy his smart-ass comments. He and I walked to the end of the parking lot and onto the sand-brushed pavement.
Although the combination of sand and water suggested the presence of a beach, I’m not sure if that was the right name for this place. It was more along the lines of a cove, what with its shallow inlets and collections of soggy plants. There was a one-hundred-and-eighty degree view of water if you faced the shoreline, and on either side, canals provided a boating path to the oversized suburban houses perched on the edge. Long Island was filled with these kinds of places, but this one had to be my favorite.
There was a plain brick building pushed toward the back fence; I assumed it’d been a concession stand at one point, but tin sheets were always pulled down over the windows. Two matching sets of swings sat beside it, and they were rusted by the constant spray of salt water. One out of the four swings had broken on its left, and it hung idly over the sand like a plummet.
I squinted in the sunlight. It felt nice after having been stuck in my house for so long. The lifeguard chair was empty, as was much of the shoreline. There was a middle-aged woman in a floppy sunhat reading a book, and a younger woman in a salmon-colored bathing suit trying to convince her toddler that the collections of seaweed weren’t going to bite his toes.
Over by the playground, a man pushed his daughter on a swing. My eyes were then drawn to the wooden fence along the water pillars, and I saw an old man fishing. There was a dirty white spackle-bucket positioned at his feet.
Those six people made up the entire population of this place. Even so, Macon and I headed for the most introverted spot we could find. There was a cluster of rocks toward the corner of the cove where the shoreline rose and the wooden fence started. Macon sat down on a flat rock about a foot from the thin line of seaweed that looked like the unwound tape from a cassette. I chose the rock next to him.
For a while, I liked the way the music in my ears seemed to sync up to the surroundings here. Then I caught sight of Macon, with his hands folded between his knees and the pensive expression on his face. His eyebrows were creased together, and I thought he was concentrating on a particular sound, so I wanted to hear it, too. I pressed the pause button and pulled the buds out of my ears. When the music left my eardrums, though, I was in awe at the heavy hush of this place.
The water lapped up only a few inches at a time, too weak to form anything close to an actual wave. The seagulls above us and on the roof of the concession stand didn’t call out to anyone, and neither did any of the other people here. I’d been coming here for years, but it was stiller than I’d ever seen it before.
When a noise would come about, it would cut through the silence like it was a sushi knife and the air was Jell-o. When the old man’s fishing pole would cast out and tick a million times a minute, or when a duck would upset the water around it, or when the chain on the swing would let out a tired squeak, the shoreline seemed to shake. Then, in a matter of seconds, it would fall back into tranquility.
If it were possible to fall in love with lack of sound, I would’ve at that moment, because this place managed to carry the quiet so beautifully. Then Macon spoke and somehow I liked the sound of his voice even more than that.
“I’ve only been completely comfortable with silence in the presence of two people,” he told me. He was only talking just above a whisper, but it shattered the hush just like the fishing line and the rusted chain had. “You’re one of them.”
He knew what I wanted to ask, and that astounded me. Most people have to be told exactly what should come out of their mouths, but I guess that’s why Macon’s personality fitted his name more so than his appearance. “My mom,” he answered. He swallowed the lump in his throat, trying to relax himself, but his jaw was still tensely set.
“She was really, really good at that. She knew how to communicate without saying anything. And when she did say something, it was always worth being put into words, you know?” Macon’s eyes searched the line where it looked as though blue linen was meeting a sheet of gray glass. Then he looked down at his hands, swallowed again, and added, “My mom never wasted words on stupid shit.”
She wasn’t around anymore. I could tell by the way he talked about her, and I could tell that Macon was distraught over it to the point of heartbreak. I bit my lip so hard, I nearly drew blood again.
“I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff, Andy. There’s a lot of shit I regret about myself.” Macon was staring so intently at the sand that I think he was in that stage where you don’t see anything at all; the only thing that plays out before your eyes is your own thoughts, and they’re more vivid than anything you could possibly be looking at. “I don’t regret her, though. I never took her for granted, ever. And I’m relieved I didn’t, ‘cause I don’t know if I’d be able to live with it if I did.”
My eyes had been periodically jumping from the foam of the water to Macon’s face, but after his next statement, I couldn’t tear them away from him. “Six months wouldn’t have been enough time to fix my mistakes, you know? I mean, we saw the ultrasound in September, and in January of oh-seven she was gone. I’m so happy I treated her well from the beginning.” Macon shut his eyes tight, and despite the strongness of his face, he looked really, really vulnerable. “Six months isn’t enough time to show someone how much you appreciate the lifetime they wasted on you.”
I might not have known Macon that long, but I did pride myself in knowing him pretty well. And, up until that point, I’d never, ever seen him choke up like that. He took a breath in and looked up from the sand, and I knew that his vivid thoughts had disappeared. “She was a really incredible mother. Just a good person in general, really.” Then he was finished.
At that moment, I felt such an aching feeling in my chest that I thought my organs might collapse. What made my thoughts spin, though, was the fact that this ache was nothing compared to what Macon had been and was currently feeling. More than anything, I wanted to feel that too, just so he wasn’t alone.
I opened my mouth and prepared to break my silence, but something stopped me and I chose to hold the words back instead. He was done speaking, and I realized that he didn’t want an answer from me. All he wanted was my presence, and there was no way I ever wanted to leave his side again.
I needed to be here, because his mother had been and now she couldn’t be. I needed to show him that I was capable of communicating without words, too. Not because this was “stupid shit” that words shouldn’t be wasted on, but because no words could possibly express the sting of heartache I felt for him.
His hand was resting on his lower thigh, and my eyes jumped to it. Then, confidently, I slid my palm under his and laced our fingers together. I squeezed it as hard as I could, and Macon didn’t seem to mind. Through his dark eyes, he gave me a look that said I’d done all I could manage, and he was indebted for it.
After that, neither of us exchanged any conversation at all. Macon took on the silence with me, even though he didn’t have to, and the rest of the time passed in comfortable correspondence without the sound of our voices.
I think that was the first time the list changed me. There had been a handful of objectives before that day that, to a certain extent, had made me think, but this one seemed to settle in my brain and, slowly but surely, turn my thoughts inside-out.
That next morning, I tore through my closet looking for the old gift box where I kept the cards my dad had been sending me for years. I had ones from Christmas and my birthday and my graduation and from when I’d made my communion. They’d always been exactly on time, too; the day of the occasion, it was there waiting in my mailbox.
Regardless of what kind of card it was, he always signed it the same way. He’d write “Love, Dad,” and then leave his phone number at the bottom. It never said anything else; he was never pushy or pleading about it. It was just sort of his way of saying “if you change your mind, I’m here.”
I picked one out of the pile. It happened to be a baseball-themed card from when I’d turned fourteen. On the front it read, “Another year knocked out of the park–Have a great birthday.” I copied down the phone number inside and then shoved the gift box back into my closet.
I waited with the phone in my lap until ten AM, when, according to the bucket list, I could speak again. Then I dialed his number and put the phone to my ear.
By the third ring, I had hung up.