The Clearing by Josh Lopez

“Hey, it’s Dex! Do yo thang! Hehe!”

I swallowed hard at the knot that formed at the back of my throat, and the sting of tears threatened a torrential downfall before I could start my message. His whimsical voice and ready laugh always brought a smile to my face, but today the sound of the recording brought pain.

I didn’t know what to say to this lively deceit of Dex’s voice; he wasn’t on the line, he wasn’t going to get the message, and he wouldn’t be calling me back.

I’d buried him a year ago….

We’d been passing a soccer ball in our tiny front yard with his four-year-old niece, Kelsey. The early summer afternoon brought familiar warmth, and the gentle tickle of emerald grass was a cool joy upon my bare feet. I could smell a mixture of scents that drifted toward our yard; there was the sweet aroma of our neighbor’s freshly cut lawn, and somewhere in the distance I savored the lingering smell of a barbecue. I was frustrated with Dex.

“I went to rinse off the dishes a little bit ago, and the sink was still backed up.” I said

The smile on my face as I lightly kicked the ball towards Kelsey betrayed the irritation in my voice. I heard Kelsey squeal in joy as the ball scooted past her as she chased after it. Dex chuckled at her happiness and gave me an apologetic stare.

“I completely spaced it, and I was getting everything ready for Kels. It’s not a big deal. I will fix it in the morning.”

Kelsey ran toward the ball and gave it a mighty kick, sending it just a few feet shy of where Dex stood. She cheered and chirped with victory at her accomplishment.

“Don’t do that, Dex! I asked you a few days ago, and it still hasn’t been taken care of, there’s always an excuse!” My rush of annoyance caused my tone to become harsher than I’d intended.

Dex frowned at my stern scolding and managed to kick the ball in return a little harder than expected.

“I’m sorry Ada—”

We both heard the bounce of the soccer ball as we also heard the revving of our punk-kid neighbor’s junker down the street.

“Unca, Dex! The ball!”

We both turned from our disagreement, but his reaction was quicker than mine, as he was running off into the street where Kelsey was trying to grab the wayward Wilson. Everything slowed as I stood there, and Dex’s athletic form raced forward. His strength and celerity were launching him toward Kelsey who was now in the middle of the street. The rusted piece of shit Nissan was hurtling towards our niece, like a raging bull chasing after a crimson flag.

As Kelsey reached down for the ball, I saw the demon car get into reach of hitting her. I felt my breath frozen in my lungs as I braced for the sickening crash that was bound to follow. At the last moment, Dex reached her and shoved her tiny body as hard as he could. For a fraction of a second, I felt better until I saw Dex slam onto the hood of the car and crush the window.

“Dexter!”

The scalding tears began to carve their way down my cheeks, and my nose stung. I’d been too frozen to try to chase after him, and I know that I could have pushed him out of the way in time. I rushed toward him while the heavy hammering of my heart choked me….

“-ahem- Hey, Dipper. God, it’s good to hear your voice -sniff-“

I paid his phone bill because I needed the normalcy of being able to call him and to hear his voice for a moment. The many videos of us helped remind me of him, but for a foolish moment, when I called his phone, I was able to feel as though there was a chance he would answer.

“Today, I was able to begin my healing process.”

I’d hiked in the mountains on our trail, the one he’d taken me on for our first date. When we’d first met, I’d boasted that I’d loved to hike, and hadn’t expected him to call me on my bluff; however, when he invited me out for an early morning hike into the Rocky Mountains, I knew I knew I was in trouble.

The next morning, he showed up in a white t-shirt that clung to his chiseled chest, black shorts that covered athletic legs, and well-loved black hiking boots. With a slight chuckle and slight shake of his head, he took in my outfit of a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and tennis shoes.

“All suited up?”

He took me on a rugged trail that hadn’t been used very often — the uncleared brush and rocks providing challenging terrain. I stumbled and tripped every couple of minutes. The majestic scene of frosty tipped mountain tops in the distance was nearly wasted on me. I panted and heaved comically while I held my aching arms above my head trying to alleviate my aching side. He lightly chuckled and pulled me closer to him. I stared into blue eyes the color of early spring skies and closed the gap. The light stubble from both of our chins rubbed together, and I melted into what would be the first of a million kisses. The smell of fresh mountain air mingled with the subtle softness of his laundry detergent, but under that, there was the pleasant smell of his sweat and his body….

“Today, I went to our spot without getting lost.”

Unlike the time I had snuck off to try to scare him while he had taken a moment to go to the bathroom, I’d gone too far into the woods and lost the trail I should have stayed along and ended up trying to recount my steps while wandering wayward. That day, he’d finally found me in a beautiful little clearing. The untamed growing patches of grass and shock of Blue Columbine made a lovely background for my panicked state of mind.

That same spot was where he taught me how to swing dance. As his phone played “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” I tried to take the lead and began inexpertly swinging him around. As the song ended, he went to dip himself believing I would catch him, and not knowing what was happening, I tried to catch him at the last moment, and he pulled us both down. I landed on top of him, both of us laughing loudly and cuddling into each other. The safety of his muscular arms wrapped about me as I nuzzled deeper into the bend of his neck while I closed my eyes and reveled in the moment.

Today, I was able to make it to our clearing without needing his guidance, my breathing wasn’t labored, and my heart was full of kept emotions as I was able to finally process what I’d been holding in for the past year. I spent most of the afternoon in the clearing, among the soft grass and Blue Columbine, with the chirps and trills of life about me, and I knew that it was time to begin living again.

I’d cried myself out by the time I got back to our car, but I was ready to pick myself up and live the life I needed to live.

“You’d have been so proud of me — I know I am.”

I heard the soft hum of an engine pull into the driveway, followed by the familiar patter of little feet at the front porch.

“Unca, Adam!!”

The unforgiving weight I’d been carrying had been lifted, and I was able to start healing. I sighed and smiled while ending the call, knowing that I wouldn’t need to call back.

 

Bio: I am a student at Aims Community College and the University of Northern Colorado. I am currently an English major with a minor in creative writing and leadership studies. I had two submissions published in the Aims Review in 2014, I’ve written a feature article for the Greeley Tribune in 2002, and I was an honorable mention in “A Celebration of Young Writers” in 2001.