They took a train out of the city, rode half the day until the urban landscape gave way to industry which gave way to trees, farms and small towns. It was getting closer to the end of the summer now, the air in the country was thick with dust and heat and the buzz of insects living out their tiny lives. They'd gotten a later start than they should have, when they got off of the train the sun's rays turned the air into mellow gold as it descended toward the horizon.
“Alright, we've been riding all day. Are you going to tell me why we're here yet?” Cecilia asked as she unwrapped a gas station sandwich. Nothing made a trip feel like a journey, to Lane, like those terrible sandwiches that had been in the fridge for too long. “For that matter, where are we?”
“We're in Clocksburg. When I was a kid, my family used to rent a house out here for the summer for a few years. I looked forward to it every year until we couldn't afford it any more. Then, a few times when I was a teenager, I came up here on my own, just to be somewhere that I'd been happy.” He took a bite of his own sandwich. “Ugh. This tuna is awful. I should have gone with the egg salad.”
“Really? I haven't got many real landmarks that I can just point to and recall being happy like that. Where was the place you stayed?”
“Just up the road. We can walk there.”
The town of Clocksburg had seen hard times. Many houses and shops looked abandoned, boarded windows, scorched facades, yellowed, over grown lawns. The streets were dusty and empty, the few visible people stopped what they were doing when the two urban looking young people walked by. They talked as they made their way down the road, Jared relating anecdotes from his childhood and Cecilia drinking in the details of the small town, taking pictures of hand painted signs and pulling Jared into little stores. In a dusty antique shop, while Jared flipped through a stack of old records, the owner found her sketching the birds on a tea pot and offered it to her for three dollars.
At that rate it took them more than two hours to make their way to the cottage from Lane's childhood. The sign advertising that it was available to rent was long gone, the paint was faded and some of the windows were broken. It was obviously vacant, probably had been for years. The front door was locked, but the back wasn't. The small appliances were missing and the kitchen sink was full of empty beer cans and trash.
“So this is where it happened, huh?” Cecilia flopped down on the dusty couch. The room smelled like mice. “The lazy summers and happy days of your childhood.”
“Well, yeah.” Lane wiped dust from the spot where the television had been. He felt that emptiness that comes with seeing one's childhood memories expire, replaced by modern realities. “It wasn't quite like this then, though, you know. It used to be nice, clean, fun.”
“I know, sweetheart.” She swished her feet on the dusty floor, leaving graceful trails like a filthy grey snow angel while she fixed him with her piercing gaze and benevolent smile. “How does it feel now, seeing everything changed like this?”
“I don't know.” He frowned and slumped his shoulders. “It's weird, you know. Memories have to grapple with what's in front of you sometimes. The memories are still there, I guess, but they seem less real when the concrete things they used to be attached to are crumbling away in front of your face. Watching things slowly degrade over the years is one thing, but seeing everything suddenly covered in dust and neglect?” He peeled a chunk of dry, old wallpaper down, it crumbled between his fingers. “Does that make sense?”
“It does. What are you going to do about it?”
“Do about it? What are you talking about? We're breaking and entering here, we can't fix this place up, and even if we did, it wouldn't be the same.” He sank into the couch beside her, the old springs creaking under his weight as he sent another cloud of dust into the air.
“There's always something we can do, Jared,” Cecilia said as she jumped up off of the couch, “we just have to find something that hasn't changed. One thing in this house that lives up to those childhood memories, keeps them alive. There's got to be something that's just like you remember it and, for the sake of your happiness, I'm going to find it!”
She grabbed his hand and dragged him out of the little dusty living room, they ran around the house. Cecilia demanded stories about every detail of the little cottage in the golden late afternoon sunlight, the smells he remembered from the kitchen, the creaks of the stairs, where the dog liked to sleep, which room Jared and his brother had slept in, the sounds his father made when he snored. The found a can of peaches in a cupboard, only three years past its expiration date, an old bird's nest in one of the bedrooms with a broken window pane, Jared's brother's initials and those of some distant summer crush carved into the post of the bunk-beds, the old window seat where Jared sat to read on rainy summer days under the grey television sky.
“I used to stare at the sky for hours when it was gray, it would just entrance me. Sometimes I felt like I could see things forming there, like reception fading back in, resolving into horizontal lines, definable shapes, then a real picture. I never really saw anything, of course, but I would watch the sky, hoping to see the picture.”
Cecilia looked around slyly. “Now, that gives me an idea. Close your eyes!” She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the door. “Shut them,” she ordered again. Lane stumbled in the long grass outside. Night had fallen and the dew condensing in the grass wet his shirt when Cecilia, after dragging him on a mad dash across the neglected lawn with her hand clamped over his eyes, pushed him down on the ground and sat astride him.
“Okay, you can open your eyes now, but look up.” She pushed on Jared's chin, forcing his head back and his eyes up toward the sky. He sucked in his breath when he saw it all. The darkness afforded by the country made the stars more vivid than they were ever able to be in the city. The moon hung like a lonely silver apple, forever out of reach and tauntingly, coldly inviting. The stars defied any of the thousands of cliches people use to describe them, each one a distant flame of incredible power, each one dwarfing immeasurably two tiny beings laying in a field out in the country on a smallish planet light years away.
“That hasn't changed, it's still the same,” he said, after what seemed like a long time. Cecilia pulled her shirt off and slid her arms up inside of his as she laid down next to him.
“This is the first time in a long time,” she said in a whisper, her mouth an inch from his ear, “that I haven't been able to feel any magnetic fields at all, except for yours. It's amazing, it's like we're the same thing.” Their lips met and they laid in the field that night forever.
Jared opened the door and went inside. It smelled like marijuana and melted cheese. James set his bowl on the coffee table and struggled upright on the couch.
“Shit. Where were you, man?”
“What? No where. We just went out of town for the weekend.”
“Really? Did you sleep there? You look like crap.” James ran his hand through his hair. “You haven't been around much. You're always with that Johnny-girl.”
“Yeah, well, you know. Things are going good.”
“Cool, man. That's cool.” James reached for the plate of nachos he'd left on the table. “Oh, did I tell you? They called for you. From work.”
“Did they? Whatever. I'll be in tomorrow. I'll see what they wanted then. I've got plans tonight.”