International Writers Magazine:Life Stories
Barbecues at our place
always ended up in a corner of the garden with the guests hanging from
his words, or rolling around the lawn in laughter. Hed swallow his
beer and bellow on about "jumbos" and "kittens" and
"hippos," and how learning to water-ski in "flat dog"
infested waters was the preferred method amongst "real men."
I used to think there was no end to him.
to think hed always be there. His voice rumbling like a Harley-Davidson
engine idling, his red head and freckled white face beaming. Elephant
size stories about elephants, knives bigger than swords, airplanes
painting smoke-stream pictures in the sky over the Zambezi Valley.
Once, he and I took a Piper Cherokee into Ficksburghome of the Cherry
Festival and Eastern Free State Airshowand damned near flew the
thing head-on into the Northern Drakensberg granite. It was a miserable
day for two boys to be out flying and wed been showing off our newfound
flying skills in Johannesburg earlier that morning before heading out
to the wet and washed-out mountains. We popped out of the clouds at around
four hundred feet and a half-a-mile from the Franshoek Mountain Lodge.
"Fuck me," I said pointing at the mountainside wed missed
crashing into by nothing more than luck and around a quarter-of-a-mile.
"Look at that!"
"Good thing you flew around it," he said. And then he said,
"I bet you couldnt do that again," and he smiled that
smile that said hed sit there next to me whilst I tried it if I
wanted, and if it killed me trying, well then hed be right there
at my side. I can see the grin on his face right now.
I wrote a poem about him once. It wasnt much of a poem. Well, perhaps
it wasnt that it wasnt much of a poem. Perhaps it was more
that he was just so much bigger than any of my poems could presume to
bebigger than literature. In any event, I never imagined that the
day would come when he would no longer be there.
Sometimes, he would talk so loud I used to imagine that his voice could
blow doors open or burst open windows, or even send whole towns flying
the way they did in those old black and white movies made about when the
U.S. was testing the atomic bomb. I even told him not to bother calling
anyone up on the phone when he was like that, because theyd hear
him talking without it anyway. He said it was a gift and that God had
given it to him and there was no way on earth that he was gonna throw
away a God-given talent. I can still hear his voice when Im flying
alone, and when Im doing the things that we did.
Nowadays I crack myself up when I suddenly remember the shit we used to
get up to, like running away from that restaurant in Hillbrow after scoffing
down their steaks and then not paying the bill, or sneaking up on those
lions in the Okovango Delta with blankets over ourselves, and then jumping
up and screaming and running around and scaring them shitlessthey
scattered like an Italian platoon under fire. I could never have thought
that it would ever end.
I fished him from the river. I wish I never had. I didnt want to
remember him that way, but I had to find him. We couldnt find him
at first. We searched from morning till dark for five days, the way you
search when you know its about death. And then, it was a Wednesday,
and I saw his shoe floating amongst the reeds on the Zambian side of the
river. It was one of those trail shoes, made by Caterpillar, and it had
a heel that looked like The Incredible Hulk smiling. Only he wasnt
smiling. He was lying face down in the water and when I reeled him in
a part of him rolled over slowly until he was face down again. I recognized
the freckled white skin on his back and his leg.
They said he died happy. They said hed died doing what he loved
doing most. My little brother: dead at age twenty-eight on July 23, 1994.
Hed been painting smoke-trailed images over the Zambezi River, in
a Beechcraft Bonanza, outside Chirundu. They said it was quick. They said
he didnt feel a thing.
I can still feel it now.
© Wayne SHANNON September 2007
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