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Alan Braun awoke to the promise of another unpredictable
adventure. Nestled in the comfort of his bed, the fresh
sunrise of a thick and sweet summer morning urged him to begin
another day. It was Saturday. Sometime during the night an
unexpected and violent thunderstorm had passed and left in its
wake the cleanest air he could remember. The nocturnal
lightning had cleanly blended in with the powerful images of
his stirring and sensuous dreams.
Now, as the heavens remained swollen with the threat of
distant rain, Alan lay half-awake with the satisfaction of a
new-found energy and spirit he felt inside his breast. His
good friend Robert was soon to arrive. Some trees were down
and they had a lot of work ahead. Alan eagerly awaited his
friend's arrival with a new and visceral anticipation: a
feeling he both enjoyed and feared. Perhaps it was the
unknown, or the unexpected turn and tenor of their last phone
call, he was not sure. He felt a new and intriguing murmur
of his heart, and he took note.
Although he and Robert were speaking more regularly of
late, their conversations had typically covered relatively
light topics with the occasional mention of a few mutual
interests and tame, circumspect adventure. Neither boasted,
neither expected as much. They would banter about in a non-competitive, even courteous, manner and would always end with
a sense of suspended unfinish. However, both knew they would
continue in the same moment, at another time, and with genuine
In the time they had known each other, the bulk of their
relationship had comprised mostly subtle and
inconsequential, but very masculine, manoeuvers. Yet, through
this careful dance they had come to a level of understanding
and comfort; the kind of tacit and articulate trust that is
unique among men.
During their last call, Alan had noticed a peculiar
nuance in Robert's final, calming few words, as if they had
reached a higher and more clear, unspoken, covenant.
"I'll see you later," he had said warmly, softly.
The tone itself had no particular definition, yet carried
with it a sense of understanding and insight: one of security
and even remote affection.
Alan drifted awake.
"My God, what am I thinking?" he said aloud and, just as
quickly, suppressed any and all curious thoughts that would
have placed them outside their simple and present lines of
custom and comfort.
He crawled out of bed. The soft, familiar groove his
weight and form had created slowly became an illusion of the
past. He showered and examined himself more thoroughly than
the usual time would allow, explored each new wrinkle and, for
a moment, imagined himself to be younger and more attractive
than he was. He admired his body in a comfortable and
confident manner and without arrogance or regard to the
doubt that anyone might face in the continuum of their
He was a healthy and rugged man, passionate and sincere
and not without sensitivity to others. He cared for himself
and deeply cared for others who came into his life, perhaps
too much. Increasingly, he engaged in and enjoyed life out
loud. However, circumstance had also caused him to be far
more cautious than most people of his generation, and he had
developed a fiber of profound independence at an early age,
allowing few people into his affections. He was aware of this
but did not flaunt it. To some, this was appealing; to others
it was the knife that prevented communion. He remained strong
in mind and body and it was with this sense of confidence he
daily faced the world.
Suddenly distracted, and the water growing cooler, he
again caught himself without the necessary focus to begin the
day. Momentarily embarrassed, he collected his thoughts and
finished, dressed, and then prepared some strong coffee and a
little breakfast. Somewhere in the hills he heard a family of
coyote finishing its night-hunt and calling to one another to
come home and rest. One day ends and another begins, he
thought, as he found himself curiously soothed by their
distant howls and satisfying, fleeting cries.
The peace was shattered with a loud and unexpected knock
on the door followed by a great and masculine voice:
"Hey! Anyone home?"
Robert had arrived earlier than expected and,
although delighted to see his friend, Alan was caught a bit
"What on earth brings you here so blinkin' early?" he
said, somewhat startled.
Robert smiled and replied, "It's a great morning, and I
wanted to see my friend." He winked. "Hey, did you get a
load of that incredible storm last night? The lightning was
"Yeah, I felt it, though I slept through most of it,"
Alan said, reluctant to disclose the content or texture of his
Robert sensed the hesitation and did not pursue.
"Looks like we have more work than we planned, but I think
it's OK. Glad none of them came near the house, eh, buddy?"
His bravado softened a bit as he looked in Alan's
direction and, reaching for some coffee, gently touched his
"You survived another," he said with a thoughtful smile.
Both men paused briefly and their eyes met. During this
suspended encounter they were momentarily and unequivocally
lost to another and foreign world.
Standing there, Alan was warmed by his friend's concern
and consideration. There was much to say, but it was too
early for much depth or content. Something was on his mind
and he would see how the day played out. Breakfast was almost
ready, and they enjoyed their coffee and talked a bit before
heading out into the fresh and auspicious morning.
A few weeks ago Alan had asked Robert to help cut up some
trees, not expecting more to have fallen during the storm.
The timing was ideal, then, for the day ahead. Although he
could have easily disposed of the downed timber himself, it
was safer to have company and, right now, Robert's was the
best he could have imagined. Both had the time and freedom to
share their labors, and both benefited from their growing
friendship and the recent turn of events. As Robert talked about
his life and his work, Alan reflected on the circumstances
that had brought him to this point.
The open country had become a welcomed respite from the
troubled existence he had found himself living in town.
After a difficult divorce, having married far too young, he
retreated into the hills to selectively and carefully remove
himself from the encroaching artifice that had swiftly woven
its way into his circle of friends. He had grown increasingly
uncomfortable with the mountain of awkward obligations and
superficial lives. Though he blamed no one, he knew he needed
to move on.
His wife had not taken the change so well and had told
her silly circle Alan had "gone off the deep end to commune
with nature." Though not far from the truth, her punctuated
laughter was painful to bear. After the separation, most of
the disenfranchised stayed with his ex-wife anyway. No great
loss, he would often remind himself.
During the entire divorce Robert, who had been through
much the same, remained by his side, listened to his
frustrations, helped him find direction, and was of great
comfort. Alan wondered why anyone would be so kind, but
openly welcomed his support. Now, enough time had passed, the
healing had begun, and there was little need and far less
desire to resurrect the past.
Alan had moved to the woods and the lush, green forest
that surrounded his modest cabin daily revealed how fragile
life might be and how small and inconsequential a man truly
is. The soft, vital sounds and smells of his Arden were a
constant reminder that he was surely the visitor; a guest
among the creatures that had inhabited it long before him.
Often, when the fog settled over the nearby fields and
overlapped the grey river in the early morning hours, Alan
felt a profound and spiritual satisfaction with the beauty of
Appreciative of the unique stirrings and the serenity the
foliage had provided, he found himself growing into a more
humble and open man. He felt stronger and more independent
and liked the change. Though he felt fortunate, there
remained a palpable void.
"I gave you your life once; what you do with it is up to
you," his mother would often say. "I am only asking for it
back as many times."
The sharpened invective was her way of saying that only
grandchildren would complete her sunset years. But the
further from adolescence he grew, the less interest Alan had
in procreation and continuing the lines of an unhappy youth,
especially when it was ultimately for the satisfaction of
someone else. He later realized that the pattern of
dependency was repeated when he had married. The union was a
social statement for her and a clear expectation of him,
ultimately creating an impossible and doomed relationship.
With this period of his life now a faded, dull memory, he was
beginning to think more of himself and passionately wanted new
Since his unhappy marriage had produced no children, he
now found himself very much alone and forced to think about
that which he had taken for granted for so many monotonous
and unsatisfying years. Having had the emotional carpet
suddenly yanked, he had learned to fend for himself on levels
he did not imagine existed. Robert was one of these
accidental friends who, by another route, by another clock,
had come to the same tenuous moment, and understood. Both
survived, were better for it, and both were now able to move
ahead with a sense of encouraging freedom.
During this time of catharsis and restoration, the
occasional solitude had also helped to weed out those who were
less sincere, those capable of betrayal. His friends'
substance and fidelity were tested and he found himself
emotionally naked and profoundly disappointed on more than one
occasion. Although he enjoyed the softness and memory of
women, he chose now to invest in the company of himself and
the genuine nature and essences of men. Robert, he believed,
was a good man and was good for him.
The threatening clouds had begun to part allowing the
brilliant morning sun to caress the eastern hillside. Robert
cheerfully headed outside to unload his gear from the truck.
Alan followed a moment later, his chainsaw and essentials
already waiting on the porch. He yawned one final time,
heralding the end of a restful night; his eyes open, his mind
I am glad he feels so comfortable here, Alan thought.
It's rare for someone to fit in so easily.
The situation benefited both men, and they looked forward
to getting lost in their hard and grinding labor. The
undulating hum of the chainsaws created a growing symphony of
sound as they began to trim and cut up the fallen logs, each
about his own task; together a ballet of strength and fresh
energy. Each was aware of the other, their form and their
distance, and they worked well in harmony. With the lingering
humidity, their sweat formed early and filled the air with a
comfortable, attractive presence.
As the work progressed, the fragmented pieces became
smaller and the morning grew. They methodically rolled up
their sleeves, looked up into the brilliant sky, wiped arm and
brow, and carefully moved in comfortable unison. As they
worked one would occasionally stop to rest. At one point,
Alan stepped back and saw, for the first time, a refined
masculinity that Robert possessed, so poetic in his grace and
skill. He admired this greatly and found himself exploring
the man with his imagination, emulating his silken moves. He
noticed the raw strength in Robert's arms and warm hands, the
sharp brown line of his jaw and the intense focus of his dark
eyes as he labored and sweated in the thick morning air.
Robert worked smoothly and without flaw or hesitation. Alan
found this surprisingly attractive.
It was clear that Alan admired Robert greatly and was
beginning to feel a deep affection for his company and
presence. Because of their marriage-wounds both men knew that
they were vulnerable and dealing as best they could with their
situation and circumstance of defeat, rejection, and
Open, but cautious, they grew much closer in this misfit
period of recovery and healing, and leaned on each other for
support and the interplay of nascent thought and fresh emotion
they would likely not share with anyone else. Hard work
helped to ease the pain. Alan realized that, for the first
time in his life, he truly felt comfortable and safe. He knew
it deeply in his gut and heart and wondered if Robert sensed
their growing bond.
When Robert was not around Alan often thought of him:
the way he entered a room, the aura and unique scent of this
other and comparable man. This was a new awareness for Alan,
and it was beginning to weave its way into his life, his
thoughts, and his heart.
A moderate morning breeze was beginning to blow and they
labored on. As Alan stretched his arms, he looked up at the
pregnant morning sky and reached to wipe his forehead. Eyes
lifted toward the sun, he first heard, then immediately saw a
large branch, hanging precariously from last night's storm,
break loose and hurdle sharply to the ground. Alan attempted
to shout a warning, but Robert was lost in the steady drone of
his machine and, with the bright sunlight, he neither heard
nor saw the oncoming fall.
It first hit Robert's left shoulder and then the side of
his head. The force spun him around and, in a slow-moving
pirouette, threw him down the nearby embankment with a loud
thud. Robert winced as his chainsaw flew aside, then fell
under the full weight of the branch. He did not move.
"Oh, God! Oh, God!" Alan shouted as he dropped his gear
and climbed the hill to his friend's side.
In the aftermath of piercing dead-silence, he approached
his fallen comrade in what seemed slow-motion and became
suddenly aware of an eerie malignant darkness.
Robert groaned a little, and moved his right hand. Alan
dropped onto the ground and slowly crawled under the jagged
brush to be by his side. He noticed a large abrasion on
Robert's head, and some blood trickling from his mouth and
ear. With great caution he took Robert's hand and slid
himself along side his friend's injured body. Robert was
solidly trapped and, for the moment, still conscious and
breathing, although with some difficulty. There was a soft
hissing sound in his left chest. Alan moved closer and calmly
said his name over and over, "Robert. Hey, Robert."
As he lay with him, Alan imagined himself in a peaceful
earth-womb with a kind and kindred spirit, keenly aware of his
scent, his heartbeat and sudden vulnerability. They were far
from the house, far from anyone, far from all other thought.
Holding at Robert's side, he imagined them as one.
"So this is what it's like," he whispered, as burning
tears began to form.
Robert slowly opened his eyes, briefly found his place
among the dimming light, the fallen brush and the dirt, and
looked over at his friend.
"I do love you," he said quietly, "Never think of it as
right or wrong."
With that he took a deep, wet sigh and was gone. It was
over. There was nothing Alan could do. It all seemed to
happen too fast, was rendered too unreal, too unfair.
Alan wept at his friend's shoulder, and found himself
suddenly overwhelmed with a profound sadness and a promise of
the unknown, the unexplored, with bitter tears and only the
imagination of what might have been.
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