It’s Not So Bad

“Your driving is better than it used to be”, Caleb said to Anton as he guided their car down the narrow, winding road. “I’ve been doing it long enough now”. Anton didn’t say much as the road turned single-lane with no reduction in curvature. They were alone, mercifully. At this part of Tiger Creek, working your way around other cars could be nerve-wracking, especially if the other driver lacked the foresight to drive slowly. Anton came to a stop, set the car to park and pulled up the handbrake. “There’s no one else here” he said, getting out of the car. Caleb reached behind him and retrieved the picnic basket Anton had prepared. Chimichangas, “Felicia’s famous home-style fries”, a few packets of ranch dressing, bottled water, fruit salad and a couple bottles of coffee. They walked past the old power station with its granite boulders strewn about. “Let’s sit over there”, Anton said as he pointed toward their old favourite table, kicking his sandals against a stone to remove a pebble.

“Remember when we used to tie a kayak to a tree stump and doze off for hours”? Caleb asked. “You’re waxing nostalgic, that’s unusual”. Caleb grinned, in equal measures sheepish and impish. Caleb wasn’t the type for nostalgia. It wasn’t that he hated the past or despised what he was. Far from it. Caleb possessed a zeal for living. The present mattered more to him than the past. “You can’t live in memories, but you can make new ones” he liked to say. Which is true, not that it always mattered to Anton. Anton took a darker view of life and the world than Caleb.

“Whatever, I’d rather eat my fries and chimichangas before they get cold”. They sat down at the table. “How far to the tree line” Anton asked him, looking around. “It’s hard to say, maybe a thousand feet”? Caleb answered. Tiger Creek was in a mountain valley. Few who weren’t locals knew about it – and the locals wanted to keep it that way. They sat together, side by side, on top of the table like teenagers. “It’s nice to be back” Anton said, looking across the creek, to the sandy beach. “I’m glad to see you again” Caleb answered. “Remember that time we snuck down here at night and went skinny-dipping”? Anton asked him, “Oh my god, yes! The water was so cold I thought I’d become a woman” Caleb answered, laughing. “I wouldn’t know that feeling” Anton said. “Of course not, you’re always a woman”. “Ha” Anton answered, smacking Caleb on the back of his head. The finished their meal in between the occasional guffaw and slap.

Anton and Caleb sat together looking like teenagers, provoking each other, chortling, taking swipes at each other. Anton stood up and gathered their rubbish, packing all of it in a paper back and forced it through the narrow slot of the raccoon-proof bin. He walked back to the table. “Okay, what’s going on” Anton asked Caleb. “Nothing. Why do you think something’s going on”? Caleb asked him, a devious glint in his eyes. Anton stood up and walked a few feet away. “I don’t trust you” he said, laughing. “You better not”! Caleb retorted as he jumped up, picked Anton up and threw him into the water. “You arse” Anton shouted at him, between choking on water and laughing. “I’ll get you for this”. “I’d like to see you try”. Caleb grinned down at Anton, kicking the creek to splash more water at him. In a flash, Anton jumped up and grabbed Caleb’s leg, pulling him down into the water. “Told you so” Anton laughed before asking “Now how are we going to dry off”? “Probably by stripping naked and wringing out our clothes” Caleb answered.

They swam together to a quiet, secluded inlet before stripping. It’s far harder for two men in their 30s to get away with public nudity than a couple teenagers. Anton turned to Caleb, “Hey, Kalin, when are your new high heels coming in”? “Why? You want to borrow them? I don’t think cheetah print suits you. You should definitely get the zebra pattern instead, Antonia”. “’Antonia’? The water’s not that cold”. “Hmm… That’s true, so what’s your excuse”? “I’m still a growing boy” “You used that excuse 16 years ago, you’ll have to grow up eventually. At this rate you’ll be die of old age before you get there”. Caleb said teasingly.

They walked back to the picnic table together, holding their sandals, their shorts rolled up well above their thighs. “That was a lot of fun, actually” Anton said as he opened his coffee. “Yeah, it was” Caleb said, looking up, watching as a cloud crossed the sapphire-blue sky. They sat together, quietly. It was one of those moments of unbearable, painful lightness – when existence itself becomes a thing of such incredible beauty that eternity would pass in the blink of an eye. Anton reached his arm across Caleb’s shoulder and said “Thanks for putting up with me”. Caleb reached his arm around Anton. “You’re not that bad. I just wish you’d be happy more often. Life isn’t so bad if you choose not to make it that way”.


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