26 April 2009

Campfire Memories

(for Carl, sort of)

She told me about how when she was a little girl she would sometimes be awakened in the middle of the night and how she heard her father playing his concertina and singing cowboy songs.

I’m not sure if it was the music, I think she would tell me. Sometimes I think it was just that I knew he was awake, that anybody was awake, and then I would be awake, too, but it would take me a while to even hear him. He would be out on the back deck or, if it was winter and cold outside, he’d be downstairs in the ping-pong room maybe sitting on the hearth of the fireplace down there. I would wake up in my bed with the moon in my eyes and I would gradually start to hear the thin reedy sound of his playing and the low mumble grumble rumble of him singing these old cowboy songs like they were lullabies and I guess they were.

I think that when she was telling me stories like this, we were living in an apartment and trouble, the real trouble, was still months away and still out there waiting for us out at the end of a dirt road in a remodeled adobe with a leaking roof and a built-in dynasty of striped cats.

That was when we lived near Urban Park, before we moved to Barranca Mesa, and I still shared a room with Angela and I would be awake and I would listen to her breath, the sound of her breathing, and I would listen to whatever noises were outside like crickets or the wind, and I could hear Daddy from wherever he was.

And she’d sing to me a little bit in her whisper voice:

“...I spied a young cowboy all wrapped in white linen,

All wrapped in white linen and cold as the clay...”

And I also think that when she was telling me these stories, we were probably often sitting on the tiny little balcony attached to that apartment. We could have had some music on the stereo just loud enough for us to hear it out there probably sitting in chairs and drinking white wine. We probably spoke in low voices anyway and probably stopped speaking altogether when we saw someone walking on the paths connecting the buildings below us. I’m almost positive about that.

I can remember just laying there in my bed, completely relaxed and comfortable and not tired at all but still just hovering there on the very edge of the best kind of sleep, that sweet kind of sleeping that wraps itself around you like a warm foam, and there would be starlight through the window glass and Angela sprawled out on her stomach with a pillow between her legs. Maybe one of our cats would be on the windowsill staring at me and just barely twitching the end of her tail. And just barely I could also hear her dad.

And sometimes now when you’re asleep, I remember her saying this so clearly, and sometimes now when you’re asleep, when you’re completely out and the light from the street lamps comes in through the bedroom window sulfur and pink, I pretend I can hear him outside, maybe down there by the mailboxes, and he’s singing:

“…Oh, beat the drum slowly, and play the fife lowly
And play the dead march as you carry me along
Take me to the green valley and lay the earth o'er me
For I'm a poor cowboy and I know I've done wrong…”

And I know that part’s true no matter what else.

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