The Paw Print
“Brad Patterson is an ocean with an undercurrent that could drown an apostle. You keep your distance from that boy.”
Sue-Ellen recalled her mom’s words, pursed her lips, and watched Brad reenact his Friday touchdown with dramatic hand motions across the silver diner table. His brown hair was wavy and full, but his bright blue eyes were dulled by the yellow restaurant light. Mark nudged Sue with his elbow, giving her the “not-again” look. She smirked and returned a shrug.
“Oh come on you guys! It was awesome!” said Brad.
“Ooo! Ooo! Hey doll! Sign my chest Brad! You’re soooo strong,” said Mark.
Brad laughed, “Hey, you’re just jealous ‘cause I can knock a cheerleader over with a smile…”
Sue rolled her eyes and laughed. Mark shook his head to hide a smile.
A waitress blew by with three waters.
“Thanks toots, you’re a mighty fine dame,” said Brad.
Jackass, thought Sue, but I’m glad he’s on my side.
She adjusted her thick black glasses and remembered back in the seventh grade, when big ol’ Joel Thomson hit the library books out of her hands and Brad threw a punch at the boy twice his size. Joel just laughed, and gave Brad a face so bloodied his mom burst into tears when she picked him up from school.
He was such a boy then, but every year he looked more like the pictures of his father; and football suited him just fine. He was the star wide receiver now, and more handsome by the day. Still, dating someone who hadn’t read War and Peace was out of the question, and they were both accepted to different colleges anyway, so—
A sudden change in the atmosphere of the conversation pulled her from her thoughts.
“Come on Mark, I don’t see how you can question Truman! He did what he had to. I’da done the same thing.”
Sue hated when Brad raised his voice like this. It reminded her of the time two Christmases ago when he punched her in the arm too hard during an argument about Jackie Robinson. At present, the diner buzz was concealing Brad’s raised voice beyond sports bragging, but she still felt uncomfortable. She did feel more insulated sitting next to Mark, whose dark eyes met Brad’s as he shook his head and replied, “It’s unjustifiable. There were civilians just like us: moms cooking dinner, kids playing in the street, eighteen-year-olds waiting to start college in the fall.”
Brad leaned in and smirked, “They were too busy bombing innocent nations to send kids to college. We taught the Japs the lesson they needed. ‘Sides, your dad is home now isn’t he?” As he said this, he only broke Mark’s gaze for a second, looking at a skeptical Sue-Ellen and back.
“You don’t have to hold it against me. Your dad was a hero. Everybody knows that,” said Mark as he looked away.
Brad relaxed back into his booth and shrugged, “Bah, where is that waitress anyway? I’m hungry.”
Sue-Ellen chewed her gum, and traced a slender finger along the rim of her foggy water glass. The African-American janitor, Tyler, was sweeping by the front door. She had never spoken to him, but she knew he was rumored to have a full-ride scholarship to Morehouse. Sue-Ellen’s bobby pins caught the light as she craned her head to watch him take the dustbin out. He looked up and noticed her, and when their eyes met, she quickly looked straight.
Mark cleared his throat. “It’s just extremism. Two whole cities… dust…” he trailed off, then said, “What do you think, Sue?”
She felt Tyler’s eyes on her as she squinted and put her thumb and pointer finger to her chin with mock concern, “I think I want a milkshake.”
By the time the three parted after dinner, the sun had been down for over an hour. As Brad biked toward home in the warm wind, he was thankful it was summer. Mom was listening to the radio, and after a quick “Goodnight” and peck on the check, he went upstairs and brushed his teeth. After he lay down, his blinked slowly, and he felt his mattress pulling him to sleep. The last thing he saw that day was the picture of his dad on his nightstand, smiling in his army uniform.
As soon as his eyes were fully closed, the world was awash with color. Brad immediately had the sense that he was dreaming, but the vividness and warmness of the dream demanded his full attention.
A red barn, paint peeling, sat in a gold field of grain-like looking weeds. The field was surrounded by forest, and the barn was at the center of the oval shaped clearing. Faintly, out of the corner of his eye, the field was circled by the shadows of crow-like birds. It was as if they were held off from flying over the field by the yellow grass itself, yet they were bold enough to cast shadows onto it. The wind bowed the grass down and toyed with the loose barn door, but it was too dark for Brad to see what was inside.
Then, in a flash the barn began to shrink as his view pulled back into the forest, over a stream and along it. Racing and winding over rocks and rushing water, the brook widened and the banks grew deeper. Brad eventually came to an old tire that was half-in the water and half-out. He realized that he had fished here once before, back when his dad was alive.
Brad snapped awake, the gold morning light bathing his bed, and smelled pancakes wafting from downstairs. He turned to his nightstand.
“Morning pop, crazy dream last night. ‘Member when we used to go fishin’? …I don’t remember there being a barn up there…You’re quiet this morning…Smells like mom made pa-“
“Are you up sweetie?” called Jane Patterson.
“Yes mom! I’ll be right down.”
With one leg in his pants and one out, he stumbled and fell to the floor. Redoubling his efforts, he followed the smell of sweet breakfast downstairs.
“Slept in, darling? College won’t be like that, can’t be lazy like a darkie.”
“Yes mom.” Brad took a plate of piled pancakes and asked with a mouth muffled with food, “Hey ish there a barn upf pasht where Dad and I ushed to fishh?
“Bradley James Patterson. What in tarnation is wrong with you?”
“Sorry—” He gulped the mass of syrup and pancake down. “—but is there one? Up north of the park?”
“I don’t know, honey. Your dad hiked those woods on prayer walks since before you were born… he even composed a few sermons out there, before the war… He said the stream ebbs and flows for miles, but he never mentioned a barn of any kind. Why?”
His mouth was full again, “I think I hash some exshploring to do. I hash this dre-”
“Well, I hope you find some manners while you’re out. You’ll never get a nice girl like Marylou Miller like that. Such a lovely cheerleading captain; and her mother is a lovely cook. I don’t think that bookish Sue-Ellen can even boil water…”
“Pleesh mum, come on…I gotta go to da woods, lovph you,” said Brad.
Jane Patterson let out a heavy sigh, hugged her son, and kissed him on the forehead. In a flash he was out of the house with a half a jacket on, and Jane walked to the screen door just in time to see her boy biking down the street.
“Be safe,” she whispered, “safer than your father.”
To be continued…
Join us next week for part two!